George’s Journal Entries

George’s Journal

Wednesday, October 20th, 2010

Thanks for visiting the site. I mentioned a few weeks ago a feeling of tightness/bulkiness in my lower right abdomen. It was very concerning because it felt similar to the menacing tumor that had threatened my life. I noticed the sensation in mid-September, and discussed with Dr. Chen: (1) Is it likely the cancer had returned? He said “no;” (2) Is it possible the cancer had returned?  Dr. Chen, “yes;” (3) When he examined me, did he feel any sign of a tumor?  He said “no, but that’s not conclusive;” (4) If not a tumor, what could it be? “Could be scar tissue, could be sore muscles (from physical therapy); (5) Should I have a PET-CT scan?  He said “it’s a bit early, since you just had one 6 weeks ago, but let’s go ahead and find out for sure.”  You have to find out.

No matter how much you try not to worry, it’s always stressful when confronted with a PET-CT scan, and awaiting the results. Since my BMT, I’ve had 3 scans, June 11th, August 11th and October 8th.  I was extremely pleased to learn on October 12th, that the result was #4, “muscle re-growth, related soreness.” Happy 85th Birthday Dad (John V. Ghindia)!

Here’s a shout out to my Mom (Sue Ghindia). As highlighted before, my family was in town recently for the Tallman reunion. In packing for the return to Michigan, Mom grabbed a suitcase and pulled a muscle in her side. Not the thing to do before getting on a 5-hour flight. One thing led to another, and Mom contracted shingles. She’s been in the hospital a couple times, in a lot of pain. Fortunately Mom is feeling better and on the mend. She’s always the first to comfort and nurture others; please join me in wishing her a speedy recovery. Love you Mom!

TODD LARSEN….A GREAT PERSON, FRIEND, TEACHER AND COMMUNITY LEADER

It greatly saddens me to report that Todd Larsen, a Northpark community neighbor (Irvine) and fellow BMT recipient, passed away Saturday morning. Todd had endured an incredibly tough battle with leukemia and numerous infections and viruses, including pneumonia. He was a tough, courageous, “can do” guy. Todd was a fixture in Northpark, with his beautiful wife, Kelly, and “almost 2” son, Garrett.  He masterfully coached the Northpark Riptides swim team (100 or so kids) for 8 years, and taught music to many, particularly children and teenagers. Todd was a very gifted, giving individual, always game to help. Many kids were taught life lessons by Todd, who will fondly be remembered as “Coach Todd.”

I remember meeting Todd several years ago at the Irvine Swim League Championships. There were about 2,000 kids, 20+ teams, and hundreds of adults at this annual summer event.  Eva and Jacquelyne were swimming for the Heritage Park Seals.  What grabbed my attention were all the Coach Todd Rocks! signs and banners plastered all over Woollett Aquatic Center and surrounding grounds. This Todd was truly the rock star of the meet!

Todd was diagnosed with Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia (ALL) in September 2009. ALL is an aggressive form of leukemia that is most commonly found in children. On March 2nd, Todd received an allogeneic bone marrow transplant (unrelated donor) – same type of as me.  Unfortunately, he wasn’t well enough to be discharged, and was still at City of Hope in May when I was there.  We were on the same floor (6th), at opposite ends of the building.

Most days, during my month-long stay, I would slowly walk past his room a couple times during my “2 laps around the floor” escape, and peak my head in. Todd was usually sleeping, and/or not feeling well. I could relate. While I didn’t know Todd that well, we shared a kinship because of our similar health struggles. He was the type of guy you would like to have a beer (Guinness) with, a very cool dude! After my discharge, I was pretty wrapped up in my own recovery (which you’ve inspired!), but it was easy to notice the community rallying for Todd and Kelly. There were numerous fund raisers, blood drives and morale boosting events. Truly extraordinary! Todd was recognized in July as a great example of ethical leadership with the Leaders in Integrity Award in Newport Beach.

In August, I was troubled to learn Todd was still at COH. After his BMT, he was only out of the hospital a few days, dealing with one infection/virus on top of another. The post-BMT immune system recovery is complicated. After an out-patient appointment with Dr. Chen, I stopped by Todd’s room.  He was down the hall in a group physical therapy session. I found him, and we spent a moment visiting between exercises. His eyes were joyful, and spirit engaging – typical for Todd. Later, I was delighted to hear a bone marrow biopsy showed he was “cancer free!”

However, Friday late afternoon, John Fabris forwarded an email from Susan Ingalls. Todd’s condition had worsened. He was in intensive care with extremely serious infections.  Doctors said he might not make it through the weekend. Some close friends were organizing a prayer vigil at the Northpark pool – Todd’s domain. Cheryl and I attended. It was an amazing outpouring of love by children and adults. There were tears…and some laughter. Todd was a powerful bond for all. We held candles and prayed for God’s will, asking for Todd’s recovery and healing.

Unfortunately, it wasn’t in God’s plan for Todd. It’s a gross understatement to say Todd Larsen will be missed. This quote from one of his blogs captures Todd’s essence, “I must tell every one of the kids that I have coached or taught over the years how much I miss you. You are the reason I do what I do. I love working with kids and I really miss being a part of their lives as I go through this.”

A good man…taken way too soon. Todd is now in our Lord’s Kingdom of Heaven, free of pain and suffering. God bless and comfort Kelly, Garrett, their family, and Todd’s army of close friends. Please remember them in your prayers. To learn more about Todd, visit: www.ToddRockinLeukemia.com or www.toddrockinleukemia.blogspot.com. Rest in peace my friend.

Each day is a blessing. I wake up every morning thanking God for “today.” As always, Cheryl and I cherish your prayers, friendship, love and generosity.

God bless you and yours,

George

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

George’s Journal

Monday, September 27th, 2010

Thanks for visiting the site. Physical therapy is going well. My strength and mobility are improving,        though I’m still relatively weak. Tuesday, I meet with Dr. Chen at City of Hope.  I’ve been feeling a tightness/bulkiness in my right lower stomach area, and most likely will have another PET-CT scan later this week. As always, I greatly appreciate your prayers.  Like I’ve been saying, I’m not out of the woods with cancer concerns.  After a couple years of “no cancer evident,” I’ll start feeling more secure with my long-term health.

The month of September has been activity-driven, and special. Let me start by congratulating Tim and Kelly Blett on their 25th anniversary (Sept. 14th). The Ghindia family always looks forward to Labor Day weekend, because it marks the beginning of college football season, and of course back to school for the kids. Cheryl and I visited with Eva’s 4th grade teacher (Mrs. Lehman) at Hicks Canyon Elementary School.  We also met all 6 of Jacquelyne’s 7th grade teachers at Pioneer Middle School. We’re fortunate to live in an area with excellent public schools; though the budget cuts in California require increasing parent donations to sustain essential programs and curriculum.

TALLMAN FAMILY REUNION

The weekend of the 10th, my Mom’s side of the family, “The Tallmans,” gathered in Newport Beach, CA for a 3-day reunion. It was a remarkable weekend!  Approximately half of the 80 family participants traveled to Orange County from New York, Michigan, Florida, Virginia, Colorado, Texas, Kentucky, Massachusetts, and Pennsylvania. Our home was filled with 10, my Mom, Dad, brother John from Michigan, and sisters Suzy (with niece Jennifer) and Janet from the Denver area.  Cheryl did a great job getting everyone situated and comfortable.

Several years ago, my cousin Wayne Tallman shared his vision for this reunion with me and other Orange County-based family. Wayne is my Mom’s first-cousin, and I’ve always looked to him as role model. He’s a former executive with Unocal, and has lived all over the world with his super wife, Joan, and two daughters, Kristin and Courtney. Nowadays, Wayne and Joan reside in Bakersfield, and have a really cool beach house in Newport Beach.  That home was the gathering spot of our reunion beach party Saturday the 11th.

JACQUELYNE AND EVA OUTNUMBERED

At the beach, the kid’s disregarded the cold ocean temperature (cool summer) and had a blast!  Our oldest, Jacquelyne “boogey boarded” for almost 4 hours! And Jacquelyne and Eva, and a team of boy cousins, Bryce, Caden, Jakob, Joachim, Finn, Liam, Colin, Morgan, Ethan and Preston, played volleyball, tossed the football, and built sand castles. About 10 of us packed the living room to watch some great college football (Michigan, USC, UCLA).

The previous day, we boarded a 120 yacht for a late afternoon cruise in Newport Harbor. That evening we enjoyed dinner and other festivities at the Newport Beach Yacht Club. We wrapped up the festivities with a family picnic in Huntington Beach, Sunday. Recreation Director, Megan Ryder, did an exceptional job of staging games for the kids (and adults), e.g., wheel barrel, burlap sack and three-legged races.

Relatives making the trip west: Butch and Belinda Tallman (Rome, NY), his sisters Anna Tallman          (NYC-Manhattan), Jennifer McLean with husband Paul and 3 sons (Philadelphia) and Mom Pat Tallman (Detroit); Uncle Jack Tallman and Aunt Trisha (Austin, TX); Aunt Betty Tallman (Deland, FL), first cousins Rob Tallman (Manchester, MI), and sisters Joi with husband Dan Clifford (Canton, MI), Sherrie Tallman (Cincinnati), and Kathy Tallman with husband Peter Norstand (Boston); Charles and Jenny Swift (Cincinnati), and Nancy Stodd (Virginia).

