Monday, September 26, 2016

Choosing My Battles

After my last post, I was asked two valid questions that should be addressed. One question was about my diet. The other asked how my wife felt about my treatment choices. I'll try to answer both of these questions in this post. As it turns out, the two questions are related.

Part of me wants to think I shouldn't have to explain myself, or defend choices I make regarding my own health. But I've committed to being as open about this entire process as I can be. I hope that if I share my thought process on all of these things, maybe it will be easier for you to understand and support my conclusions.

In my last post, I may have misled some of you into thinking I'm refusing treatment. I'm not. I'm still on hormone treatment, and will be for the rest of my life. Oh, joy. I'm getting a dental exam on Wednesday to determine whether I can start taking a bone-strengthening drug once a month. And once my doctors assure me to my satisfaction that I'll escape a certain side effect, I expect to start taking the testosterone blocker Xtandi. I may have made a mistake using the word treatment too many times when I should have used the word chemo. It's chemo that I don't have time to take months off for right now, not treatment as a whole.

In my last post, I said that I wasn't going to do "radical lifestyle or diet change." One person asked me about that, saying he supported my decision not to do chemo, but didn't understand why I wouldn't eat a healthy diet. I realized that I haven't talked about my diet much in this blog. Diet is very important, as we all know. I personally believe that the reason we have so much cancer in Western societies is because of our diet. We eat way too much processed food. So I am sympathetic to those who say that we should eat in certain ways to avoid and defeat cancer.

But my cancer was not caused by outside factors. I have prostate cancer because it runs in my family. It wasn't because of any poor lifestyle choices on my part. It was just the luck of the draw, or the lack thereof.

My wife and I are very health conscious. We eat a very healthy diet. My wife has not eaten beef since the 1980's, and I became unable to eat beef after a few years of that myself, since she stopped cooking it at home. I'm reminded of a line from Pulp Fiction where Samuel L. Jackson's character says, "My girlfriend's a vegetarian, which basically makes me one." That's pretty much how it works.

If you don't eat beef, you lose the enzymes in your digestive system that break beef down. If I eat a hamburger after a certain time of day, I can't sleep that night. But recently, I've started gradually reintroducing beef into my diet so I can have a hamburger when the situation calls for it. If I have a burger once every two or three months, that's a lot for me. I still eat very little beef.

We eat a lot of salads. We eat organic as much as we can. We use filtered water for everything, to the point of having a water filter on our shower, because everything that goes on your skin gets absorbed into your body. Instead of using commercial ammonia-based window cleaners, I use a combination of vinegar and water. It works great. We never heat food in plastic, or use Teflon, because it transfers plastic molecules into food, which causes cancer. I don't spray my lawn with chemicals to kill weeds, because I don't believe in putting poisons in the ground water to make my lawn look prettier.

I could keep going, but I won't. You get the picture. When I talk about not wanting to do radical lifestyle or diet change, bear in mind that we already take measures to remain healthy that many do not.

But we do eat meat. We eat poultry and seafood. Pork occasionally. I'll have two thin slices of bacon with breakfast about twice a week. We always try to go with wild-caught seafood, rather than farm-raised. We eat a lot of chicken, and we also eat turkey throughout the year.

There's lots of information promoting various special diets to fight cancer. If I were younger, and in a different place in life, I might consider one of those. But at this point in my life, I'm not going vegan. I'm not giving up meat or dairy. It's a little difficult to go vegan when you're going into the ice cream business. I'm the chief taste tester around here.

One weakness I have is for sweets. That's a change I'm willing to make. I can live without candy if I have to. I cut sugar out of my diet once before, and I can do it again. That's hard to do just before Halloween and Christmas, but I can do it. I still need to make and consume a few more batches of my chocolate ice cream to get the recipe right, but after that, I can back off the ice cream binge I've been on.

When I was struggling to keep my weight up, some of the rules of healthy eating I had adopted went out the window. Keeping my weight up was more important than watching my sugar intake. But my weight is not a problem for now, so maybe this gives me an opportunity to get back on the wagon when it comes to sugar.

The trouble is, while I agree that I should have healthy eating habits and eat mindfully, I don't really believe that giving up the moderate amounts of "bad" food I eat will make much difference in how long I live. I'm afraid if I went on a special plant-based diet, and gave up so many of the foods I love, all I'd be doing is making my limited remaining time here less enjoyable. I want my coffee in the morning. I want my one beer each night. That's not what will kill me. I know exactly what will kill me. In some ways, that's liberating.

So when it comes to diet, I will continue to eat the same healthy way that I have for decades. You won't see me anywhere near a corn dog or a bucket of KFC. But I will continue to eat eggs, cheese, bread, and once in a while, even a microwave popcorn. So sue me.

I haven't even gotten to the second question yet. I'll try to make this part brief. One dear lady asked how my wife feels about my not doing chemo. Her husband has prostate cancer, and she wants him to do everything he can to stay here for as long as he can. Very understandable. I think she may have gotten the impression that I'm refusing all treatment. It's only chemo that I'm refusing at this point.

I don't think my oncologist is recommending chemo for me presently anyway. In the literature for Xtandi, which I received last Friday, a study was highlighted which showed that Xtandi delayed the time before patients began chemotherapy, from 11 months to 28 months, on average. That tells me that the purpose of Xtandi is to enable prostate cancer patients like me to put off the day when chemo is recommended.

Having said that, the decision to submit to chemotherapy or not is a personal one. It's a choice I wouldn't make without my wife's support.

In the early days of my cancer journey, I was talking with a pastor friend of mine. I told him about a cancer patient who was told she only had a few months to live unless she did chemo. She refused, and said something that made a big impression on me. I tell this story in my post, "My Complicated History With Divine Healing." She said, "God's either gonna heal me, or he's not. I'm OK either way." I came away from that hoping that I would have the same attitude were I ever in that situation.

It turned out that I did have that attitude when the time came. When I related this story to my pastor friend, he said, "That's a great attitude, Mark. As long as your wife is there with you." That gave me pause. It was wise counsel, and what he said should have been obvious to me before he said it. I knew I needed to have a conversation with her right away.

That same night, or maybe the next, I sat down with my wife and told her that, if she wanted me to, I would go through every treatment they threw at me to stay here for her for as long as I could. She said she didn't want me to suffer from treatment. She's always been the more heath conscious of us. Almost every health measure I described above in our household was started by her. She hates the idea of pumping poison into my body, knowing what it would put me through, physically. She shares my suspicion of the pharmaceutical industry and the for-profit health care system.

Initially, she wanted me to undergo radiation treatment. But now that we know radiation probably would not have stopped me from being Stage 4, we're both glad I didn't do that. My wife supports the treatment choices I'm making, and she supports my decision not to start chemotherapy.

I didn't intend for this to happen, but looking over this post, I now realize it's a tribute to my wife. She's the one who got me eating healthy years ago. She's the one who reads the health news while I obsess over sports and politics. She knows how healthy my diet is, and doesn't expect me to upend our whole lifestyle in what I believe would be a vain effort to add a little more time.

We're choosing our battles. I support every one of my cancer brothers and sisters who make their choices about how to battle this disease. I hope you support me in mine. I know my wife does. #waroncancer


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  2. No matter what choice you make I know God will have his hand on you. I will keep praying for you and I can't tell you how much your writing means to me. Your amazing and I thank you for opening my eyes to different views of life. And on another note we are not big meat eaters. We do almost all chicken or fish. Beef is a rare meal as we find we don't feel well after eating it. Keep writing, and I will keep praying.