It’s been a few days since my last post. There are many reasons for this, chief among them my reading of the literature that suggests that regular aerobic exercise is better for delaying cancer recurrence than our best chemotherapy — and with much better side effects. So, I’ve increased the intensity of my exercise regimen to > 13,000 steps per day, which works out to be about seven miles. And, I’ve added about 20 minutes per day of core yoga. I’ll mention parenthetically and without any false-modesty, that my exercise program has yielded the shapeliest version of me in quite some time. It’s been a bit of a push, getting my 13,000 steps in plus supplemental exercises, while handling all my various social and professional obligations, and still finding time to write 1000 good words on the blog per day.
I’ve written earlier about my admiration and envy of long-tern cancer survivors. These are normal people who had no choice but to fight back against an enemy inside them, and came away victorious. Heroic, in my opinion. Since I wrote that column, a number of other survivor stories have filtered in, and since I like these so much, and since I don’t think I’m alone in liking them, I figured it would be a good time to update that column.
1. Last time, I mentioned that a friend in Connecticut’s mom will be cancer-free for TEN YEARS in October. Turns out, the big party for being a survivor will be in August, not October (congrats!!), and not only is her mom a breast-cancer survivor, but so are her grandmother, aunt, and great-aunt. My friend is a biologist herself, and I wouldn’t presume to offer her advice about cancer genetics, but I’m confident that all practical medical steps are being taken to avoid being part of their family’s streak of bad luck. Meanwhile, I humbly suggest that a number of sensible lifestyle changes can delay cancer progression dramatically. Godspeed.
2. A friend of a friend contacted me out of the blue to tell me about her battle with cervical cancer. She was 31 at diagnosis and had been a prolific world traveler. I don’t know much about the details of her medical interventions, but from what she writes, she was in prime physical condition and used a variety of meditation and spiritual practices to stay positive throughout the process. She was thankful that she had spent the year(s) leading up to her diagnosis preparing herself for the challenges ahead, which is an encouraging outlook – I’d like to think that my work done to date has better prepared me for handling this illness. Another trait I noticed in her story: there was no time wasted with the “What if?” questions or self pity. Optimism is a choice, and my friend made her peace with her diagnosis early on, so that she could move onto the healing part. Inspiring.
3. A colleague of my mom’s approached her to say that he felt awful about my diagnosis, especially since his dad had a brain tumor two decades earlier in Mexico. My mom replied; “I’m so sorry to hear that.” He replied: “Oh, it’s ok. He’s perfectly fine now.
4. A friend at UPenn heard about my diagnosis and mentioned that his father had a “huge” brain tumor removed in the early 90’s, and is “still walking the Earth.” In fact, this gentlemen gets the unenviable distinction of being a double survivor. Despite beating brain cancer for 25+ years, he was afflicted with advanced prostrate cancer ten years ago. His doctors recommended against treatment, and this gentlemen sought out second opinions and paid for his treatment out of pocket. My friend writes: “Don’t trust doctors and never give up!” This is a theme I’ve heard from many people on the happy long arm of OS curves.
5. Ed survived a Grade III astrocytoma in his left motor cortex that was initially diagnosed in 1993. He has completed surgery, radiation, chemo, and rehab, and has had no medical treatment since 1994. He has also had 40+ clean MRIs. He writes that his diagnosis was an opportunity to change his diet and exercise, and that relaxation and visualization were key to improve his quality of life.
6. Jing’s Chinese herbalist, from whom we buy Ganoderma mushrooms, had a primary brain tumor removed ten years ago. He credits his current good health to Ganoderma, Tai Chi, and a diet rich in vegetables.
7. Matthew Fullerton is a 28 year survivor of glioblastoma. A truly remarkable story. He celebrated his 50/50 anniversary in 2004. This is something I had never heard of: it’s the anniversary you mark when half of your life was lived after your cancer diagnosis. For me, my 50/50 anniversary will have to be just before my 71st birthday, in 2050. Big party planned. Like many of the other survivors described above, Matthew seems to have accepted his diagnosis early on, and has concentrated his efforts into moving forward, rather than ruminating on how unfair the entire situation is.
If you read the primary literature, like I have been compulsively for the last few months, scientists and doctors write some pretty grim stuff about how bad brain tumors are. I agree completely, they’re freaking bad. But, it’s worth reminding ourselves that many people have survived brain tumors and are alive and well. Those grim sensational statistics in papers are the sorts of things we write because we think it will improve the chances that the paper gets accepted or our grant gets funded. Lord knows I’ve been known to play up the bio-medical significance of circadian rhythms once or twice. Looking across the spectrum of survivors, I note that every single one I’ve encountered has stayed active — physically and mentally — and none have wasted any energy on self-pity. Seems like a sensible approach to me. For that matter, I don’t want any pity, either endogenous or exogenous. I just want to get better and put all this nonsense behind me.