Just Breathe

I took a week off from cancer.

I should rephrase that. I still did all my supplements and shots and creams and positive affirmations. I simply stopped thinking about cancer.

And it was glorious.

Now it’s back to the grind. But now it’s different. I have real, positive results that I can get behind.

Heather and I went to meet with Dr. Green today. She had many positive things to say about the CT scan. A few things stuck out for me in particular.

“Do you know how hard it is to get a tumor on the liver to shrink?!”

I didn’t actually. I just trusted that the protocol that all the doctors that have been charged with my care knew what they were doing; everyone from Dr. Green to all the oncologists and mind-body doctors at CTCA. Sometimes you have to put (some of your) faith in people that really want to see you succeed.

“Your liver enzymes are perfect. That’s a very big positive as well! That doesn’t usually happen.”

I already knew this but it’s always good to get reassurance that it isn’t typically normal to get these kind of results. The next thing she mentioned was something I never knew.

Your Gamma GT level is 10. That’s probably even better than mine!”

What is Gamma GT? It’s time for a biology lesson.

The gamma-glutamyl transpeptidase (GGT) test measures the amount of the enzyme GGT in your blood. Enzymes are molecules that are necessary for chemical reactions in your body. GGT functions in the body as a transport molecule, helping to move other molecules around the body. It plays a significant role in helping the liver metabolize drugs and other toxins.

GGT is concentrated in the liver, but it’s also present in the gallbladder, spleen, pancreas, and kidneys. GGT blood levels are usually high when the liver is damaged. This test is often done with other tests that measure liver enzymes if there’s a possibility of liver damage.

Your liver is crucial for producing proteins in your body and filtering out poisons. It also makes bile, a substance that helps your body process fats.

Your doctor may order the GGT test if they suspect your liver is damaged or if you have a liver disease, particularly if it’s related to alcohol use. The GGT test is currently the most sensitive enzymatic indicator of liver damage and disease. This damage is often caused by heavy use of alcohol or other toxic substances, like drugs or poisons.

So what does all that mean for me? It means my liver and other organs are functioning normally. Your liver is so very important. I’d rank it right up there with your heart and lungs. When it’s damaged or not functioning properly, it can cause so much damage to so many other parts of the body.

The liver has two large sections, called the right and the left lobes. The gallbladder sits under the liver, along with parts of the pancreas and intestines. The liver and these organs work together to digest, absorb, and process food.

The liver’s main job is to filter the blood coming from the digestive tract, before passing it to the rest of the body. The liver also detoxifies chemicals and metabolizes drugs. As it does so, the liver secretes bile that ends up back in the intestines. The liver also makes proteins important for blood clotting and other functions.

She said having a low/normal GGT means my body is not under any kind of chemical stress. Even the EGFR drug, Vectibix, isn’t causing any adverse chemical reactions. I’d be interested to know what my GGT levels were during chemo, but Beaumont never ran that test.

So far, so good.

So, the remaining liver tumor is continuing to shrink. After hearing Jen talk about how great that is, I felt empowered with all kinds of hope. But we also had to bring the victory train back to the station when we started talking about that stubborn peritoneum/colon tumor. Can’t treating cancer just be easy?

Background Information: This problem tumor(s) isn’t a new tumor. It was disguising itself as an abscess after my bowel surgery last March. The weird thing is everything they thought were abscesses were shrinking on their own BEFORE chemo. That led the infectious disease doctors at Beaumont to believe they were all abscesses because they were able to biopsy one of the abscesses and it wasn’t cancer, it was an infection. Dr. Green had an answer for that as well:

“You’re actually lucky in a way that you had those abscesses so close to the tumors. The immune response in that area likely shrunk those tumors and kept them from growing out of control.

Imagine that. The immune system shrinking a tumor without any chemo. That is why I’m doing the mistletoe injections. They create the same type of immune response needed to keep tumors in check. And honestly, it didn’t really grow THAT much. In October of 2015 is measured 1.2cm. Now it measures 2.6cm. It still doubled in size, so that is concerning and it’s vitally important that I figure something out that can heal it.

So, what now?

First Step: Colonoscopy. We need to see if the tumor is getting it’s blood supply from the colon. A colonoscopy should be able to determine this. There is a chance they can’t see the tumor from inside the colon, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t still using the colon as it’s feeding ground.

