Is it Possible to ever cure Cancer?

Let me share my response to that night in the hospital when a group of medical experts told me I’d die within two to three months from metastatic cancer:
No, I won’t. Sorry but I don’t believe that’s true. Let’s get this fluid out of my abdomen and revisit your prognosis.
I’m still here four years later.

Will there ever be a real cure for cancer?

Statistically speaking, the numbers lead nowhere with regards to a panacea cure-all for cancer. Cancer in all of its forms, stages, intensity, aggressiveness, organ, system or body part, metastasis sites or primary tumor size and, genetic mutation, (deep breath) and what our cancer finds delicious to say “nom nom” to like hormones and cortisol to name a couple , are about as different from one person to the next as are the specifics contributing to every human being’s individuality.

Would you guess that may indeed be why a cure seems so out of reach: there’s as many kinds of cancer as the number of people diagnosed with cancer. I am not a specialist of any kind, medical or otherwise. But in the course of research and education there’s no denying that I’m lost in a sea of answers to so many different questions that I’m swimming in an ocean of data, drowning in an eddy of statistics and numerical analysis.

Throw me a lifesaving device or a piece of wood. Wood floats, as do witches, recalling the scene in Monty Python’s Holy Grail, where the medieval idiots guess at what would indicate if a woman were a witch or not. The one on the giant scales looking annoyed and rather silly having been disguised as a witch by the villagers by using a carrot tied to her face representing the nose a witch would have. Some days I feel like her, trying to scream out my innocence in the injustices I face as I’m asked what I may have done differently to not have been diagnosed at stage IV. Village idiots, indeed.

Let me ask this: how do we find a cure for cancer when the contributing factors include everybody’s permutation of lifestyle, environment, stress, genetics, psychosocial situation, economic status, race, nationality, religion, spirituality, etc.? Is the truth with regards to questions like “how long do I have?” found in researching and reading reports and data underlying findings from clinical and other types of studies?

I can’t say that’s possible since the relative weights of each contributing factor changes by person. Factors including not only the type and aggressiveness of the cancer itself, but the historically significant factors adding up to the moment of a human life when the words, “I’m sorry but…” are murmured. Given this set of cumulative influences, the prognosis differs for each individual, albeit sometimes ever so slightly.

Neither diagnosis nor prognosis is meaningful when you ask a doctor. A response to either intensity or time may contain the following phrase: the statistics show X, however, everyone is different. I’ve not heard one answer from an oncology, hematology, or internal medicine practitioner in which that caveat wasn’t kept in a box. I suspect it’s a CYA move to a greater or lesser degree. But I honestly believe they simply do not know, except for baseline statistical analyses with the outliers not plugged into the median mortality numbers.

Some people do not want to know how long they’ve got to live, and there’s nothing wrong with taking the ostrich/ head in the sand or cover your ears and hum “I can’t hear you I can’t hear you!” approach to a potential prognosis. And what does it really matter anyway? Other than the most frightening, or relieving, time comes that we’re told to go home and kiss everyone we love goodbye and to get on the phone to hospice. Perhaps then?

But maybe…

Even in that case each person is so vastly different in every way… lifestyles, genetics, responses to chemicals and radiation, how our immune systems can step up to the task, how damaged we were from the start and before the diagnosis, etc. Further still, the prognosis is even influenced by how one responds to the news. Again we have to weigh our ability to focus on what we can control: our psychological health; our physical health aside from cancer (such as nutrition, exercise, smoking, and drinking); our determination to live and try novel approaches without becoming brainwashed, or standing frozen like a deer in the headlights.

“This isn’t to say we’re not making progress: more people are beating cancer today than ever before. Survival has doubled in the last 40 years. And half of people diagnosed will survive their cancer for more than 10 years, an all-time high.” (Cancer Research, UK, “Why are cancer rates increasing?”
https://scienceblog.cancerresearchuk.org/2015/02/04/why-are-cancer-rates-increasing/)

Progress, yes. But what more do we really know today if indeed the rates of diagnosis have reached an all time high? Indeed a cure may be a pie in the sky. Or a pie ready to hit us collectively in the face.

Rantings of a Metastatic Lunatic

Writing, for those of us who dare call ourselves writers, prolific or sporadic, come to find satisfaction in the act itself. Not that praise and recognition aren’t wonderful, because our insecurities tend to coexist with our capabilities. Admittedly, a cancer diagnosis nearly four years ago relit the fire that once burned in my brain to put pen to paper. Let me caveat my last statement: that is, once I forgave myself for feeling afraid of calling myself a writer. I am a writer today, in no small part due to one person, Michael Lerner a co-founder of the Cancer Help Program (CHP) at Commonweal in coastal Northern California.* Immediately finding common ground in our backgrounds, I looked forward to my personal sessions with Michael.

I admire people who wrote and had published books as well, knowing what a gargantuan task it is indeed, whether fiction or non-fiction. Michael also wrote an encompassing book on cancer adjunct and non-traditional therapies called “Choices in Healing.” Pick up a copy if you can; it’s still very relevant 20 years post initial publication. In a session I had one on one with Michael, he asked a simple question, “why don’t you call yourself what you are? A writer.” So one word changed my attitude with regards to a long held fear that perhaps my writing didn’t merit giving myself the title of writer.

