Tuesday, August 26, 2014

It has  been 21/2 years since my husband and business partner, Alex Berks died from a Sarcoma.  I wanted to take a moment to reflect on what I have learned from the experience.  

Like the proverbial journey to Oz, we are always looking onward for an answer to life’s questions.  The journey comes in many forms for all of us.  And there is no escaping it.
Death, the end of life as we know it in this body, I have come to believe, does not end the soul’s journey.  It is how well we have traveled that counts..

I reflect back on the 2 years I  spent watching and living with my partner dealing with “cancer.”  The many times I cried in my car because of the fear that his life would end trails off to the many times I cried  in my car knowing that he is gone. This has lessened in frequency now.   In all of this I am reminded of living in the moment and practicing gratitude for all I have.  I am not a victim.  I am one of the many who was lucky enough to find love, start a family and help others.  

I thought I would not be able to treat cancer patients but this is farthest from the truth.  I realize that cancer is not a disease I have to fear.  It is not always a death sentence.  Many of my patients that are going through cancer treatments are amazing and inspirational.  They have made peace with the hand they were dealt in this lifetime.  They have looked at this diagnosis as a way to change their  lives.  If only we could embrace this idea every moment without the need for a diagnosis.  

I am studying with a cancer specialist in complementary medicine and reading many pages about the disease.  Today, I saw a woman who had DCIS and with her surgeon had a face-lift and a new  procedure where they take out the cancer and radiate the whole breast.  No lymph nodes were involved and no one had told her that radiating her  breast with DCIS  in her circumstance wasn’t necessary.  She was a guinea pig for this new treatment that they were experimenting with.  

In all of medicine it is important to be your own advocate.  I respect the medical profession but many Doctors are influenced by pharmaceutical companies.  Oncologists are the only doctors that get a cut of the chemotherapy drugs that they use.  Many Western Medical doctors do not know of other tools available to assist in treatment of diseases.  Furthermore, the one area that doctors don’t have tools for is how to get a person well.  Doctors focus on “killing cancer”   With botanical medicine, nutritional supplements, foods and treatment, we can strengthen the immune system and help the body heal from western medical  treatments  such as radiation, surgery, and chemotherapy.  I am not suggesting that I dislike western medicine.  I respect the field immensely.  I hope that one day there will be a strong bridge from Western to Eastern medicine.

There is so much fear around the diagnosis of cancer.  I was one to share in that fear.  Kill the cancer was all I thought about.  Make sure it never comes back.  I do not regret any of the decisions that we made  but I do reflect on that time.
At the same time of  Alex’s metastasis came a lot of stress in our lives.  I am certain that this stress escalated an already growing tumor.  It is a well known fact that stress decreases the immune system.  His blood levels of fibrinogen, d-dimer (clotting factors) and c-reactive protein (inflammatory marker) were extremely high.  He knew that the cancer was back.  He had studied cancer and knew the signs to look for.  He wrote extensively about the deep underpinnings of emotional blockage that he believed was a contributing factor to cancer growth long before he was diagnosed.  He was a seeker .

Life without Alex is hard.  I miss his tall, big presence and his quest for the meaning of life.  I often stop and think, what would Alex do?  He is an amorphous presence in my life and the lives  of our children.  

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Acupuncture can prevent radiation-induced chronic dry mouth, study finds

ScienceDaily (2011-11-10) -- When given alongside radiation therapy for head and neck cancer, acupuncture has shown for the first time to reduce the debilitating side effect of xerostomia, according to new research.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Did Alternative Medicine Extend or Abbreviate Steve Jobs' Life

The biomedical evidence for alternative or complementary treatments for cancer, beyond acupuncture, remains thin, although it probably didn't harm Jobs

Wednesday, November 02, 2011

Monday, October 31, 2011

HEALTH WITH CANCER NATURALLY by Alex Berks L. Ac: Think Different - The Medical Lesson of Steve Jobs’ Cancer

HEALTH WITH CANCER NATURALLY by Alex Berks L. Ac: Think Different - The Medical Lesson of Steve Jobs’ Cancer

Think Different - The Medical Lesson of Steve Jobs’ Cancer

Apple had a wonderful advertising campaign which featured historical footage of great figures who thought different and changed history (link here to see advert.). For all of Steve Jobs' creative genius and drive his amazing ability to “think different” didn’t seem to serve him in his own health care.  There is a lesson here for us all.  