WHAT REALLY MATTERS

Back in February, Wayne and Joan, and their reunion committee (Uncle Tom, cousin Beverly Reilly and other cousins) were planning the event, and it helped motivate me.  During difficult times, especially this past year, it has always helped me to visualize enjoying special events with family and friends (the Copps’ 4th of July celebration, Christmas, birthdays, Michigan football games, and more), and other activities I/we enjoy, e.g., running a couple miles, attending church, road trips, Palm Springs over Memorial Day.

While my priorities have always centered on family and friends, I grew to appreciate this even more during my health crisis, i.e., family, friends and the good Lord are all that really matter. Personal accomplishments may have contributed mental toughness and confidence, which certainly helps. Material possessions are great and enjoyable; but will they help you get through a challenging day when you’re scrambling to survive?

TALLMAN/GHINDIA/SWIFT FAMILY FUN FACTS

As you can imagine, we have quite a diverse family, with some interesting backgrounds and accomplishments. Here are just a few: My Dad John (Michigan football ’47 and ’48) and cousin Rich Tallman (Long Beach State volleyball ’91) were members of NCAA National Championship teams; Rich’s wife, Prescilla Pacheco Tallman is a 2-time All American (Georgia volleyball ’93 and ’94 – plus        UGA Athletics Hall of Honor member); the leading undergraduate schools attended are Western Michigan U. (7 grads), U. of Michigan (6 grads), U. of Southern California (2 grads), and UCLA (2 grads); and 4 family members held positions at General Motors or Ford Motor Company.

Based on research by my Uncle Tom and cousin Butch, we’ve discovered our family is related to Abraham Lincoln. William Tallman, born in 1720 at Portsmouth, RI, married Anne Lincoln in 1740 at Berks County, PA. President Lincoln is a lineal descendent of Anne’s brother, John Lincoln. John was the Great Grandfather to Abraham.  Our first American descendent was Peter Tallman, born in Hamburg, Germany (1623). Peter was an apothecary (historical name for pharmacist) who traveled in 1647 to Barbados.  He became wealthy treating slaves, and trading goods between the Caribbean islands and New Amsterdam (Manhattan). Peter settled in Newport, RI in 1649, moved to Portsmouth in 1658 and married Joan Brigg in 1665 (2nd marriage). Son Benjamin was born in 1684. William Tallman was Benjamin’s son, and my 6th Great-Grandfather, making Anne my 6th Great-Grandmother, and President Lincoln’s Great-Great Aunt!

Welcome Carlos Santana (great name) to the family! He married cousin Christine Brown, August 28th.  I’ll take some of my own advice and focus on positive outcomes, be specific to God in my prayers, and surrender to Him to care of me one day at a time. To those of you who have contributed to my fund, Cheryl and I can never thank you enough.

God bless you and yours,

George

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

George’s Journal

Monday, August 30th, 2010

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)

George’s Journal

Thursday, August 19th, 2010

I learned last Friday that I’m cancer free!  I’ve had two PET-CT scans, June 11th and  August 11th, since my bone marrow transplant, and both showed “no cancer.” It’s hard to describe how relieved and happy I am. As the father of two young daughters (9 and 12), I desperately want them to grow up with their Father around. The good Lord watched over me, filling me with hope and timely solutions, i.e., guided me to the right physicians, at the right facilities, brought me your astounding support. I give all the glory to God! He bolstered my resolve, reversed a bleak situation, and renewed my life free of cancer.  While there is always the possibility of a recurrence or some other type of cancer/ailment, I’m cancer free for the first time in 9 years….yah baby, I like it!

In this special update and next week’s part II, I’ll share 5 key situations/considerations gleaned from my 9 year journey:  my initial diagnosis, who to tell and when, the “miracle,” assembling my team and taking ownership of my health care, and a healthy nutritional blueprint for all. Today I’ll cover my initial diagnosis, how I shared my condition, and the miracle of my dramatic recovery.

FIRST SOME SPECIAL ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS

While I’d like to list all of you individually for contributing to my healing, I’ll try to connect with each of you over the next few months. You (family, friends, friends of friends) continuously lifted me up. I feel so blessed and fortunate, thank you all!  For now, I’d like to acknowledge some special contributions to my progress and family’s well being. It starts with my beautiful wife and caregiver, Cheryl. She has gracefully juggled many, often unexpected, trying situations, e.g., ambulance at 3 AM, emotional meetings with physicians, running around getting things for me, staying positive, and keeping the kids informed and “in a good place” emotionally without saying too much. Jacquelyne and Eva have been amazing! They’ve grown up enormously and I’m extremely proud of them.

My brother, John, and parents, John and Sue are the best! They traveled from Michigan to SoCal twice this year to be us; including a 3-week road trip right after my BMT. John orchestrated this website. My sisters Janet and Suzy visited from Colorado to lend their support, while my sister Mary Beth communicated via telephone / letters often. My mother-in-law, Madeline Walsh and partner Tom Perry visited from Florida at Christmas.  A surprising college roommate reunion was organized by Tim and Kelly Blett.  Great friends from Western Michigan University flew in to pump me up.  After a difficult week of chemo (late Jan.), it was fun to spend the weekend with Steve Fuller (Chicago), Bob Sauer, Ron Buermann (Detroit) and Reed Perry (Netherlands!), Tim, and Chris Copps. Another WMU bro, Tommy Mannausa forwarded lyrics to 20 songs he wrote, one of them about me – quite entertaining! My cousin Kathy Tallman (Boston) spent a few days with us, accompanying me to COH for blood transfusions.  Cousin Mark Sutherland (Chicago) joined us for an evening in March. The Bletts and Copps (Saxon) seeded the funding for my treatments at OOH. My Trenton High School tennis partner, Mike McNally, was adamant I’d beat this thing, always providing me a boost. Mike Leoni (Ann Arbor) brought Father Solonas Casey into my life. Don and Claire Eaton (Ann Arbor), owners of a sporting goods & equipment company, www.wolverinesports.com, had a volleyball net and posts made for our backyard.  The girls love it! I’m overwhelmed with all the support!  Collectively, all of you helped save my life!

CANCER DIAGNOSIS…A SCARY ROAD OF UNCERTAINTY

Over 9 years ago (April ‘01), I noticed a lump in right armpit – it was approximately 1” by 1/2”.  I had been so healthy for 10+ years that I rarely visited a medical doctor. I researched my insurance PPO “in-network” physicians, and went to see a MD general practitioner (my primary physician at the time was chiropractor and dear friend, Dr. Boris Del Cid). This new physician (shall remain nameless) dismissed the lump as “nothing to be concerned with,” and told me to run warm water on it in the shower! I pressed for more information, and he referred me to Dr. Barry Gardiner for urine and blood work. I found it odd to be referred to a general surgeon, but walked immediately to Dr. Gardiner’s office in the adjacent building.  He was not available for few weeks.

I was on a very busy work travel schedule, and April drifted into July when I noticed a lump in my upper right thigh/groin area.  It was the size of a small egg. Now I was really concerned.  I contacted Dr. Gardiner’s office for an appointment. Dr. Gardiner specialized in minimally invasive surgery, and was probably a good choice for the biopsy work necessary for an accurate diagnosis. On July 20th, Eva was born!  Cheryl and I were thrilled. We had a growing family, but I had a huge potential health problem.

After a series of tests and biopsies, I had outpatient surgery at San Ramon Regional Medical Center (Bay Area), Tuesday, November 27th. Dr. Gardiner wanted a section of this growth to properly diagnose me.  After regaining consciousness, he said, “I strongly suspect that you have lymphoma, it’s a mess in there.” Cheryl and I met with him a couple days later, and he advised us of the Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma diagnosis. Dr. Gardiner didn’t offer details about what type of NHL, or a prognosis. Rather, he referred me to a local oncologist, Dr. Peter Wong. It was a sobering, frightening moment. We got on Internet and began researching this cancer without knowing which one of the over 20 types of NHL I had.

WHICH IS IT, STAGE 1A OR STAGE 4?

We met with Dr. Wong two days later. He performed a bone marrow biopsy to determine if the cancer was in my marrow.  The biopsy was memorable, mostly because I was not sedated.  He put me on a table, gave me a local anesthesia, and jammed a big needle into my lower back – very old school!  I squirmed like a kid.  It took 3 stabs and some digging for him to get a sample. Apparently, the cancer was limited to my groin area. Dr. Wong diagnosed me as Stage 1A – Follicular Lymphoma – a non-aggressive lymphoma, confined to one area. We were relieved! The cancer was not imminently life threatening and highly treatable. He referred me to a Radiologist at John Muir Hospital in Walnut Creek.

I was still trying to sort everything out. That same week, Cheryl and I met with the Radiologist (shall remain nameless).  As I lay on my back, he marked my body for radiation – the proposed treatment.  The doctor’s plan was to radiate and shrink the tumor.  I had an instinct this was not the approach/doctor I felt comfortable with. We met with Dr. Wong again, and advised him I wanted to go to Stanford University Medical Center for a second opinion.  Stanford is one of the top Lymphoma centers in the country.  Dr. Wong thought it prudent, and gave us a contact and number.  We got on the schedule. It was now mid-December, about 8 months after I noticed the lump in my armpit.

