8. Renal Cell Carcinoma
Early morning telephone calls rarely bring good news. The ring of my phone early on June 9, 2006, was no exception. I was soon listening to my urologist say that there were some problems with my most recent tests and he would like to see me.
Three years earlier, the same doctor had removed my right kidney along with its cancerous tumor. At the time he said he felt for sure he had “gotten all of it” but scheduled tests every six months as a follow up. Although I now made my living as a writer of military non-fiction books, I had spent my career as an Army officer and kept myself in fairly good shape. I did not think of myself as a cancer survivor, just someone who had had a tumor removed. Except for the bi-annual tests, I gave the former problems little thought.
That is until I had done the re-tests and met again with my doctor. With his hands clasped in his lap, he began, “I have some bad news.” He did not wait for a response but continued, “Your kidney cancer has metastasized. You have tumors on your right adrenal gland, lymph glands, in your lungs and possibly in the bone of your skull.”
I took a deep breath and tried to remain calm and in control as I asked, “What does that mean?” He responded, “It means you have six to 18 months to live. There is a new medicine that might give you a few more months, but there is nothing else we can do.”
My wife Linda and I left the doctor’s office with a referral to a local oncologist. We spent a while sitting in our car in the parking lot exchanging questions, “What did you hear him say?” We came to the shocked agreement that he had indeed said six to 18 months.
Back home we searched the Internet for more information learning that kidney cancer, or renal cell carcinoma, strikes only three percent of the more than a million people diagnosed annually with cancer in the United States. Every article we found echoed the doctor’s opinion of a six to 18 month life expectancy. Chances of living five years were zero to three percent. Not very good odds, I thought. We made multiple appointments with every oncologist who would put me on their schedule, including those at M. D. Anderson Cancer Hospital in Houston.
Over the next weeks we saw a total of four more doctors in the Phoenix metropolitan area. All confirmed the diagnosis and the six to eighteen-month expectation that had become nearly a mantra. All stated that neither chemotherapy nor radiation had any positive effect on kidney cancer. All recommended a choice of one of the two new “miracle drugs,” Nexavar and Seuten, which had 20 to 40 percent of a chance to give the patient an additional six months.
In between seeing the various doctors, I attempted to “get my affairs in order.” Mostly, I thought about dying. I so wanted to fight the cancer – to live, to see my grandchildren grow up. But the many doctors we had consulted and the articles we had read convinced me that my days were indeed numbered. I certainly would not welcome death but I could accept it – if I had no choice about it. I had lived a full and exciting life, having travelled around the world, served more than 20 years in the U.S. Army, fought as a decorated veteran of the Vietnam War, and written 16 non-fiction books published by major New York houses.
We packed our bags and drove from Phoenix to Houston, hoping the M. D. Anderson (MDA) Cancer Center might have something else to offer or possibly even a clinical trial. The doctor there confirmed the diagnosis and again gave the six to 18-month survivability estimate and let me choose between Nexevar and Seutan.
Linda and I had already anticipated these answers and had decided on the Nexavar. A small chance for several more months of life was better than no odds at all. Also, for our entire lives we had been taught that doctors know best and that we should follow their recommendations. I took the small rust colored pills that afternoon.
The doctor’s nurse had provided a printed page of possible side effects of the powerful drug. Swollen tender feet and hands, itchy scalp, fatigue and stomach and digestive problems were but a few of the side effects. By day three of taking the pills, I could barely walk on my feet, which looked and felt like they had been immersed in water for a long period of time. My head itched like my hair was housing a huge lice colony. My stomach felt as if it’s lining had disappeared, and I began sleeping most of the day as well as the night.
I was uncomfortable to say the least, but I thought the side effects were worth the discomfort if they helped me stay alive for a few additional months. Days later, I began running a high fever that was not on my list of possible side effects. Soon I was delirious, no longer caring whether I got a few extra months or even died immediately. Two trips to the emergency room over the next week and countless IV bags of unknown drugs later brought the fever down. The treatment had nearly killed me.
When the doctor at MDA recommended that I reduce my daily number of Nexavar pills, I had a better idea. I told her that I would take no more of the drug. If I only had months remaining, I wanted to live them feeling as good as possible. The Nexavar side effects were much worse than any possible good it could do.
I promised Linda that I would seek alternative treatments and did begin taking shark cartilage and other “items off the shelf” of the local health food store. Linda tried to find good things for me to eat. Mostly I just wanted to be left alone to die in peace. I kept thinking about all the obituaries I had read where a person died “after a long and valiant fight against cancer.” Mine would read, “Took Nexavar for a week, rolled over and cried like a baby, and died young.”
It took me several days to recover sufficiently from the Nexavar to be able to do anything other than sleep. Finally, I got out of bed and began making phone calls and sending e-mails telling those I loved and respected good-bye. Mostly I told them that I had led a good life and had no excuses or apologies.
In mid-August I called Burn Loeffke, my former battalion commander in Vietnam. Loeffke had retired from the army as a major general and is the bravest and smartest man I ever met in uniform. After retirement he had become a Physicians Assistant and now accompanies medical missions to hot spots around the world following his desire to become a healer after having been a soldier.
Burn listened to my news and replied, “You are not going to die. I will not let you.”
Early the next morning Burn called back. He said that he believed, after talking to friends and associates all over the country, I should go to the Hippocrates Health Institute in West Palm Beach, Florida. I told Linda to see if she could make us reservations. My decision came not from any hope for positive results but for selfish reasons. I had failed miserably in taking the conventional treatment and had promised to those who cared for me that I would try unconventional treatments. I would honor my promise, give Hippocrates Health Institute a try, and then I could return home to die in peace with no one else suggesting treatments, cures, procedures, or snake oil in general.
