Sunday, October 23, 2011

Slowing down, blueberries, or surgery - what is the answer?

Do you know the answer, the path to a cure for cancer, 100% of the time, in each individual? I don't, and I don't know any responsible oncologist or 'alternative' health care practitioner who would guarantee a 'cure' either.

However, there has been lots of 'chatter' on various websites, along with a recent article in the New York Times, about the death of Steven Jobs being 'his fault' for the treatment path he chose for his type of pancreatic cancer. In addition, there has been a recent article in the Chicago Tribune highlighting the recent death of the French neuro-scientist David Servan-Schreiber, PhD, who first wrote the best-selling book Anti-Cancer: A New Way of Life and more recently, knowing his brain tumor had relapsed 20 years after first being diagnosed, wrote the book Not the Last Good-bye, in which he essentially says there is 'no miracle cure for cancer' including any diet, exercise, or stress management program that can prevent a cancer from recurring.

Both men lived longer than many with the same diagnosis. Could they each have lived even longer if only they had done X, Y, or Z? There is no way to know if that would be the case, period, pure and simple.

I can say with close to 100% certainty that all of these 'Monday morning quarterbacks' commenting about the 'wrong' choices Steven Jobs made must have no idea, none at all, what it is like to personally face a cancer diagnosis, to seek out, understand, and choose among the myriad of choices, to sort out the potential help from hype from harm, no matter if you are trying to sort through 'conventional' cancer treatments or complementary/alternative/integrative treatments, whatever you want to call non-conventional cancer treatments these days. Frankly, it is extremely difficult for anyone to do that, even 'smart people', even 'rich people', even 'scientists', even 'medically knowledgeable' people, let along if you are 'none of the above'.

In addition, anyone questioning why blueberries did not cure Dr. Servan-Schrieber's brain tumor is putting a lot of hope and faith (and naiveté) in the word 'cure', let alone in any one conventional cancer treatment, one food, or even a total lifestyle. Cancer is wicked, nasty, completely unpredictable, and completely unfair. My father had a quick and awful death from lung cancer, having absolutely no identifiable risk factors. A man who established Ann Arbor's first organic farm in the early 70's had a fairly rapid death after a brain tumor diagnosis a few years ago. A close friend of mine died from breast cancer only a few short years after her surgeon looked me in the eye in the waiting room while telling me that her surgery had 'cured' my friend.

Don't misunderstand me. I am still hopeful. However, I know it is impossible to call the shot accurately 100% of the time. I do not like the word 'cure'. I also do not like the word 'remission'. Cure implies 100% certainty that cancer will not return. Remission implies that cancer will come back. I am somewhere in-between, where?, I am never sure, but when people do ask about my cancers, I prefer to tell people that I currently consider myself cancer-free until someone tells me otherwise.

I cannot say what I would have done had I been Steven Jobs. I cannot say what I would have done if I were Dr. Servan-Schrieber. What I can say is that it is impossible to say what you will do (and no one has any right to question someone else's decisions) until you are right there yourself, facing your diagnosis, juggling all the unknowns and your worst fears with your values, or experiencing your most alive feeling ever, no longer knowing only in the abstract that your time on this earth, in this lifetime, is truly limited.

I have only the deepest respect for each of these well-known men, both of whom showed us how to live a full life after a cancer diagnosis, a life looking fear in the face, a life that made a difference, and a life without complacency. My book, my life, my website and blogs have never offered a 'cure', only reasonable hope based on the best science available for both extension of life and enhanced quality of life for whatever time we each have remaining (whether one day or decades!).

When it is my turn, even if I do die from cancer, I will die knowing I have done both, i.e., extended my life and enhanced the quality of my life. In my opinion, both Steven Jobs and David Servan-Schreiber achieved the same. I have no doubts, none at all, that everything I have done by combining conventional cancer therapies with blueberries (etc), yoga, meditation, writing my book, dashing all over the country to speak, starting our farm, and now trying to 'slow down' (ha ha!) have allowed me to be fully alive. All of this has helped me 'stay hungry, stay foolish' (the send-off phrase that Steven Jobs used during his address at Stanford's graduation in 2005). Both of these men both did the same. Who can ask anything more from anyone who found himself on center stage of the grossly unfair world of cancer?

