I realize this entire blog to date is a chronicle of the tools I’ve used to first survive, then flourish, then heal from stage 4 cancer.
One year into my 6-8 month prognosis I’m in complete remission and want to share with others a more organized list of the therapies that I personally believe played a major role in my recovery. Please note that every cancer is unique and your healing journey is just as unique. For me, conventional treatment of targeted chemo and radiation unquestionably saved my life. I personally believe that that complementary metabolic treatments put me into remission while massively improving my quality of life.
Sense of Agency
Before there is any kind of healing, you must accept that this body is yours and believe that there are things you can do to affect the course of your health, regardless of diagnosis. Whether you caught your cancer early and are looking for the least toxic ways to overcome it and make sure it doesn’t return or, like me, you’re (very very) late stage and looking for ways to extend and improve the quality of your life.
Immediately after my diagnosis, I didn’t feel much agency over my life. I accepted my inevitable death with what I considered at the time to be noble stoicism. Reading stories of the survival of others helped snap me out of that state of complacency and take control. Kris Carr‘s Crazy Sexy Cancer Tips was the first “cancer book” I read the weekend of my diagnosis followed by Radical Remission by Kelly Turner. These books helped inspire me to make changes in my life.
Crazy Sexy Cancer Tips
by Kris Carr, 2007
Radical Remission: Surviving Cancer Against All Odds
by Dr. Kelly Turner, 2015
Later, I started digging more deeply and doing work that put me in closer touch with my body. Understanding the integration of my mind, body, and emotions gave me a stronger feeling of control. It wasn’t long before I was in complete remission.
Conventional Targeted Therapies
There is no doubt that in those bleak days just before and after my diagnosis I was dying. I’d lost the vision in my right eye; couldn’t walk up the stairs in the bus without a panting, coughing fit; and was often overcome by dizzy spells. Conventional medicine bought me time. In my case I was extremely lucky to have access to targeted treatments that are more likely to spare healthy cells than the carpet bombing of traditional radiation and chemo.
Even in my developed Hong Kong cancer genome testing and targeted treatments are not the standard of care for public hospitals. It’s the same in many US hospitals. Seek out an oncologist who will test your tumor for certain oncogenes that can be targeted with drugs that are gentler than traditional chemo. Traditional chemotherapy is designed to kill all fast-dividing cells: cancer cells as well as the healthy cells of your digestive tract or hair follicles. Targeted treatments come with their own set of adverse effects but these are generally much more tolerable than what you you get with traditional chemo.
If you live in a country where these drugs are not yet approved or available, the manufacturer may provide them for negligible cost through a Compassionate Use or Expanded Access Program. Note that these kind of programs are generally only available to terminal patients and require an oncologist to apply on your behalf.
If you have brain tumors and no targeted therapy that will cross the blood-brain barrier to control them, please see if stereotactic radiosurgery, or SRS, is an option before you agree to full brain radiation. I expect this is now standard of care in developed countries like the US. If it’s not the standard where you are, look elsewhere.
Read more of my experiences with conventional cancer treatment:
- Chronicles of my experience with radiosurgery
- Chronicles of my experience with targeted therapy for ROS1+ mutation (your mutations and drugs will vary)
Off-Label Metabolic Cancer Therapy
In addition to my daily targeted chemo drug, I follow the COC Protocol. The addition of this protocol is the only major change I made between another “generally stable” scan and “complete remission.”
Care Oncology is an extraordinary clinic founded by the nonprofit Foundation for Metabolic Cancer Therapies. The foundation was established by my personal hero Travis Christofferson after the publication of his book Tripping over Truth: How the Metabolic Theory of Cancer Is Overturning One of Medicine’s Most Entrenched Paradigms. Care Oncology Clinic uses inexpensive, off-label medication that has been proven to help slow the progression of some cancers but which is rarely prescribed. They’ve packaging their treatment as a Phase 3 trial to get better visibility and support for a treatment regime that has already been proven safe (Phase 1) and effective (Phase 2). I discovered them while searching for any place that might prescribe Metformin. I encourage anyone with cancer to contact the clinic and see if their cancer is eligible for the trial. The costs are low and it is completely complementary to your standard of care treatment.
Care Oncology Clinic (COC) Protocol
- Metformin lowers blood sugar for diabetics and cancer patients who want to deprive their cancer cells of glucose. I first read of its anti-cancer benefits in a 2016 New Yorker magazine article. Its benefits are that well-known yet it’s still not standard of care.
- Lipophilic Statins reduce cholesterol in your blood and the fatty acid fuels available to cancer.
- Doxycycline is a common antibiotic that works by interfering with the ability of bacteria to produce proteins that are critical to them. There’s evidence the same mechanism can block the metabolic pathways of cancer, as well.
- Mebendazole (alternating with Doxycycline) is an old-school anti-parasitic medication that blocks parasites’ ability to absorb sugar and does the same for cancer. It also inhibits pyruvate kinase, a key enzyme in the glycolytic pathway which is dominant in cancer cells.
