George’s Journal

First of all, Happy Anniversary to my lovely wife!  Thirteen years ago today Cheryl and I did the deed in front of 150 or so witnesses in Chicago. Thanks for putting up with me, and taking care of me; especially this past year. As the song goes, “The best is yet to come.”

The girls and I just returned from a 1200 mile road trip to San Francisco, with stops in Bakersfield (Cousins Wayne & Joan Tallman), San Ramon (former hood, stayed with Dave & Linda Fabucci) and Paso Robles (Uncle Al & Aunt Carol Speh).  It felt great to get away for a few days. We also hooked up with Dean and Victoria Dupuy for dinner at their place in San Jose. Thank you all for your wonderful hospitality!  Mark Twain once said, “The coldest winter I ever spent was a summer in San Francisco.” Having lived in the city, I can relate! In the summer, it’s typically 63 degrees, with a windy chill from the Bay.  However, Wednesday, the temperature was a record-tying 99 degrees!  We strolled around North Beach, Union Street (another old hood) and Ghirardelli Square. The kids wanted to ride the cable cars; which is one of the city’s best entertainment values at $5 each for a 30-minute ride. Against all odds, I found good parking all day – only $6 went into the meters.

In this special update, Part II, I’ll share 2 more cumulative decisions gleaned from my 9 year journey:  assembling my team and taking ownership of my health care, and a healthy nutritional blueprint for all.

ASSEMBLING A HIGHLY COMPETENT, PROFESSIONAL MEDICAL TEAM

You make hundreds of decisions battling cancer. Some are as “simple” as declining a pain pill. Others are more weighty, e.g., determining where to go for treatment. “Nobody bats 1.000” in their decision making process.  Obviously, a critical necessity in battling cancer is assembling a strong team. From the diagnosis stage, when most are fairly uneducated and somewhat shocked by the cancer news, through the various steps fighting this disease you make decisions about who will treat you, where and when, and what the treatments will be. You take it “a step at a time;” especially if you’re not real privy to the health care industry or haven’t been intimately exposed to a friend/relative’s cancer battle.  Begin by educating yourself by with referrals from friends and family, checking your insurance to maximize coverage and minimize out-of-pocket costs, and filtering through Internet explanations, articles and testimonials. Be careful not to read everything, it can be a downer.  Every situation is unique. The stats apply to the entire population, and may or may not work in your favor.  If not so favorable, with faith and God’s will you can be the exception!

As I’ve emphasized, ultimately, you’re in charge of your plan of attack, and your professional partners.  If you need to travel a longer distance to obtain the services of a more experienced medical team, at a more distinguished (with the type of cancer afflicting you) medical center it’s worth it.  At least you’ll have some peace of mind and confidence knowing you’re “going the extra mile” to get the best possible care and results. While at Oasis of Hope in Tijuana, I met patients who didn’t want to subject their bodies to chemo or radiation. They traveled to Mexico for the alternative treatments. Most patients, however, were seeking any remedy that could prolong their life.  Like me, they had been advised that there was “not much more we can do” by their oncologist.

My team is world class.  These are the professionals that saved my life:  Dr. Robert Chen – oncologist/hematologist (City of Hope), Keri Halsema – nurse practitioner (COH), Dr. Khan Nugyen – radiologist (COH), Dr. Edward Nelson – oncologist (U of UC-Irvine), Rachel Rodriguez – nurse practitioner (UCI), Dr. Wen-Kai Weng – oncologist (Stanford U.),  Dr. Ronald Levy – chief, division of oncology (Stanford), Dr, David C. Fisher – oncologist (Dana Farber Cancer Institute, Boston), Dr. Joseph Antin – oncologist/hematologist (Dana Farber), Dr. Boris Del Cid – chiropractor, Dr. Peter Wong – oncologist, and Dr. Jose’ Cecena – oncologist (Oasis of Hope).

SCIENCE EXPERIMENT:  PARTICIPATION IN PHASE III CLINICAL TRIAL

Living in the Bay Area in ‘01, I determined Stanford was my best option. Stanford and Dana Farber Cancer Institute (Boston) are the top lymphoma centers in the US. Until ‘04, I was treated at Stanford, primarily by Dr. Wen-Kai Weng. I received outpatient chemo at Dr. Peter Wong’s office in ’02.  In ‘03-‘04, I participated in a Phase III clinical trial at Stanford, sponsored by Genitope. A clinical trial is a research study to answer specific questions about new drugs or treatments for disease. These trials occur after extensive work in the lab and animal studies. Regulated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in the US, clinical trials are an established way to find new treatments that are safe and effective.  A Phase 3 Study is a clinical trial in which an investigational drug or treatment is given to a large number of people, in this case, with follicular lymphoma.  Phase 3 clinical trials feature potential drugs/treatment options that have proven to be relatively safe and have shown promise in the two proceeding trials.

