March 2018 my Dad had a biopsy that showed recurrence of his Non-Hodgkins Lymphoma.
He had successfully treated this cancer 5 years previously with a combination of chemotherapy and dietary changes. But now it was back!
This time around the recommended therapy was much more intense with a lower chance of cure and many more possible side effects. My father decided to pursue a different route; which you can read more about in my first post on my Dad’s journey here: Cancer Isn’t From Bad Luck: Your 3-Step Plan to Cancer Recovery.
By focusing on integrative immune treatments first, he discovered some of the possible root causes to his cancer; Epstein Barr Virus, multiple parasites, and a weakened immune response.
Unfortunately these therapies alone weren’t enough to heal the cancer and by the end of August he was in the hospital and back on chemotherapy. You can read more about how his treatment plan evolved in my second post on my Dad’s journey here: Adjusting Expectations.
It’s 6 months later and the roller coaster continues. Just like a good Disney movie, there are lows, followed by highs, followed by more lows, and hopefully ending on a high.
Too Much Of A Good Thing
The end of Nov 2018 my Dad’s follow-up PET scan showed 70% improvement in the cancer! This was obviously fantastic news. His body was responding well, even to the low-dose chemo, he was feeling good, his labs were stable, and we were all very optimistic about next steps.
He met with a specialist at UC Davis and they discussed different routes they could take at this point. Stem Cell Transplant was back on the table as was a newly approved therapy, CAR T-Cell Immunotherapy. My Dad was still uncomfortable with the idea of the stem cell transplant but willing to consider it at this point and move forward with the necessary tests to see if he would qualify.
In the meantime, his oncologist decided to up the strength of the chemo regimen he was on until he could move forward with one of these other treatments.
I do believe there is truth in the saying “too much of a good thing”. My personal philosophy when it comes to supporting health & healing is to start with the least invasive option and adjust as needed if the body is not responding. Why add more poison if the lesser amount is working?
I’m sure you can guess where I’m going here. Soon after the increased chemo my Dad’s body started struggling again. His blood counts dropped, his kidney function declined, he felt tired, and he had to add in blood transfusions in order to keep the treatment going.
His next PET scan was in February and unfortunately this scan showed growth at the original tumor site…despite the more intense chemo!
Because of this new twist in the road he would now need to do 2 rounds of in-hospital (read…super intense) chemo to see if the tumors would respond before he could move forward with either the Stem Cell Transplant or the CAR T-Cell Therapy.
He endured 2 rounds of the infamous R-ICE chemotherapy; which was given over 3 days in the hospital with continuous chemotherapy. His oncologist had properly scared him with the long-list of likely side effects; intense nausea, vomiting, weakness…basically that he would feel really sick!
Knowing that he was entering these treatments already at a deficit I knew it would be critical that we bring in every strategy we could to help protect his healthy cells while receiving the treatment. Thankfully he was willing to do whatever I suggested…honestly, throughout ALL of this my Dad has been the ever-so-obedient patient.
We kept his diet focused on anti-cancer, immune boosting foods, increased the dosages of his immune supporting supplements, and decided to lower his overall carbohydrate intake. He agreed to fast for a full day prior to the start of chemo through the first day of treatment; drinking lots of bone broth, green tea, and water instead. He could start eating again on the second day, once he felt hungry, but only ketogenic meals until he finished the full 3 days and returned back home.
He actually did surprisingly well; he didn’t feel sick at all, no nausea or vomiting, and his energy stayed pretty good throughout. Even his providers were surprised with how well he did.
After the second round of treatment, he left the hospital feeling really good but by the next day was showing concerning symptoms of muscle jerking, confusion, & weakness. My sister was with my mom and convinced her to call the oncologist to see what might be going on. They suspected neurotoxicity from the Ifosfamide. He went back to the hospital for another 3 days to help his body detox the Ifosfamide and reduce the inflammation in his brain.
This was a very scary experience for everyone. Once he was admitted my Dad was unresponsive for the first 24 hours and when he awoke his personality was really different. Some of the initial changes have subsided but even to this day his personality is different. Not for the worst but different nonetheless.
Good News, Bad News
Thankfully though at this point he was done with the chemo, ready for his next PET scan, and hopeful that he could finally move on to the next stage of treatment.
