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Loving God more. Loving others more. Living obediently in Christ.

Monday, January 7, 2013

After colorectal cancer. What we wish we had done.

This post is for the reader who is facing colorectal cancer.  
Take some time to discover all options before you start treatments.

The best part in the title of this post is "after".  It is such a blessing from God that we have witnessed His touch in our lives since my husband faced the colorectal cancer diagnosis in January of 2011.  We have experienced a happy ending to what was a deeply spiritual and physical challenge in our lives.  He has been released to our family doctor after his fourth "clear" CT scan.  He had to get a permanent colostomy midway through his treatments due to the location of the cancer.  As we look back at the journey, we have recognized a few regretful decisions.  Each regret will be covered under the heading for the various phases of my husband's treatment.  

We were in a big hurry to start treatments at the beginning. The oncologist recommended two months of chemo before surgery in an attempt to shrink the tumor and with the hope for an easier surgery.  My husband started chemotherapy, feeling that it was the only option for a chance of survival.  Chemotherapy has a very toxic effect on the body, the liver in particular, and we were very nervous when we read the pharmaceutical warnings in his oncology packet.  It seemed strange to poison a body that needed to heal.  He had 4 rounds of chemo infusions and experienced the expected side effects.  The size of his tumor was temporarily reduced by the last half of chemo infusions but he suffered from partial blockage in the rectum for the first month.  The following treatments of radiation and oral chemotherapy were ineffective in shrinking the tumor.  The tumor grew after he finished the first 4 rounds of infusions and he began to have blockage problems again before surgery.

Our diet was transitioning away from processed foods and we were eating more vegetables after my husbands surgery.  Chemo was scheduled to start back up after surgery and, by then, we had started juicing vegetables morning and evening.  The added vegetables boosted his immune system.  In fact, he only finished 3 of the 8 rounds of chemo because his immune system was working so well.  He had more symptoms or reactions to the infusions than he had during his first four rounds.  We are both very thankful that the chemo treatments were ended - primarily by our own choice, but well supported by our oncologist. 

Regret #1 - taking any form of chemotherapy.  A plant based diet can, very quickly, transform a person's health.  If we had known the healing power of plants at the time of diagnosis, we would have chosen to eat our way back to health.  This would have been worth the try even if surgery was still necessary for complete healing.

Nicholas Gonzalez, M.D. - Chemo Doesn't Affect Most Cancers!

Radiation treatments  My husband took radiation treatments every morning, Monday through Friday, for 6 weeks.  By the end of the first week, he had burns on his skin outside.  By the second week, his burns were internal.  Passing stools was excruciating because of the bloody and inflamed tumor.   From then, until well after surgery, he experienced bladder urgency and open wounds on his skin.  The radiation slowed the healing of the rectectomy, which was left as an open pelvic wound that drained and slowly filled in with scar tissue.  (The wound had to be cleaned and packed daily for 1 year.)  We discovered during post-surgery chemo treatments that the radiation burns would "flare" up.  One day, after a round of chemo, the skin on his buttocks turned red like a sunburn.  Later, it peeled, just like a sunburn.  Radiation therapy continues to  have long reaching effects on his health.  We hope, by eating living foods and providing his damaged cells with all the necessary nutrients to repair themselves or self-destruct, that radiation will be a concern of the past.  The body's cells, it is theorized, are completely replaced every 7-10 years.  The DNA is not replaced, but can be repaired.  With proper nutrition, irreparably damaged DNA will self-destruct (apoptosis).  Without proper nutrition, cells with damaged DNA can divide and become cancer.  This is why radiation can cause secondary cancers.
Regret #2 - taking radiation treatments.  The consequences far out-weighed the benefits.  In fact, we think that there were zero benefits to radiation therapy.

Ty M. Bollinger - Cancer Doctors and Money

Surgery  There was no such thing as an "easier surgery" in my husband's case.  The tumor was so low in the rectum that a complete proctectomy and anal excision was required.  No matter how big or small the tumor, my husbands recovery from surgery was going to be an horrific experience.  Furthermore, he had to adjust to a total lifestyle change of caring for a colostomy bag.  He has a favorite bit of advice when the topic of his "bag" comes up; "Don't get one of these!"  We both agree that colorectal cancer is avoidable with the proper nutrition.

Since we started eating a plant based diet a few months after his surgery, we didn't know that there might have been a way to save his rectum.  Our first choice would have been to go completely plant based, follow the Gerson therapy and try to eat our way out of disease.  

Our second choice, in hind sight, would have been to have our local surgeon do an immediate, temporary colostomy in order to relieve my husband of his symptoms from rectal blockage.  The surgery to remove the tumor could have been postponed in order to allow an opportunity for dietary change.  If, after eating plant based for a time, he still needed a complete proctectomy, the colostomy would remain and his health would have been better at surgery time.  We may not have had doctor support for this, but it would have been worth a try.  Certainly, a temporary colostomy would have improved his quality of life and ability to eat more nourishment at his sickest time.

Lastly, an option that we briefly considered at the time of diagnosis was to get the cancer out of his body - surgery first.  He could have gotten the toxicology report and had a better understanding of the staging of his cancer before jumping into any treatments.  At the start, his cancer was stage 3 due to one lymph node that was suspect in his PET scan.  Standard treatment for stage 3 colorectal cancer is 12 rounds of chemo and six weeks of radiation.  When he had surgery (remember that the tumor started to grow again before surgery), the toxicology report came back at stage 2.  By then, he had already had 4 rounds of chemo; however, the standard protocol for stage 2 does not require any chemo or radiation!  Furthermore, in the event of staging number change, the oncological protocol is to treat the patient as if the stage is the higher number (in order to be "aggressive" with the cancer).

Regret #3 - not considering more options in order to avoid a permanent colostomy.  A dietary change, and possibly a temporary colostomy, would have offered his body a chance to heal itself and given us both some time to think and research the recommended treatments.  

Good things happened throughout the experience.
Though we have a few regrets and "wish-we-would-have's", we continue to praise God for providing healing.  

  • We are thankful for so many friends and loved ones who prayed for healing and recovery.  
  • It was an act of God that he never even had a cold while going through cancer treatments!  
  • Our doctors were genuinely concerned for the best possible outcome for my husband.  His good toxicology report was celebrated by everyone. 
  • Through the journey, God taught us how to nourish our bodies for health.  It feels great.

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