When Cancer Hits Home: Finding a Path When None Exists

Many of the people who are close to me, including my friends and many of my patients, know that my wife, Mariah, is being treated for a fairly aggressive form of breast cancer. In addition, my older sister Sharon passed away last fall (2015) from a long-term battle with leukemia. As you can imagine, cancer hitting this close to home has been a lot for me to take in. Like many others, I find myself challenged to understand the indiscriminate nature of this terrible illness. My healing and dealing (or coping) process is to kind of “put it all out there;” to share the gist of what I am feeling, share my life and explore what works and what doesn’t. I want us all to learn together; to let go of the “right and wrong,” black-and-white illusion of the decisions and judgments we have to make.

I want to make this the first article in a series about my experience with cancer. I want to open up about creating a support system for my wife and I want to share how my process of coping and self-discovery has evolved over time in this very stressful place. Most importantly, I want to create a space to explore, support and create a community where we can stumble together towards a deeper understanding of life and ourselves. 

The story begins 4 years ago, when Mariah was first diagnosed with Her 2 Positive breast cancer. She chose to treat what was then a fairly large tumor in her right beast with some aggressive holistic therapy. She decided on a month long program in a holistic cancer treatment center in Arizona called Sun Ridge Medical Center—a program that was not covered by insurance.

Forced to grapple with the cost of treatment, there was a second when my mind went through this futile process of trying to calculate just how much my wife’s life was worth. Of course I would have paid anything; I would have given anything in the world. But coming up with over $60,000 is not easy, especially when we had to borrow a good deal of it. 

At Sun Ridge Medical Center, Mariah received daily IV treatments of large doses of glutathione, vitamin C, and Ozone to name only a few types of infusions. From what we read about Sun Ridge and their success, we were to say, at the very least, quite optimistic. In those days, I was overwhelmed with anticipation for the future. I was certain these treatments would cure Mariah. In no time, she would be out of the “woods” and all this uncertain spending would come to an end.

Mariah returned after her 30-day stay with little to no improvement. One thing was certain: the tumor continued to grow.

From the moment Mariah was diagnosed, I felt a dire need to understand why this was happening to my family. Things like this usual happen to other people--not my wife; not us. I just wanted a path to follow; a neatly paved path that would lead us to a clear and concise understanding of what went wrong.

Mariah and I are fundamentally good people. We do not lie, cheat, steal or hurt anyone. I would say we are generally nice people who treat others with respect and kindness. We live a healthy life. We mediate. We exercise. We eat organically. We do all the things you’re supposed to in order to support your health and your body as a whole. But when Cancer struck home, I found the core of my beliefs challenged. At the time, it looked like the beliefs that saw me through most of my life were not really working so well.

My journey of continual understanding led me to Amazon.com one night. I came across a book by Pema Chodron called “When Life Falls Apart”. I found her to be real and grounded in the reality of what a person can go through when life turns to complete shit. That book held a deep resonance for me. It was almost as if Chodron was talking to me about me. 

Two things really stuck out to me from Chodron’s writings. First, she said to give up hope. Now, that doesn’t mean to be hopeless, mind you. She explains that hoping for something better in the future takes you out of the present moment. For her, and I think myself, the answers I am looking for need to be found here, now. Who knows what the future may bring? Maybe something good…but also maybe something not so good. Life, and especially my wife, is here now. That is where I want to be: with my wife in the present moment. 

The second piece of advice Chodron gave me is not to look to God for “The Answer”. She called it being a “non-theist.” She was not asking me to give up belief in God. I do believe in God, and I often pray. I think what she means, rather, is not to ask God for a certain outcome, or a certain event that might or might not happen. Looking to someone or something else all the time is another factor that can separate from you the present moment, or from the reality of you and your loved ones. 

Both giving up hope and not looking to God for an answer helped me find my way in the present moment and helped me to stop projecting all my energy into the future. These 2 simple practices tend to work for me in my darkest times. I welcome your thoughts, comments and suggestions on these coping mechanisms and your own experiences. This is only one man’s journey of trying to understand what often seems incomprehensible.

 

 

The Power of Vitamin C, Taking the Correct Dose.

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Cold and flu season is upon us, and that combined with the business of everyday life can make it much more challenging than usual to stay healthy. I’m sure many of you are wondering what you can do to avoid getting a cold or the flu (or get better!) in the new year without having to slow down. One recommendation I have is to find a way to include more Vitamin C in your diet. While it has the reputation of being mainly a pirate’s cure for scurvy, Vitamin C can have a constellation of positive effects on a person’s health, helping to overcome illnesses like bronchitis, gum disease, influenza, stomach ulcers, bladder infections, to name only a few. It’s all a matter of taking it at the right time, in the right form, and in the right amount, all of which I will explain in this newsletter.