Although Hippocrates Health Institute recommended a three-week stay, I opted for – no, insisted on – only a single week. If I saw merit in the program, I believed I had the personal discipline to follow its regime on my own, especially with Linda’s help. I understood that Hippocrates Health Institute was a vegetarian program but paid no attention to the details. A week, a week, ha! I could do a week standing on my head or sitting in the bottom of a foxhole. Bring it on.
On Sept. 3, 2006, Linda and I walked across a small bridge complete with a fountain and rustling water into the world of Hippocrates Health Institute. Nothing was quite as fancy as I had anticipated. The staff seemed unassuming and laid back. No one seemed to rush. There was an air about them, however, an attitude that alluded, “We have a great product. Take as much of it as you want.”
That evening we had our first Hippocrates Health Institute meal. No meat, no diary, no eggs, no fruit, just lots of sprouts, greens, cucumbers, and onions. The way Linda kept her distance; I began to suspect she knew all about the diet before our arrival. I ate what seemed like what a rabbit on a diet might ingest and thought to myself, “It’s only for a week. Give it a chance.”
The next morning the staff introduced us to wheatgrass and green juice. Classes on learning the new lifestyle covered the entire litany of the scientific and psychological rationale behind the Hippocrates Health Institutes way of life. I really did not pay all that much attention in class. Linda took copious notes, and I trusted her to glean the wheat, or rather the juice, from the chaff. I spent many of my hours thinking about just how brief of a time I had left to live, but I also attempted to observe my surroundings and to grasp the larger picture of the Hippocrates Health Institute. While I believed that it was not skepticism if my opinions were correct, I could see nothing that harmed anyone. At the same time, I had no confidence that a cure, miracle or otherwise was anywhere in the proximity.
My first real indication that the diet did do something to the body came near the end of the week when I discovered what appeared to be a large bruise on my thigh. When I showed it to a Hippocrates Health Institute staff member, she just laughed and said I was beginning to detox. I recalled that in one of the classes there had been the warning that all of us would go through a stage where our bodies, now consuming only good things, would begin to rid itself of the previous poisons we had taken in. At the time it was another story to which I nodded that I had heard, but, in fact, I neither understood nor accepted.
Over the next 24 hours I became a believer in detoxification. More and more dark spots appeared, some with small puss filled sores. I soon looked like someone had taken a broad belt and beat the hell out of me. I really did not care how it looked, but the itching that accompanied the detox was more than unpleasant. The natural salves provided by Hippocrates Health Institute helped some but not nearly enough. I was paying not only for my past dietary transgressions but also for my cancer treatment chemicals.
Interestingly, the most extreme detox sores appeared on my feet and legs where the Nexavar had affected me the most. It also affected my arms where I had been applying a powerful prescription salve for several months to fight a rash. The detox really did seem to concentrate on those places where previous poisons concentrated.
At the end of the week, I joined my classmates in saying what a wonderful experience Hippocrates Health Institute had provided. I even added that I had come there with no hope but now felt I might have a chance. Most of this rhetoric was giving the crowd what they wanted to hear. I had seen results, and even felt a little better myself, but I still had no confidence that I would be around to see the New Year. I was already several months into the time the best doctors in the country had predicted I had left. In the end and despite the promises of Hippocrates Health Institute, I had little true hope. Down deep I believed I would be ashes in a grave in the near future.
Despite this last dark thought, I was committed to try the raw vegan diet. I would follow the regime until my next CT scans that were already scheduled. If, after being green and pure for three months, if the tests showed the tumors to be growing and multiplying, I would say to hell with it and enjoy any and all foods in my last months.
In November 2006, we returned to Houston for more tests. By this time I was figuring something out about hospitals, doctors and medical treatments. Hospitals are businesses, little different from factories producing automobiles or companies selling insurance policies. Products come in the front door, endure the process, exit out the back door with money changing hands along the way. On this round through the process, however, I would get no ice cream or steak because my tumors were all stable.
More months and more tests showed no growth or expansion of the tumors as the months past. On Dec. 14, 2007, Linda and I celebrated the passage of 18 months since my first diagnosis with a toast of green juice. Six days later we celebrated our 40th wedding anniversary. Six months later and two more series of tests showed that my cancer tumors remained stable. Again Linda and I celebrated with green juice and a laugh about those who promised that I would be dead six months earlier.
As I write this in the fall of 2008, my tumors continue to remain stable. I hope so. But I’m perfectly happy to continue to have the tumors as long as they are stable. In fact, the only times I have been ill since attending Hippocrates Health Institute is after each visit to M.D. Anderson. I have had increasing flu-like symptoms and bronchial problems as my body has fought to eliminate the contrasts solutions put into my body for the tests. The “purer” my body becomes, the less it can handle the introduction of poisons.
Since my visit to Hippocrates Health Institute and my adoption of the raw diet, I have resumed a normal life. Although I still have cancer, I feel better than I did before my diagnosis. I live a normal life – whatever that is. Two months after departing from Hippocrates Health Institute I signed a contract to write my 17th book. It was released by Sourcebooks last November. Linda and I have also completed a manuscript on our experiences (some of which are included in this article) with cancer, Hippocrates Health Institute and the green regime.
Every day that I live is one more day that seven conventional doctors said that I would not. More importantly, my days are as good as they can get. My days of extreme sickness from conventional medical treatment are far in the past and will not be repeated. The answer to good health is simple: follow the Hippocrates Health Institutes secrets to wellness.
Michael Lanning: Houston, Texas, USA