This is the latest installment in my occasional series about how I'm adjusting to living with a big C in my life. For those of you who are regular readers and have read the previous posts, you can skip this first paragraph. For those of you who aren't, here's a quick summary. I'm 49 years old and I recently had a prostate biopsy following two "slightly high" PSA tests - 2.8 & 4.1. The biopsy took ten tissue samples and one of these showed a "low grade cancer" which gives me a 3+3 on the Gleason scale. I'm now on a program of active monitoring. I've no symptoms and sadly for a few people, if I'm gonna die soon, it won't be from Prostate cancer. Got the picture?
So it's five weeks since I got the good news. Now I guess my first reaction was to do what everyone does and say "I'm going to beat this". My guess is that most of us would say this on receipt of the news. What I'm less certain of is whether those of us who say this actually do anything positive to actually change the way the disease is progressing. In this day and age, it would surprise me if anyone didn't google their particular variety of cancer in the hope that there is a little known miracle cure out there. What we all want is a little pill that has no side effects and will make us live forever. So if I google "cure for prostate cancer" what do I get? I get over 100 million results. So far so good? erm nope. As I plough through the 101 million pages of information, suddenly a horrible truth emerges. That miracle extract, which Hopi Indians have been extracting from the trails of slugs (note : This is a random idiotic idea for a treatment I made up for the purposes of illustrating the point) for the last 10,000 years doesn't actually work. Even worse though, is the fact that people believe it does and so put their faith in it and so don't have conventional treatments which may help them.
Now in this game, I'm in the lucky position right now of having something which doesn't require urgent attention. For me, all of this is theoretical right now. As I'm an engineer by trade, it seems to me to be a basic problem that something is broken, so something needs mending. So how do I approach this? Well if you have a complex problem which really does need to be solved, the sensible thing to do is to get a plan. The first thing to do is to understand what I'm dealing with. That's one of the reasons I started to write this blog. I figure that if I can start a discussion, then I might actually change my chances. Why? because I may find something out which helps me. Now as fat 49 year olds go, I'm a pretty fit one. I play football twice a week and I go to the gym every day. I have been having personal training recently (unrelated to this) and I probably feel as healthy as I've felt for many years.
So I discuss the predicament with my excellent personal fitness instructor and he tells me his girlfriend is in a similar (if far worse in some ways) predicament. She has breast cancer and has had operations. He suggests I read Anti Cancer: A new way of life. It is written by a doctor and is a strategy for dealing with cancer holistically. More importantly, it takes a scientific and well explained approach to the treatment of the disease. The message of the book is that whatever stage you are at, however well or ill you are, you can improve your chances of living a bit longer and you can improve the quality of your life by making lifestyle changes.
Right now, I'm about half way through the book. What it makes clear is that as we stand right now, there is now magic pill. What there are though, are choices we can make which may improve our chances of successfully living with the disease. What sort of things can make a difference? Well there are conditions in which cancers thrive. So by definition if we want to effectively combat cancers, we minimise our exposure to these factors. Some of these are pretty obvious and we all know about. Smoking is something everyone recognises as cancer promoting. The less obvious things (to me at least) are things like exposure to pesticides and various forms of plastic packaging. Then there are the things in our diet which feed cancers. Various fats have been shown to promote cancer growth and others inhibit it. It seems that the western diet has got a massive imbalance between our omega 3 and 6 intake. It's not just what we eat, it's also what the things we eat eat. For example, modern farming techniques, where cows are fed on grain rather than grass, radically alters balance of the omega 3 and 6 in the meats. The message seems to be that if we want to eat red meats (or meats in general), we should seriously consider making sure it's organic and grass fed. Now I love steak and whilst red meats are not generally recommended, the odd steak as a treat is fine, especially if it is from a grass fed herd.
Then there are the foods which have been shown to combat the growth of tumours. Some of these I rather enjoy and eat a fair bit of anyway. Tomatoes (especially cooked ones), watercress, peppers, beans, mushrooms have been found to inhibit tumour growth. Then there are things which I would normally not eat much of such as brocolli, green tea are a couple that spring to mind. The third group are things which I'd never even tried such as Pomegranite juice. So lets look at the green tea as an example. I find it tastes like dishwater. I love a nice cup of normal(black) tea with milk. Studies have shown that drinking five cups of green tea a day can have a marked impact on tumour growth. So I have a choice. Do I adjust my drinking habits, swapping green for black or do I pass up a chance to statistically improve my chances? The big obstacle is that I really dislike the flavour of the green tea? So lets get creative. If I add some lemon juice (high in vitamin C), a little ginger (also a tumour suppressant) and some Manuka honey (anti inflammatory and generally a promoter of a healthy system), I find myself drinking a rather pleasant substitute.
As I read through, it seems there are plenty of small changes I can make all of which MAY statistically improve my chances. A teaspoon of tumeric into the foods I prepare can also help my odds. Since the 8th November, when I found out, I've been doing all of these things. As I find better ways to alter my diet and lifestyle, it gets easier. What is the downside to this diet? Let me give you an example. Last night I went out with the guys I play football with to have our Xmas meal. We went to the new branch of Prezzo in Mill Hill. So we start at the Bridge Tavern and have a couple of beers. I have guinness. Now if I was striclty following the regime, it would have been one or two glasses of red wine, with the meal. I have made the choice to live life and have fun, so Guinness it is. Then we go to Prezzo. I check the menu. I immediately discount anything with cheese or dairy as these are "promoters" for the cancer I have. That leaves me with the following choices for starters
Tiger Prawns in Tomato Sauce with Chilli
(I discount the chicken wings, as I'm avoiding chicken skin).
