Folks, the link below is to an article in the NYTimes today about a cancer conference taking place in Chicago that is touting the importance of the immune system in fighting cancer and some breakthroughs that are happening. This appears to give strong credence to the statement that the immune system can play an important role in fighting cancer. This is what I have been doing for the last 32 months.

A LITTLE BACKGROUND: I was diagnosed with stage 4 pancreatic cancer on September 20, 2010 in Chicago. The very next day, at an appointment with a Chicago oncologist, the doctor told me that if I didn’t start his suggested cocktail of chemo drugs that day, I would be dead by Christmas. Well, it’s June 2013, and I am writing this, not some impersonator.

I got a second opinion from MDAnderson, a cancer center of excellence in Houston shortly thereafter. MDAnderson was not as adamant about the speed for starting the chemo as they were certain that neither surgery nor radiation would help me. Chemo would extend my life perhaps a couple of months or so.

Over the course of the next few weeks or so, Patti and I met with five oncologists. We were living in Dallas by then (having left Chicago behind to be closer to family). Every oncologist recommended chemo, but every one differed on what the chemo drugs should be used. Gemzar was somewhat universal.

My brother-in-law, Bill, suggested that I meet with a holistic practitioner to supplement whatever decision I made about pursuing chemo. Bill was fighting melanoma, using Julia, the holistic practitioner, to supplement his periodic visits to MDAnderson to monitor his fight. Julia said to me after a few initial visits: “If you are so committed to going the chemo route, can you at least give me three months to build up your immune system before you start the process of introducing chemo poisons to your system?” As a holistic provider, Julia was certainly no fan of chemo drugs.

Something about what she asked and the following conversations just made sense to me. I put off the chemo and began pursuing the building up of my immune system and following my faith. This involved quite a variety of vitamin and nutritional supplements, changing nutritional habits (swearing off red meat and carbonated beverages), experiencing a variety of light therapies designed to disrupt cancer cell duplication. Sometimes this meant 4-5 trips to visit Julia a week, some visits lasting from 30 minutes to a few hours. And, absolutely none of this was covered by any insurance.

But, Patti and I were fortunate to have enough to pay for these treatments. We are blessed.

THIS ARTICLE TODAY: At the conference in Chicago, various doctors and researchers are saying that it could be the immune system is more important than originally thought in fighting carcinogenic cell reproduction in the body. Of course, the article mentions that a few of the most powerful drug companies are working on clinical trials with a variety of immuno-related drugs that could replace chemo drugs. One researcher even went so far to mention that immune-related therapies could even replace chemo — certainly not without major pharmaceutical help.

When I read this article, I was near tears. When I was going through the immune build-up with Julia, it just seemed obscene that I could not get any of her treatments approved by insurance. Don’t get me wrong, I believe there is a role for the drug companies, but there are roles for a variety of different approaches. I am just ecstatic that these clinical trials, while self-promoting drug company solutions, may soon find a place nestled comfortably among cancer-ridding solutions. Thank you, Lord!

I am also including here some links to some other recent articles about this latest development,

If you read the NYTimes article below, be sure to read the comments about “cancer tails.” God bless you all and your families

Promising New Cancer Drugs Empower the Body’s Own Defense System


The drugs work by unleashing the immune system to attack cancer cells, much as it attacks bacteria or other foreign invaders in the human body

Related articles

Sometimes I feel a bit like Jim Nabors as Gomer Pyle talking to Sgt. Carter, “Well, goooooooolleeeeee, Sgt. Carter …” And then he goes on about some bonehead assumption he made that was truly wrong — funny but wrong.

Putting a flamboyant Santa on the tree

Putting a flamboyant Santa on the tree

A flamboyant Santa

A flamboyant Santa

One year several years ago, during that same period between Thanksgiving and Christmas, Patti and I were in Pottery Barn.  I found a set of ornaments there that had Santas in various points of movement. These Santas are leaping, skating, doing the splits near a fireplace, etc., like I said — various forms of movement.

I thought they looked good, bought them, didn’t give them a second thought and we’ve had them on the tree every year. But, when we are decorating the tree, someone inevitably will say, “Save the flamboyant Santas for dad. He wants to put them on the tree.” Folks, I hear this every year. I don’t happen to think they are “flamboyant” Santas; they’re just festive Santas. Not that there is anything wrong with any of this, of course. They are quirky and not your typical “Santa,” but the entire family has come to love and enjoy the ornaments and they make it on the tree every single year.

So here are a couple of pictures, one of a closeup of a flamboyant Santa and one picture of me attempting to look flamboyant putting one on the tree.

A year ago today, I learned from my Chicago doctor that I had stage 4 pancreatic cancer. As Patti and I were sitting in an examining room, the last question I asked him before we left his office was: ‘Is this fatal?”

He got a blank look,  like maybe I just was not comprehending what he was telling me. Then, he said, “Yes.”

