Several months ago I was confronted with the shocking news that my mother has cancer. The diagnosis came after several unsuccessful visits to her GP where mum explained she was short of breath upon exertion. However, mum’s GP simply gave her Ventolin, assuming it was asthma. No scans were conducted, and it was only because she was on a clinical trial for another health complaint that she checked this prescription with her specialist. He suggested she get an x-ray of the chest to ensure there was nothing sinister. The x-ray revealed that mum had a noticeable growth in the right lung. Further tests were conducted and it was confirmed that this was a non-small cell lung cancer, which had spread outside of the lung into the pleural cavity, with a small spot being found on the brain. This resulted in the harsh and confronting label of a ‘wet’ stage 3/stage IV cancer.
Our family went into shock. My first instinct was to go through mum’s cupboards and throw out all the chemical soaps and face creams, as well as the sugary lollies and processed foods. Don’t get me wrong, my mum ate relatively healthy even then, although she did enjoy biscuits and oven-baked treats occasionally. Sorry mum, but I had to clear things out and refill your cupboards with natural, organic, unprocessed goodness! These are things we should all choose over the chemical-laden rubbish that’s so prevalent in today’s society. It is wise not to wait until we get sick, but better late than never. It was obvious that mum couldn’t get where she wanted to be (cancer free) by doing what she had always done. So we made strict dietary modifications.
Before these could take effect, mum was admitted to hospital repeatedly. On each occasion, a pleural tap was performed to drain the build-up of fluid around the lung, which was occurring as a result of the cancer. There was a clear connection between this fluid build-up and mum’s quality of life. On her third admission in 6 weeks, I was very scared that she was rapidly deteriorating. That time, I went to her house after speaking with her on the phone. Mum had told me she was too weak to do anything and was so breathless she had trouble standing at the sink to wash dishes. When I arrived, she burst into tears. Knowing something was very wrong, I drove her straight to hospital. She was drowning in the fluid on her lungs. I had to wheel her into ER because she didn’t have the breath required to walk down the corridor. I felt so devastated that this was happening. As soon as mum was admitted they gave her oxygen and she expressed gratitude for being able to breathe. She was admitted for 5 days while the lung was drained repeatedly of fluid, with over 2 litres being drained at a time. Our family grew increasingly worried about her.
Then mum underwent a genetic test to see if her tumours had an epidermal growth factor receptor (EGFR) mutation. We were informed that only about 15% of the population had this gene mutation and it was normally found in those of Asian decent. Despite mum’s slim chances, she crossed her fingers and toes for this mutation gene test to come back positive, because it meant a better prognosis and a slower progression of the disease. I sat in the oncologist’s consulting room with my brother and sister, awaiting the test results. Finally mum was having some luck. Despite the odds against her, she had the mutation. We were all quietly relieved. Based on western medical understanding, this took her life expectancy from 3–6 months without the mutation and rocketed it to over 2 years. Mum is now encouraged to take a pill called Erlotonib as an ongoing treatment. It has dried out the fluid in her lung to the point that no more pleural taps are necessary and has significantly improved her quality of life.
While it is positive that mum has the gene mutation, the Erlotonib pill doesn’t offer a cure, just a longer life expectancy. We all agree it is essential that mum starts tackling this cancer from a holistic perspective. Since her cupboard contents were first upgraded, her diet has gone through serious modifications. In a nutshell these include removing all sugar and simple high GI (glycemic index) carbohydrates, dairy products, refined and packaged foods, and oils (except coconut, hemp and almond oil). Mum starts the day with a warm lemon juice with turmeric and a sprinkle of pepper (to supercharge the curcumin extraction) and then makes a vegetable juice (focusing on greens) with wheatgrass twice daily using a cold press juicer. It’s taking her a bit of practise to get used to the dietary changes but I am very proud of her efforts. She is on an all-organic diet rich in fresh vegetables, good oils, activated almonds and walnuts, quinoa, buckwheat, pulses and a small amount of quality fish. She is drinking geranium tea (herb Robert), which is commonly suggested as a go-to drink to support the immune system, being especially good for cancer.
Fortunately for my mum, I have a background in natural health. Since mum’s diagnosis, I have become increasingly concerned about the lax attitude the western medical profession has toward the importance of dietary factors in the treatment of cancer patients. During a consultation where we were discussing mum’s weight loss with her oncologist, it was suggested that we buy some Sustagen.