I met with a team of oncologists at Stanford, under the direction of Dr. Ronald Levy, perhaps the foremost lymphoma expert in the US.  These skilled physicians gave me a thorough examination, including CT scans.  They diagnosed me with Stage 4 – Follicular Lymphoma.  The main mass was in my right upper thigh/groin, but there were smaller tumors in my abdomen, armpits and neck.  A broader cancer field, but still non-aggressive. After 8 months, multiple physicians, and 4 medical facilities, I finally had a proper diagnosis.

FAST FORWARD TO MAY ‘08….THE ROAD GETS ROCKIER, SEPTEMBER ‘09

Prior to the spring of ‘08, the cancer was in remission for 4 years.  In February ’03, we moved to Orange County.  In February ’07, I transferred my treatment to UC-Irvine Medical Center and Dr. Edward Nelson (Stanford trained). The cancer was still in remission. However, in May ’08, a grapefruit-sized tumor developed in my right abdomen. It required treatment for over a year.  By July ’09, the basic levels of chemo were not effective.  Dr. Nelson advised he was positioning me for a BMT. I chose City of Hope because it’s one of select few comprehensive cancer centers in the US, and pioneer of BMTs, having completed over 9,000! In August, the tumor was growing and painful. In September, Cheryl called an ambulance in the middle of the night to take me to UC-Irvine emergency.  Later that day, I was admitted to COH. The non-aggressive Follicular Lymphoma had transformed into the aggressive Diffused B Cell Lymphoma.  Dr. Robert Chen was my new primary physician.

A VERY PERSONAL DECISION

I told less than a dozen people about my condition, a few close friends, a couple trusted colleagues at work, and my Mom’s brother, Jack Tallman.  My daughters, parents, siblings and family didn’t know. We vacationed in Michigan, Chicago and Lake Geneva, WI in August. Cheryl’s family had a big reunion. Her Mom and few others knew my situation. Just prior to the trip, Cheryl and I sat down with the kids and explained, “Daddy has cancer, but it’s treatable and the doctors say I’m going to be OK…ask any question, anytime. It’s OK.” Jacquelyne and Eva digested this and had some questions, but they were fine with our explanation. It was weird to keep cancer a secret for 8 years, but I didn’t want my kids and parents to worry.  I couldn’t burden my siblings with this secret, and expect them not to tell anyone. I made this decision when I was first diagnosed. I wouldn’t open up about my condition until it worsened.  Uncle Jack, a treasured confidant and licensed family therapist, agreed. I advised my parents and siblings during the week we were in the Detroit area.

Moving ahead to January ‘10, after many hospital stays and several levels of chemo, it was determined the cancer was “refractory” to chemo, i.e., non-responsive.  This was extremely concerning.  If chemo doesn’t shrink the tumor, you don’t have many options.  The tumor keeps growing, starts interfering with your vital organs and you die.  My best remaining option was 20 sessions of radiation. Some good news: While my 4 siblings were not a donor match for me, COH found an unrelated donor!  However, qualifying for the BMT, i.e., reducing the tumor to 5 centimeters was extremely challenging.

After my 14th treatment, I was advised the tumor had barely shrunk – it was still over 10 centimeters.  On Friday, March 12th, Dr. Chen gave Cheryl and I a frightening prognosis based on a poor radiation result:  unless there was a dramatic change, I had 2 months to live! I agreed to double the radiation dosage for the final sessions. There would be a total of18, rather than 20. I completed my 18th session, March 19th.  Radiologist, Dr. Khanh Nguyen, advised that the radiation would percolate in my body for up to more 10 weeks.

On March 16th, “out of the blue,” I received a call from my sister Suzy’s friend, Reagan Dean.  She’s in the wellness business representing Juice Plus, and has a number of cancer survivors as clients. Reagan referred me to 2 cancer centers in Tiajuana and arranged for me to speak with a former patient. The lady was in Spain, so we connected via Skype. God was leading me to a possible solution! Cheryl and I visited the 2 facilities in Tijuana and were especially impressed with the Oasis of Hope, www.oasisofhope.com.  OOH had documented success at putting difficult cancers in remission, or eliminating them altogether. The American Medical Association deems their services, “unconventional treatments.”  After receiving another testimonial from an OOH patient from North Carolina, I checked-in for a 12 – day program, March 31st.

GOD’S MIRACLE…APRIL AND MAY 2010

After 8 days of treatment, Cheryl and I left OOH, and traveled 3 hours north to COH for a PET-CT scan, April 8th.  The following day, Dr. Chen shared miraculous results that the tumor had shrunk considerably! He gave the green light to move forward with my BMT.  In my mind, the OOH treatments made a huge contribution to this dramatic turn of events.

My opportunity to be cured began at COH, April 27th, with May 6th the day I was infused with the donor’s stem cells. What do I know about the donor?  It’s a 40-year old male living in Europe. On May 5th, he entered a local medical facility, had his blood drawn and stem cells harvested. The stem cells were hand carried by courier via medical plane to LAX, and then ushered to COH. Soon after arriving, they were infused into me over a 2-hour period starting at 12:30 AM.  This thoughtful, generous, anonymous, donor saved my life!

We went to COH, Friday, August 13th (good luck day) – 99 days after my BMT – for the big appointment with Dr. Chen. We would find out the results of my second PET-CT scan, taken 2 days earlier. Dr. Chen entered the small room in the hospital’s clinic and handed me a 2-page report, “PET-CT Base of Skull to Thighs, Impression: PET negative. No cancer! It’s astonishing when you connect all the dots that led to this miracle!

My intent is for this information to be insightful, and perhaps have some value to you. I wanted to furnish some context and detail about my battle. For cancer patients, my prayer is to provide you hope. Be specific with God about what you want, and put your trust in Him to take care of you.

Next week, I’ll post “part II.” We greatly appreciate you visiting the site. The Lord has blessed us with your presence in our lives.  I pray for you and family’s well-being. Cheryl and I can never thank those of you enough who have contributed to my fund. Your care and generosity has been unbelievable!

God bless you and yours,

George

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

George’s Journal

Monday, August 9th, 2010

Thanks for visiting the site, I hope you’re enjoying the summer months. I wanted to give you a brief update regarding my progress/status.  Eleven days ago, Thursday, July 29th, I woke up with a temperature and “stomach issues,” and ended up going to City of Hope that evening with a 102 temperature.  I was admitted and stayed through Monday. It appears that I caught a bug, and had to work it out of my system with heavy antibiotics, etc, in the hospital. It was a drag being back in the hospital (12th time since September), but a relief that my ailment was not more serious.

What I’ve learned is that post-BMT setbacks are expected, and more common than not.  Dr. Chen and other BMT experts that I’ve spoken with told me not to worry, that it’s part of the recovery process. According to Dr. Margaret MacMillan, Clinical Medical Director of the Pediatric BMT Program and Medical Director of the Unrelated Donor Program at the University of Minnesota:

“The transplant day is obviously just one day…but then it’s really about a year of recovery to anticipate. Over the course of that year you gradually get better, but there are setbacks…..For instance, you’ll get discharged from the hospital. You’ll start eating.  You’re feeling a lot better. Then you get a fever, and you’re back in the hospital with an infection. Not to worry. That’s part of the recovery process. It’s not a straight increase in your quality of life. It goes up and down…It’s important to expect that it’s going to be at least 6 months to a year of a pretty major change in your life.”

One adjustment that I’ve made is I now wear a mask and gloves to my physical therapy sessions.  Can’t be too careful with the way germs float around. Irvine Right, the place that I get my PT is a very professional, clean and productive environment; however, there are at least a dozen other rehab patients in the big room simultaneously working on their own recovery – everyone typically sitting or laying on a therapy/message table doing their exercises, lifting light dumbbells and/or working on the Stairmaster or Lifecycle.

SPECIAL VISITORS

It was great to have my sister, Suzanne Robertson, and niece, Jennifer (14), visit last week.  They live in Castle Rock, CO, just south of Denver.  Suzy’s timing was good, she was here to help Cheryl while I was in the hospital, i.e., drive Jacquelyne to volleyball, Eva to swim practice. We had a chance to catch up later after I returned home. Hopefully, next month, Suzy and Jennifer will join us for the Tallman Family Reunion (my Mom’s side) in Newport Beach.  We have over 70 family members coming in from around the country. We’ll have a full house with my Mom, Dad, John, sister Janet and Suzy and Jennifer. It will be wonderful to see aunts, uncles and cousins that I haven’t seen in some cases for 20-30 years.

Additionally, our special family friends, Tom and Harriett Cole, are in Anaheim from Michigan for a few days. We got together with them yesterday to catch up and break bread at lunch.  Harriett is a life-long friend of my Mom and Dad’s.  Her Mom (Mary) used to be the crossing guard on busy Southfield Road near my elementary school (School # 3) in Ecorse.

