I’m going to Indianapolis this weekend. And though there will be some pleasure on this trip — a visit with close friends and a day at the famous Indianapolis Children’s Museum, followed by a spooky trail walk Saturday night — it’s also a matter of business. Medical business. My medical business.
From the day I was diagnosed with Stage 4 breast cancer on January 12, 2011, I’ve been digging. And reading. And asking questions. I’ve been a sponge, absorbing everything I possibly could about my illness and the myriad of ways I could come at it to get myself healthy, go into remission, go on with life.
When I look back at the last 10 months, though they have been grueling and painful on so many levels — physically, mentally, emotionally, financially — it’s also been an amazing journey so far. I can’t believe the people I’ve met, the contacts I’ve made, the information I’ve learned about the human body and how it works. I’ve crossed paths with Kris Carr, best-selling author of Crazy, Sexy, Cancer and a nine-year cancer survivor. I’ve met Molly MacDonald, breast cancer survivor and founder of The Pink Fund, and had not only the opportunity to blog for the fund, but play a role in their awareness and marketing video this past summer. And I’ve reconnected with long-time friend Scott Orwig, who introduced me to the amazing work and findings of Dr. David Serban-Schreiber, M.D., Ph.D.
I can’t meet with Dr. David Serban-Schreiber. Sadly, he passed away this past July at the age of 50. But not until he’d succeeded in living 19 years with brain cancer — 17 years in remission. That, in itself, is an amazing feat. But he did not go from this planet without leaving behind an amazing plethora of information for all of us who are fighting cancer — or any serious and/or chronic disease. His message, his information, his discoveries — they live on and are right here in front of us to help each of us prevent ourselves from ever getting a serious disease or, put up the best fight possible for one that’s already been diagnosed — with the goal of complete remission and lots of years left on this planet. Lots of years.
I was an English and Writing Instructor at Washtenaw Community College in Ann Arbor, Mich. for a decade. I loved it. I always chose to teach Composition I, because that’s where I would have a classroom filled with college freshmen who were taking the course only because it was part of the general curriculum requirements. No Comp I, no degree down the road.
Why would I choose to teach young people, many of whom did not want to be in my classroom? Who’d rather be, and understandably so, in a class that dealt with whatever it was that was their real passion in life, whatever it was that they planned to spend the rest of their working years doing?
Because I had a message for each and every young person in each and every class: Writing is an invaluable skill, no matter what occupation you’re pursuing. Trust me on this. And then I’d spend the semester showing them why. How a nurse going off shift, for example, needs to transfer patient information to the nurse coming on. How, whatever career you choose, you will find yourself, your coworkers and your superiors frustrated if you can’t communicate what you know, your ideas, your solutions. What you’re thinking. No one says you have to be a novelist — or even a reporter, for that matter. But basic written communication skills — those are a must.
Then, I’d share this story with them. It’s about my Great Aunt Tina, who was born in the 1880s. I was named after her. That’s where the Tina comes from: Amy Tina Rauch Neilson. She lived a long life, passing away in 1979, when I was 10 years old. So, I had the privilege of knowing her. But I was too young to really get to know her story.
One of her possessions that came to me after I was first married was a cedar chest. It’s always had a place at the end of our bed, filled with crocheted blankets, extra sweaters and the like. Then one chilly fall day, as I was looking through that pile of blankets, I noticed some parchment paper at the very bottom of the chest. I looked a little deeper, pushed the paper aside, and there it was.
My Great Aunt Tina’s autograph book and journal from her school years. I read through the whole thing. And there’s not a lot there — but the fact that there is anything there, that this little book filled with her handwriting, her stories, signatures from her classmates — exists in 2011, well, that is quite amazing. That is the story I shared with my students each and every semester, and let me tell you, they were spellbound by it.
Write it down, I’d tell them. Anything. Something. As often as you can. Doesn’t need to be perfect or long. Just do it. The generations that come after you, after you are gone from this earth, will treasure it. It will be one of their strongest links to you and the story of your life. Who you were.
For most of us, journals and writings that we may keep throughout our lives will pass on to the next generations. They won’t become best-selling books. They were likely never meant to be that. And that’s perfectly OK.
But some writing — even if the author doesn’t know it at the time — is meant to be that. Such is the story of Dr. David Serban-Schreiber, who, after being diagnosed with a brain tumor at the age of 31, first thought there wasn’t any more that he could do to get himself well than to follow the standard protocol. So, that’s what he did, his cancer went into remission, and his life went on.
Until it came back. And that’s when he started to really question, really dig into why the rates of cancer were escalating, rather than falling, in the United States — where scientific advancements were among the best in the world. He tells his story both in the YouTube video I’ve linked to in this blog, as well as in his book: Anti-Cancer: A New Way of Life.
From the video:
“After the first treatment, I didn’t change anything in my lifestyle because nobody suggested it would make any difference,” he says. “I was very confident in the medical system…doing what they told me to do and leaving the rest up to God.”
David went into a hard-fought remission — and continued his eating habits — four Pepsi’s a day and a diet high in sugar and fat. He had no idea at that time that his diet was one of the major players in his illness.
“Everyone agrees this is an epidemic. It’s not because we’re growing older, because children have more cancer than they ever used to. So, something about our way of life is creating this cancer epidemic. So, of course it is reversible.
“We need to change the factors in our environment and in our way of living that promote cancer growth, and back track — get back to the things that are much healthier for our bodies.”
He dedicated the rest of his life to digging for those answers. He did the hard part. The work, the research, the writing, the speaking, the sharing. What he left for all of us is a roadmap on how to get ourselves back to healthy. And that is why I spent 10 years teaching my students that learning how to write and communicate — well, those are two priceless jewels in life.
Back to my trip to Indianapolis. My physician, Dr. Ralph Waldo, M.D., Ph.D., and a biochemist, follows that same protocol. That’s why, since I’ve been under his care since July, I’ve been changing my diet. I cut out sugar and replaced it with Blue Agave — a totally natural sweetener that is safe for our bodies. I’ve started juicing on a daily basis. The spice Turmeric is a part of my diet every day — and if I can’t work it into my food program, I dissolve it in olive oil and mix it with black pepper (per Dr. Schreiber’s findings and advice) and down it.
What do I care what it tastes like? That’s a small price to pay for a spice that has been proven in long-term clinical trials to make cancer cells — particularly breast cancer cells — more receptive to chemo. It lowers their defenses and makes my chemotherapy treatments more effective. My last scan, August 30, 2011, showed more dramatic improvement than any previous scan — tumor shrinkage. Real tumor shrinkage. My results have continued to head in the right direction ever since then. Who can argue with that?
Do I believe we should all abandon medical treatment like chemotherapy and radiation and go holistic? Certainly not. Neither did Dr. Schreiber. But what I do believe is that we can play a huge role in the success of preventing and treating disease in ourselves by following the treatment plan our doctors prescribe for us — and also doing our part with diet and exercise. The perfect trifecta.
That’s why I’ll be hanging on to Dr. Waldo’s every word this weekend. He now has in his possession the results of dozens of tubes of bloodwork — my red gold — that will tell him what he needs to know about me down to the cellular level. I will leave with a diet and supplement protocol that is tailored specifically to me, as an individual. That is where the future of disease treatment is headed — and very rapidly, I might add.
And that’s a bandwagon I want to be on.
Check out what Dr. Schreiber has to say along these lines in the YouTube video. It’s 10 minutes that I promise will change the way you think. And it could very well save your life — or the life of someone close to you.
Copyright 2011, Amy Rauch Neilson