Routinely, after I have an appointment with my oncologist, I send out a routine message to family members. It is usually short, sweet and to the point. Something like this:

“Just had a meeting with the oncologist after a CT scan and blood work. Still no pain; no discomfort; no symptoms. Oncologist says keep doing what you’re doing.”

So, for family and friends who read this, they will reach out to either me or Patti and ask: “So, what is he doing? How come he’s still so healthy after more than a year since the stage 4 pancreatic cancer diagnosis?”

"Who are those guys?"

Every time Patti tells me a friend or family member has asked her these questions, it makes me think of one thing: the scene from Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid where Butch and Sundance have blown up the safe in the train and are being chased by the railroad detectives. Butch and Sundance keep running over hill and canyon, prairie and forest, and still the detectives keep coming after them. At one point up on a mesa, Butch looks out and sees the posse still coming after them full force. He looks at Sundance and says, “Who are those guys?”

In my case, I know who “those guys” are — little “bad juju cells” as Johnny Weissmuller would say in his role as Jungle Jim.

Outside of the praise I give to the Almighty for his constant protection, I think there are some basics that I have learned over the past year.

1) Keep your immune system strong. When I was first diagnosed, I started a routine of building up my immune system. This included laser light treatments, detoxification of the immune system, and strengthening the immune system through appropriate holistic nutrients and supplements. I think that helped me tremendously. The Center for Holistic Healing here in Dallas helped.

2) Know what to eat and what to skip.¬†Among the most dramatic things that I did was to change my diet. Well, let’s say I’m TRYING to change my diet. At times, it’s hit and miss. What I mean by changing my diet is that I used to eat quite a bit of red meat. And, as anyone who has worked with me at my various places of employment will attest, I am a 1000% sucker for sugar. Chocolate, really. I used to spend afternoons at the office walking around, grazing for sugar. And, when Patti and I were researching pancreatic cancer, we discovered there were certain foods that PROMOTE growth of the cancerous cells. BAD JUJU. These include red meat and sugar and some processed foods with ingredients you can’t pronounce. I try to stay away from these with various levels of success … and failure.

And, as you may imagine, there are foods you can eat that will retard or slow the growth of these bad juju cells. Those foods include beau coups of veggies, such as broccoli, cabbage, turnips, Brussel sprouts. It’s a good thing that I love all these guys.

The ideal diet for me will have loads of these veggies, and no meat or sugar. We’ve given up soft drinks for tea and water and some coffee. But, I occasionally still have a glass of wine. Don’t drink much beer any more, and I used to have my fair share. I realize that with the wine comes sugar, so I keep that in mind when I DO choose to have a glass.

By the way, please don’t infer I am “preaching” about this. I’m certainly not one to tell others what to do, but since people have asked what I do, this pretty much sums it up. I still have those cravings for a scintillating Fuddrucker’s burger, but I now ask for a vegan version. And, I am trying to dramatically reduce my intake of chicken and fish.

Powerful content

Recently, my sister-in-law, Nina, showed Patti and me a video titled “Forks over Knives.” It was truly amazing and a life changer. The video explains the value of adopting a plant-based diet. Much like other diet and nutrition vehicles, this doesn’t attempt to “sell” you anything but a healthy lifestyle. The businesslike making of points in this video really appealed to me. I don’t like preaching, and this did not come off that way to me at all.

I am not trying to sell anything here at all, but if you want to know more, check out: forksoverknives.com.

3) Exercise some. Yeah, I know this just makes sense. But, for me, it’s easier said than done. I love to sit in front of my computer and write. Things like this fightingdamien blog, or the novel I’m crafting. But that is very sedentary. Do I like treadmills? No, but I know exercise is important. I know there are benefits from hitting the gym, I’m just plain lazy, most of the time. So, do I do well at exercise? No, but I’m trying to do better.

4) Get rid of stress. Ironically, I think this has had a tremendous amount to do with my emotional and physical states. Before cancer, I was a consultant. Lots of travel, loads of pressing deadlines, quick turnarounds, long hours, unruly schedules. At times, that work environment was very rewarding. I like being busy. I like being part of success. I went from work weeks that were routinely 60+ hours with loads of travel, to 0+ hours of work and no travel. It was a very dramatic drop in stress — from bunches to none. Health is my primary concern now, so I do what it takes to stay healthy. Like Martha says, “That’s a good thing.”

I no longer work, except take out the trash, routine chores and mow the lawn. And, occasionally when there is something I know I need to do, but don’t want to do, I pull out the “cancer cough.” ¬†Right in front of Patti, I will show my sad eyes, put my hand near my mouth and cough a very faint, weak, barely audible or even noticeable cough that is designed to elicit her sympathy. It doesn’t work, but it does generate a laugh or two between the two of us and we have heard that laughing causes cancer cells to die. Don’t know if it’s true, but it sounds like it COULD BE true.

I know that getting rid of stress is easier said than done. But there are ways (see number 3 above) to rise above the stress. Making sure you take time for yourself during the day is important. There are loads of stats about the importance of taking time for “you” during your busy day. Sometimes, it’s just a few moments, but having the feeling that you are in control of your day rather than an employer, is a tremendously gratifying and rewarding feeling. Whether it is just going outside for a walk around the block at work or at home, for just a few moments, that helps to ease the stress and help you feel in control.

Contentment: a lab in his pool

Frankly, I think this item has had more impact on my health than just about all of the above combined. A friend told me the other day that he thought I looked very content. I’ve thought about that a lot since then. I am content, very content. I don’t worry like I used to — about everything. Years ago, when I was putting in those long weeks at work, and fitting family around work, I never felt like I knew how the world worked, or how I fit into it. It was a huge foreboding feeling.

Today, I am thankful for this cancer. Yep, I sure am. This past year has helped me become content. I am very content. For the first time in my life, I DO feel like I know how the world works, and I feel like I know how I fit in it. Content feels really, really good! And that, my friends, is worth all the gold in Fort Knox. God bless you all!