March 15, 2015

Trials, Tribulations & Outliers

A lot has happened since my last blog entry. The core biopsy went well; uneventful thankfully. Unfortunately, it's been over a month since that occurred and the sample is just now being tested thanks to clinical trial red tape. The clinical trial will not take place in Calgary so all samples must go through Edmonton and its clinical trial approved lab. S and I took a day trip to Edmonton awhile ago to sign consent forms to allow the release of my biopsied tissue sample for testing. We are now waiting to find out if I have the T790M mutation which will qualify me for the AZD9291 Phase 3 trial. One risk entering a Phase 3 trial; they will be comparing the trial drug to the gold standard. This means I may be randomized to enter the chemotherapy arm. Such is life. I have learned to accept whatever cards I am dealt. I just have to play those cards well enough to stay in the game!

In addition to clinical trial stuff, February was quite busy. I decided to challenge (or punish) myself by taking on a 30 hour continuing education course to keep my professional licence up-to-date. This concluded with a 2 day, 16h seminar, interrupted by... food poisoning!!! Damn you Thai food! Or was it the sushi? I haven't had a craving for either since. Oy, that was a rough weekend! 

On a good note, with all this talk of my cancer progressing, it was time I made a trip to Chicago. Awhile ago, I discovered the book "Life Over Cancer", by Dr. Keith Block,  an integrative medical oncologist who established his own integrative cancer centre in Skokie, Illinois (north of Chicago). His philosophy is to complement conventional medicine with diet, exercise, bio-behavioural techniques, herbs and supplements, etc. His recommendations are based on biomedical/scientific research; stuff that the average oncologist or physician tends to overlook. In my opinion, a physician who combines conventional medicine with effective complementary treatment, including nutrition and exercise, is a powerful resource.  It has always been my belief that a successful cancer treatment involves looking into all aspects of one's lifestyle, body, mind and spirit. The Block Centre followed this philosophy so, after news of my cancer progressing, we arranged a full consultation (private pay for us Canadians). We met Dr. Block and his team in mid-February. Unfortunately for us, this was also when Chicago was having one of its coldest weeks (just like much of the east coast)! Brrrr!!!  Anyway, the appointment took half a day, plus the following morning for blood tests. I spoke to a dietician (Block trained so totally agreeable!), a biobehaviourist (Dr. Block's wife, Penny), one of Block's oncologists (not needed) and finally, Dr. Block himself. Dr. Block is a fountain of anticancer knowledge!! He has been researching integrative cancer care for 30 years. For the most part, based on the consultation, I seem to be on the right track, only needing to make a few tweaks to my wellness routine. Here's some points you may find interesting or helpful:

1. In addition to my (selective) fish friendly vegetarian diet, I need to give up all milk and milk products completely. I was eating goat milk products, which is better than cows milk, BUT all milk, regardless of source, contains growth hormones. For a growing calf, growth hormones are great. For a cancer patient, growth hormones promote the growth of cancer cells! Bye bye dairy! (The same reasoning goes behind eliminating meat on an anticancer diet). 

2. A well rounded exercise program, which includes aerobic exercise, strength and flexibility training, will help your body avoid injury, and recover faster from illness or trauma, in addition to boosting your mood. I was asked to see a physiotherapist to strengthen my left side, which has significantly weakened over the past two years. This certainly does make me more prone to pain and injury. It pays to stay in shape! 

3. "Sugar feeds cancer". This supposed myth actually has some truth to it. The statement is just oversimplified. The real problem is hyperglycemia. High blood sugar and high insulin levels have been linked to tumour growth. So instead of just cutting out "sugar", we really ought to be regulating our blood glucose. Eat 4-5 small meals a day instead of 2-3 large meals to avoid insulin spikes. White potatoes, white flour, white rice are all high glycemic index foods so cut those out. Drink green juices (which lack fiber to help regulate sugar spikes) with nuts or other high fiber/high protein foods. Eliminate all processed sugars. If you need to sweeten drinks or foods, use maple syrup or stevia but do so sparingly.

4. Mindful meditation may be helpful for pain control. Dr. Penny Block even suggested hypnosis. Being in pain negatively affects one's state of mind. Take the pain away and your mood and outlook improves immensely. Interesting fact, regular meditation can alter gene expression. Block recommends meditating at least 20mins in the morning and 10mins at night. 

5. The best thing the Block Centre gave me was HOPE. There are indeed longterm survivors of stage 4 lung cancer, despite what the statistics say. These people are outliers. I am determined to be an outlier...