Pancreatic Cancer, or How Dominos Pizza Saved My Life

It seems almost impossible to think of it now, but I had cancer.  Pancreatic cancer.  You know, the kind that likes to kill you quickly and without warning.  Two years ago this month, I had a malignant tumor removed from the backside of the head of my pancreas in a procedure technically known as a Pancreaticoduodenectomy, but more commonly referred to as
“The Whipple Procedure.”  If you are the morbid type (I’m not), you can watch a video of the surgery here (this is not my actual surgery, BTW)… https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LpPoE6tK0SY.

It all started in the wee hours of October 27th, 2010 when I woke up with a sharp pressure and pain under my sternum that felt like a gas bubble ready to burst.  I had no symptoms of feeling ill before this point.  Actually, in August of 2010, during a routine check up and blood tests, my doctor announced that I was suddenly diabetic, even though I had never shown signs of being one before.  My glucose levels were in the low-range of being high (135), and so he did what any Western doctor of any merit would do; he gave me a prescription for Metformin and chose not to investigate it any further.

Once I got news that I was suddenly diabetic, I decided to take action for myself.  I began to exercise more consistently, change my eating habits, and lose weight.  I was a little overweight at the time—212 lbs in a medium, six-foot two-inch frame.  I was not exactly obese, but I had little extra padding.  However, I figured that it was enough to warrant the diabetic diagnosis, and with the history of diabetes in my family, it certainly did not hurt to change my lifestyle for the better.

I should mention that I felt fine this whole time and did not suspect any major health concerns around the corner.  My cholesterol was high, but it had always been high.  Same with my triglycerides.  I had always figured that those issues were also hereditary, and that I would have to live with it in spite of my best efforts to lower them.

Well, my best efforts were going to get better. Even though I hated exercise, I trundled myself off to the gym about four days a week.  My son and I would play racquetball and speed walk on the treadmill.  I also chose to drastically change my diet.  My son’s mom (my former wife) had recently gotten into the Raw Foods, or Living Foods, diet, and I started to steal recipes from her.  It was a change to be sure, but I was determined to live a much healthier life.  I gave up refined sugars and fast food years ago, except for pizza, and so I already felt as though I ate better than the majority of the population anyway.  Going Raw was just another step toward making my life healthier, thinner, and cholesterol and diabetes free.Image

I have always hated taking medications, and I would rather fix any existing problems in my body with dietary changes than with harsh, synthetic chemicals.  Even more than that, I have always thought that preventing illness and doctor’s visits by keeping your body strong and healthy was better than waiting until you were sick to see a doctor.  Nevertheless, I had diabetes, and I needed to fix the problem.

I spent the next two months eating a diet that was roughly 50% Raw and 50% cooked.  I tried to eliminate as many processed foods as I could, and just cook fresh when I cooked at all.  I stopped dining out altogether.

On the late afternoon of October 26th, 2010, I came home from work tired, and to a house full of chores.  I had cat boxes to change, bunny cages to clean, dishes to wash, and laundry to fold.  I also had schoolwork to complete, and most importantly, a live stream of the Phish concert to listen to over the internet!  I really did not feel like cooking dinner, and so I ordered a pizza.

After eating like a saint for two months, I did not take into consideration that eating a cheap delivery pizza would bother me in the least.  I guess old habits die-hard.  However, the pizza went down well, and I did not think anything of it.

However, I did wake up in the middle of the night in severe pain and tried to relieve it with a baking soda and water cocktail.  It did not help, but I made it through the rest of the night in and out of sleep.  By morning, I knew that the pizza was a bad idea.

I remained nauseous, with bouts of sharp stabbing pain under my sternum for about two-and-a-half weeks.  I figured it was just a bad reaction to the pizza after having been so good with my diet prior to all of this, and that it would go away soon enough.

I did not go away.

So, on Sunday, November 14th, 2010, I checked myself into the Emergency Room at Mercy San Juan in Carmichael, CA because I did not know what else to do.  I had never been sick like this before, and so I figured it was time for the professionals to have a look at me.  I felt silly, since it was probably just a lengthy bout of nausea, but it was starting to affect my work.  I could not sleep well, or eat well, and I was weak from feeling sick for two-and-a-half weeks.  I was desperate for any type of relief, even if it meant taking harsh, synthetic chemicals.

When I got to the Emergency Room, they took one look at me and admitted me right away.  Apparently, I was yellow from jaundice all over.  I have crappy lighting in my apartment, so I had no idea that I was tuning into an Oompa Loompa.  After a series of blood tests, CT scans, and Ultrasound scans, the doctors finally explained that there were only two reasons for my symptoms and jaundice: gallstones, or a tumor on my pancreas.

I was rooting for gallstones.

After all, there was clearly something blocking my Common Bile Duct, which explained the jaundice and the nausea (plus other symptoms too nasty to describe here).  Now, the doctors only needed to discover what was causing all the commotion inside of me.  I went in for an endoscopy the next day, and they discovered the tumor on the backside of my pancreas.  Unfortunately, the location of the tumor was such that they could not do a simple biopsy to check for malignancy.  We knew that the tumor was there, but we had no idea if it was benign or malignant.

I needed a special kind of biopsy that my cheap-ass insurance did not cover.

