Wednesday, December 17, 2014

New Cells, Fresh Lobster and A Day at the Beach


Puerto Nuevo, Mexico



Tomorrow is the last day of my booster treatment program, and while we've been enjoying ourselves and making the most of the relaxation, we are very ready to come home.  We miss our little guy like crazy!

However, while we're here, we've committed ourselves to taking advantage of the opportunity to rest, read and sleep in.  Seriously, I feel like a college kid again, only this time there's actually some guilt at the decadence of sleeping in until 7 a.m. (it doesn't sound too bad until you note that it would 10 a.m. our normal time) and lounging about for good portions of the day.

Over the weekend, we checked out some local sights.  On Saturday, a driver took us to a nearby seaside town called Puerto Nuevo known for its lobster.  There were about 25 little restaurants clustered in the five street "town" that all (aggressively) market their lobster.  There were also a plethora of little shops selling souvenirs.  I was lured in by promises of "practically free" jewelry at each stop, while Dave was offered tequila shots made by the owner's "grandfather."  Literally, each of the shop keepers said his grandfather made the tequila.  Either everyone was related or they were scamming us.  Probably a little of both.

After sampling the local wares, we scarfed down a lovely meal of lobster "Puerto Nuevo style" with homemade tortillas, rice, beans and guacamole at a restaurant overlooking the Pacific ocean.  It was beautiful and filled my soul to bursting with the sight of the waves crashing, the smell of the salt in the air and the sun on my face.  God is indeed watching over us.


Sunday brunch at a yummy local restaurant in Tijuana

My treatments have all been going well.  This week I had another round of systemic ozone and transdermal ozone therapy.  The systemic ozone is introduced through my blood via the catheter and is quick and painless.  

The transdermal ozone is the turtle shell sauna, and yep, I still hate it.  I could happily lay on the beach or poolside in 90+ degree weather for hours on end, but for some reason, I can barely tolerate 10 minutes in the 90-degree sauna.  I think I made it all of five minutes this time.  Fortunately, the doctor says that because the procedure's main purpose is detox, I can achieve the same effect through exercise, which is much more fun for me and easier to maintain at home anyway.

Today I'll get my dendritic cells and tomorrow my T-cells, both harvested last week and supercharged in the lab.  As a refresher, the dendritic cells are fused with any floating tumor antigens from my blood (coaxed out by the hyperthermia I had last week, which causes cell apoptosis via heating the blood to high temps).  When re-introduced, the dendritic cells act as the generals of the immune cell army, telling the soldier T cells what the enemy looks like (i.e. anything that looks like the tumor antigen) so they can surround and neutralize it. 

The human body is truly incredible, is it not?


Hooray for my fabulous immune cell army!


Friday, December 12, 2014

Mexico 2.0 - Week One Update



Well, we are officially at the end of week 1, and I'm happy to report that Mexico 2.0/Wellness Retreat has been even better than last time. The central line/catheter/port placement - the only procedure that concerned me because it was mighty uncomfortable last time - was much more manageable.  Where last time I needed IV painkillers and Dave to help me shower and do my hair for a few days because my arm mobility was limited, this time around, I experienced much less discomfort, no sleepless nights and was able to not only shower, but also to blow dry my hair AND set it with curls.  Overly ambitious for a day of medical treatments? Most definitely, but I was celebrating my triumph (also, have I mentioned that I have attractive Mexican doctors...I mean....ummm...a handsome hubby to impress?).

In any case, I was thrilled to have such an improved experience and the rest of the procedures have been a breeze.  On Tuesday I got my catheter and also had hyperthermia.  Wednesday was T-cell modulation therapy and the blood draw for the harvesting of my dendritic and T-cells, yesterday was systemic ozone and today was transdermal ozone (the turtle shell ozone sauna, which oddly, is my least favorite; not sure whether I'm clausterphobic or just sensitive to the heat, but I do not enjoy it) and a Vitamin C IV.  Next week I'll get my dendritic and T-cells that have been growing in the hospital's lab and also have additional rounds of ozone and Vitamin C.

