Thursday, August 26, 2010

Studying Acupuncture, One Needle Prick at a Time from the NY Times

For at least 2,000 years Chinese healers have used acupuncture to treat pain and other ailments. Now Western doctors want proof that it works.
There is little dispute that people feel better after receiving the treatment, in which thin needles are inserted deeply into the skin at specific points on the body. But are they benefiting from acupuncture itself, or just getting a placebo effect?
The debate was fueled last week by a study in the journal Arthritis Care and Research. Researchers from MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston found that among 455 patients with painful knee arthritis, acupuncture delivered no more relief than a sham treatment.
Actually, patients got significant pain relief from both treatments — an average reduction of one point on a scale of 1 to 7. And critics contend that the study was poorly designed.
For one thing, they note, patients in both groups received treatment with needles and electrical stimulation; the main difference was that in the sham group, the needles were not inserted as deeply and the stimulation was far shorter in duration.
In the real world, however, a trained acupuncturist would customize the treatment to a patient’s specific symptoms. But in this study, the patients in the “real” acupuncture group all received needles inserted in the same way.
Rather than proving that acupuncture does not work, in other words, the study may suggest that it works even when administered poorly. But the real lesson, acupuncture supporters say, is how difficult it can be to apply Western research standards to an ancient healing art.  For the whole story click here

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

A Specific Prayer

 This is an exchange between a Facebook friend and I

Shawn Cox Alex, I will be praying for you, that you will experience amazing healing.

Alex Berks Thank you Shawn. Sometimes a sentence from someone (you! today right now) inspires me. Since I am at Cedars getting the premix for the chemo now I will right you an extended response.

I am entering this round of chemo. cancer free. It is really, as I see it, an insurance for any possible lingering aberrant cells. The prayer, to be specific, is for the cancer not to return which is different than for the cancer to recur. I feel strongly it will not recur. In other words I don't think my former cancer is going to grow again from the original tumor. As far as anybody can tell there is no cancer left. I feel good about the power and veracity of that statement. I helped kill this tumor once with affirmation, providence herbs and specific nutrition and I am not about to invite more cancer to grow at any subconcious level if I can help it.

After the surgery a dead tumor was removed with clean margins. So that seems to me pretty good rationale for the cancer not to recur. But one can never be sure so I am writing this from the infusion center. Is it the final round? Well... I think so my Oncologist doesn't. I will finish this round and then decide.

Specific prayer requests:

Since it is not known how I got this sarcoma there is a chance (I assume) that this could grow anew whether or not I do more chemo. So a prayer, or thought for the cancer to never return is very much appreciated.

Second, I would really enjoy that this chemotherapy I am currently doing be easy, effortless and effective all at the same time.

Third, prayers for a complete and speedy recovery to my leg are also greatly appreciated.

I feel so blessed to be the recipient of prayer like this.

Thank you

If you need a little starter on healing prayer here are some Jewish ones to help.  

15 Cancer Symptoms Men Ignore

Alex Comments:  The earlier cancer is caught the better.  It is the little aches and pains, unusual bleeding or skin changes that may be nothing but also may be a harbinger of cancer growth.  Since it is a lot easier to cut the grass while it is still short go get it checked out.  You deserve it.  It could make your life a whole lot easier.  So go get the colonoscopy or blood test or what you need!  Don't delay.  

15 Cancer Symptoms Men Ignore

Men, heed these possible clues and find cancer early, when it's more treatable.
By Kathleen Doheny
WebMD Feature
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD
Some men are notorious foot-draggers, especially when it comes to scheduling doctor visits. That’s unfortunate. Routine preventive care can find cancer in men and other diseases in the early stages, when there are more options for treatment and better chances of a cure. Some men, though, would never go to the doctor except for the women in their life. According to Leonard Lichtenfeld, MD, deputy chief medical officer for the national office of the American Cancer Society, women are often the ones who push men to get screened for cancer.
Experts say that men could benefit greatly by being alert to certain cancer symptoms that indicate a trip to the doctor’s office sooner rather than later. Some of those cancer symptoms in men are specific. They involve certain body parts and may even point directly to the possibility of cancer. Other symptoms are more vague. For instance, pain that affects many body parts could have dozens of explanations and may not be cancer. But that doesn’t mean you can rule out cancer without seeing a doctor.  For the rest of the story click here

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Herbs and Cancer

Alex in the Hospital July 2nd 2010
The use of herbs and supplements with cancer patients is an area that is fraught with misunderstanding and poor information but the need is so great.        