However, I will leave you with one thing to ask. Please start asking, and keep asking, over and over and over again, why aren't we focusing on finding the cause(s) of cancer that must be all around us? If you didn't read it last year, I do recommend reading the President's Cancer Panel Report of 2010 “Reducing Environmental Cancer Risk: What We Can Do Now”. Searching on your favorite search engine will bring you to the very readable document.

"Cultivate your life - you are what you grow - inch by inch, row by row"

Diana Dyer, MS, RD


Jennifer said...

Thank you for this post. I was diagnosed with early stage invasive breast cancer three months ago; had my mastectomy, told I do not need chemo (low recurrence score) and now on hormone therapy. I was pleased to find Dr Servan-Schreiber's Anti Cancer book and start reading with gusto about the steps I could take to help my body heal and make a less favourable environment for cancer cells to live in. And then I learned that he had recently died, and I felt quite down for a few days. But as you say, he lived a full and happy life for many more years than his initial diagnosis suggested he would. In the end, that's what got me back to finish reading the book. I don't know for sure what the future will hold, but I am going to get myself into the best shape I can to meet whatever may come along. I really appreciate your blog, and am so pleased to have found it.
Best, Jennifer

Susan said...

I also would like to thank you for this post. I was diagnosed with breast cancer two years ago,and have developed secondary cancer in lungs and bones. My treatment was delayed due to the fact that I have Multiple Sclerosis. I agree no one knows what the future holds, but with the a strong faith, love of family,friends, and a positive attitude life is good. May I say that your blog gives me strength and I wish you and everyone who is affected by cancer my prayers and thoughts. Susan

Staci said...

Nice information! I'm really enjoying reading your blog here, and I'm looking forward to more!

el poquito said...

I now am 6 yrs into re-mission of what 'they' call "incurable" lymphoma - causing me from the beginning to examine that most desired word 'Cure'. Because I can't have 'cure' it causes me to split the hair's difference between 'cure' and 'heal' - something I have to try and wake up each morning and reaffirm. Over my desk is a bold statement of reminder: "I can be healthier than I've ever been." It's not pie-in-the-sky affirmation or denial, but rather a defining of what 'healthier' means to me today - an ever-changing definition.

Your words have been a good addition since the beginning to my "Maintaining Re-mission Program" and I'm appreciative to have stumbled upon you and your sane voice once again. Thank you.

Nora said...

An excellent reply to the nutrition cynics. As I am approaching my last chemo for Breast Cancer and a month of radiations, I am planning to do correct nutrition, etc. for the sake of it. I simply cannot be tied to an outcome, as who knows which way I will go? I will reread this blog often. I love the way you take on those who criticize Jobs' choice. You are more than qualified to take them on, having done both conventional and non, in treating your own cancers. I will embrace the natural, nutritional approach cos it will make me feel better and have more energy; the process is what I will embrace, not the outcome.
I have one caveat to your thoughts on Jobs: at the same time as I was diagnosed Suzanne Somers was on Piers Morgan poo-pooing chemotherapy. She made it clear: chemo bad/nutrition/bioidenticals good. I had been on bioidenticals after menopause for a few yrs and still got breast cancer. Who knows if they played a part? How can she be sure they did not? I pray Steve Jobs was not unduly influenced by her comments. A friend gave me her book. I do find her irresponsible.

I like that you embrace both chemo and nutrition.

Diana Dyer said...

Only today have I finally had a chance to read all the comments added so far to this post. Thank you for sharing so much of your own cancer stories with me. I am honored by knowing that I meet inspirational people everywhere, including on my blogs. Thank you also for your vote of confidence in my 'sane' voice along with telling me that my blog gives many of you strength. I send you all my deepest wishes for good health, healing, happiness, and hope. :-)