With the exception of Tuesday, the treatments have been finished by midday, so we've taken advantage of the hotel amenities, namely the gym and pool.  Yes, that's right, we lounged poolside yesterday.  It. Was. Glorious.  Vitamin D therapy in December, thank you very much.  The weather has been much more cooperative than it was at home, with highs in the upper 60s or low 70s, as it was yesterday.

And the personal chef service?  Ah-mazing!  And I can confirm that this is what every wife and/or mother should be petitioning Santa for this Christmas.  We've quite enjoyed the delicious organic meals delivered to wherever we happen to be, hotel or hospital, and hope to come home with some tasty new recipes (including one for "golden milk," almond milk with tumeric and cinammon that has been decadent and yet healthy, with its anti-cancer and anti-inflammatory properties).  Frankly, this little luxury has been so glorious and so reasonable, we are considering asking Chef Daniel to come home and live with us. 

I don't have any more treatments until Monday, so we are going to venture to a nearby beach town known for its lobster tomorrrow.  The hospital connected us with a trusted driver who will take us the 45 minutes to get there and wait as long as we'd like to hang out before driving us back.  Once again, we have been very blessed with how accommodating everyone has been.  

Thanks again for keeping us in your thoughts and prayers.  For as empowering as it is to know I've been blessed with the right treatment program for me, there's still something about being treated that I've been trying not to allow get into my head.  I keep reminding myself that this is all about prevention and that I absolutely will continue to stay cancer-free. Yet, I'd be lying if I said I haven't had any moments of concern - I'm sure being in a hospital with other cancer patients will do that - and that's where the prayers come in.  My own active dialogue with the Big Man and the prayers so many loved ones are sending my way are making all the difference in pulling me back into the love and light when I have a "moment."  So thank you, and if you would, please keep sending all of that positive juju!  I do love it so.

Monday, December 8, 2014

My Wellness Retreat







We made it to Mexico and all is great.  Travel yesterday was smooth and we got to catch up with my wonderful college pal in San Diego, who graciously hosted us last night. 

Because this tune up treatment program is outpatient, we are staying at a hotel a few blocks from the hospital.  The hotel is lovely and we have a view of the pool with a fountain outside our balcony. The bellman brought us a fridge and microwave and, through the hospital, we have arranged for a personal chef, who will be delivering fresh, organic, gluten-free, dairy-free, low glycemic meals made to order (!!!).  

I'm pretty sure this is the best healing trip ever.  In fact, last time we were calling it "cancer camp," but now that I'm in remission, we have decided that Mexico 2.0 shall henceforth be referred to as our "wellness retreat."

Day one was easy breezy.  We arrived at the hospital where they drew some blood for tests, to ensure everything looks good before they proceed.  I assume it does because they scheduled the surgery to insert the catheter/port into my main artery tomorrow morning at 6 am and I'll have hyperthermia after.  

Mostly we just lounged today while waiting for the test results. We went to a cute little organic cafe for breakfast and hung out at the hotel.  Dave gave me reiki and we went to the hotel gym to work out. We even ate lunch by the pool (it was about 65/70 degrees today; definitely an improvement from the chilly temps at home). 

So tomorrow the tune up officially begins.

Thanks for all your continued prayers, love and energy!




Wednesday, November 26, 2014

South of the Border Booster

Hello, everyone!  With the holiday season underway, we have so much for which to be thankful.  So many blessings have come our way over the past year and it's incredible how far we've come.  My wellness journey continues to go well and I thought I'd share a few timely updates.

First and foremost, I'm still feeling great.  My blood test results continue to look good and I'm thriving on the diet and supplement lifestyle.

We'll be leaving for Mexico Dec. 7 for a two-week "booster" program to keep me healthy and cancer-free for the future.  The doc likens it to how the conventional docs wanted to do the most aggressive course of chemo.  Is it necessary to go full blast?  Maybe, maybe not, but they do so to as a precaution to provide an even smaller chance of recurrence.  While at Angeles, I'll receive another round of immune cell therapy, along with hyperthermia and ozone therapy.  It's all designed to be an extra layer of protection for the long haul, so I say, bring it on!