It is reported that Jobs died from a rare, less aggressive type of pancreatic cancer called an islet cell neuroendocrine tumor.  This potentially could have been treated successfully with surgery.  He opted for acupuncture, herbs, and a vegan diet for 9 months rather than surgery because, according to his biographer, he did not want to be cut open.  Even Steve Jobs later regretted his decision not to choose surgery sooner. (See Forbes Magazine:  Steve Jobs Cancer Treatment Regrets)

There is an implication in this story that acupuncture, herbs and dietary changes are bad for cancer patients, and that if Steve Jobs would have just listened to his doctor he may have been cured.  This needs to be clarified. 
Common sense is not always so common.  Choosing natural cancer treatments over toxic or highly invasive treatments has a role, but it is generally not at the beginning stages of cancer treatment, when there is curative intent.  Conventional cancer therapies may be improved with greater insight into drugs, cancer growth pathways and the ways both natural and pharmaceutical work against cancer growth.  It must be emphasized there is scientific literature on the synergistic collaboration between natural and pharmaceutical cancer therapies, not just the potential of bad herb drug interactions.  (footnote)

Had Mr. Jobs opted for surgery, the role of natural medicine could have been to get him ready for surgery, help him recover, and then analyze tumor pathology, genetic markers, lifestyle factors and his constitution to create a personalized prevention program.  Natural Medicine is not against conventional care, rather they should be in collaboration.  This is the common sense that is not so common, and the “thinking different” that is more cutting edge than mainstream oncology.   

Fear of untimely and miserable death from cancer complications is a big part of having cancer.  This   can lead patients to make emotional decisions about invasive and toxic treatments which don’t involve a lot of common sense.  An example of this was a patient who called me with invasive breast cancer.  She wanted to do natural treatments first, and then if that didn’t work, have surgery later.  I told her that she was getting the order wrong.

The knowledge needed to make decisions in this environment is benefited by understanding the literature of conventional and non-conventional cancer treatments.   Treating cancer is about the specifics of the situation.   Below are three examples of ways where oncology standards of care can be questioned, and where natural medicine works with conventional drugs in specific situations.  
  • Herceptin, a drug used for Her2 Neu over-expression: Olive oil polyphenols was found to increase the effectiveness of the drug significantly.  link here.
  • Cisplatin:  Astragalus-based herbal formulas help ameliorate toxic side effects of  without blocking effectiveness of the drug, according to the Journal of Clinical Oncology. link here
  • Tamoxifen:  Some women do not have proper activity of the CYP2D6 liver enzymes to convert Tamoxifen into its active form yet are prescribed it anyway. link here.  There are natural medicine protocols for women who won't derive benefit from Tamoxifen.  
There are other examples in which completely non-pharmaceutical approaches may be appropriate, particularly in slow growing cancers and in stage IV disease when the goal is palliation of symptoms, rather than cure. 
I do not blame Steve Jobs’ acupuncturist for leading him astray down a natural medicine path that would eventually kill him.  I am confident that Mr. Jobs had a unique and willful personality that he brought to his personal care in the same way he brought his ability to “Think different" to his career.

Tuesday, August 09, 2011

Cancer Prevention

In mid June, 2011 I had a partial lobectomy which has been challenging to recover from.  Video assisted Thoracic surgery (VATS) is referred to as minimally invasive surgery. I call it "laparascopy for the lungs".  It was only minimally invasive on the outside and for my doctors.  On the inside; way more complicated.

I am left with a lingering cough which I am told will go away.  I am also told that as this surgery heals I will not feel the diminished lung capacity except at the high end of aerobic exercise.  That is not my main worry. 

Having had two major surgeries chemotherapy and radiation in a year changed me.  Frankly, I am much clearer emotionally about fear and death.  (Dying slowly is a problem dying quickly is not).  My quality of life remains excellent although I have been shy about exercising much and tend to rest more in the afternoon. 

The really exciting stuff is the anti-cancer plan that I have undertaken.  This is a grey area of mainstream medicine.  Taking a wait and see approach with frequent scans is not good enough for me. I would much rather avoid the life-saving heroics of event management (chemo. radiation, surgery).  Prevention is way more murky.  You only know for sure it is working when something doesn't happen.  However, it is not all shooting in the dark.  There are plenty of blood tests (not the standard tumor markers), that give ideas about the underlying cancer promoting terrain.  There is also the lens of genetic profiling of the tumor to see what the tumor is under or over expressing to promote its growth so that can be targeted.  This was part of my reasoning for doing surgery versus radiation for the lung nodules.  It is also the way herbs can collaborate with drugs to have a more broad cancer targeting strategy than uni-targeted pharmacologic agents.

Currently I am without any sign of disease (NED).  I also have a statistical 50-50 percentage risk of the disease returning.  This is a motivating factor to understand what real prevention can look look.  Currently I am on three drugs.  Celebrex for its effect on cancer, tetra thio molybdate to chelate copper and soon I will be on the MTOR inhibiting drug Rapamycin (Sirolimus) at half strength with grapefruit juice.  Grapefruit juice makes many drugs toxic because it slows down their processing through the CYP3A4 enzyme pathway.  However, if you lower the dose of the drug than this problem is avoided.  At the very least it is a way to save money by getting more "miles per gallon" of the drug. 