GRAFT-VERSUS HOST DISEASE

A side effect that about half the people get after an allogeneic bone marrow transplant is called Graft-versus host disease (GVHD).  Because of genetic differences between me and my donor, my new immune system may identify my body’s cells as foreign and attack them.  Acute GVHD develops in the first 3 months after transplant. I reached the 3-month mark Friday the 6th, and I’ve had some GVHD. It primarily affects the skin, digestive tract and liver. It can cause systems ranging from mild skin rashes to stomach pains, nausea, cramping, diarrhea and jaundice. In serious cases, GVHD can affect major body organs and become life threatening. In my case, I’ve had “itchy skin,” moderate skin rashes and some stomach issues. Nothing too intense.

Chronic GVHD can begin any time post transplant but typically develops during the 3rd to 6th month. Sometimes patients have their first symptoms of GVHD when their immunosuppressive medications are stopped.  Patients who had acute GVHD (yours truly) are more likely to have chronic GVHD. Symptoms of chronic GVHD can involve the skin, joints, mouth, digestive track and other organs. Chronic GVHD can last for months or years.  The main treatment is to increase immune suppression, often with steroids like prednisone, which can be added to another immunosuppressant, like cyclosporine.

The “silver lining,” experts say having some GVHD may not be all bad. Patients with GVHD have a lower risk of the cancer returning after transplant than patients who did not develop GVHD.

BIG WEEK…..PRAYING FOR CONFIRMATION OF EARLIER DIAGNOSIS

This week is a huge. I have my second PET-CT (“cancer free” screening), Wednesday the 11th.  We’re so close to the miracle of “no metabolic activity/no cancer!”  As you’ll recall, my first post-transplant PET-CT in mid-June was the result we were hoping and praying for.  Now, I ask for your prayers that my June diagnosis be confirmed.  You have been so instrumental in my journey.

As I emphasized in my June 24th post, with the tremendous support and love you have given me, how could I not beat cancer!  Again I’d like to quote the Venerable Father Solanus Casey, the wise and wonderful Catholic priest in Detroit who passed in 1957, and is under consideration by the Pope for beatification (sainthood):  “One weakness we all have to guard against is worry.  Instead of worrying we would do well to foster confidence in God.  This we can do by not only patience, but by thanking God ahead of time for whatever He sees is best for us.”

I feel extremely blessed. God has been watching over me.  I’ll enjoy today, and count my blessings. Next week, I’ll report back to you regarding my status update.

Cheryl and I are monumentally grateful for your spiritual support, love and generosity – it has greatly enriched our lives.

God bless you and yours,

George

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

George’s Journal

Monday, July 26th, 2010

Hi, thanks for checking in. I’m feeling better, stronger, though still a skinny 190 pounds.  Physical therapy has been very stimulating, as I gradually regain range of motion and strength in my legs, shoulders and arms.  My PT sessions are skillfully directed by Roger Rommelfanger, PT, and Marcos Sanchez, CMT, of Irvine Start. I love the physical exertion in the various 2-minute exercises.  Though, I’ve only been to 3 sessions, it feels great to have a hint of strength again, even if it’s just from the lifting of a 2-3 pound dumbbell or ankle weight a number of times a certain way for a couple minutes. My plan is to go to PT 3 times a week through August. By Labor Day, I should be in much better shape; particularly my right leg and foot, which are improving, but are still a bit swollen, numb and stiff (ankle). I’ll keep you posted.

HAPPY BIRTHDAY EVA!

Tuesday the 20th, we celebrated Eva’s 9th birthday. It was a lot of fun, and Eva’s unbridled excitement was truly an example of the joys of parenthood. During my hospital stays and throughout the “difficult days,” I would often think of these milestones and envision myself being there. Eva has been busy this summer with both her swim and soccer teams, along with play dates and sleepovers.  We had a little party for her and 8 girlfriends at a “hip” local bowling alley. Thanks to my wonderful wife, Cheryl, for a “good time had by all.”

Life is good!  We’ll get some new photos up on the site soon. I’m very blessed and thankful, that the good Lord is enabling me to enjoy family and friends, improved health and all the possibilities that come with each day.

TRIPS TO MEXICO AND CHINA….

In this post, I’d like to take you to Mexico and China.  No, not a sight-seeing or travelogue tour; but, rather, an insightful look at why people in China have a much lower incidence of cancer, heart disease, diabetes and other potentially deadly chronic diseases, and how the diet advised by Dr. George Barossa of Oasis of Hope (OOH) has modified my eating habits.  Back in April, just before leaving for Tijuana, our good friend, Susan Doden, gave me a brilliant book, The China Study by T. Colin Campbell PhD (http://www.tcolincampbell.org) and his son, Thomas Campbell II.  The timing was opportune, since the patient menu for all meals at Oasis was 100% vegan. For me, a relatively healthy eater, i.e., mostly refrained from eating red meat and foods laden with butter, creams and sugar, as well as processed foods, for the last 20 years, the vegan diet was a challenging adjustment during my 12 days there. No poultry, seafood and cheese.  Sorry, not on the menu!  I ate a lot of oatmeal (with soy milk), whole grain toast, rice and beans, and fruit.

What’s a vegan? And what do they eat? According to About.com, “Veganism is a type of vegetarian diet that excludes meat, eggs, dairy products and all other animal-derived ingredients. Many vegans also do not eat foods that are processed using animal products, such as refined white sugar and some wines. Vegan refers to either a person who follows this way of eating, or the diet itself.”

Pretty hard core….but, as I’ve learned, optimally healthy!  I have great respect for the eating discipline of vegans, but I know many of us are thinking, “What about taste?”  I’ll circle back to this.

BEWARE….THE “WESTERN DIET”

I gleaned a number of important lessons from The China Study that I’d like to share. Do you know that what you eat for breakfast, lunch and dinner has even more of an impact on your overall health than the genes you inherited when you were born?  From a global perspective, the large majority of Americans eat what is referred to as the “western diet.”  Check out The China Study, and you’ll learn that the western diet, of which animal-based foods (meat, eggs, milk, cheese) and processed foods are staples, is not good…at all.

Certainly, we agree that one of the most important influencers of personal health is diet/nutrition. How many diets/diet fades have we been exposed to, or for that matter, tried?  Take your pick of the “Atkins Diet,” “South Beach Diet,” “Jenny Craig Diet,” “NutriSystem Diet,” “New Beverly Hills Diet,” “Dr. Phil’s Ultimate Weight Loss Solution,” and on and on. A huge problem with the western diet is that the mega-food/nutrition/diet industries have a mostly unfavorable persuasion on each American’s health.  The combination of business and political interest fuels this reality. The inescapable fact is that certain people are making a ton of money today selling foods that are unhealthy. Per Dr. Campbell, “They want you to keep eating foods they sell, even though doing so makes you fat, depletes your vitality and shortens and degrades your life.” Moreover, many who sell diet plans (books and meals) distort facts, arrive at unscientific conclusions, and provide a disservice to well-intentioned dieters.

By any number of measures, America’s health is failing. For example, 1 out of 13 Americans now has diabetes.  Heart disease will kill 1 out of every 3 Americans. The American Cancer Society says that males in this country have a 47% chance of getting cancer!  Women fare a little better, but you still have a whopping 38% lifetime chance of getting cancer.

20-YEAR COMPREHENSIVE STUDY OF NUTRITION

The authors, through a number of highly respectable animal and human scientific studies in the US, Philippines, and most notably China, convincingly show that the western diet featuring animal-based foods is much more likely to result in a serious/deadly chronic disease than plant-based diets. “The China Study,” is the China Project, a survey of death rates for 12 different kinds of cancer covering 2,400 counties and 880 million (96%) of their citizens, combined with the study of the relationship between various mortality rates and a number of dietary, lifestyle, and environmental characteristics in 65 mostly rural counties in China conducted jointly by Cornell University, Oxford University, and the Chinese Academy of Preventive Medicine over the course of 20 years.  In these 65 counties, questionnaires and blood tests on 6,500 adults were administered. Dr. Campbell and team took urine samples, directly measured everything families ate over a 3-day period and analyzed samples from marketplaces around the country.

In America, 15-16% of our total calories comes from protein and 80% of this amount comes from animal-based foods.  But in China, only 9-10% of total calories come from protein and only 10% comes from animal-based foods.  Yes, there are major nutritional differences in the Chinese and American diets!  At the time of the study, the death rate from coronary 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.

Dr. Campbell was raised on a dairy farm in Virginia where milk was central to his existence. He says, “We were told in school that cow’s milk made strong healthy bones and teeth. It was “Nature’s most perfect food.” Now, he has proven that casein, which makes up 87% of cow’s milk, promotes all stages of the cancer process. What type of protein did not promote cancer, even at high intake levels? Proteins from plants, including wheat and soy. Moreover, individuals can achieve their genetic potential for growth and body size by consuming a plant-based diet. Body growth is linked to protein in general.

PRAISE FOR THE CHINA STUDY

“Everyone in the field of nutrition science stands on the shoulders of Dr. Campbell, who is one of the giants in the field. This is one of the most important books about nutrition ever written – reading it may save your life.”  – Dean Ornish, MD

The China Study is the most important book on nutrition and health to come out in the last 75 years. Everyone should read it, and it should be the model for all nutrition programs taught at universities.  The reading is engrossing if not astounding. The science is conclusive….” – David Klein, Publisher/Editor, Living Nutrition Magazine

For those who are disciplined about healthy eating, whether you’re on a specific diet or not, cheers to you!  The simple message I’d like to convey is, read The China Study.  Not necessarily all 368 pages, but enough of it to embrace the lessons within.