We'll get back just in time for Christmas and New Years, and then will begin the reconstruction process.  The surgery to place the expander (rescheduled from July) will now happen on Jan. 16.  I'll be out of the office for three weeks.  They'll expand the tissue slowly over the course of a month, and then wait two or three more months for everything to settle, at which point the expander will be replaced with the implant.

While surgery and treatments aren't exactly fun, I'm grateful for the opportunity to go back to Angeles for the protective treatment and will be glad to have the reconstruction behind me, hopefully by early next summer.

Thank you for your continued love, prayers and support.  We hope you won't be worried or offended, but it doesn't look like we'll get to the holiday cards this year thanks to my "healing field trip."  I'm sure you'll all understand! 

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Sweet Surrender

A couple of things came out of my kitchen recently that were so delumpcious I feel absolutely compelled to share.  Trust me, you NEED to be making these, and if so, you WILL be eating ALL of them.  I feel so strongly about their deliciousness that if I could, I'd force you to try the batches I made, but then again, they're so good I might prefer hoarding them for myself.

So, barring an unexpected streak of culinary generosity on my part, here are the recipes for two fantastic copycat recipes created by talented food bloggers so you too can enjoy the fruits of their genius.  Somehow, these smart and talented people managed to create these to match my dietary restrictions, so the only thing I had to do was sub out a few ingredients and take the sugar down a notch in a few instances.  Even if you're not concerned about ingredients in the store-bought versions, you may be compelled by the cost savings to make your own.

The first recipe I managed to stumble upon while searching for a fun fall granola to make on own.  You see, I love granola, and among processed foods, it's probably on the healthier side.  BUT, I've yet to find a commercial granola that manages to be organic, low sugar AND soy-free.  Everything I've encountered on the shelves scores only a two-for-three, at best.  So I went looking on the old interwebs, and found this:

Ginger Cashew Granola

Ginger Cashew Granola

If you're a Trader Joe's enthusiast, you may recognize that TJ's has a version of ginger cashew granola that's eat-the-whole-box-in-one-sitting-kind-of-good.  In fact, I was pretty darn obsessed with it for a time.  It's that scrumptious.  The thing is, it's not organic and definitely has ingredients that I wrote off years ago as not being great for me.  So flash forward to this amazing find and I'm back in business.  I was also surprised by how easy it was to make granola.  Frankly, it's so simple Dave could make it (yes, honey, I am daring you to prove me right one of these days and make this).

Here's my take on the original recipe from www.alaskafromscratch.com.

Ingredients
  • 3 cups organic old-fashioned rolled oats
  • 3/4 cup organic raw cashews, roughly chopped
  • 3/4 cup organic shredded coconut (optional)
  • 1 tablespoons coconut sugar (you can use brown sugar one-for-one if you prefer, but I like coconut sugar for its low glycemic index and the taste mirrors brown sugar closely)
  • 1 teaspoon ground ginger (I didn't have this and found I didn't really need it)
  • 1/8 teaspoon cinnamon 
  • 1/2 teaspoon Himalayan sea salt
  • ½ cup coconut oil, melted (you can sub any light vegetable oil, but if using canola, I strongly recommend buying organic to avoid GMOs)
  • 1/4 cup pure maple syrup
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1/4 cup crystallized ginger, diced

Instructions
  1. Preheat oven to 300 degrees. Line a large baking sheet with slipat or aluminum foil  and spray the foil with non-stick spray.
  2. In a bowl, stir together the oats, drained cashews, coconut, brown sugar, ginger, cinnamon, crystallized ginger and salt until well combined.
  3. In another smaller bowl, combine the melted coconut oil, maple syrup, and vanilla. Pour the wet ingredients over the dry and toss to coat well.
  4. Spread the mixture out onto the baking sheet. Bake for 40 minutes, stirring the granola every 10 minutes, until golden brown, fragrant, and beginning to crisp (the granola crisps up further as it cools).


KIND bars 

And here's the other recipe that knocked my socks of this week.  Anyone familiar with Kind bars?  They're pretty darn healthy in their own right, though they aren't organic and do have soy lethicin and cane sugar in them, which aren't really on my diet.  But even for most folks who don't need to be so particular about ingredients, they can get a little pricey.