An added bonus of these medications is that they’re all off-patent meaning they cost about $50 USD/ month shipped to your home. Compare that to my lorlatinib at a cool $21,630.41 US/ month.
Read more about the COC metabolic cancer therapy protocol:
Fasting has been a healing tradition for as long as we have records – and almost certainly before. In ancient Greece, Hippocrates, Plutarch, Socrates and Plato were all fans. Buddha, Jesus and Muhammad were on board. More recently Benjamin Franklin agreed that “the best of all medicines are resting and fasting.” Doctors today are finally running the clinical trials to prove the healing value of this ancient remedy. For cancer specifically, studies have proven that fasting:
- Increases the efficacy of chemotherapy including TKI targeted therapy. (source)
- Increases the efficacy of radiation therapy. (source)
- Reduces the side effects of both radiation and chemo. (source)
- Protects against immune system damage caused by chemo. (source)
- Regenerates the immune system in general. (source)
- Triggers autophagy with its host of anti-aging and anti-cancer benefits. (source)
- Increases time in optimal GKI (Glucose Ketone Index) zone.
There’s so much more. Tests haven’t been run on humans (because that would be wildly unethical) but in animals fasting on its own has been shown to effectively treat cancer. Pair it up with another method like radiation and chemo and you’re bringing a hand grenade to cancer’s knife fight.
I will never forget the first Sunday after I was diagnosed. That was the day I was finally inspired by my sense of agency and realized I had a say in the rest of my life. The very first thing I did was stop eating. I’d already had cream in my coffee and some fruit but I didn’t wait for the next day to “start clean.” I didn’t eat another thing until I was sure the food I was putting in my body was food that would actively aid in my healing.
Read more about how I’ve used fasting to treat my cancer:
Our food should be our medicine. Our medicine should be our food. But to eat when you are sick is to feed your sickness.Hippocrates, father of modern medicine
A New Way of Eating: Ketogenic Diet + Food as Medicine
When I broke my first fast, it was with the acknowledgement that what I eat can be as powerful as any pill I take and with the commitment to treat food as medicine. I continue to honor this and eat foods with known anti-cancer, anti-inflammatory, or general benefits. That means a plant-based diet rich in cruciferous vegetables, medicinal mushrooms, and healthy fats with a small amount of wild-caught fatty fish. No processed food, no sugar, no fried food, no commercial oils, no dairy, no meat, no grain. Only very small amounts of legumes, red wine, or pasture-raised egg.
Sticking to this diet has never been a challenge for me because there is absolutely nothing in the world to make me want to make my cancer stronger or my body’s defenses weaker. Plus, the food we prepare is pretty stinking delicious.
At the same time, I learned early on the benefits of a ketogenic diet for cancer and cmomitted . I also recommend the book Keto for Cancer by Miriam Kalamian.
Read more about the proven benefits of keto for most cancers and my anti-cancer diet:
- Keto for Cancer: Research documenting the benefits and downsides
- My Evolving Cancer Diet
- 10-Month Cancer Diet Update
Mindful yoga has changed my life in more ways than I can ever explain, which is why I haven’t done a dedicated post on it yet.
I’ll just note that, while making the diet changes that resulted in fat loss, yoga made my body strong. More importantly, it started awakening the connections between my mind and body. The simplest poses made me realize I’d been breathing wrong my whole life. Opening my hip flexors helped me experience emotions that had been repressed for decades.
My morning practice floods me with euphoric energy that I can tap into throughout the day. I have no research to back its benefits for cancer and haven’t looked. I only know that, for me, it was intrinsic to my healing and I wouldn’t trade it for a cure.
Although I was initiated into Transcendental Meditation as a kid, I gave up meditating around age 12. I had a lot of negative associations with meditation as culty or religious as that’s how my mom approached it when I was a kid. Talk of meditation just reminded me of incense-choked rooms, crystals that communicated with angel guides, and creepy “teachers” always keen to check your aura. It made me shudder.
In a desperate effort to manage my stress and anxiety without drugs, I started a free, online MBSR (Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction) program. Brad, who had been reading about benefits of meditation and mindfulness from a business perspective in preparation for his MBA, agreed to joined me.
Together we approached meditation from a purely scientific perspective and it turned out to be everything I needed. Now, my attention is on my breath and body rather than an esoteric mantra. No whiff of patchouli anywhere. Apparently, however, the stigma is still there as evidenced by the fact that I need to write three paragraphs of disclaimer when I talk about meditation. My point: this is all evidence-based.
The benefits I’ve experienced from meditation are
- Improved concentration even as my brain radiation and lorlatinib side effects leave me with the attention span of a goldfish on meth.
- Huge reduction in the symptoms of my anxiety.
- Improved breathing (a handy thing for someone with lung cancer).