Second Step: Surgery. Depending on the results of the colonoscopy, I hope a surgeon at CTCA would elect to do a surgery. Most times an oncologist/surgeon team wants to see tumors shrink without having to do surgery, but as my oncologist said to us last week:

“Surgery is the only real chance at a possible remission.”

I know there’s people I know and have met online over the past year that will say that’s a western medicine philosophy and you can heal without surgery. I do believe I could, but cancer makes it’s own difficult circumstances at times. This tumor isn’t responding to any of the integrated treatment plan I’m doing. And chemotherapy isn’t proven to work. The blood supply is weak and it’s somewhat slow growing for now. But things could change quickly if I’m not careful.

The surgery would be described as a “debulking” of the tumor, but likely that means if they see the tumor as part of the colon, they will remove it all along with the rectum, which would mean that problem organ is no longer a problem anymore. Jen also recommended that I do the surgery at CTCA because they specialize in this type of surgery, every day. It would be a long time away from home, as this again is a major, major surgery. There could be complications as well because I’m only a year out from my last major bowel surgery. I really think I could end up being there for a month.

Third Step: Chemo Sensitivity Testing. We talked a bit about Irinotecan.

“I know chemo is hard on everyone, and I’m not telling you to definitely do it, but if I was to choose one to be on, it would be Irinotecan. I also don’t hate the Neulasta drug. As far as conventional drugs are concerned, it’s a pretty good one. The side effect that most people experience is bone pain, but a nurse trick has found that a claritin before the injection usually causes no bone pain. And Irinotecan typically doesn’t affect your body like FOLFOX or other chemos do.”

She does her homework. If she’s reading this, I hope she knows how much Heather and I appreciate her help through all these difficult decisions. It’s always good to know all the options in case it comes down to needing it if surgery isn’t possible. Because my GGT levels are so good, and the usually difficult liver tumor is shrinking, I instantly hesitate to ever touch a toxic chemo drug again, but like I’ve said all along, I think it’s important not to make my decisions based on fear. I just feel well off chemo and hope there’s a way surgery will be possible.

Fourth Step: Radio Frequency Ablation of liver tumor. This is a procedure that would probably be defined under radiation, but it isn’t harmful to your cells. If the tumor is on the surface of the liver, they can send microwave radio signals to it to basically burn it off. Dr Green has a patient that gets this procedure done every six months when her liver tumor resurfaces. It usually is a 5-10 minute non-invasive procedure and it’s non-toxic and doesn’t destroy any healthy cells. I need to ask it I am a candidate for this procedure.

Surgery? Are you sure?

I am. Before all this cancer stuff I had either Crohn’s or Ulcerative Colitis, that wasn’t manageable with anything I tried to do. Let’s say a radical remission takes place and I wake up tomorrow and all my cancer is gone and they want to hook my plumbing back up. Will the original disease that caused the cancer come back? I likely have Ulcerative Colitis because I don’t have any pain/blood/mucus since having the ileostomy surgery. Ulcerative Colitis is “cured” when you remove the large bowel, as it doesn’t travel to the small bowel. It really is a good option for me right now, cancer or not. I can live just as long as a normally functioning person with an ileostomy. Plus, I’m used to it now. We’re not always friends, but we’ve come a long way together this past year.

Final Thoughts.

I finally have what I feel is a good cancer treatment team. I like and respect my oncologist, even if we don’t always see eye to eye. I like the many other doctors I see at CTCA as well. And Dr. Green just always brings me back down from any fear I’m experiencing and replaces it with hope.

When the oncologist walked into the room with the results from my CT scan, as much as I like him, he started out with the negative.

“The scans were good, but here’s the problem. A tumor in your abdomen grew. We need to focus on it”

When I first met with my naturopath doctor today, she focused on the positive.

“With this type of cancer and choosing to stop chemo and scans for six months, do you know how out of control this cancer could be right now? To be honest, I didn’t think the results would be this good. I expected the tumors to all be growing, especially when you were complaining about the pain in your chest by your liver when you took deep breaths. We know now that pain is most likely scar tissue from surgery and it isn’t pain from a tumor.”

I urge everyone, even if you’re going through conventional treatment only, to find someone who can uplift even in times of crisis. I know the abdominal tumor is real and can be dangerous, but we all need to focus on the good first. I also realize that my results are better than a lot of what other people receive, and I feel for everyone who has to go through the ups and downs of this disease.

It’s not easy.

All we can do is breathe. Just breathe.

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