Now that we knew that I had a tumor on my pancreas, and that it needed to be removed, I only needed a surgeon to remove said tumor.  Not so fast!  Apparently, the procedure to remove said tumor is a specialty surgery, and no surgeon in that hospital would touch me.  In fact, with my cheap-ass insurance, no surgeon on my plan would touch me.  I now had to wait for my insurance to find a surgeon to do the procedure, which meant that time now moved at bureaucratic speed, while to tumor continued to grow.

So, I took matters into my own hands once again.  With the assistance of my former wife, Heather, I went on a full Raw Foods diet.  There are probably dozens upon dozens of blogs out there that could explain how Raw Foods heals the body by providing the necessary enzymes and nutrients that are lost when food is cooked and processed.  I do not need to go into it here.  However, I will say that after drinking tons of beet/red cabbage/carrot/apple juice and eating various Living Foods concoctions, my tumor actually shrunk by the time I had my surgery.Image

Again, my tumor shrunk while I was waiting for all the bureaucratic bullshit to lead me to a competent surgeon.  Overall, it was only a month-and-a-half, but it sure felt like an eternity

When I had my endoscopy and CT scan in November, my tumor measured 2.7 cm.  When I had my surgery on January 3, 2011, it was only 1.5 cm.  I absolutely credit that to the juicing and Living Foods diet.  In retrospect, I wonder if I needed the surgery at all.

I am glad that I did have the surgery.  The tumor was malignant, and the cancer was classified as between Stage 1 and Stage 2.  I could have killed it with the juicing and Living Foods, but I wanted that fucker out of me!

It was an odd feeling to not know what was happening inside of me.  I cannot say that I was scared; rather, I only felt apprehensive at not knowing what my future held.  Until the surgery, we had no idea if the tumor was malignant or not. I kept telling myself that if I did not know, then I had nothing to be worried about.  When I knew, then I could worry.  That is the same exact advice that I gave my 10-year old son.

The Pancreaticoduodenectomy is a harsh surgery that takes weeks from which to recover.  I had my entire first section of the small intestines removed (the duodenum), my gall bladder, my common bile duct, part of my stomach, and most of the head of my pancreas removed.  They actually had to remove my stomach like an engine block to get to the pancreas before reconnecting it.  Overall, that is a multitude of stitches reconnecting my parts.  My abdomen had twenty-nine staples to zip me back up.  My niece called it “Frankenbelly.”

Image

The surgery was a wonderful success.  All of my margins were clean, and the cancer had not spread to any lymph nodes.  There was a peri-neural invasion, meaning the tumor had brushed against one of my nerves, so my oncologist pushed hard for chemotherapy and radiation.  I refused because I do not believe that those methods are helpful at all.  In fact, in my own research, I could not find a single doctor who would recommend chemo and radiation for themselves if they were battling cancer.  Without going too deep into it here, I found that chemo and radiation lowers a person’s immune system to its lowest levels, which only makes their bodies the perfect environment for cancer to return and thrive.  I chose to continue with the Raw Foods diet.

Along with the Living Foods diet, I started Bikram Yoga as soon as I could walk again.  I mentioned earlier that I never liked to exercise, but I connected with the Hot Yoga immediately.  The extra sweating and purging of toxins in my body, as well as the promise of a more flexible and strong body made me want to go to class every day.  I could feel myself not only recovering from the surgery and the cancer ordeal, but I could feel myself getting stronger—invincible, even.  With the healthy diet and the yoga, I was detoxifying my body in a way that I was certain to keep me cancer-free forever.  In addition, all of my diabetes symptoms were gone.  My glucose went back down to a healthy 97, and my cholesterol and triglyceride levels are well below the danger zone.

Two years later, I am still doing the yoga, but I have lapsed in my diet.  I eat whatever the hell I want, these days, although that usually means fresh and organic foods. I still juice semi-regularly, and eat some Raw Foods.  I have gotten complacent since my check-ups are always clean, and there is no sign of the cancer coming back.  I feel healthier than I have ever felt in my life.

All told, I lost 53 lbs, before gaining about 8-10 of it back.  I lost 20 lbs when I was sick before my surgery. I then lost another 20 lbs in the hospital, since they would not let me eat for an entire week before my digestive tract proved it would work again.  Then I lost another 10 lbs at home during my recovery.  It was a great weight loss program, but I do not recommend it for everyone.

My oncologist is cold to me now, and cannot wait to get me out of his office these days since my check-ups are always good.  He hates that I refused chemo and radiation, and I can almost see a look in his eyes that says that he wishes me to relapse.

But hey, I am indestructible!

So then, to recap: I had a tumor growing on my pancreas for a couple of months before I realized it.  This first manifested itself as diabetes (the pancreas regulates insulin), but had otherwise not shown itself in any obvious way.  I have had several doctors tell me later that pancreatic cancer is especially sneaky, and that by the time that most people realize that they have it, it is too late.

When I ordered that pizza on that tired and lazy afternoon, the fat from the pizza actually caused my pancreas and liver to inflame, which forced the tumor over onto my common bile duct, which then caused all of the symptoms that led me to the hospital.

So yes, Dominos Pizza saved my life.

11 Comments

Filed under Cancer Musings

11 responses to “Pancreatic Cancer, or How Dominos Pizza Saved My Life

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  5. Good for you for not going the chemo-radiation route…it’s barbaric!

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