- Insight into what is really “me” and what are just the thoughts and emotions associated with my body. It’s been good insight for someone facing her mortality even if it sounds a bit patchouli-tinged.
Read more about mindfulness and meditation for cancer:
T.R.E. (Tension Release Exercise | Trauma Release Exercise | Total Release Experience)
So, this technique goes by many names but they’re all abbreviated as TRE and it’s all the same idea: initiating the body’s natural neurogenic tremor reflex.
I found this technique while desperately searching for something that would somehow help me get in touch with my emotions and pull them into a healing alliance with my mind and body. Its a personal thing, but I felt that maybe decades of suppressing my emotions to the point that I no longer knew what I was feeling may have contributed to my stress levels, ergo my inflammation, ergo my cancer.
This technique happened to be perfect for me because it’s evidence-based and sciency, allows me to release emotion without talking about or reliving anything, and, most incredibly, it actually works for me.
I honestly think TRE can benefit everyone who feels some kind of emotional block but there may something else that works just as well for you. Talk therapy, acupuncture, reiki, tapping, aura cleansing, whatever. I tried a lot of things that I’d openly scoffed just a few years ago. Try everything and find what’s right for you.
Read more about TRE for cancer:
Other Complementary Therapies That Contributed to My Cancer Healing
There are many other treatments I’ve tried on my healing journey. While I feel that the therapies above have had the biggest positive impact on my life, I’m also staunchly committed to the following:
Detoxifying my Environment
I want my immune system 100% focused on killing cancer cells and so Brad and I overhauled our environment to make it as pure as possible.
- Clean Air – Within days of my diagnosis we’d installed the best air filter we could afford and stopped leaving our windows open to the auto pollution of the streets below.
- Clean Water – I started drinking only distilled water while making sure I had enough trace minerals from my quality salt and supplements. When I can, I avoid water stored in thin plastic. When I can’t, I favor plastic from more highly-regulated countries. We now have bottled water delivered weekly but in my ideal world I’d have a filter at home. Do what you can with what you have.
- Clean Food – We started eating organic as much as possible using guidance of the “clean 15 and dirty dozen” lists based on the USDA pesticide reports. We paid attention to the providence of our food favoring more highly-regulated countries. We tried to get our food as whole as possible. For example, buying whole almonds and grinding them down ourselves rather than buying almond butter, flour, or milk.
- Clean Skin Agents – I decided that I didn’t want to put anything on my skin that I wouldn’t put in my mouth. I make my own face oil and skin lotion from organic, food-grade ingredients. When it’s not possible to replace everything (I’m too vain to give up mascara), I follow the 80/20 rule and make the biggest impact I can.
- Clean Household Products – We replaced as many conventional cleaning products as we could with their more natural, organic counterparts.
Read more about detoxifying your environment and reducing toxic load for cancer:
Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy (HBOT)
I sincerely believe I could benefit more from this if I had regular access to real HBOT. Unfortunately, there are no clinical providers in Hong Kong. I get a treatment whenever I’m in the States but so far haven’t found a location with real, medical-grade HBOT equipment. Given the voluminous research arising from the good works of Dom D’Agostino and his team proving the benefits of HBOT for cancer, it’s super frustrating that there aren’t more facilities. I’ll be reporting back on more options here.
I take supplements. I take a lot of supplements. These change on a regular basis depending on the latest research, conflicts with my medication, desire to cycle, and simply how I feel that day. My supplements tend to fall into the following categories:
- Immune Support: Beta glucans, vitamin D, IP-6/ Inositol , boswellia, echinacea, cat’s claw, zinc
- Detox Organ Support: Silymarin (milk thistle extract) , dandelion root
- Mitochondrial Support: PQQ, alpha lipoic acid, rhodiola, oxaloacetic acid, D-uridine,
gymnema sylvestre extract, acetyl-L-carnitine, co-enzyme Q
- Documented Cancer-Fighting Properties: Graviola/ Soursop, turmeric, ginseng, aloe vera, green tea extract, reishi mushroom, maitake mushroom, turkey tail, L-lysine
Keep in mind that these really are medicine and you should get your doctor’s approval before taking anything. Additionally, do your own research. My doctor never told me that echinacea, chamomile, lavender, and cat’s claw utilize the same CYP3PA liver pathway as my TKI, lorlatinib. I found out on my own and, after I stopped drinking my echinacea, chamomile and lavender root teas, started seeing improvement in my liver function numbers.
Read more about supplements for cancer:
While the benefits may not be as significant as what I’ve received from some other treatments here, I do feel that my time in the sauna has been healing. By reducing inflammation, aiding in detoxification, and helping me to relax in general, spending 20 minutes in the sauna 2-3 times per week is something I’ll continue to prioritize.
Read more about sauna therapy:
The Bottom Line
These cancer cells are your cells. Cancer isn’t a foreign invader like a virus or bacteria. It’s a part of you that’s broken and you can fix it.