Diet is obviously a very personal choice. Getting back to the topic of “taste” or enjoyment of foods, my preferences are to eat healthy (and live!), and include more tasty items such as fish, chicken, turkey, and, occasionally, cheese and eggs.  One of the highlights of my stay at Oasis of Hope was two presentations by Dr. George Barossa (oncologist) which detailed my treatments, and the recommended diet. Perhaps a bit surprisingly, his take on diet and nutrition dovetails with leading “traditional” US medical institutions.

CONVERGENCE OF TRADITIONAL AND ALTERNATIVE

Dr. Barossa was very practical in his advice to me and the other 20 or so patients attending his sessions.  He urged us, “Choose the diet where you’re going to be happy, eating healthy.”  He points to the people in Mediterranean countries such as Italy and Greece, as an example of a good diet to adopt.  Here are some key takeaways:

  • Olive oil should be used for cooking (good in heat); Vegetable oils in salads
  • Eat a low quantity of meat, but NO red meat!
  • Pasta with rich tomato sauce is good, every day
  • White pasta is OK, it has a low glycemic index (GI)
  • Eat meals with a low GI (60-70).  GI is a measure of the effects of carbohydrates on blood sugar levels.  Carbs that break down quickly during digestion and release glucose rapidly into the bloodstream have a high GI. Carbs that break down more slowly, releasing glucose more gradually into the bloodstream, have a low GI. Cancer cells need a high concentrate of glucose to thrive.
  • Cheese is OK, but in low quantities
  • Chicken or turkey 2-3 times weekly
  • Organic eggs only 2-3 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. Here’s an excerpt from the Mayo Clinic site (http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/mediterranean-diet/CL00011):

“A recent analysis of more than 1.5 million healthy adults demonstrated that following a Mediterranean diet was associated with a reduced risk of overall and cardiovascular mortality, a reduced incidence of cancer and cancer mortality, and reduced incidence of Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s diseases.”

GOOD HEALTH FOR ALL

Hopefully you’ve found some long-term value in today’s message, and it contributes to greater health and happiness.  I’m still going to City of Hope twice a week to meet with Dr. Chen. He’s monitoring my progress closely, tweaking my medication weekly. So far so good! I pray to remain cancer-free, and regain my physical strength. I have one more cancer screening in August. Our hope is that screening will confirm my present diagnosis.

Once again, for those of you who have contributed to my fund, Cheryl and I can never thank you enough.

God bless you and yours,

George

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

George’s Journal

Monday, July 12th, 2010

I’ve been thinking about the enormous number of people personally affected by cancer.  Not just cancer patients and survivors, but also their families and friends.  Many of you have shared your cancer stories with me (too many to mention!), your own struggles with this vile disease, or a situation involving a close family member or friend.  I feel a strong connection with you. We’ve shared our faith in God, and how our powerful belief sustained us and kept our hopes alive. From my own experience, I know that you – my family and friends – rallied to lovingly support me and bolster my spirits and faith throughout my battle. Amazingly, your friends – many who I didn’t know until recently – came to my cause and provided me another extremely valued source of care and concern. Thank you all!

Lately, I’ve conducted some research on the most prevalent cancers in the United States (US), and included the level of National Cancer Institute (NCI) funding for the 10 most common types of cancer in the US (scroll down).  I found statistics from the American Cancer Society that shows the number of new cases of cancer expected in 2010 by cancer type, along with the (grim) estimates of death for each.  I also read a couple articles in the June 20th, Parade Magazine that provided some insights I’d like to share.

“NO EVIDENCE OF DISEASE”

Regarding Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma cases in the United States, on January 1, 2007, there were 438,325 men and women alive who had a history of NHL — 226,855 men and 211,470 women. This includes any person alive on January 1, 2007 who had been diagnosed with NHL at any point prior to that date and also persons with active disease and those who are “cured” of their disease. Over 400,000 people have a history of NHL, and NHL is just one of the top 10 most common cancer types.  The number of people in the US battling cancer (survivors) or “cured” (“no evidence of disease”) is just mind-boggling!

Most Sundays, I glance through the L. A. Times. Some sections (news, editorials, sports, travel, business) receive more attention than others. On June 20th, I noticed the front of Parade Magazine featuring legendary cyclist Lance Armstrong holding a child cancer patient under the title, “Cancer in America.”

One of the articles was authored by Judith Newman, the subject was “Living After Cancer.” As you know, my first post-Bone Marrow Transplant cancer screening revealed “no metabolic activity/no cancer,” and I’m praying that my second screening in August will confirm that result. Below, I freely share information gleaned from Ms. Newman’s article (link: Living After Cancer), along with my own research, while sprinkling in some personal tidbits.

LIVING AFTER CANCER

According to the NCI, there are 12 million cancer survivors in the U.S. alone, based on 2007 records.  The number of survivors has more than quadrupled since 1971!!  “Cancer treatments are more successful,” says Dr. Catherine Alfano, program director of the National Cancer Institute’s Office of Cancer Survivorship. “We also have an aging Baby Boomer population, and more people will be diagnosed and treated for cancer than ever before.”  However, as Dr. Alfano points out, “Even while we have more diverse types and more successful treatments, they all still exact a toll on the body.” As a result, long-term survivors are the subjects of considerable medical attention and research.

Livestrong is the nonprofit group founded by Lance Armstrong to support cancer survivors. What I found particularly interesting, is the feedback Livestrong received from its recent survey of more than 2000 cancer survivors.  Ruth Rechis, the foundation’s Director of Evaluation and Research, reports that “even up to 20 years out, no one had all their issues resolved.” While the problems survivors face vary according to their disease and treatment, here are a few of the major health issues reported.

Fatigue: Many people know that chemotherapy treatments can cause profound tiredness, but they may not realize that fatigue can persist in some survivors for years. “We’re not entirely sure, but it may be due to unchecked inflammation in the body,” says Dr. Patricia Ganz, a professor at UCLA School of Medicine. Treatment could possibly push the immune system into overdrive, and in certain patients, the resulting inflammation could increase fatigue “as if the body were constantly fighting off a bad flu,” Dr. Alfano adds.

My fatigue has resulted from the Bone Marrow Transplant. My oncologist, Dr. Robert Chen, advised me that for many BMT patients, it could take a year or so to overcome their fatigue.  Chemo and radiation treatments during my various hospital stays, and as an outpatient, affected my energy level, but not nearly as much as my BMT.  Two months post-BMT, I’m pleased to report that my energy level is improving daily, and I’m feeling increasingly well.

Pain:  Kenechi Udeze was 4 seasons into playing defensive end for the NFL’s Minnesota Vikings when searing migraines sent him to his physician in 2008. The headaches turned out to be a symptom of acute lymphoblastic leukemia. Udeze underwent a BMT and was declared cancer-free. But the nerve damage, or neuropathy, from the aggressive treatment he underwent ended his football career. “Nerves regenerate very slowly, and my feet, my grasp, they just weren’t what they were,” explains Udeze, now 27. Neuropathic pain can be caused by some forms of chemotherapy. Radiation and surgery may also leave the patient with scar tissue, leading to painful tightening of the skin’s surface or internal adhesions. “Many cancer survivors need pain control,” Dr. Ganz says.

I’m dealing with neuropathy in my right leg, most specifically in my calf, ankle and foot.  According to Dr. Chen, a combination of blood clots in my right leg and chemo, have damaged the veins and nerves in my leg.  The tumor was located in my lower right abdomen, so the blood flow was impeded in my right leg by this significant blockage.

Other cancers:
Of the 12 million survivors, 25% ended up having multiple cancers – not just recurrences but, rather, entirely different cancers, according to Doug Ulman, President and CEO of Livestrong. “We don’t know what roles genetics and treatment play, but we know treatment has an impact,” he says.

THE BEST “NEW NORMAL”

As research on cancer survivors proceeds, solutions to their problems will likely be discovered or devised. For now, Dr. Alfano says, “physicians shouldn’t talk about patients going back to normal after treatment.” Rather, physicians are focused on helping people find the best “new normal.” “Oncologists never use the word ‘cured’ anymore,” Beth Silverman, 32, a breast-cancer survivor adds, “They say there is ‘no evidence of disease’ or what we survivors call “NED.”

FUNDING FOR 10 MOST COMMON TYPES OF CANCER

My intentions are for you to know some key facts about the pervasiveness of cancer in the US, by type, and the level of funding provided by our primary governmental cancer research organization (NCI). An underlying message is that we should all do what we can to support cancer research and organizations dedicated to eradicating the various types of cancers. Scroll to the bottom to see a few of these terrific groups (website included). This topic will most likely be featured in a future journal entry. The below table shows the NCI’s spending in fiscal years ‘06, ‘07, and ‘08 for the 10 most common types of cancer in the US, excluding basal cell and squamous cell skin cancers. Other federal agencies funding cancer research include: the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the Department of Defense. Fortunately, there are hundreds of industry-related and private organization research efforts.  In the table, the cancers are listed in decreasing order of incidence; i.e., from highest number of new cases per year to lowest. The source of this information is the NCI Office of Budget and Finance (OBF).