Good news, bad news…as is often the case on a cancer journey. The good news is that this PET scan showed no more cancer in the lymph of his abdomen. This finding actually reduced his cancer from a Stage 4 to Stage 2. However, the bad news is that the tumors had grown even more at the original site. Clearly these tumors were no longer responding to chemotherapy. And unfortunately as they get bigger they press on nerves that cause excruciating pain.
They returned to the specialist at UC Davis to determine what could be done next. His test results showed that his condition was not strong enough to move forward with the stem cell transplant, so this option was now off the table. He did still qualify though for the CAR T-cell Therapy but while they had been waiting for all the test results they heard back from his insurance that they would not cover the CAR T-Cell Therapy.
The tumors were growing fast and the need to start next level treatment was imminent.
At this point his specialist felt like my dad’s best chance at recovery would be with the CAR T-Cell treatment and if his insurance wasn’t going to cover it, then his doctor was determined to find a Clinical Trial that my dad could qualify for.
My mom, dad, and sister left that appointment feeling hopeful yet scared. What if they couldn’t find a trial, what if it didn’t start until summer…or later, what would they do in the meantime? The cancer wasn’t going to wait.
Exactly 2 days later, right before dinner, the phone rang. My mom picked it up and it was the lead doctor of a clinical trial at Stanford inviting my dad to join their trial. They were in the car the next day, drove 2 hours to Stanford, and spent the entire day in appointments.
He qualified for their trial! He returned the following week to have his T cells removed and is now waiting to have the re-engineered cells put back into his body…hopefully in the next week.
He will remain in the hospital for at least another week under close supervision & monitoring and will then have to stay close to the hospital for another 4 weeks.
The hope is that the re-engineered T cells will be better able to identify & target the cancer cells, bind to them, and ultimately kill them. Without more medicine. Just his immune system doing what it’s supposed to be doing.
Now of course this is not without its own set of scary possible side effects but at this point my mom and dad feel clear that it is worth the risk.
It Takes A Village
It’s already been over a year since my Dad was diagnosed with a recurrence of his cancer. And the fight is still not over. It’s taken a lot of twists and turns as well as some very scary close-calls. But my Dad is still here, he’s still fighting, and there’s still hope.
For those of you who have gone through this journey before you understand the emotional and mental wear and tear it can have. For the patient but also for their family, their friends, and anyone else who is following their journey and praying for their recovery. Resilience is essential on this sometimes very long journey.
It impacts everyone. And none more so than the direct caregivers.
My mom has taken on many new roles this last year. She’s still a mom & grandma, she’s still a wife, and a friend, and a sister. She’s still working and going to church and contributing to her community. But she’s also now a nurse, an advocate, and essentially the manager of my dad’s health care; staying organized and keeping track of all the different appointments, prescriptions, tests, labs, etc that my dad needs to do. She’s there day in and day out. She’s the one who’s had to get my dad to the emergency room. She’s the one who’s had to call the doctor relaying my dad’s concerning symptoms and asking what they should do. She’s holding all the physical and emotional strain of being a caregiver.
I share this with you because in my work with cancer patients I can’t emphasize enough the importance of caregiver support. Yes, we focus on how we can best support the person with cancer but equally important is how we support the one(s) taking care of them. Having a network of people who can help. Making sure that the caregiver has time to eat nourishing foods, go for a walk, sleep, socialize with friends, and get the self care they need.
You Can Help Your Healing
There is still much we do not know about how my dad’s journey will end. We are definitely on a high right now with renewed hope from the clinical trial…and we’re all wishing for that Disney movie ending. We will know more in the next couple of months how his body will respond to the therapy.
The important thing is that we keep moving forward. We keep looking to the future. To the next steps. And at every step, asking what can we do to better support his healing?
Throughout all the different treatments my dad has done so far, there was always something he was doing behind the scenes to help…with his diet, supplements, fasting, etc.
Never feel like you’ve lost control over this journey. Yes, it’s not a straight line. It will likely take some twists and turns. But through it all you can be steady with your healing support. There is always something you can add or do that will help.
If you’re ready to stop searching for answers on your own and gain the support & guidance of a trusted professional, the first step is to book a free 20-min “Planning Session” where we will review your diet, your lifestyle, your cancer treatment plan, and begin to map out your best recovery strategy.
Click here to book a 20-minute “Cancer Recovery Planning Session”. I would be honored to be able to help you on your cancer journey.