Cancer patients are often referred to as “warriors” who are “fighting” or “battling” cancer. Many cancer patients find strength and courage in creating an adversarial image that pits them against the evil nemesis of cancer. The desire to paint the gray uncertainties of cancer in the black and white colors of good and evil seems to stem from our very human need to define the things we fear in language that acknowledges our potential ability to conquer those fears.
Painting ourselves as heroes and the cancer therapies we use as weapons for good allows us to more easily visualize ourselves defeating the cancer we have cast in the role of evil villain. Many cancer patients find such battle images empowering and seem to draw strength and courage from such images.
But the good vs. evil scenario isn’t a comfortable fit for everyone. There are many cancer patients who prefer to consider their cancer experience a journey. Rather than a battlefield, they seek the peace of personal discovery that often accompanies the cancer experience. Many patients find peace and comfort in accepting cancer as part of their life experience rather than railing against it. But taking a kinder, gentler approach to the cancer should not be seen as fatalistic. In acceptance, these patients are not giving up but are freeing themselves to discover the small delights of ordinary days and focus on positive healing.
Four British women with cancer called their use of alternative cancer therapies “empowering” in interviews published in The Telegraph. As is true in the U.S. and Canada, more cancer patients in the United Kingdom are seeking alternative cancer treatments either instead of or in conjunction with standard chemotherapy and radiation treatments. The British breast cancer charity The Haven told the Telegraph that “89% of its service users found that non-medical, complementary therapies (including herbal medicine and nutritional, energy, touch and mind-body therapies) were ‘essential’ to their recovery.”
Surprisingly, despite considerable evidence to the contrary, the UK’s National Health Service has so far failed to recognize the importance of diet in boosting the immune system and fighting cancer, prompting an outcry from UK cancer patients. Like the other cancer victims interviewed, Alyssa Burns-Hills, a health specialist, cited diet change as integral to her successful fight against stage one invasive carcinoma. Carefully planned diet change is recommended by the immunotherapy and cancer experts at Issels Medical Center in Santa Barbara, California. Now 50 and cancer-free for 12 years, Alyssa credits her diet for playing a major role in her recovery and continued good health.
Alternative cancer therapies evoke much discussion, and there are all kinds of alternative treatments. But many cancer treatments that were once considered “out there” have proven to be reliably effective, including immunotherapy and diet, and are now embraced by traditional medicine. As the four women interviewed discovered, keeping an open mind about alternative cancer therapy could save your life.
Researchers in Spain have discovered an unexpected similarity between the behaviors of cancer cells and the cells that form human embryos that could some day lead to new cancer treatments to prevent cancer from metastasizing. (Visit this link to read the original article by M. Angela Nieto of the Instituto de Neurociencias Consejo Superior de Investigaciones Cientificas published in Science magazine.)
When human embryos form, embryonic cells must migrate from the initial cellular core to new locations where they form different types of tissues and organs. When they are tasked to become heart cells or skin cells or bone cells, embryonic cells must undergo two complex genetic transformations that require remarkable cell plasticity.
In processes that involve gene splicing and micro-RNA networking, embryonic cells undergo a transformation that allows them to become mobile and move to specific designated locations in the developing body. Scientists call this process epithelial-to-mesenchymal transition, or EMT. Once embryonic cells have arrived at their designated location, they undergo a second transformation that restores their ability to replicate and allows them to assume their newly assigned differentiated form heart cells or skin cells or bone cells, etc. Scientists call this “reverse” process mesenchymal-to-epithelial transition, or MET.
Spanish researchers have observed this same two-step process – EMT followed by MET — when cancer cells metastasize. EMT occurs when cancer cells leave their primary tumor and travel to other parts of the body. When they arrive at new locations, MET occurs, allowing cancer cells to replicate and form secondary tumors. Other research indicates that changes in the tumor microenvironment may initiate these processes in cancer tumors.
When someone receives a cancer diagnosis, their world turns upside down. The need to evaluate and make treatment choices, the devastating effect standard cancer treatments can have on mind and body, the uncertain outcome of treatment and the impact of the cancer experience on the patient’s family can overwhelm all other aspects of the individual’s life. As we noted in our previous post, when friends and family want to help, cancer patients appreciate specific offers of aid that make their lives easier or that make life feel more normal for their families.
While help navigating the responsibilities of everyday life is necessary and always appreciated, what many cancer patients say they need most is emotional support from their friends and family members. Making time to listen to your friend with a sympathetic ear, provide a sounding board as your friend struggles to evaluate options and make cancer treatment decisions, doing little things to boost your friend’s spirits, and serving as a communications conduit to other friends and family members can be of tremendous help to cancer patients.
Cancer can be an isolating experience. The alternative cancer treatment experts at Issels Medical Center in Santa Barbara, California have found that cancer patients who have supportive friends and family members that are willing to share their cancer journey are best able to cope with the stress and fear that follows cancer diagnosis.
When learning that a friend has cancer, most people will offer to help. But as heartfelt as their friend’s offer of aid may be, cancer patients are often reluctant to call and ask for help. A friend’s vague offer of “Let me know if there’s anything I can do to help” may be heartfelt; but it’s a hollow promise if not backed by action.
The best way to help a friend with cancer is to consider the type of help you can realistically provide. This will allow you to make a specific offer of help; such as: ”I can shop for groceries on Tuesday evening” or “I’m free on Fridays to drive you to chemo.” Then follow through by calling a few days beforehand to pick up her grocery list or get her chemo appointment on your calendar. By specifically defining your offer to help, you reassure your friend that accepting your offer will not place an uncomfortable burden on your other responsibilities and allow her to accept your offer without guilt.
If you want to help a friend with cancer, offer to do things that will make life easier for your friend or will make life feel more normal for her family. Consider these additional ways to help:
• Take children to music lessons and soccer practices
• Babysit young children one or two mornings or afternoons a week
• Pick up prescriptions
• Mow the lawn, rake leaves, shovel snow or weed the garden
“We’re trying to give cancer a cold sore,” is how Dr. Timothy Cripe, a pediatric oncologist at Nationwide Children’s Hospital in Columbus, Ohio, explains his team’s research on viral therapy. Viral therapy uses altered forms of common viruses, such as the herpes simplex virus that causes cold sores, to fight cancer. When injected into cancer tumors, viruses trigger the body’s immune system response and serve as bull’s eyes, allowing immune system cells to find and attack the tumors. To date, most viral therapy has focused on adult cancers. Dr. Cripe and his colleagues are among the first to research its potential to fight childhood cancers.
Earlier this year, research findings presented at the annual meeting of the European Society for Medical Oncology in Switzerland showed promising results using modified herpes simplex virus to target liver and colorectal cancer cells. Scientists were successful in creating a genetically modified herpes virus that killed cancer cells without harming healthy tissue. One of the biggest problems with the most prevalent traditional cancer treatments — chemotherapy and radiation – is that they cast too wide a toxic net, killing both healthy and cancerous cells which can cause patients to suffer traumatic side effects.
Herpes simplex virus “doesn’t replicate in normal, healthy cells, so our hope is that it will help fight cancers without causing side effects in the rest of the body” Dr. Axel Mescheder of German biotech company MediGene said in a statement issued at the conference.
Viral therapy has the potential to join other successful, non-toxic cancer treatments such as targeted cell therapies and cancer vaccines in expanding the treatment horizons of immunotherapy.