I couldn’t hide my horror and made it known to the doctor that this would not be included in mum’s regime. I was saddened for all the people who don’t know any better and drink this powder in the belief that it will help them. It is full corn syrup, which is 100% glucose. While it might help raise the daily calorie intake, it does nothing to assist in killing cancer—rather the opposite. Cancer cells feed on sugar, especially the high GI variety found in this mixture. Additionally, Sustagen is full of dairy (which contains growth factors and is to be avoided in a cancer diet) not to mention synthetic vitamins and soy (which is controversial and definitely NOT on our killing cancer list!) I told the oncologist that mum was making smoothies containing a sprouted protein powder, berries, hemp oil, half a banana, a sachet of Flightamins, homemade almond milk and naturally mineralized, fluoride-free water. This would help get her calorie intake up and was a much healthier alternative. The oncologist said it was 1000x better than Sustagen! I find it concerning that this doctor never once mentioned dietary and lifestyle factors, despite these factors accounting as causes for over 85% of cancers.
Photos (sorry they are bit blurred) of the dietary sheet given in hospital
My next disappointment in the Western oncological system came when mum called me up in tears from hospital, telling me that she needed to start eating dairy and bread. I got to the bottom of this when I went to visit her: I found a list from her dietician advocating supplemental foods. This shocked me more than the drink suggestion by the oncologist. The list read: “Menu items have been provided to you to assist you to meet your nutritional needs”. It included things such as Cornish pasties, hot potato chips, meat pies, tinned spaghetti, cheese, ice cream, sweet biscuits, flavoured milk, Powerade and Coke! Let’s get something straight—this is not the palliative care ward where people are fulfilling their final wishes for tasty treats or urgently trying to get into them anything that has high calories. This list was given to mum in the cancer ward and these foods are certainly not cancer friendly. They promote the growth and strength of cancer cells and I am horrified for all the patients with no knowledge about health who are given this “menu” from the hospital dietician. No wonder patients have such poor outcomes. It just reiterates to me that there is very little, if any, hope given to people in the current medical system. People are just as well handed a death sentence when a late stage diagnosis is given and this is just not good enough!
It is vital that we remember that the body has an innate ability to heal itself, given the right conditions. People have and will continue to cure cancer through holistic treatments that take into account all facets of a person, and by making wise choices. I am not naive, I know that there are no guarantees, but my mother and our family agree that we are going to tackle this disease from all angles.
Looking at it from a Chinese Medical perspective—a healing modality over 3000 years old—the lung pathologies are associated with unexpressed or excessive grief and sadness. Mum is seeing an acclaimed professor who is using acupuncture and herbal formulations to clear these emotional blockages and strengthen the immune system so it is stronger than the cancer. We are practising breath work with a practitioner fortnightly, which is an excellent way to clear stagnant emotions. Breath and life are one so this practise helps to heal and regulate the body. Since it makes sense to us that mum’s disease could have originated from emotional pain, we are using this technique to release stuck emotions.
Another vital part of her treatment is cannabis oil, which is taken for its ability to kill cancer cells and stop their proliferation. Thre are many promising studies including this one http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21097714?dopt=Abstract by Harvard Medical School that investigated the role of cannabinoid receptors in lung cancer cells. The study determined the efficacy of these compounds and suggested they be used for treatment against lung cancer cells. While many studies are in vitro or animal based (due to archaic societal controls centred around drug companies and money making) there are many cases of everyday people experiencing full remission by using THC and CBD oils daily, much to the shock of their doctors.
To me, duty of care equals empowering people by providing them with all the options, including useful holistic approaches. While we have come a long way in terms of imaging techniques and medicines, I am not satisfied that reductionist thought and the mechanistic framework of Western medicine has enough to offer cancer patients to give them the best chances of survival. Instead we often see patients stuck in the chemical cascade of prescription drugs where drug A has a spectrum of effects, the ones we don’t like referred to as “side effects”. The patient is then given drug B to counteract A and the drug C to counteract drug B. Seems like madness to me!
There are no guarantees in relation to outcomes in cancer patients because every organism is different and despite modern medical advances so much remains unknown. All I can hope for is that my mum feels empowered, educated and nourished by a lifestyle that supports her with the goal of beating the cancer. This makes us all feel better than the other option, where she gives her power away to a medical profession that presumes it knows best. As far as we are concerned, feeling better is a ticket to getting better so we continue to hope and stay positive.