If you’re skeptical of the power of Vitamin C, you should know that its effect on the body has been thoroughly tested and understood by researchers and scientists. In a normal, healthy person, the vitamin acts as an antioxidant and helps generate the synthesis of collagen, which helps strengthen blood vessels and body muscles. Because of these regenerative properties, Vitamin C has been tested as a healing agent against many viruses. Scientists have found it to have significant therapeutic power in the face of even devastating diseases like AIDS and Polio. Today, Vitamin C is believed to play a valuable role in a person’s general health, doing everything from treating a common cold (and other viruses), boosting the immune system, and lowering hypertension, to curing cataracts, treating cancer, combating stroke, maintaining skin elasticity, and even controlling the symptoms of asthma. Vitamin C has also been found to speed up wound healing by facilitating the growth of connective tissues. The vitamin can even affect the mood of a person by assisting with the production of neurotransmitters—key for proper brain function!

Given all this scientific evidence, we can see how important it is to include Vitamin C in our diets—and there are a few different ways to do this. Vitamin C supplements come in tablets, capsules, powder, and food. Going with regular, low-cost, ascorbic-acid is my recommendation. I know there are several mineral ascorbates on the market, touting better absorbance; however, these forms of the vitamin only carry about half the antioxidant content of regular ascorbic-acid, and therefore are only about half as effective—so skip the minerals. Additionally, when you’re ingesting Vitamin in large amounts, you’ll want to stay away from most tablets and go for a capsule instead. Tablets often contain a lot of fillers, things you don’t want in high amounts. Be sure to check the ingredients of any supplement you buy; you want as few chemicals/fillers in it as possible. You’ll also want to look into liposomal Vitamin C if you plan on taking ascorbic acid in large amounts. Liposomes help the body absorb Vitamin C, so it’s a good idea to alternate between doses of regular Vitamin C and liposomal Vitamin C to get the best results out of your supplements.

Finally, The most cost effective way to take ascorbic acid is to just buy it in powder form and dissolve it in water. This approach is fine, but be sure to measure carefully and drink the water through a straw (to protect tooth enamel). Of course, you can also modify your diet a bit to include more Vitamin C rich food if supplements aren’t your thing. See the chart below for some great examples of foods by Vitamin C content:

 Do know that, whichever form of Vitamin C you choose, you’ll need to ingest it in rather large amounts in order to experience any of its therapeutic properties. Most people don’t take nearly enough Vitamin C to really be effective. If you’re currently healthy, I would suggest taking about 500-1,000mg of Vitamin C a day as a preventative measure. But if you are actively trying to fight off a cold or the flu, you need at least 8-10g (8,000-10,000mg) of vitamin C a day. My suggestion is to take 2,000mg every hour, alternating between regular ascorbic acid and liposomal Vitamin C, in order to have a chance at beating a cold or the flu.

Perhaps even more important than the amount of Vitamin C you take is the timing at which you take it. Scientists, doctors, and nutritionists alike will tell you that all the benefits of the vitamin are entirely contingent upon how you take it and when, so lets go over a few basic rules for taking Vitamin C.

The first rule to remember is to pay careful attention to the timing of when you take each dose. I cannot stress this point enough. The thing about Vitamin C is that it helps with illnesses because, when taken in large doses, not of all it can be absorbed in the blood; some stays in the gut, and can then be pulled in by the body to fight a virus. In order to achieve these sort of vitamin C reserves in the gut, you’ll want to take medium-sized doses of Vitamin C often as opposed to one large dose once a day, in order to keep a steady flow of it in the body. Remember, Two doses of 3 grams, taken twelve hours apart, are better than 6 grams taken all at once. 

The second rule is to start small. Vitamin C intake is going to be limited by your bowel tolerance, so start at about 500-1000mg and see how it affects your stomach. If you’ve exceeded bowel tolerance, you may experience gas or loose stools. At the first sign of these side effects, simply scale back your dosage a bit and let your stomach acclimate before taking more Vitamin C. However, so long as your bowel is tolerant, don’t be afraid to take it in what may seem like excessive amounts. With Vitamin C, there is a “threshold” that needs to be reached, above which the vitamin can have dramatic effects. You’ll need to take Vitamin C in very large amounts in order to reach this threshold; if the threshold isn’t reached, the Vitamin really doesn’t have much an effect at all. Again, 10,000mg is needed to fight off a cold or flu, but for more serious diseases, like Cancer for example, 60,000mg-100,000mg of Vitamin C a day is needed. This large of an amount can only be taken through IV therapy. 

Lastly, to ensure that large doses of Vitamin C have a positive impact on your health, you’ll want to create optimal conditions in your body so that it can use the vitamin effectively. I advise you cut back on carbs/sugar and smoking, both of which mute the vitamin’s effects. Further, if you’re worried about kidney stones (which are truthfully a very small risk of taking large amounts of Vitamin C), you can add magnesium citrate to your supplement regimen. If you have kidney-disease, iron overload disease, or glucose-6-phosphatase deficiency, however, you shouldn’t take Vitamin C in high doses at all.

I hope you will all consider adding more Vitamin C into your health care regime, either as a complement to existing flu/cold medications or even as a non-drug alternative—you really can never be too safe at this time of year.

Please call 734-726-0153 to schedule a free consultation and evaluation. At Digestive Health Ann Arbor we are known for providing professional and compassionate care. We strive to guide people towards a comprehensive and holistic healing strategy. Restoring your body to health will restore the quality of your life.