I choose the mushroom Bruschetta, I would have probaly had the Tiger prawns, but I decide I'll have these with spaghetti as the main course as it's that or the Penne Arrabiata. I avoid pudding altogether.
What would I have had if I'd chosen in October? Probably the Grilled Goats cheese starter and the Pollo Siciliana as a main. In my previously blissfully ignorant mind set, I'd have thought I'd had reasonably healthy options. So if I'd made that choice last night, would I have increased my chances of the tumour developing aggresively? No of course not. A one off treat would most likely have no effect whatsoever. The trouble is that when we break rules, we get into a habit of breaking them. There is always a reason or excuse. Now the three bottles of wine and two beers I drunk, as well as what I smoked when I was pissed (yes when I get drunk I light up, if I'm in the company of smokers) would have a far more detrimental effect. But that is something I do very rarely and is one of life's little compromises.
So here's the interesting thing. I've been eating healthy for a month, piling in the antoxidant foods and green tea. My weight has dropped from 105kg to 101kg and I feel great. People who haven't seen me for a while keep saying "You're lookimng healthy". Odd really. Even odder is what happened when I woke up. Despite a copious amount of alcohol, I don't have the slightest hangover. I've always suffered rotten hangovers, but I haven't had one at all since I changed my diet. With Xmas, I've had a boozy couple of weeks. Could it be that the diet is making my general health and liver/kidneys function better?
Anyway, as a guy who takes everything I do pretty seriously, I've been reading and researching all manner of websites, blogs and other articles, trying to find the best balance to keep myself in harmony. I have found one thing which is shocking and disgusting. As I said at the start of this blog, we all want the magic pill. Of those 101 million pages, maybe 99.9% of them are promoting products which promise all manner of things, many of which imply "the miracle cure". Tablets, extracts, vitamins, minerals. If you google "Cancer what the doctor wont tell you", you'll get eleven million articles returned. This article comes top - http://www.drcutler.com/general-health/natural-alternatives-for-fighting-cancer-that-your-doctor-wont-tell-you-about/ - am I the only person who sees the irony in a website written by a Doctor called "cancer what the doctor wont tell you? Now I'm sure that Doctor Cutler is a marvellous man, but I read the article with horror at his approach. Dr Cutler recommends taking "green tea extract". Whilst he is quite correct in what he says about this, but why does he promote the extract. Surely he should be promoting drinking green tea and only taking the extract if you can't stand the stuff. He mentions curcumin, the active ingredient in Tumeric. Why not promote addition of tumeric to food when you prepare it? By all means use the extract if you don't like the taste of tumeric, but for many people, the raw ingredient is just as good, if not better. At the bottom we read that Dr Cutler is an adviser for a company which sells these products. Now that's his job, I have no gripe with him for earning a living and promoting products which may benefit people with cancer. What I do have a gripe with is the fact that many of the things he mentions such as the green tea and the cucumin can quite easily and cheaply be bought in their raw form, without expensive packaging or processing. By all means promote the products, but surely we have a responsibility to also promote the benefits of changing diet and not relying on pills.
Doctor Cutler is one of the better sites promoting products. He explains the actions of the products and why they have benefits. I'm reasonably sure that for someone who doesn't want to make massive changes, these product will be beneficial, so there is a place for such things. He draws attention to the necessity of building up your own immune system to fight the disease, which again is important, so don't take my comments as critical of his approach, beyond the fact that I believe he should stress that such products are alternatives to the source ingredients. What I will say though, is that many of the sites are highly misleading. they devise all sorts of ways of classifying additives which imply all sorts of things which cannot be backed up by hard statistics or research.
I think it is morally indefensible to market products as "healthy" when there is no hard evidence that they really are. The implication that Doctors are deliberately witholding information is actually quite a dangerous charge. When it is combined with marketing for products which haven't been tested or proven in a scientifically proven manner, it is dangerous.
I have no idea whether me drinking five cups of green tea, with honey, lemon and ginger, or putting a spoonful of tumeric in with my vegetables will stop my cancer, make me live a day longer or even do anything at all. What I do know is that it makes me feel that I'm positively taking charge of my life and my situation. If eventually cancer kills me, it is actually irrelevent. What matters to me is that I feel that I am doing something. A friend who has read this blog and doesn't have cancer asked me what I hoped to achieve by writing blogs about the disease at this stage? In truth, all I am trying to achieve is to use it as a tool to help me deal with my situation. I hope to God that a few other people out there get something useful from reading this. Whether that is a miracle cure from Doctor Cutler, a way of making their green tea taste better, or even a grim satisfaction from tucking into their bacon and egss and thinking "I'm not going down the route that twat has", then that's fine. I'm not promoting a lifestyle or a way of doing things, but I can say that I feel 100% comfortable with the approach I'm taking and I do feel healthier and happier than I did when I got my diagnosis. I hope to God that when I get my next PSA test or my next biopsy result that the cancer has been completely eradicated by the green tea, tumeric and pomegranate, but even if it hasn't, even if it has gone bonkers, I will still be pleased that I took this approach. In life nothing is guaranteed, but I'd rather try and fail than passively walk to my fate. What I find strange is that so many people say "I'm going to fight this desease" but actually do nothing to actually fight it, beyond take the pills, do the treatment and think about what a shite sandwich they've been given. If it eventually kills me despite all of this, should my wife put "Stupid deluded twat" on my gravestone for believing I can change things? Maybe, but I'd rather have that as a memorial than have her think "I just wish he'd drunk a bit more of that green tea".
Have a great weekend