In my BC (before cancer) life, I then did what I would always do. I went back to work. The diagnosis had not settled in. There are times even today when I wonder whether the implications of that conversation a year ago have sunk in today.

Then, I think about it a bit more and realize that, yes, it has sunk in, and, yes, I would like to think that I am a different person today than the one that sat in Dr. MacCreary’s office a year ago today.

On that day a year ago, I went back to work. Today, I no longer work and am retired. I don’t have the work stressors that I had a year ago.

A year ago, Patti and I were adjusting to the “empty nest” on the 48th floor of a downtown Chicago apartment with gorgeous views of Lake Michigan, the Hancock Tower, the Navy Pier and downtown Chicago. It was beautiful. Today, we live in a small ranchhouse on the ground with excellent views of the rear ends of horses.

A year ago, my personal behavior was pretty staid — somewhat introverted guy who would rarely talk to the next passenger on the airplane. Today, I have nothing to hide or to pretend to be. I talk with anyone on a plane. And, when I was recently visiting MDAnderson for a followup cancer visit, I sat in a waiting room for my next appointment. While sitting there, I noticed that a woman across the room from me had an iPad just like mine. I got up, walked over to her and said, “I’ll show you mine, if you show me yours.” Patti was aghast, but I WAS talking about the iPad, thankyouverymuch!

A year ago, I took my family for granted. Family things worked around my work schedule. Today, family has new meaning for me. I just got back from Austin, where Patti and I helped our daughter move into a new apartment. While the stress of moving may not have been so much fun for Casey, it was just great being around her, even if we were working.

A year ago, it took me forever to read a book because I edited and rewrote sections of books from authors. Today, I go through a book for pleasure. Plus, after all these years of editing other people’s’ work, I have decided to write my own. I am well under way into writing a novel that has been moving around inside my brain for the last two decades. It’s finally coming out on paper and I’m loving every complete minute of it.

A year ago, I flossed a lot. Today, not as much as I should.

A year ago, my father-in-law, Andy, and I were diagnosed with cancer on the same day. Andy is 85 and has esophageal cancer, for which he has undergone radiation and chemotherapy. The chemo nearly killed him, but he’s a resilient and tenacious New Englander who looks like Burgess Meredith in “Rocky.” He’s bouncing back and I am so proud of every step he takes. So far, I haven’t had any radiation or chemo. I continue with the homeopathic journey, which, for me, has worked, Lord willing.

A year ago, a doctor in Chicago told me that if I didn’t start taking his chemo immediately, I wouldn’t be with my family past Christmas. Well, we had a great Christmas, thankyouverymuch. Also, I managed to celebrate two of my children’s birthdays, Patti’s birthday, our anniversary and my birthday this year, so far. Now, every day I get to spend with them is a celebration. Every moment is filled with laughter. We know the stakes.

A year ago, neither Patti nor I would make many plans beyond a week or two. Today, I signed up for a year’s membership in a fitness club to pay more attention to my health. Patti and I are doing this together because we both need to take better care of ourselves.

A year ago, it appeared the future had a pretty wide and far-reaching horizon. While I was working, we talked of retiring on a golf course somewhere. We talked of traveling to Venice.  We talked of vacations on the Outer Banks. Today, I believe the future still has a pretty wide and far-reaching horizon. I just believe that today I don’t need the house on the golf course. If we get to Venice, great. If not, Patti and I can see some pretty remarkable sunsets and beauty right out our window here in Texas. As for vacations, every day I get to spend with Patti is an endless summer of vacations. I don’t need a special destination except to know that we are waking up together, facing each day in whatever it brings, smiling all along the way, and realizing that tomorrow just holds more in store of what we celebrated today.

Yep, it’s a “different” anniversary, and I just hope to have many, many more.

After 11 years, I finally have a “real’ dog.

Most of you who know me, know that for the past 11 years, we have had Macy, a cockapoo.  She is a lapdog. Even though she is Macy, I call her DeeDee, which is short for damn dog.  Sometimes I call her Moose, kind of an oxymoron. She has no teeth and is blind in one eye. Occasionally it is funny watching her bump into furniture.

Macy or "DeeDee"

About 11 years ago at Christmastime, when we lived in Ohio, Casey was 13 and told us that she wanted a kitty for Christmas. Patti and I got her the kitty toys, a litter holder, etc. Then, the day after Christmas we went to the Geauga County rescue center to look for a kitty cat. After just a few minutes there, we noticed that Casey was spending more time with the pups/dogs than the kitties/cats.

