August, September

I think a month is quite long enough to procrastinate about updating my blog.

Let’s see, the initial roadblock to blog-fluidity was the trip we took to the Block Center for Integrative Cancer Treatment in Skokie, Illinois at the very end of July.  The multi-specialist, almost-6-hour visit was full of Stuff to Think About.  We (Eric and myself, later joined by my mom) met with:

  • a psychosocial therapy/social worker type person who asked about coping, support, the kids, dealing with emotions, etc.
  • a nutritionist who looked at my previous lab results, walked us through the Block Center diet (basically, vegan with lots of whole grains & veggies), and went over suggested supplements and foods to match the lab values that indicate the “terrain” my body is providing for the cancer
  • Dr. Udhrain, the oncologist, who was very cheering and provided a bunch of information about treatments and how they do them there
  • Dr. Block, the founder, who has been doing this for 30 years and answered some interesting questions in solid ways.

Then I had lots of blood drawn for updated lab work to further customize the eating/supplement advice they gave me (I had a follow-up call with the nutritionist a couple of weeks later).

Sometime in between there, we grabbed plates of food from the lunchtime healthy-cooking demonstration they do every day, and had some tea in the waiting areas that are like living rooms, where the practitioners come find you when they’re ready for you.  Everyone was nice.  It was very boutique-y but professional.  Most of it was covered by insurance.

The upshot of the visit was this:

  • Current chemo is a good choice; they would not suggest a change as long as there is no progression of the tumors.  Beyond that, there are many options, and I could come there for the Block Center version of them (involving lots of supportive treatments around the same chemo, and sometimes different administration times of that chemo–chronomodulated chemotherapy, see righthand column).  Or I could just consult with them every 3 or 6 months without switching to their care completely.
  • Beyond the standard chemo regimens there are some new things coming along, and some more advanced, customized, expensive things that could also be done (like testing my tumor to learn more about what it is susceptible to), and finally some way-out-there, travel halfway ’round the world for experimental treatment options that they could guide me to, as well.
  • Become vegan to avoid many dietary factors that encourage tumor growth, or might encourage it, and to be healthier all ’round.
  • Take lots of supplements designed to boost the immune system and interfere with cancer growth in various specific ways (supplements include the much-argued-over fish oil, of course, and lots of food-derived antioxidants…centerpiece of another sprawling, ongoing oncology-wide argument)
  • Exercise a ton more, to become healthier, more resilient, and better able to deal with complications & chemo effects.  Heavy-breathing aerobic exercise every day, plus strength training and interval training multiple times per week.
  • Invest in mind-body work every day (meditation or yoga or Tai Chi or Qi Gong or secular mindfulness/body awareness or whatever) to reduce stress, boost the immune system, etc.

So I have been doing a lot of the above, especially the exercise (which I saw no downside to at all), since the end of July.  My sorta-niece Carolyn (18) is pretty much my personal trainer.  She exercises with me most mornings, and other people at QIVC have gotten interested in joining us sometimes too, which is really fun.  When she is busy or away, I try to find someone to have an exercise date with.

Avoiding almost all meat and dairy is harder.  I have definitely cut down on dairy and didn’t eat much meat before anyway.  (But cheeeeese!)  I am researching and gearing up on some of the suggested supplements.  I’ve been meditating a bit, doing way more moments of breath awareness, and trying Tai Chi and a bit of Qi Gong.

I’m also reading the Block Center book, Life Over Cancer, even though it’s dauntingly long, because it goes into way more detail about the background, research, and justification of all these recommendations than I could get out of Dr. Block in an hour-long visit.  If I have foll0w-up questions for him after that I’m welcome to send them in for him to answer.  Knowing me, I certainly will.

All in all it was a much more hopeful story than the story from my current oncologist.  They said they can often manage metastatic breast cancer as if it were a chronic disease, for years, and ideally some new treatment comes along before they have exhausted all the options of current treatment.  Meanwhile their patients are living reasonable lives with cancer because the supportive treatments (like IV Vitamin C) and diet & exercise & supplements & meditation are keeping them healthy despite chemo.  Their published experience backs up this assertion–their approach hasn’t been tested in a randomized controlled trial, but their results for their case series of metastatic breast cancer patients are pretty impressive.

So now maybe it becomes more clear how I haven’t had time to blog!

Other things have also been going on in regular life: Will is now at Buxton for 10th grade, 45 min away in Williamstown, which is a big adjustment for all of us (luckily he has some friends from here already attending there); homeschooling began for Jesse; before that we went on a family vacation to Cape Cod and Boston for a few days; even before that, Eric & I spent two days in Southern Vermont before we picked up the kids from Flying Cloud (camp).  And yesterday I turned in my last assignment for my summer grad-school course, an independent-study research project.  What I turned in was the guts of a research write-up which should someday, in a greatly advanced form, become a paper we submit for publication somewhere.  Exciting.  Meanwhile I am taking this semester totally off from grad school–medical leave of absence.  Not sure what I will do after that.  I spent pretty much the whole summer trying to decide what to do this fall.  Subject of another blog post someday, maybe.

Meanwhile in other news I have weird hair, but I am happy to have it.  As usual post-chemo, it is not exactly my usual texture or usual color.  I asked Eric to give me a haircut last month but he liked how it looked so he basically gave me almost a placebo haircut.  So I need a haircut.

Chemo continues apace, 2 Tuesdays out of 3, with IV Vitamin C on the Wednesdays following. (I adjusted the Vit C schedule based on the Block Center’s recommendations.)  Both make me feel icky, but not too icky overall, and it passes in a day or so.  By “not too icky” this is what I mean: if there is something important scheduled the night of chemo or the day after, like a gathering of local Buxton students at our friends Gina & Richard’s house, or neonatal resuscitation training, I go.  If nothing important is scheduled, I sit in bed and read, work, or watch something on the computer, and possibly take a nap.  I don’t lose my appetite and seldom feel queasy or nauseated.  I have plenty of energy most days.  So: things are good.

3 thoughts on “August, September

  1. Dorian

    I think the placebo haircut is my favorite part of this update. Well, that and the Block Center optimism. I liked that part a lot.

  2. Rebecca McBride

    Yes, that’s pretty funny. Ellen, I also found your visit to the Block Center very interesting. Congratulations on turning in your research paper! What is the subject of the project? Maybe you wrote about this earlier, but it’s easier just to ask you…

  3. Shelly

    Your Block Center visit sounds incredibly interesting–and hopefully helpful and reassuring. I hate that you are having to learn this whole new lifestyle, but glad that there are so many resources out there for you. I hope the placebo haircut helped at least a bit. A new career for Eric, perhaps?

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