Monday, December 22, 2008

Thoughts on Cancer, people with cancer, people without cancer

There is an ovarian cancer website I visit from time to time. A woman posted a question about a Breuss (I think) fasting diet as a cure for cancer. Hadn't heard of it, so I googled. It's a seven week (yes, 49 days) of nothing but vegetable juice (beet and other strange roots) and strange teas. The theory is that cancer needs protein to grow and so if you don't ingest any protein you'll kill the cancer. Whether or not you will survive in the meantime is open to question. A woman responded that the original poster should not get taken in by quacks and then someone else posted that the second poster should not have posted what she did; it might work. Then the NYTimes had a blog post on lean muscle mass and cancer survival rates. Evidently there appears to be a correlation between the percentage of muscle mass and cancer survival, even among obese patients. That linked to an earlier blog article on cancer. The comments were bizarre.

I've decided that there must be more crazy cancer patients than in the normal population. Do you suppose cancer makes you crazy? I can see where it would. You're young and you've been handed a death sentence when you never imagined you'd have cancer.

I don't think medicine has all the answers. I imagine that there are things that might work. (Interestingly, when I was in Alaska, an Inuit said that he had cured his cancer by taking one of the folk remedies. He said that his tribe had found it by following snails. The snails had signs that they were dying but when they ate leaves from this particular tree, they lived. I had just finished my chemo which was partially taxol made from the Pacific Yew. I have no idea if it is the same tree but it is an interesting intersection of legend and fact or fact and fact.) But I also know that cancer goes into remission for no known reason; that it fails to respond to cures.

The idea that exercise (which would lead to increased muscle mass) would increase survival rates drew interesting comments including the idea that the suggestion that cancer patients should exercise was a form of blaming the victim. What the statistics evidently showed is that if cancer patients had exercised before they had cancer they would exercise afterward; if not, then they would not. Cancer doesn't change lifestyle. (Except in prostate cancer patients for some reason.) I wonder whether heart attacks and strokes change lifestyle. I don't remember ever seeing any studies on that.

On the other hand, I wanted to slug one senator with cancer who said he played racquetball (or something similar) everyday, including the days he had chemo. The message seemed to be anyone can do that. Unfortunately people are different; chemos are different; people react to them differently. It's a strange world I now live in. A year ago, I would never have imagined I would be writing about cancer from the perspective of a person who had cancer. (If you read the tortured prose here, you will note that I am having difficulty deciding what to call a person with cancer. I don't like survivor; I don't like victim; I can't find a word I like. I don't have cancer now, to the best of anyone's knowledge, but I might. There could be those cells lurking in my body waiting for a chance to spread and grow. Of course, those cells could be in anyone's body waiting for a chance to spread and grow. I could go on with this, but you get the idea.)

The final irony is that I have been musing on death for a long time. One thing I read characterized cancer cells as eternally young. They don't "grow up" and behave like other cells. What an irony: cells with the possibility of eternal life kill you. The most bizarre form of you have to be careful what you wish for.