I am also taking a pile of targeted supplements to work on my overall vitality and the underlying terrain of how the cancer may grow.  This is part is about correcting what is out of balance and about optimizing aspects of cancer fighting immune function and fortfying adaptive reserves.  For a small part of what I am taking see my recent post on curcumin.  

It is worthy to note, there are  financial issues with prevention.  Chemo. radiation, surgery are pricey but covered by insurance.  Taking a few drugs at half strength, including one that is not patentable and is only purchased from a compounding pharmacy is not enough money to keep a hospital running or interest big pharma to generate the big research dollars.  Yet there are still plenty of effective anti-cancer strategies that fall out of that expensive comb.  They are just not so well known.  There is also a lot out there taking advantage of desperate people.  I have found the experts that really know this stuff and I am being treated and trained by them.  As you can imagine I have a passion and close personal interest in this field.  Donnie Yance founder writes about it this way:
Collaborative Oncology: An Introduction to the Eclectic Triphasic Medical System (ETMS), a Clinical Holistic Approach to Cancer Care Utilizing Botanical and Nutritional Medicine as Targeted Therapies.  This approach presents a multi-lens investigation, which examines the patient‟s constitutional energetics, endogenous and exogenous factors, and specific biomarkers from blood, pathology and tissue testing. This information is used to strategically design protocols to alter the individual‟s biological terrain, including gene behavior and expression, so that it is conducive to health and vitality while actively suppressing disease

He goes on to say:

The Eclectic Triphasic Medical System (ETMS) is an innovative system by which healthcare practitioners implement more effective, comprehensive treatment plans fortheir patients with chronic illness or cancer.  The beauty of the ETMS is that it provides a framework for supporting the patient using the fullest degree of botanical, nutritional, and biomedical principles. Without overlooking the human being‟s constitution and environmental influences—or their unique manifestation of disease—the ETMS aims for balance and harmony in executing optimal care. It was designed as a way to employ the oldest healing principles in conjunction with the most cutting-edge science in both assessment and treatment. This approach inherently relies upon the broadest assessment tools on behalf of patients‟“whole” health, and accordingly applies the most appropriate therapeutics.

Strategies I am employing include:  chelating copper.  This is an unpatentable anti-angiogenic strategy.  Another one is chelating stored iron.  Cancer cells sequester iron far more than normal cells.  Yet another is herbal strategies to prevent cancer from Chinese Medicine and support various aspects of the cancer fighting immune system.  One important approach to prevention is not just to fight cancer but to get healthier.  It does sound obvious.  The flashy and exciting part of prevention may be the genetic testing and then applying a combination of drugs and natural treatment strategies to the findings, but the bread and butter of  regulating digestion, improving blood sugar control, getting enough sleep, staying calm and modifying excesses in the diet to improve overall wellness are also important.

I am doing all that I can to ensure a long and healthy life.  In the meantime the road is clear If you know of people that need help with cancer prevention or side effects of treatment have them contact me. 

Friday, July 22, 2011

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

One Of The Most Researched Herbs - Curcumin

Curcumin is one of the most important well-researched cancer fighting herbs known.  It is a spice (think curry) and in its extract form a dye.  Plants with remarkable colors generally have potent medicinal properties.  Curcumin is an extract of Tumeric.  For health promotion and disease management it is best to have the highest potency curcumin extract.

A search of Medline reveals more than 1,500 studies describing the various activities of turmeric/curcumin.  What is it about curcumin that has so many scientists excited? The starting point is inflammation  but it is a whole lot more than that.  Inflammation is known to play a major role in the development of most diseases including: Cardiovascular diseases, Cancer, Pulmonary diseases, Neurological diseases (including Alzheimers), Autoimmune diseases, Arthritis and Diabetes.

Curcumin for a cancer patient is safe to take, acts as a chemotherapy and radio sensitizer while protecting normal cells.   It has multiple targets to down-regulate cancer growth pathways across multiple cancer types.  Cucumin has been found to suppress, retard, and even reverse cancer development at each stage of the disease. 

I recommend high potency extracts of curcumin in formulas as part of my base program for nearly all patients with cancer.   Curcumin needs to be taken with a little fat to help it absorb.  It can cause gas and intestinal upset at high doses. 

The following chart shows all the cancer targets that are up and down-regulated by curcumin.  If you think about drugs having usually 1 sometimes a few cancer targets, curcumin looks amazing for its 80 anti-cancer targets.   Curcumin (and herbs in general) are for me a part of the personalization of cancer treatment.   Finding in a particular tumor what is under or over-expressed and using herbs alone or in concert with drugs to treat cancer in a collaborative and intelligent manner.

I found the link to this chart in a 76 page paper called Curcumin: Indian Solid Gold

Bharrat Aggarawal is the prolific and innovative superstar in curcumin research.  Read an interview with him here.

For me Curcumin is part of what gives hope to treat and manage cancer.  Don't leave home without it.