Cancer Type 2006 Spending
(in millions)
2007 Spending
(in millions)
2008 Spending
(in millions)
Lung $242.9 $226.9 $247.6
Prostate 293.2 296.1 285.4
Breast 584.7 572.4 572.6
Colorectal 244.1 258.4 273.7
Bladder 24.4 19.8 24.1
Non-Hodgkin
Lymphoma
114.1 113.0 122.6
Melanoma 108.0 97.7 110.8
Kidney 33.0 31.4 43.4
Leukemia 223.5 205.5 216.4
Uterine 19.4 16.6 17.1

Note: Information about funding for other types of cancer can be found in the NCI Annual Fact Book at http://obf.cancer.gov/financial/factbook.htm. For more info about NCI’s budget, go to  http://obf.cancer.gov/index.htm.

ESTIMATED NUMBER OF NEW CANCER CASES IN 2010

The below list of common cancer types in the US shows cancers that will be diagnosed with the greatest frequency in 2010, as well as the estimated deaths per type. Cancer incidence and mortality statistics reported by the American Cancer Society and other resources were used to create the list.

To qualify as a common cancer, the estimated annual incidence for 2010 had to be 40,000 cases or more.  The most common cancer in the US is lung cancer, with more than 222,000 new cases expected in 2010.  The cancer with the lowest incidence on the list is leukemia – it’s estimated that 43,050 new cases will be diagnosed in the US in 2010. Because colon and rectal cancers are often referred to as “colorectal cancers,” they are combined.

Cancer Type Estimated New Cases Estimated Deaths
Bladder 70,530 14,680
Breast (Female – Male) 207,090 – 1,970 39,840 – 390
Colon and Rectal (Combined) 142,570 51,370
Endometrial 43,470 7,950
Kidney (Renal Cell) Cancer 49,504 11,084
Leukemia 43,050 21,840
Lung (Including Bronchus) 222,520 157,300
Melanoma 68,130 8,700
Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma 65,540 20,210
Pancreatic 43,140 36,800
Prostate 217,730 32,050
Thyroid 44,670 1,690

WE’RE THE LUCKY ONES

Another Parade piece, written by Jeffrey Zaslow, was about Lance Armstrong and Livestrong. Armstrong is the most mentally-tough person I’m aware of.

Not long after he was diagnosed with testicular cancer in 1996, he got a note from a U.S. soldier who also had cancer. “You don’t know it yet,” the man wrote, “but we’re the lucky ones.” Armstrong was taken aback. “I didn’t understand what he meant,” he recalls, “but he ended up being right.” Though he’d never want to repeat his cancer odyssey, Armstrong says, “It enriched my life.”  I would certainly echo Armstrong’s sentiments.

Armstrong’s story is truly inspirational: He fought off tumors that had metastasized to his lung and brain and went on to win the Tour de France – perhaps the most grueling sporting event in the world – a record-breaking 7 times. He also started Livestrong, which aims to empower cancer patients, survivors, and their communities. No doubt you’ve noticed the ubiquitous yellow Livestrong wristbands. I’ve been sporting mine since September.  Armstrong is now 38, and the father of 4.  He’s once again riding in the Tour de France as leader of Team RadioShack. His advice to survivors: In treatment and recovery, continue to do what you love. After chemo and surgery, he was only strong enough to go on 30-minute rides, but he says, “I told myself the disease would not cut off my passion” Furthermore, “surround yourself with positive people. There’s only room for those who can pump you up. It doesn’t help to be around anyone who is a drain on your energy, time or spirit.”  That’s what I have done with YOU – you all are so uplifting!

There are so many terrific non-profit cancer-fighting organizations, including:  Susan G. Komen for the Cure at www.susangkomen.org, The V Foundation for Cancer Research at www.jimmyv.org , Livestrong at www.livestrong.org, and The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society’s Team In Training at www.teamintraining.org.  I urge each of you to check out these groups, and please let me know of other organizations that you support.

I greatly appreciate you taking the time to read this rather lengthy post.  I have cherished your support throughout my journey. For those of you who have donated to my family’s fund, Cheryl and I extend our deepest, heartfelt thanks!

God bless you and yours,

George

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

George’s Journal

Friday, June 25th, 2010

In this entry, I’ll focus primarily on family and friends, but first a brief report on my health. I feel good, but still have the fatigue which is characteristic of a recent Bone Marrow Transplant recipient. There is no way for me to immediately shake it.

Under normal circumstances (prior to health complications the last 18 months), occasionally my energy would sap due to working long hours, not getting enough sleep, traveling 2-3 weeks a month, and/or pushing myself at the gym, etc.  However, that was a temporary, easily correctible situation. Post BMT, this fatigue engulfs me daily, usually in the early-to-mid afternoon.  I try to navigate around it and through it the rest of the day.

According to Dr. Chen, my energy level will improve monthly. Somehow, I must be patient, and continue to get my rest daily. My physical conditioning will also gradually improve and help create more energy for me to be more productive; and, hopefully, get back to work sometime within the next 30-60 days. I’m scheduled to start physical therapy next week at Irvine Right. Yes, I’m very eager to get my conditioning and energy “right.”

HAPPY BIRTHDAY JACQUELYNE!

Today, June 24th, is my oldest daughter, Jacquelyne’s 12th birthday.  It’s wonderful to be alive and home to celebrate it!  She has a passion for volleyball. At 5’ 7”, Jacquelyne plays “middle blocker,” the front line middle position up against the net. Her team, Orange County Volleyball Club, wraps up their season next week at a huge tournament in Phoenix.  She’s very excited to be staying in a dormitory on campus at Arizona State University!

In addition to my family, one of the greatest blessings of my life, are my wonderful friends.  During my illness, I’ve heard from dozens of friends from high school (Trenton, MI), college (undergraduate – Western Michigan University), and former/current career stops.  In some cases, I had not seen or communicated with the friend for over 20-30 years.

GOOD FRIENDSHIPS ENDURE

I was especially blessed one weekend in January when my dear friends, Tim and Kelly Blett arranged to have 4 of my roommates from WMU visit, and stay at their home in Laguna Niguel – 15 miles from our home.  After a 5 day stay, I got out of the hospital, Friday afternoon, and my buddies came over our house that evening. I was in pretty bad shape. The chemo treatment I received was a “final stab” at shrinking the tumor. It was my 5th level of chemo. I wasn’t nauseous, but was slurring my words. The chemo was so potent that it affected my balance, mobility and speech. I found out 2 weeks later that chemo was no longer an effective treatment option at stopping/shrinking the cancer.

The weekend was amazing, a real “pick me up” emotionally! As you know by now, John is the greatest brother in the world!  I’m also very fortunate to have friends who are like brothers to me. Reed Perry flew in from The Netherlands(!), Steve Fuller from Chicago, Bob Sauer from Detroit, Ron Buermann from Jackson, MI, plus Chris Copps, who lives in Laguna Beach.  My faith in God never wavered, and my mission to live was/is tenacious. My friends making the commitment to visit me reinforced my resolve!

Kelly Blett (Tim’s wife), drove me to City of Hope several times when I was undergoing radiation treatments.  Tim and Kelly, and Chris Copps, along with my brother, were instrumental in setting up the GWG fund.  John, along with my parents, traveled to Orange County, from the Detroit area, twice since January to check up on me and help out.  John also accompanied me a number of times to City of Hope for radiation sessions.

THE LORD WILL FULFILL HIS PURPOSE FOR ME (Psalm 138:8)

I’ve received hundreds of emails, and over 300 messages on my website.  I want to share just a sampling of messages that brought a big smile to my face, while showing the power of prayer. Yes, the good Lord has been watching over me, and many people been keeping Him abreast of my situation and praying for me to beat cancer. Here you go:

Dan Cannon (Dallas), a good friend from WMU, wrote:  “I just learned of your condition from your brother and will be storming the gates of Heaven in prayer for you my dear old friend…My heartfelt best wishes and daily prayers are with you and your family. Keep your chin up and stay positive George. You will beat this. All of us who have been blessed by your friendship over the years love you and will be close by you as we battle this together.”

Cousin John Bruno Caruso (Aurora, OH) beat Hodgkin’s Lymphoma 20-years ago:  “With prayer and your determination to win, I’m confident a successful recovery is near! Keep fighting the fight George (you always liked a good rumble) and know that your family and friends love you and pray for you, Cheryl and the girls every day.  Don’t forget you come from good stock…Romanians are hard to keep down long!”  Love you cousin, John Bruno

ThomasNet colleague and friend, Mike Grugnale (Rochester, NY):  “You must be totally pumped to be out of the hospital with a true vision of getting some semblance of normalcy back into your life. I can imagine that it may still seem a way off but as you often share “With God all things are possible”. You continue to be in our prayers and I hope this summer is one of amazing things for you and your family.

Dave Rosenberg (Irvine), my good friend and attorney: “George, all of the Indian Princess fathers are with you in this battle. You are a mighty Brave and will overcome. We are by your side, thinking and praying for you daily and ready to fight.”  Love, Brave Red Bull

Victor Sharrar, a friend/colleague of mine from R.H. Donnelly (17-years ago):  “…George, May God bless you as you fight this – God alone has the power to do miracles as you well know. Trust Him. His will is mightier than ours. His plan is hard to understand, but perfect. You will constantly be in our prayers. My sister’s favorite verse when she fought her battle was…2 Corin 12:10…”When I am weak, then I am strong.”