Well, this wonderful blogger has cracked the code and provided not only recipes for each kind of Kind bar, she also offers step-by-step instructions.  The only real work here is that you have to boil the sugar mixture (honey and maple syrup) that serves as the binding agent using a candy thermometer and it takes a few minutes to get to the right temp, but honestly, it's totally worth the effort.  These suckers taste like a cross between the Kind bars they emulate and some insanely good - but healthy - candy bar concoction.  Wowa.  

I think I know what I'll be eating while all the little ghosts and goblins go out in search of treats this Halloween.


KIND Bar Copycat | Dark Chocolate, Nuts & Sea Salt

Homemade Dark Chocolate Sea Salt Bar
(click here for just the recipe if you don't need the instructions)

Adapted to my specs (again, I give this amazing woman all the credit, but this version contains a few small tweaks of my own).


Ingredients

FOR NUT MIXTURE:
  • 2 cups whole roasted* unsalted organic almonds
  • 3/4 cup whole roasted* unsalted organic peanuts
  • 3/4 cup roasted* organic walnuts, chopped
  • 1/2 cup organic crispy brown rice cereal
  • 1 tablespoon flaxseed meal
FOR SYRUP:
  • 1/2 cup honey**
  • 1/3 cup brown rice syrup
  • 3/4 teaspoon sea salt, divided
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
FOR CHOCOLATE DRIZZLES:
  • 1 cup dark chocolate chips**
  • 1 tablespoon coconut oil (you can use grapeseed or other vegetable oil)


Directions
Grease/spray large bowl, 9x13 baking sheet/pan, wooden spoon or rubber spatula, and bottom of drinking glass. Set aside.
------------------------
*IF NUTS AREN'T ALREADY ROASTED:
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spread nuts on large baking sheet and bake for 10 min. until lightly toasted and fragrant.
------------------------
Add  toasted nuts to large bowl, cereal and flaxseed meal. Stir to combine; set aside.

In 1-1/2 or 2 quart saucepan, combine honey, rice syrup, 1/4 teaspoon of salt, and vanilla over medium-high heat. Cook, stirring frequently, until mixture reaches 260 degrees (hard ball stage) on a candy thermometer. Immediately, pour mixture over nut mixture, stir until evenly coated. Quickly transfer to greased/sprayed 9x13 pan, use spatula to spread mixture evenly in pan; press the mixture to close in holes and distribute evenly all over the pan. Using bottom of greased/sprayed drinking glass to tap and compact mixture in pan. Sprinkle top with 1/2 teaspoon coarse sea salt. Let cool 20 minutes. While still slightly warm, invert pan on cutting board and tap until mixture falls out in one piece. Cut into 20 bars. (If they cool too much and become too hard or brittle to cut easily, put in warm oven for 1-2 minutes to soften; proceed with cutting.) Allow bars to cool completely before proceeding with chocolate drizzles.

FOR CHOCOLATE DRIZZLES: Add chocolate chips and oil to microwave safe bowl. Cook on high power in 20 second intervals, stirring each time, just until last chips melt into mixture (approx. 60 seconds total). Use fork or squeeze bottle to drizzle chocolate over nut bars. Let cool until chocolate hardens.

STORAGE TIP: Store in airtight container with parchment paper between layers. For take-along convenience, use parchment paper pieces to wrap individual bars burrito-style. Refrigerate or freeze (not that they're going to last long in your presence).

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

The Price of Healing

This 60 Minutes story came across my feed and it shocked me.  It details the price gouging of cancer patients and how several prominent doctors are fighting back.








I'm impressed with these doctors for standing up for their patients' rights, ethical conduct and common decency, and I hope they're successful in effecting positive change.  However, what struck me most was how incredibly expensive it is to heal from cancer, even conventionally.  

A number of people have told me that while they might be interested in pursuing the type of treatment I received at Angeles Hospital, they felt it would be too cost prohibitive because their insurance wouldn't cover it.  By no means was my treatment protocol cheap, but I was shocked to see how much more many patients apparently pay in a year for their drug therapies, even when they have insurance.