To nourish and rebalance the body so that cancer will not grow by  eating plenty of vegetables and fruit, monitoring Vitamin D, getting the right amount of omega 3 fats, keeping mineral ratios in balance, leading a healthy lifestyle and detoxification are a few examples.  There are many others.

Combining Herbs with Chemo. and Radiotherapy
Herbs can work well with chemotherapy and radiation to sensitize a tumor to the biomedical treatments, and nourish the body without interfering with chemo. and radiation.  In China, they have a lot of experience in combining east and west.  Their reserach shows when the two are combined together the outcomes are better than either one alone (please see an article I wrote about combining herbs with radiotherapy).  In my own case, my pathology report revealed a 99% dead tumor.  This means that there was no living tissue found in my large mass.  Though I cannot prove it, it is my belief that the herbs I took, custom formulated for my body condition, the type of tumor I had and my symptoms, were of tremendous benefit.  I don't think my pathology report would been as good without them.  Below are two examples of the multi-function nature of my herbal formulas. 

Radiation according to Chinese Medicine is understood as a toxic heat.  Radiation causes skin burning.  I took herbs during my own radiation treatment that have radiosensitizing effects, combined with other herbs that have anti-cancer effects, combined with herbs that have hematopoetic properties (blood building) , combined with cooling herbs that promote fluids.  In addition I used a topical burn cream.

Chemotherapy in Chinese Medicine is understood as a cold toxin to fight a heat toxin (rapidly dividing cancer cells).  When I was in chemotherapy I was always cold.  I took a multi-function formula to help reduce blood stagnation that had anti-cancer properties and chemosensitizing properties.  The formula also had immune system strengthening herbs along with supportive herbs to strengthen digestion and absorbtion and protect the bone marrow. I was able to eat through all of my chemotherapy. 

Direct Anti-Cancer Effects
Many herbs do have anti-cancer properties but are nowhere near as strong as pharmaceutical chemotherapy.  There are many instances in which a cancer patient may want to take herbs like this.  For example, inbetween treatments, when the Oncologists wants to "watch and wait", or in early stages before treatment begins.  One dramatic story of the use of herbs in this regard was a lymphoma patient who refused a bone marrow transplant after refractory cancer occurred 6 months after a clean PET scan.  I was able to keep her cancer from growing for two years until she developed some toxicity to the herbs.  She did have a life-saving bone marrow transplant but in the ensuing two years the techniques of BMT improved.  She still takes herbs and supplements.  I must add the disclaimer: That herbal medicine is never a substitute for a proper diagnosis, monitoring and biomedical treatment from an oncologist. 

Post Treatment Recovery
Cancer treatment is harsh on the body and a person can have many side-effects, really unwanted effects, that can sometimes last a long time.  Herbs and supplements can improve chronic bone marrow suppression, fatigue, accelerate healing from surgery and recovery from chemotherapy, mitigate hot flashes,  help treat a dry cough from chest radiation, prevent neuropathy, improve liver and kidney and digestive function all to improve health. These herbs are always individually chosen based upon specific symptoms. 

A few other notes on herbs:  When you are getting diagnosed or in active cancer treatment it is like learning to swim by being thrown into the deep end of the pool.  The anxiety, stress in addition to physical problems can be overwhelming.  Taking herbs is empowering.  They are something that you choose to do that can have a significant impact on outcome.  Under the "hammer of fate"  all tools are important. 

Second, Professional advice from someone you trust that is experienced in combining herbs with Oncology patients is important.  This person must understand the potential herb-drug interactions as well as the synergies between herbs and drugs so that the hippocratic oath can be made manifest in your body: "First do no harm".  Do not go to a health food store and ask what to take.  Further the marketing of "miracle" products can create so much confusion that it is difficult to make rational choices.

In my own case, I was as fastidious about taking herbs and supplements and it paid off for me.  I see herbal medicine as an integral part of any cancer fighting plan. 

Thursday, August 05, 2010

My Sentiments Exactly

Alex writes:  This is an amazingly worded article published in Vanity Fair by the author Christopher Hitchens.  He was recently diagnosed.  I highly recommend it.  Hat tip to Suzan Woodruff who sent it to me. 

