It is cancer remission time and any intelligent person would be happy to have a break from the big ‘C’. But here I am, planning my next attack on the enemy. That is not as dumb as it sounds because, for me, there has always been a next time, and I want to know where I can find the ‘cutting edge’ treatment and sign my name on the dotted line.
I showed up full of hope and wonder at an all day conference on The Future of Medicine put on by Intelligence Squared in London. Prof. Bleddyn Jones spoke about curing cancer, not just getting rid of symptoms. Sounded good to me. With Stage 4 cancer no one ever uses the ‘c’ word ‘cure’ in conjunction with the other ‘c’ word ‘cancer’. His first slide was a picture of the earliest airplane, an image that resonated with how I feel about radiation and chemo, which seem brutal and archaic treatments. Then he showed some photos of the latest supersonic jets and asked “Which would you rather fly in, the oldest technology or the newest?” I think of myself as super cool and cutting edge even though I’m 71 so I immediately chose to get on board the supersonic jet.
He went on to talk about particle therapy, a new form of radiation which targets the exact cancer cell and doesn’t involve any surrounding tissues. As he said, “It lands the dose on a dime with little, if any, collateral damage.” I’m all right with that as long the targeting is not done by the twenty-somethings in Texas who have gained their experience aiming ‘drones’ at Pakistan and Afghanistan. My faith was fading.
He went on to say that this treatment is fabulous for prostate cancer and as you can imagine the elderly male audience leaned forward and patted their checkbooks. Apparently everyone looking for research funds says that their treatment cures prostate cancer: that’s where the money is since most men over 80 have prostate problems.
OK, what is the down side? From my foggy understanding, the treatment involves walking into a cavernous room where the machine itself takes up acres of floor space; they cost several fortunes to build). There are ten machines in the US and a few in Japan and Germany. Even if more machines were ordered, they would take years to build, by which time someone might have found another, better machine for the end of the 21st Century.
I spoke to my oncologist who was less than enthusiastic. I wanted to sign up immediately and go on the waiting list for Japan. Who knows? The day my name came up might be the day my cancer wakes up.
The next stop was the TED convention: this is the place to find all fascinating inventions and innovative ideas.
If you can pronounce the word Antiangiogenic, you are eligible for treatment. Cutting it down to bare essentials, there are many blood vessels around the breast that feed cancer cells, and you need to stop the blood supply to stop feeding the cancer. These treatments aim at targeting the specific blood cells. I was treated with an antiangiogenic therapy called ‘Avastin’ and was now in remission, so I listened intently. His question was “…what we can be adding to our diet that would inhibit Angiogenisis?’
Can we eat to starve cancer? Wow, good words. I know how to eat. Now I can eat lots of fun food and stop the cancer.
Any list with chocolate on it is good with me. Don’t know about sea cucumbers. Aren’t they the things you squish in the ocean? The next day I topped my cereal with a mountain of berries. My health insurance paid for my Avastin but not for my berry supply. After a few weeks I forgot about this and went back to my normal diet. Oprah seems to believe this diet will ‘cure’ cancer, but she is more positive then the researchers.
Then a friend turned me on to Pingyangmycin. It fits nicely into my travel fantasies since it is a cure only available in China, which is fine by me. “I think it’s good that Chinese scientists are working on cancer drugs, because if my kid got cancer, I wouldn’t look at the label that says ‘made in China’” as Bill Gates said.
I don’t think it even is used on breast cancer patients but what the hell, China beckons and I like the name. It sounds like a new ‘dim sum..’
Despite all the mad scientists and all their ideas, my conclusion is that I have to submit. Stage 4 breast cancer and I will have to fight it out with the old-fashioned treatments: chemotherapy and radiation. My oncologist, Dr Margaret Spittle, has done heroic work so far. I know she would like to have more tricks up her sleeve but it is not to be. That is why breast cancer needs tons more innovative research.