Timeout. Patti, Casey and I left the center, went to lunch to discuss this observation. “But I really want a dog,” she said, confessing that she wanted a lapdog because for many years we had black labs. Even though our labs would have been lapdogs if they could have gotten away with it, they weren’t. They were happy to run around outside, chasing chipmunks, possums, squirrels, neighbors’ pets. The labs were “real dogs,” in my vernacular. They chased thrown toys/balls, they ran unceasingly and jumped into the lake and swam to their hearts’ content. They fell asleep at my feet or in front of the fireplace. Yep, real dogs. As I write this, I feel like springing into song, “I am a lumberjack and I’m OK…”

She said that she wanted a cuddle dog, a dog that would curl up in her lap and watch TV with her. She wanted a sissy dog. While any dog is better than a cat (sorry, Kim), we were glad that instead of a cat we were looking at another dog. At the time, we had a black lab named Morgan. Casey did her research and built a spreadsheet (wow, was I impressed), showing the different sissy dog breeds and where we could shop for a lapdog. After some back and forth, she landed on a cockapoo, we found a source and the next thing we knew, we were a two-dog family. I had my “real” dog and Casey had her sissy dog. She named her Macy after the store.

Now, an important part of this story is the fact that small dogs live for quite some time. Another important part of this story is the following: Remember how old I said Casey was at the time we landed Macy? 13. So, if I had had any foresight at all, I would have known that sooner or later, Casey would go to college and she would not be able to take DeeDee (the damn dog Macy) with her.

I used to like syllogisms when I was younger, so knowing that sooner or later, Casey would head off to college, one plus one would mean that the damn dog would be staying home with us. And, THAT is what happened.

Over time, whenever I would come home from work, I would bark out, “where’s that damn dog?” Then, this little waif of a dog would come bouncing out of the woodwork, or out from under a bed, twisting her little tail and jump in my lap. Seems that dogs can sense who in the family is “not a fan.” Then, they work their little demonic doggie  charms and the next thing you know, the dog appears to be “mine.”

To this day, when Casey is visiting and Macy jumps in her lap, if I should enter a room and take a seat, the damn dog will immediately leave Casey’s lap and come to mine. Really ticks Casey off quite a bit, and I can understand, but Casey doesn’t feed her these days. It’s just a simple survival of the fittest thing and Macy knows who in the family is the food distributor.

Well, after 11 years of Macy, I have been yearning for a real dog — a dog I can take on walks, a dog I can sit with outside and read (I’ll read, the real dog will just sit there and look majestic, just like Elsa the lioness in the years ago movie “Born Free”).

So, Patti and I have been doing some research. We loved the labs, so we knew they were in the mix. But we knew they shed, and we had also had a labradoodle in the past (Marty) and Marty was the absolute smartest dog we ever had. And, labradoodles don’t shed. So we started researching the labradoodles. Well, upon a visit to the vet for Macy, the groomer there said she had a labradoodle puppy that was a rescue and he  was free to a good home. At the time, she had named him Sarge.

So, we brought Sarge home and introduced him to the ranch house here in Murphy … and to Macy. This is the first male dog we’ve had in quite some time and occasionally I still don’t get the gender right. “Where is she? What’s she chewing on?” He will probably need therapy by the time we’re finished with him. He’ll have to get over it, I don’t pay for freakin’ dog therapy.

New family member Gillis

Oh, and names. Sarge just wasn’t going to cut it at all. Casey wanted to name him Harper, after Harper Lee, the author of “To Kill a Mockingbird.” So for awhile he was Harper. Then, that just didn’t seem to fit, for one reason or another, and I decided to name him Faith. Yeah, I know it’s a female name, but really true faith knows no gender and that was my reasoning for naming HIM Faith even though Faith is a he and not a she. Well, after that didn’t work, Patti and I went through some names again, and we settled on Angus, because I thought the dog looked a bit like an Irish wolfhound instead of a labradoodle. Then,  I found out Angus is Scottish and not Irish, much to my chagrin. I really liked Angus.

We looked at names again and settled on Gillis because it is Gaelic (Irish) for “servant of Jesus.”  Now, his behavior would not lead anyone to believe that he is a servant of Jesus. In just two weeks, he has already killed a rabbit in the yard,  chewed his crate into raw, unfettered plastic, put his mouth completely around Macy several times. Only by the grace of God, has Gillis not killed the damn dog.

He has found all sorts of items in the house to chew into smithereens. At five months old (and weighing 57 pounds), he has the chewing tendencies. In another week or two when the he becomes an it, the vet has assured us some of the stored energy will subside a bit. Let’s hope!

But he is taking housebreaking very well and is starting to warm up a bit to Macy. The rabbits have gotten much faster in the back yard. We haven’t sprung Gillis on the horses in the barn yet — no sense in rushing that pending apocalypse.

And, I have a partner to take on walks. He is starting to better understand heel, and we walk to the nearest hike/bike trail which goes by a small park. I will stop and read on a bench while he regroups, then after a bit of rest, we will walk further or back home. He is becoming a good walking companion — and I can use the exercise.

Much has been written about the therapeutic value of dogs and pets with people. Yeah, I know that a lot of that has to do with patients in the hospital, or the elderly in nursing homes.  Well, cancer-boy here reminds Patti after Gillis has chewed on something she values that I need Gillis for “therapeutic reasons.” Then, I’ll give her that faint, weak fake cough and say that Gillis is good therapy and the real dog has a home for yet another day.

I think Gillis has found a home.