Topic of Cancer

One fine June day, the author is launching his best-selling memoir, Hitch-22. The next, he’s throwing up backstage at The Daily Show, in a brief bout of denial, before entering the unfamiliar country—with its egalitarian spirit, martial metaphors, and hard bargains of people who have cancer. For the whole article click here

September 2010

I Can Walk! I Can Walk! Alex Marches Upon The Earth Again!

April 6, 2010
One month and a few days after my "limb sparing surgery"  the strength and coordination in my leg is good enough again to take steps unassisted.  I am not fast and not without weakness or pain but the healing is picking up speed and so are the steps.  The numbness is abating as is fear and anger.  Now a few more "insurance" rounds of chemotherapy and I will be done.  Done! Done! Done!

There is no going back to the old ways of cynical, self-denying thinking.  I strongly believe that this medical odyssey was about getting the message about this.  I never believed it was meant to kill or mame me.  If I can maintain these lessons than I think I will actually be done with this cancer for this lifetime and will have fulfilled this idea that "cancer patients are the lucky one's".  The trite assumptions that there are no guarantees in life and that we take our health for granted can no longer be overlooked. 

Miracles abound.  It is miraculous that my leg was not made dysfunctional by the tumor.  It is equally miraculous that I did not have the tumor type that invaded my bone.  It is a third miracle that the tumor did not metastasize.  A further miracle was that the tumor was removed without destroying my nerves or blood vessels and was 99% dead.  For all of these miracles I am so very very grateful.

I would like to say that my stalwart approach to this odyssey helped me; it did in many ways.  I also must acknowledge there were so many dark and difficult days when negativity and cynicism overtook me, when my spirit felt defeated, when hope was in very short supply and I just felt like crap.  I also must acknowledge that I did the best I could with the tools I had under some very trying circumstances.  The fear and anger was so high for months.  While I was in it nobody could say what the outcome was going to be.  My Dr's, to my chagrin, were always guarded and never hinted to my progress as they didn't know either.  This left me to twist in the wind for months, following their program and my beliefs both good and bad without knowledge of success or failure. 

It was like a one hour TV dramas like CSI except the outcome was not known.  At a certain point we all know a show like CSI has to resolve itself because that is how that show always goes in a  specific time frame.  In reality we don't know the outcomes of our life and my medical odyssey provided plenty of drama as to how all of it would end up.  

I am so glad and grateful the hardest parts appear to be behind me now. 

Many thanks to all who have supported me through all of this chaos.

Tuesday, August 03, 2010

Notes Along The Way

One thing I learned is that having cancer can be nearly as difficult for those around you as yourself.  At first I found this insulting.  Wasn't I the one going through all the really hard stuff of chemotherapy and radiation and surgery?!  Now I see that Caregivers have it very rough also.  At the Wellness Community, for example, there are support groups for Caregivers.  When I was in a wheelchair for four months I could not do much of anything except receive my treatments and take care of the basics.  My wife, Denise, in particular, shouldered a very heavy load. Aside from the emotional burden, she was working a lot. 

Many people, I found, do not know how to talk to me about my situation.  It is amazing how many people are cancer experts recommending alternative treatments, a certain type of water, bad-mouthing chemotherapy etc...  At some stages of the treatment (actually nearly all) I could not hear any of that.  Not that I wasn't interested in alternatives but I had chosen a course, had lined up my team of experts both conventional and integrative and I had to keep my focus on that.  The time was not right to take suggestions. 

In recognition that everyone is trying to help and how difficult it can be to talk to people who have cancer I am republishing this from The Nick and Friends Sarcoma Foundation about what to say to someone who has cancer.  I found these recommendations very good. 

Do’s & Don’ts

Do you ever wonder what you should say to someone who has cancer, or to the parent of a terminally ill child? Most of us want to say something that will help ease their pain and encourage them. Unfortunately, the “helpful” things we say are often very hurtful. Sometimes we do not know what to say, so we don’t say anything at all, which is also hurtful. Your friends do not want to be treated differently or like there is something wrong with them. Yes, they have a terminal illness, but, they are still human beings who want to be treated as such.
Since we encourage people to visit our sarcoma friends and leave messages, we decided that we should offer some sort of training. Several sarcoma families helped us compile this list of Do’s & Don’ts based on actual comments. As you will see, some comments are very uplifting and supportive, others not so much.  To read the rest click here.