Cousin Tonilyn Gianatasio (Oak Brook, IL):  “YOU are going to beat this! Stay strong—we believe in you and know you can fight this. We’re fighting with you–daily thoughts and prayers. Our love to you, Cheryl, and your beautiful girls!”  Tonilyn & Hank

Lori Grbac (Sacramento), a good friend we haven’t seen in 7-8 years:  “You are fighting this thing with everything in you just as I would expect and YES anything is possible when you put your faith in God Almighty. If anyone can stay positive and beat this thing it’s you. I’ve never seen anything dampen your spirit and your passion and that is what everyone loves about you.”  Love to you, Cheryl and the girls, Lori and Bob

Former U. of Michigan football player (1979 Team Captain) and friend, John Arbeznik (Golden, CO):  “George, I truly admire your positive attitude and strength. I am amazed how you have faced this battle! You have a lot of prayers coming your way! When I had my health issues, Father Solanus was there for me and I know Father Solanus is working for you. Keep the Faith. I look forward to seeing you in the Fall!  GO BLUE and God Bless you!” The Flame

I’ve received many emails and calls from our good friend and ThomasNet colleague, Carmilla Lau. She’s had a tough time, with both her father and ex-husband battling cancer. Carmilla sent me a note recently, and included quotes from her son Linus (age 16):  “Never doubt in the dark what God told you in the light.” AND “Nobody can go back and start a new beginning, but anyone can start today and make a new ending.”

Bill & Kim Alm (Kalamazoo, MI) provide the below message. Bill is a high school buddy, and roomed with me when we both worked for U.S. Steel in Birmingham, AL: “Our thoughts and prayers are with you daily. Keep up your positive attitude. You are so strong and have so many of us out there that love you and care about you. Hang in there!  We love you!”

Donna Ganshirt (Newhall, CA), our good friend and ThomasNet colleague: “Hang in there George. If anyone can beat this, it’s you. You have always been one of the most positive people I have ever known.  You are in my Prayers every day. George, “Faith is not believing that God can. It is knowing that God will!” Love, Donna

My spiritual brother, Boris Del Cid (San Clemente): G “I am praying for you even harder now. I know now why they call you “The Machine.” Keep that warrior spirit up…I wish I could give you my bone marrow, so we could be actual blood brothers. I love you man!!!” Boris’ wife, Jill, is a WMU grad and dear friend.

SOMEWHERE SOMEONE IS THINKING OF YOU

With the tremendous support and love demonstrated in the above messages, and many more, how could I not beat cancer!  The Venerable Father Solanus Casey, a wonderful Catholic priest in Detroit who passed in 1957, summarizes my feelings about the support I’ve received from you:  “Every day you shall wonder at yourself….at a richness of life which has come to you by the grace of God. But everyone needs someone-knowing that somewhere someone is thinking of you.”  Father Casey was the first U.S.-born man formally to be declared “Venerable” by the Roman Catholic Church. He’s under consideration by the Pope for beatification (sainthood).

The most fascinating, relevant book I’ve read, perhaps ever, is “The Purpose Driven Life” by Rick Warren. Have you read it? Many of you are familiar with Rick Warren, the pastor of Saddleback Church in Orange County. He gave the invocation at the presidential inauguration in January 2009. The book is helping me understand what God’s plan is for me, both here and now, and for eternity. Awesome!

I pray to remain cancer-free, and regain my physical strength. I thank the Lord for having you in my life, and pray for you and family’s health and well-being. I have one more cancer screening in August. Our hope is that screening will confirm my present diagnosis.

Cheryl and I can never thank those of you who have contributed to my fund enough. Your care and generosity has been unbelievable!

God bless you and yours,

George

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

George’s Journal

Friday, June 18th, 2010

Cheryl and I went to City of Hope, Tuesday morning for a very important appointment with my hematologist-oncologist, Dr. Robert Chen.  At this meeting, we would find out whether I was cancer-free.  Last Friday, I had my first PET-CT scan, i.e., cancer screening, since my Bone Marrow Transplant. We entered the clinic room at 11:30 AM, and soon after Keri Halsema, my primary nurse for the past nine months, entered the room.  She went right to the computer and logged onto the site showing my medical records. After pulling up my PET-CT scan results, she turned to me and said, there is “no metabolic activity”. Which means, “no cancer in your body”!

We’re obviously thrilled with this result. Our prayers have been answered! You see, there was no guarantee that I would be cancer free as a result of the BMT.  I’m not completely “out of the woods” yet. We will continue to pray for a cancer-free result in my next screening, which takes place in two months.  A cancer-free result in that screening will serve as confirmation for today’s diagnosis. Dr. Chen says my outlook is good, but it’s premature to consider myself “cured”.

For all of you that have been praying for me, thank you, thank you, thank you!  Your care and support is deeply appreciated. Your prayers are working! Please keep them up.

GETTING BACK ON THE HORSE

Monday, I woke up and decided I had to jump-start my physical conditioning. Since arriving home, I’ve been very fatigued.  That’s one of the primary side-effects of a BMT, it takes months to regain your optimum energy and stamina.  As I alluded to last week, my shoulders and legs, in particular, are rather weak.  Plus, I was really getting cabin fever!  Anyways, I had to do something bold to start “getting back on the horse” conditioning-wise. I decided to go for a one-mile walk, figuring if I really needed to, I could stop for a rest.  Well, about 30-minutes later, I completed the walk, though did stop once for a 2-3 minute rest.  This walk totally exhausted me; but it’s a victory, a start!

My goal is to get back to my 2-mile runs. It will take some time, maybe two, three, four months, but I’ll get there. Also, I’m extremely eager to get back to work; though, based on my present status, that may take another 30-60 days.

NO RESTAURANTS OR TAKE OUT?

Have any of you ever tried going without “take out” food or going to restaurants for 3-4 months?  Three weeks after being discharged, I’m discovering that it’s not easy!

My diet is very restricted.  It’s called a low bacteria diet. The purpose of this diet is to help me avoid foods that are more likely to cause food-related infections.  It consists primarily of cooked foods from my regular diet. There is a limited selection of allowable fruit.  Fruits I can eat are “thick skinned”, such as apples, bananas, pears and melon. Foods/beverages to avoid include:  berries, freshly squeezed juice, bottled drinking water from dispensers, raw vegetables, beer, wine, potato salad, pasta salad, raw nuts, raw meat, sushi, ceviche, pre-prepared refrigerated foods, uncooked cheese, refrigerated salsa, etc.  You get the picture!

As I mentioned last week, fortunately for me, Cheryl is an excellent cook! My BMT took place, May 6th, and I’ll be on the low bacteria diet for 100 days from that date (August 14th).

EDUCATIONAL:  STEM CELL TRANSPLANTATION BECOMES AN EFFECTIVE OPTION

If you’re stretched for time and/or not too interested in some educational material, then just scroll to the bottom. I picked up a publication from The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society entitled, Blood and Marrow Stem Cell Transplantation. The booklet provides information for patients and their families about blood or marrow stem cell transplantation for the treatment of leukemia lymphoma, myeloma, myelodyplastic syndromes or other cancers of the blood and marrow. In order to promote knowledge of Bone Marrow Transplants and demystify a complicated matter, I wanted to share some of the information, including a brief history of Transplantation, along with some glossary terms.

“In the mid-19th century, Italian scientists proposed that the marrow was the source of blood cells. The idea that a factor in the blood-forming tissues from one individual might restore the injured marrow of another individual was considered a century ago. Some thought this factor was a chemical that could be transferred by eating the marrow!  At the turn of the century, scientists began to formulate the idea that a small number of cells in the marrow might be responsible for the development of all blood cells. They began to refer to them as “stem cells”.  Attempts to use the marrow cells of a healthy individual to restore the lost marrow function of another person are more than 60 years old. Early attempts at human marrow transplantation were largely unsuccessful because the scientific basis for achieving successful outcomes was not yet known.

The scientific exploration of marrow transplantation as a form of treatment began at the end of World War II.  Stem cells are very sensitive to irradiation injury.  Thus, marrow injury was an important and potentially lethal side effect of exposure to the atomic bomb or to industrial accidents in the atomic weapons industry. In the late 1940s, studies of marrow transplantation as a means of treating radiation-exposed combatants or civilians were spurred by the Atomic Energy Commission’s concern about the spread of nuclear technology and weapons.

The basis for stem cell transplantation is that all blood cells and immune cells arise from stem cells in marrow. The idea that medical disorders that affect blood cell or immune cell formation could be cured by marrow transplantation encouraged research by civilian scientists as well. These research efforts led to the current success of stem cell transplantation as medical treatment. Estimates from the data reported by the Center for International Blood and Marrow Transplantation Research (CIBMTR) indicate that about 7,880 patients received allogeneic stem cell transplants, the type I received, in 2005 (the most current data available).  CIBMTR estimates that about 10,840 patients received autologous stem cell transplants (uses patient’s own stem cells) in 2005.”

WHAT DOES IT MEAN?