From which neuroses did this fear grow from and how do I continue to kill the weeds before they take over the fertile garden of my mind? Does fear fertilize the same physical mutations in which cancer grows best? Maybe these connections strengthen or weaken our immunity to pain and illnesses. I’ve come to believe there’s no such thing as a mind-body connection, because the mind (in my mind) is the body and the body is the mind. There’s no schism that separates the two, not even the blood brain barrier.

I wrote my first poem before the age of six. In 1971, before dad left us for another family he’d fallen in love with, I recall sitting on the radiator in our apartment in New York watching the snow fall in the playground outside 16 stories down with the swings bucket seats silently hiding undercover in white dust. Even then I walked around with a notebook, and I remember a feeling wash over me that afternoon as the sun sunk lower and the snow continued piling up risking the next mornings announcement of a snow day from school. Warming myself on a pillow atop the clanging coil of pipes, I put pencil to paper I wrote a two stanza a/b rhyme scheme piece entitled “What it is for You and Me.”

Giving it to my mother for her birthday that year when she turned 31 that she kept and gave to me many years later, sometime prior to succumbing to dementia at 74. It’s a wonderful gift to receive all those years later as a reminder of who we intrinsically are as human beings. I’m amazed at how many memories come flooding into the brain from some unseen place when such wonderful events transpire between us.

The Glymphatic System

Recently scientists discovered that lymphatic drainage does occur for the brain, whisking away waste and toxins as well as infections. The system aka glymphatic system links to the body’s lymphatic system near the cervical bones of the neck. Unbeknownst to anyone is the existence of lymphatic drains on the brain – heretofore unseen and just discovered in 2015. All except one exceedingly smart doctor practicing in the 19th century whose research was long forgotten, prior to the 2015 study run by researchers funded by the National Institute of Health and the National Cancer Institute. A specialized highway like the blood stream and the lymphatic system exists in the brain.

And my mother passing away from the ravages of Alzheimer’s are directly related in no small part to the breakdown of this system. Perhaps even my own disease has a direct correlation as well. It’s all in our heads anyway. The act of writing, fear, doubt, distress, anxiety, chemo brain, dementia, Alzheimer’s, cancer. All of it.

And how this all ties back to metastatic breast cancer you may ask? Well, I may be an okay writer but I’m no scientist. I do love the occasional research paper as it may relate to my disease or to some astronomy discovery. But it’s fairly clear to me why the NCI funded the study. Especially if indeed there’s no difference between the mind and the body but instead they’re one entity codependent upon one another for life support. You can draw your own conclusions based on the breadcrumbs of interest left here to follow. And this fits nicely with my spiritual belief that the consciousness is the god of the body itself and somehow we go on as a soul long after the physical self has drained its last drop of brain waste.

We can organize peacefully around the idea that we ourselves can supercharge our immune systems to fend off cancer. And my truest hope is that discoveries like this one will allow me to thrive long enough to see a cure for cancer. But then again Maybe I’m just bathing in my own glymphatic waste. And perhaps calling myself a writer at this point in my life is self-delusional. But what a sweet delusion to know that my words reach others with cancer and have helped one or two people with struggles of their own.

We aren’t alone when we write and publish our personal stories. And perhaps the undiscovered territories and deep psychological insights are in some ways akin to the discovery of the glymphatic system. There’s an importance to both for humanity’s healthy survival.

*Commonweal’s CHP is a week long immersive resident group of only eight people who couldn’t be more different or the same. We go in afraid and heavy with baggage and we depart carrying fewer suitcases than we arrived with because of the amazing work of 30 years spent helping heal the souls of people with cancer and their partner-carers. If you’re metastatic check it out in an earlier blog post on this very site or at commonweal.org

#moreformbc hashtag – use it

twitter.com/gma/status/1050369773253480449

well, here’s another hashtag in our #breastcancer life to pay attention to – quite literally. $100 for every use of the #moreformbc hashtag from Lily pharmaceuticals.

My feeling that our metastatic breast cancer community might agree to a using a few standard hashtags to bring our voices together. We should sound stronger and united in our tweets, blogs, Instagram feeds, and all the rest of social media so that the pharmaceutical, oncology, medical, and research and development communities become aware of us and see we are facing the same challenges no matter where we live, and no matter how different we look outside.

Who takes the reigns of this crazy animal and tames it will do us all a good turn. Maybe Dr. Susan Love? Maybe the Mayo Clinic? Maybe the foundations? We have two conferences during which how we, the global metastatic communities use the same general taxonomy and language standardization as a topic of discussion.

How does one sound the alarm? If we look at the AIDS vaccination as well as the lives people live with AIDS instead of a death sentence being handed down when one is diagnosed as a standard model – meaning a single strong voice and a singular push towards a cure – we have a better chance of getting there. As our lives are not counted after five years of living with MBC currently, we can’t truly understand and track how our long our brothers and sisters are surviving – and thriving – yet our diagnosis is still a death sentence. No more than 7% of all research dollars (some say 6%) are dedicated to metastatic breast cancer perhaps hearing our voices together rather than as fragmented whispers from corners of the web what a wonderful way to drive understanding of our cause and our struggles to remain alone and alive as our bodies try to kill us.

Any thoughts? It frustrates me beyond belief that we can’t have the few vocal people out of the 155,000 of us to focus our energies and get noticed…while we are still alive.