Photo by Nate Rivers (courtesy of Flickr and Creative Commons; click on photo to go to source page)
My wife’s downward slide toward starvation from her stage 4 cancer (complications from cachexia)
My wife’s metastatic invasive breast cancer recurred November of 2011. During the first half of 2012 she progressed rung by rung up the ladder of chemo drugs. As each combination of drugs proved ineffective or as the cancer adapted to it she was bumped up to the next newer and more expensive drugs. Despite being bumped up to a combination of drugs that included one that cost $11,000 for a bottle of 120 tablets (for one month’s supply) the cancer relentlessly continued to adapt and spread from the site of recurrence (her chest wall) to form about 30 lesions on her lungs.
She began to exhibit symptoms of cachexia–a stage of some cancers development during which the cancer starts to seemingly consume the patient. She lost 32 pounds very quickly, she lost her appetite and she became very weak and progressively weaker.
The danger of cachexia
One statement by Dr. Patrick Quillin, PhD, RD, CNS in his book, Beating Cancer With Nutrition, caught my eye and set off alarm bells. He states that of people who are diagnosed with metastatic cancers and eventually die, about 40 percent of the time their death is not caused by cancer but by starvation. Dr. Quillin was Vice President of Cancer Centers of America for ten years so I took his warning very seriously.
Cachexia poses a double threat to patients. The first threat is that their appetite will be so poor that they will stop eating and starve to death. The second threat is that their lack of nutrition and accompanying weakness will cause their oncologist to be forced to stop chemo (because they’re unable to withstand the toxic effects in their weakened state) and their cancer then will proceed to overwhelm their organs and systems to consume them.
My search for a way to get my wife the nutrition her body desperately needed
I took the threat seriously and began to search through books and websites for science based nutritional and lifestyle strategies we could giver her body the nutrition it so desperately needed to fight her cancer and recover from the trauma of conventional treatment. Also to help possibly slow down, stop or–by some miracle–reverse her cancer. I was hoping for a miracle cure at the time. I now know that at stage 4 we need to focus on managing her condition and giving her the longest and best quality of life possible. (Based on her appearance, energy, appetite, etc. I believe we’ve succeeded.)
I realized I had to find something that would be easy to consume (preferably drinkable) and relatively good tasting. What immediately came to mind was blended drinks and smoothies.
I started with something called a Dragonslayer Shake I found in Dr. Quillin’s book. It offers various optional ingredients for proteins, thickeners, sweeteners, etc. that allows the patient to customize their own version of the drink. As I began to learn more through reading and experimenting I added and subtracted ingredients until we reached what we use now which is my version of an “anticancer” green smoothie I give to her twice a day. It’s composed of half vegetables and half fruit. For the the fruit portion I rotate one day using cauliflower and kale and the next day cabbage and broccoli. For the fruit portion I use a two or three berry thick layer of frozen berries I buy at a local warehouse store, along with some overripe bananas (sold at reduced price at a local supermarket). I also add in a couple of rounded teaspoons of ground flax seeds (or finely ground flax seeds if I can find them). If you want a fresher version and have a strong blender (such as a Vitamix or Blendtech) you can buy whole flax seeds and blend them into the smoothie before consuming. The coating on flax seeds is seriously tough and will pass completely through your digestive tract if you don’t grind the seeds up. I also use whey, wheat bran and other items based on Dr. Keith Block’s recommendations in his book Life Over Cancer.
Diet and supplements
I also give my wife several supplements which I at first based on my reading of Life Over Cancer. We were so impressed with the results that we decided to visit The Block Center (someone kindly donated most of the mileage we needed and a local nonprofit covered the two week stay at Extended Stay of America across the street from The Block Center). During our visit they extracted several vials of blood and had tests run to refine recommendations for supplements that would be most helpful for her particular kind and stage of cancer.
As we began to change our diet (substituted sugar with stevia, whole grain bread instead of white bread, brown rice instead of white rice, stopped using red meat, etc, etc.) and and my wife’s lifestyle (walking five days a week) the above (non-tumor) symptoms began to subside and eventually went away and through four quarterly high resolution CT scans her lesions shrank and some of them almost disappeared. In her most recent CT scan remaining tumor sites have shown signs of partial necrosis (death) with only small signs of any growth.
If this is your first try at making green smoothies you may have to play around with the ratio of the greener veggies (kale and broccoli). If you put too much of these in the vegetable portion it may end up tasting too “green” for most people’s taste buds.
For the reasons behind each of the ingredients I included in the above green smoothie please see some of the videos posted below and information on Dr. Block’s book, Life Over Cancer, which I highly, highly, highly recommend. Also please see Dr. Block’s blog (http://lifeovercancerblog.typepad.com/life-over-cancer-blog/), The Block Center FaceBook page (https://www.facebook.com/BlockMD), the website for his book Life Over Cancer (lifeovercancer.com).
I do not recommend the above smoothies as a replacement for conventional cancer treatment but as a simple, easy way to give cancer patients with poor appetite the nutrition they need to strengthen their bodies to overcome the toxicity and traumatic effects of long term conventional cancer treatment (surgery, radiation therapy, chemo) and to help make their biochemistry as hostile to cancer cell proliferation as possible.
I highly advise people going through treatment to make your oncologist aware of any supplements (vitamins, etc.) you are taking to make sure there are no possible adverse reactions with chemo drugs or reduced effectiveness of any conventional treatment.