Below is a selection of terms and definitions from the Blood and Marrow Stem Cell Transplantation booklet. As an interested observer, a more complete knowledge and/or review of these terms may be useful.  In my earlier journal postings, I’ve provided some insights to a number of these terms, as they relate to my situation.

Bone Marrow: The bones are hollow and their central cavity is occupied by marrow, a spongy tissue that plays the major role in the development of blood cells. By puberty, the marrow in the spine, ribs, breastbone, hip, shoulders, and skull is most active in blood cell formation. In the adult, the bones of the hands, feet, legs and arms do not contain marrow in which blood cells are made.  In these sites the marrow is filled with fat. When marrow cells have matured into blood cells, they enter the blood that passes through the marrow and are carried throughout the body.

Hematopoiesis: The process of blood cell development in the marrow. The most undeveloped cells in the marrow are stem cells. They start the process of blood cell development. The stem cells begin to develop into young or immature blood cells like red cells or white cells. This process is called “differentiation.”  The young or immature blood cells then further develop into fully functional blood cells. This process is called “maturation.” The cells then leave the marrow and enter the blood and circulate throughout the body.  Hematopoiesis is a continuous process that is active normally throughout life.  The reason for this activity is because most blood cells live for short periods and must be continuously replaced. Red cells die in 4 months, platelets in 10 days and most white blood cells in 2-3 days. About 5 hundred billion blood cells are made each day!

Lymph Nodes: Small structures, the size of beans, which contain large numbers of lymphocytes and are connected to each other by small channels called “lymphatics.” These nodes are distributed throughout the body. In patients with lymphoma, Hodgkin lymphoma, and some types of lymphocytic leukemia, the malignant lymphocytes grow and expand the lymph nodes so that they may be enlarged.

Lymphocyte: A type of white blood cell that participates in the body’s immune system.

Stem Cells: The multipotential cells in marrow required to make red cells, white cells, and platelets. Generally, the stem cells are largely found in the marrow but some leave the marrow and circulate in the blood. The stem cells in blood can be collected, preserved by freezing and, later, thawed and used for stem cell therapy.

I hope the above history and definitions provided you further insight into the medical world I’ve lived through. The human body is a very complicated organism. For those of you who have experienced a life of good health, it almost amazes me because of all the things I’ve learned that can go wrong.  Good for you, and continued good health!  Up until I was diagnosed in November 2001, I was the picture of good health. Rarely needed to visit a doctor, whether medical or chiropractic. Typically in very good physical condition, ate the right foods and worked out several times weekly.  Who knows how I attracted Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma.  You learn quickly not to spend time thinking about that.

Right now, I feel extremely blessed. Our good Lord has been taking care of me.  I give Him all the glory for my dramatic improvement since March 12th.  I pray to remain cancer-free.  As mentioned above, I have one more PET-CT scan in August. Our hope is that screening will confirm my present diagnosis. As always, I’ll enjoy each day, and count my blessings.

Lastly, for those of you who have made a donation, Cheryl and I are monumentally grateful.  Your generosity has really touched our family, and eased much of our financial burden.

God bless you and yours,

George

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

George’s Journal

Wednesday, June 9th, 2010

Finally, after 6 weeks, I came home Friday! And, as you can imagine, it’s wonderful being with my family, sleeping in my own bed, etc.  I’m feeling stronger every day; but, still, I’ve been weakened by the month-long hospital stay.  My shoulders and legs, in particular, need physical therapy. I’m looking into some options to run by my insurance plan administrator.  The good news is the swelling in my right leg and foot has subsided, and they are about the same size as my left leg and foot.  However, my right ankle is very stiff and weak.  I still have blood clots in my right leg, and give myself two Lovenox shots daily to control these clots.  I’m hoping they dissolve sooner, rather than later.

The plan is for me to get plenty of rest, and become gradually more active over the next 90 days. I’ve been advised to avoid crowds, and wear my breathing mask outdoors and around groups of people.  My immune system is still recuperating, and I’m very vulnerable to infections, fevers and viruses. My diet is restricted.  It’s a low bacteria diet, which means all of my food must be cooked, except for a limited selection of fruit.  Fruits I can eat are “thick skinned,” such as apples, bananas, pears and melon.  Berries are forbidden.  Cheryl will be a busy cook, since I’m prohibited from “take out” food and going to restaurants until the end of August.  Fortunately for me, Cheryl is an excellent cook!

For the foreseeable future, I’ll see my doctor twice weekly at City of Hope for blood testing and general check up.  I will be tested periodically to see if there are any traces of cancerous cells in my body. My most recent blood testing was Friday, and Dr. Chen says that the results were excellent.  The new stem cells from my donor are engrafting into my system very well. My first “cancer free” screen is this Friday, a PET-CT scan.  Obviously, being free from cancer has been my objective; so the importance of the testing is paramount.  I’ve put my body and faith in the hands of God, and with the completion of my successful BMT, I believe He has renewed my body, free of cancer.  I believe that the healthy new stem cells have eradicated any cancerous cells in my body.

BUSINESS MATTERS

Due to my health complications, I have been largely away from my business since September. While in the hospital, I exchange emails with my employees and associates. In between hospital stays, I would go into the office for a few hours some days.   During my recent 31 days for my BMT, I was completely inactive. I’ve been a patient at the City of Hope 10 times since September, and also had the 12 day stint at the Oasis of Hope in Mexico.  I’ve tried to stay as engaged as possible without getting too involved; hence, minimizing work related stress.

I’m very eager to get back to work, but will be smart about it. I’ll gradually take on more of my business responsibilities.  My plan is to work at home for 3-4 hours daily beginning soon, with my exceptional assistant, Cindy Forsythe, helping to keep me in the loop on everything and handling much of the details.

Fortunately, I have a terrific staff, and also a tremendous partner in ThomasNet, based in New York City.   My business, Ghindia Industries Online, Inc., is the exclusive sales agent for ThomasNet branded products and solutions in Orange County and the Inland Empire.  My team of 5 sales professionals works closely with small and mid-sized industrial business owners.

Our clients include a mix of manufacturers, distributors and service companies.  We help them market and sell their products on the Internet.  Depending on the particular circumstances and needs of the business, we build them web solutions, including websites, online catalogs, and CAD solutions.  Also, we sell placement and positioning on ThomasNet.com, the top online destination for industrial buyers to source products and services, and to learn the latest in industry-related news.

We have over 300 local clients, each requiring various degrees of attention.  In these competitive times, we’re extremely dedicated to excellent customer service.  As you know, if you don’t take good care of your customers, someone else will…

EXTRAORDINARY PARTNERS

I’ve been closely associated with ThomasNet since 1994, first as an employee/senior executive for over 13 years, and now as an independent sales agent (kind of like owning a franchise).  I met Cheryl at my first national sales meeting in Tucson, AZ, April 1995.  I was living in San Francisco at the time, and Cheryl lived in Chicago, representing Thomas as an independent sales consultant.   A couple years later, we moved Cheryl to San Francisco and then got married in August 1997.  Cheryl is well thought of throughout the company, and I always say that marrying her was a great career move.

ThomasNet (name change in 2003) is the main division of Thomas Publishing Company, which was founded in 1898, and is one of the most respected names in industry. President, Eileen Markowitz, Vice President of Sales & Marketing, Alberto Cassola, and Director of Sales, Jason McVeigh, could not possibly be more supportive than they’ve been.  I’ll be forever grateful for their commitment to helping me get healthy, and at the same time, interacting with my team to support their success in my absence. ThomasNet is a first class operation, simply the best!

SPECIAL PEOPLE AND PLACES

In the past week, I’ve had some special visitors. When we were staying at the apartment at City of Hope, my cousins Wayne and Joan Tallman stopped by.  Wayne referred to the apartment as our “chalet.”  Wayne and Joan have been really terrific about keeping in touch and checking in on me. They’ve visited me in the hospital and at home, as well as helping to keep my spirits up with phone calls and emails. Sunday, we were thrilled to have cousins Hank and Tonilyn Giantasio and their six kids come to our home in Irvine for a visit.  The Giantasios live in Oak Brook, IL and are vacationing in Laguna Beach.

Saturday evening, I ventured out of the house to attend our dear friends, Tim and Kelly Blett’s daughter Alexandra’s high school graduation party.  I’ve known Alex since she was born, and she has grown into a fabulous young lady.  The party was on the Blett’s expansive, comfortable patio.  We arrived early, with me wearing my breathing mask. I caught a ride home from the party before it got crowded, leaving Cheryl and the girls to enjoy the festivities until it ended around 10:30.  It was fun to get out for an hour or so and see some great friends and, of course, celebrate Alex’s milestone.  Alex is attending the University of Oklahoma in the fall.  Boomer Sooner!

BLESSINGS OF COMMUNICATION AND MUCH MORE

I’ve heard from so many dear family members and friends, including those I haven’t seen in years, even decades (yikes!). Thank you very much for your messages, phone calls, emails and financial contributions.  Your concern and care is remarkable!  Your generosity is greatly helping Cheryl and I pay down a number of bills. This has alleviated the level of stress and contributes greatly to my health progress and healing. The blessings we’ve received from you are immeasurable.  Our family will never forget how you’re helping us get through these challenging times.

God bless you and yours,
George

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


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