This story underscores yet another reason I'm grateful we were given several options to explore when I was diagnosed.  Every day, I'm reminded that my journey has been a blessing, uncovering hidden truths that surprised me.  For instance: 


  • It's not necessarily more expensive to pursue alternative therapies, or even to leave the country for treatment.  While we assumed we'd be paying a premium to travel for cutting-edge therapies, it turns out the cost of care can actually be much higher right here at home.
  • The average person could never afford to eat an all-organic diet.  Yes, buying organic is more expensive if you're just comparing the cost of conventional vs. organic items.  However, we've found we don't spend that much more because we buy fewer processed food products, eat out less frequently and know we will reap the benefits of fewer doctors' bills in the long run from our healthy lifestyle. 
  •  Paying out-of-pocket to doctors not covered by insurance can break the bank.  I see a number of doctors and practitioners who aren't covered by my insurance, but I've found that I pay the same, and in some cases even less, than what I pay for in-network visits.  In return I receive longer, more in-depth visits with these out-of-network providers.  Further, the cost of any tests ordered is provided up front.  
In my experience, the out-of-pocket costs for my conventional treatment have just been higher on average.  For example:  My thermogram - which can detect cancer 5-9 years before a mammogram using infrared imagery rather than dangerous radiation - was $300 out of pocket.  The mammogram was nearly $1,000 after insurance because I was under 40. 

I'm not saying my path is the right approach for everyone, nor do I think conventional medicine should be avoided. I truly believe healing is a very personal thing and we all need to find the care that best suits our needs and paradigms.  At the end of the day, I just want people to know that they have options and ultimately, for everyone to be able to afford treatment that will extend and improve their quality of life.  

If nothing else, survival shouldn't have to mean bankruptcy.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

The Results Are In (Can I Get A Hooray?!)


I just realized I've been slow to post the latest update, so for those who haven't heard, the PET results came back and the news was great.  The spot in question is smaller and the oncologist said everything looks good.  We're meeting with him next week, so it will be interesting to hear his opinion on proposed next steps and if/when they'd recommend I move ahead with the reconstruction process.

The fact that the scan showed reduction in size further reinforced my gut belief that what they were seeing was a normal function of my body's healing process and results of the treatment protocol.  (The oncologist may or may not agree with that statement, but I always remember that he's not familiar with my treatment and therefore can't be expected to anticipate or interpret how it would affect my scans.  The conventional docs need to be cautious, for all kinds of reasons, not the least of which that I don't fit into their "box" treatment-wise, so part of me expects they may always question my scans for the possibility of recurrence.  This is something I'll work to live with, adjusting my reaction to their concern accordingly where necessary).

I've sent the results down to Dr. Perez in Mexico and await his feedback on both the scan and the timing of our trip for my next round of autolgous cell therapy.  At this point, it looks like we'll go down to Angeles in October or November.

In the meantime, we are celebrating.  I had my first margarita and glass of wine (not together, of course - blech!) in about six months and toasted the great news with members of my tribe over the weekend.

In addition, Dave, Charlie and I thought a great way to celebrate would be to run the Race for the Cure that occurred here in Cleveland last Saturday.  We got down there, all suited up and ready to run - we'd even made our own t-shirts - but no sooner had we arrived at the starting area than the sky opened up and it started to pour.  The mommy in me couldn't let our two year old get soaked and cold over the course of the race, so we called it early.  We did get our run in, but it was the route back to the car.

However, we staged the moment of triumph after we got home with this shot of my drowned rat-looking self sporting my homestyled shirt.  Definitely not my best look and certainly not a professional job on the attire, but I was proud to own my truth.

I did, after all, kick cancer on MY terms and leave my maraca in Mexico.




Update 9/19/14: I heard back from my doctor in Mexico, who reviewed the PET report as well.  He indicated it looks good and that we are on the right course.  In his words, my lymph node has a right to be a little enlarged.  You bet it does, doc!  My little warrior lymph nodes are totally rocking at this healing thing!  Here's to respecting the nodes and their ability to do their jobs :).



Monday, September 8, 2014

Waiting Just A Little Bit Longer

This is just a quick update that I had my follow up PET scan this morning.  After a fun-filled  summer, the three months flew by quickly.  The test itself is no biggie and all went well.