In January ’03, I had outpatient surgery at Stanford to remove my largest tumor. The purpose of the surgery was to create an idiotype vaccine from the tumor.  An idiotype is the patient-specific “fingerprint”, or unique protein on the patient’s tumor, that is identified and used to manufacture a patient-specific vaccine. Genitope’s product candidate tested during this study, MyVax® Personalized Immunotherapy, is an investigational vaccine based on the unique genetic makeup (idiotype) of a patient’s tumor and is designed to activate a patient’s immune system to identify and attack cancer cells. Ah, medical terminology!

It was a double-blind, randomized study. Patients first received chemo to reduce their tumor burden (and had to shrink 50% to qualify) followed by a 6-month rest period. Patients either received the MyVax® or control arm (placebo) in a 2:1 ratio. Patients in the MyVax(R) grouping received a patient-specific vaccine joined to a foreign carrier protein called keyhole-limpet hemocyanin (KLH). Patients in the control arm received the KLH. Patients in both arms received granulocyte macrophage-colony stimulating factor (GM-CSF) as an immunologic adjuvant. An adjuvant (Latin, adiuvare: to aid) is a immunological agent that modifies the effect of other agents (e.g., drugs, vaccines) to enhance the recipient’s immune response, while having few if any direct effects when given by itself.

Over an 18-month period, every 4 weeks, I’d inject myself with either the vaccine or placebo. Don’t know which one I received. Since I proceeded into remission for 4 years afterwards, I suspect something in the vaccine or placebo was helpful. Genitope is seeking FDA approval and once they receive the green light will staff a sales force.  The Phase III study results were inconclusive. To date, MyVax® has not been approved.  

IMPORTANCE OF SECOND OPINIONS

When we moved to Southern California in February ’03, eventually I had to choose a local oncologist. I was treated at Stanford through ’04 for the clinical trial (travel expenses reimbursed). In February ’07, I decided on Dr. Edward Nelson at UC-Irvine Medical Center.  Dr. Nelson is a Stanford-trained physician, and a terrific physician/counselor. In July ’09, after a year of chemo, Dr. Nelson advised that he was positioning me for a bone marrow transplant, and that I could choose between City of Hope, UCLA, and Cedars-Sinai Medical Center.  I decided on City of Hope because it is one of select few designated comprehensive cancer centers in the US.  Moreover, COH has pioneered BMTs, completing over 9,000!  After the 3 additional levels of chemo were not effective at “melting the tumor” in my abdomen, I went to Stanford in early February ’10 to meet with Dr. Ronald Levy for a second opinion. Also, my cousin Kathy Tallman referred me to a contact at Dana Farber. I received second opinions from leading experts at the two top lymphoma think tanks.  Cheryl and I traveled to Palo Alto to meet with Dr. Levy.  Linda Fabucci picked us up at the Oakland Airport and was our escort (thanks again!). Dr. Levy recommended a radiation protocol.  Dr. Chen had been concerned about the proximity of the tumor to my right kidney. Dr. Levy assured us it would not be an issue. (Special thanks to family friends Stanford Head Football Coach Jim Harbaugh and his father Jack Harbaugh, who spent 45 minutes with me in Jim’s office, talking football and providing extra inspiration and energy to help boost my spirits to remain strong and keep the faith to beat this terrible disease).  The Dana Farber experts concurred.

When the radiation treatments weren’t making much of an impact, Dr. Nguyen recommended that I double the radiation dosage level and cut back the number of sessions from 20 to 18. It meant I would have only 4 more.  After meeting with Dr. Chen later that afternoon, and hearing his bleak prognosis “unless something dramatic happens,” I agreed to double the radiation.  At risk was the possibility of perforating my bowel. If that happened, it would require emergency surgery and seal my fate. Thankfully that didn’t happen! At the time, I felt I really had nothing to lose…I was already at rock bottom.

SPIRITUAL COMPONENT OF BATTLING CANCER IS HUGE INTANGIBLE

Yes, you’re in charge of managing your health care, and that includes your attitude! My fight was a day at a time battle against an elusive foe, as well as controlling my emotions and maintaining a positive mental outlook. Trusting God’s grace to lead you through the adversity and keeping your faith intact during the temporary setbacks is critical. Little messages or signals of support matter! At Oasis of Hope, it was comforting to see the Isaiah 40:31 prominently featured in the cafeteria’s large window showcase:

“They who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength,

They shall mount up with wings like eagles,

They shall run and not be weary,

They shall walk and not faint.”

Bob Mooney sent me this scripture in November. He’s Senior Pastor of Messiah Lutheran Church and our neighbor. The total approach, mind, body, spiritual is essential for healing.

BLUEPRINT FOR OPTIMUM NUTRITION:  AVOID CANCER & OTHER DISEASES

I’ve discovered THERE IS a proven nutritional blueprint for all of us which will curb the likelihood of cancer. First, some sobering facts:  According to the American Cancer Society (AMS) there will be 1,219,914 new cases of cancer in ‘10. The 10 most common types are:  lung, prostate, breast, colorectal, bladder, non-hodgkin lymphoma, melanoma, kidney, leukemia, and uterine. The ACS says US males have a 47% lifetime chance of getting cancer. Women fare better, but a 38% lifetime chance is still alarming.

As outlined in my July 25th post, the most comprehensive nutritional study ever (20 years!) was featured in The China Study. The data compared the diets of millions of Chinese men and women to those of us in America. The American “western diet” is comprised largely of animal-based foods (meat, eggs, milk, cheese) and processed foods, and is highly conducive to disease. The Chinese people eat a plant-based diet.  The authors, Dr. T. Colin Campbell and his son Thomas, convincingly show that the western diet is much more likely to result in a serious/deadly chronic disease than a plant-based diet.  Per Dr. Campbell, “Adopting a healthy diet and lifestyle can PREVENT the majority of cancers in the US.”  The death rate from heart disease was 17 times higher among American men than Chinese men, and the death rate in America from breast cancer was 5 times higher than in China. The most dramatic finding is that heart disease can be prevented and even reversed by a healthy diet!  Embracing the info contained in The China Study can add years to your life by helping you avoid or defeat some of the most dangerous diseases in our country.

I’ve learned there is no such thing as a special diet for cancer and a different, equally special diet for heart disease. The evidence amassed from researchers around the world shows that the same diet that is good for the prevention of cancer is also good for the prevention of heart disease, as well as obesity, diabetes, cataracts, Alzheimer’s, multiple sclerosis, and other diseases. A whole foods plant-based diet can only benefit everyone regardless of his or her genes or personal dispositions.

Dr. George Barossa (Oasis of Hope) developed the alternative cancer treatment protocol administered to me.  During my stay, he hosted a presentation and Q & A featuring the role diet plays in preventing or reversing cancer.  Dr. Barossa was practical in his advice.  The diet at OOH was 100% Vegan, and difficult for some to embrace going forward.  He offered a more moderate approach. “Choose the diet where you’re going to be happy, eating healthy.”  He points to the Mediterranean diet, featured in countries such as Italy and Greece, as an example of a good diet to adopt. Here are some key takeaways:

  • Olive oil used for cooking (good in heat); Vegetable oils in salads
  • Eat a low quantity of meat, but NO RED MEAT
  • No cow’s milk (The China Study reveals “casein” which makes up 87% of cow’s milk promotes all stages of the cancer process. Substitute with soy or almond milk)
  • Pasta with rich tomato sauce is good, every day
  • White pasta is OK, it has a low glycemic index (GI); Eat meals with low GI (<70)
  • Cheese is OK, but in low quantities; Organic eggs only 2-3 times weekly
  • Chicken or turkey 2-3 times weekly
  • Eat high quantities of fruits and vegetables
  • Garlic and coffee are good; caffeine is an immune stimulant
  • Cooked peppers, tomatoes, broccoli and carrots are better for you than raw
  • Red wine in moderation is good

The Mediterranean diet is also advocated by many major medical organizations. Check out the Mayo Clinic site, http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/mediterranean-diet/CL00011. Something that the conventional and alternative medical communities both agree on!

PLEASE TAKE STOCK IN AND SHARE THIS INFORMATION

The purpose of this info was to possibly help you avoid a serious disease like cancer, or if it’s too late, successfully battle it.  For patients, be focused on a positive outcome and be specific to God in your prayers. Surrender to Him to take care of you. One day at a time!

Thanks for visiting the site. To those of you who have contributed to my fund, Cheryl and I are deeply grateful. Your care and generosity is significantly helping us in a time of need.

God bless you and yours,

George

…”With God all things are possible.” (Matthew 19:26)


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