Now we just wait a few days for the doctor to call with the results.  I'm still feeling very confident we're going to get good news and I know I am - and will be - just fine regardless of what the doctors have to say, but still, I have a feeling I'm going to jump out of my skin every time the phone rings the next few days.

In the meantime, rather than letting the worry take hold, I plan to continue picturing a clear PET (i.e. no spots glowing green) and imagining the celebration we'll have after I get the "all clear.


We're also in the process of looking at dates for my "tune up" round of cells in Mexico.  Is it weird that I'm actually looking forward to going back to Angeles?  Probably.  But hey, who can blame me when the treatment is amazing and the staff is so wonderful?!

Thanks again for all of your prayers and positive energy.  I hope to share some good news soon!


Friday, July 11, 2014

The New Girls Will Have to Wait



Sometimes the difference between what we think we're getting and what we actually get feels a little like this.
 
Just thought I'd share the latest update about my situation and "the girls."  I'm sure many of you are probably thinking I had my expander surgery yesterday, which was to be the start of the reconstruction process.  (Spoiler alert: I didn't have the surgery).  You know what they say about the best laid plans...

Long story short, my recent PET scan showed an area that lit up under my right armpit that looked like a lymph node to the docs.  They biopsied it and it came back benign (fatty necrosis).  Great news, but the conventional docs were still concerned about the possibility it could be malignant because of the way it lit up on the PET.  They offered a few options, noting that they wouldn't be surprised if it wasn't cancerous:
 

1. Surgery to remove the node.  Unfortunately, because of how deep the node is, proximity to a major artery and scar tissue from the previous surgeries and infection, this came with a number of serious potential complications and risks, including possible lymphodema, loss of feeling and/or function in that arm, etc.  The cancer surgeon went all super-scary-in-my-face to make it extremely clear she wasn't a fan of this option and really would rather not do the surgery (let's just say she wasn't winning any awards for bedside manner). 

2.  Chemo and radiation to see whether it is in fact cancer (if it shrinks, it's cancer; if it doesn't, it's not).    

3.  Wait a few months and take another PET scan to see what happens.

After consulting with my other doctors, including Dr. Perez in Mexico and the amazing Dr. Isam Nemeh - who I saw recently (incredible, but another story for another day) -  it became clear to us that it's very feasible for the PET to light up because of fatty necrosis or a lymph node enlarged due to either the infection or the strong activity of my immune system resulting from my therapies and supplements.  Dr. Perez also noted that the PET showed that my thymus - an immune organ - is active, providing further evidence that the protocols are working.  Additionally, my tumor markers and all are just fine, and while markers themselves are not 100% predictive of the presence of disease, it is reassuring to know mine are all at the baseline level.

So, after much discussion and soul-searching, I feel my best option is to wait three months and do another PET.  In my gut, I just know I'm healthy and cancer free and the first two options have far too many long term risks and complications for me to be comfortable pursuing them at this point.

My taking the wait-and-see approach also led me to hold off on getting the expander placed, as additional surgery could muddy the waters on the upcoming PET.  Given the additional trauma to that area and corresponding increased immune activity, scarring, etc, the lymph node might still have to work hard (i.e. be enlarged) and thereby light up again on the PET.  It also could even be joined by others for the same reason.

So I will continue to hold off on the reconstruction process until we have more clear answers on this little bump in the road.  I'm bummed that it will have to wait indefinitely, but the upside is I'll get to enjoy more of my summer.  


Overall, I'm feeling very confident in my ability to stay positive over the next three months, though I of course appreciate any prayers you happen to send my way reinforcing the fact that this isn't cancer.  And if you want to specifically request that area chill out/shrink even further so it can, you know, not light up the PET scan next time, that would be great as well!

At some point yet this year, I'll go back to Angeles Hospital for another round of autologous cell vaccine therapy, though the timing is yet to be determined.  This time it will likely be a shorter visit, though, which is nice.  And if I don't go back in the near term, I may do some additional high dose vitamin C IV's through my doctor here, which, in addition to being proven effective in fighting cancer, is great for clearing infection in case that's a factor.

So that's the latest of my drama.  The control freak in me is really getting a run for her money with all of these twists and turns, but I'm trying my best to roll with the changes to my plan as they occur.