9 Perceptions That Will Keep Your Immune System Strong

28 05 2010

Warning: This blog entry has been rated TMI — as in “too much personals information”. You’ve been warned.

I found these 9 perceptions, asked as questions, in the last chapter of “Faith, Hope & Healing” by Bernie Siegel, MD.  It is based on the work of Dr. George Solomon with regards to AIDS and long term survival.   Obviously, the one thing that connects HIV with with cancer is immuno-suppression.  I found these questions of special interest because I seemed to score so poorly on them.

1.  Do I have a sense of meaning in work, daily activities, family, and relationships?

The correct answer is: “Yes”.  My honest answer would be: “No”.  I have seriously struggled to find meaning in my work and daily activities.

2. Am I able to express anger appropriately in defense of myself?

The correct answer is: “Yes” — and I have no problems with expressing my anger appropriately in defense of myself.

3. Am I able to ask friends and family for support when I’m feeling lonely or troubled?

The correct answer is: “Yes”.  However, I’m going to have to be honest here — I have only three people I can count on for direct support.  Basically, if I’m feeling lonely or troubled it is because my support network is a skeleton crew and has been like that ever since I moved from SF, more than 5 years ago.

4. Am I able to ask friends or family for favors when I need them?

The correct answer is: “Yes”.  I have no problems with asking friends or family for favors.

5. Am I able to say ‘no’ to someone who asks for a favor if I can’t or don’t feel like doing it?

The correct answer is: “Yes”.  However, to be honest, I’d have to say it depends on the situation which isn’t very healthy.

6. Do I engage in health related behaviors based of my own self-defined needs instead of someone’s else prescriptions or idea?

The correct answer is: “Yes” — and I’d say “yes”.  I’m actively involved in yoga, weight training, kettle-bell training, etc.  I’d also say my vegan cooking is a great “health related behavior”.

7. Do I have enough play in my life?

The correct answer is: “Yes”.  However, my answer would be “no”.

8. Do I find myself depressed for long periods during which time I feel hopeless about ever changing the conditions the caused me to be depressed?

The correct answer is: “No”.  Honestly, I’d have to say I was border line on this one.

9. Am I dutifully fulfilling a prescribed role in my life to the determent of my own needs?

The correct answer is: “No” – but looking back I’d have to say “yes”.

Supposedly, my responses to these questions would be considered cause for concern in the realm of psychoneuroimmuniology.  What do you think?  How would you score yourself?


Exercising My Power of Psychoneuroimmuniology

24 05 2010

If you’ve been following this blog, you’ll know that I was scheduled for brain surgery on 5/21.  However, the neurosurgeon called in sick just as I was being prepped for surgery at 6am.  At the time of this blog entry, I don’t know when it will be rescheduled as his assistant was also on vacation for the day.

(5/26 update: surgery rescheduled for 6/2)

I started to have panic attacks after not sleeping deeply due to the steroids.  My doctor prescribed sleeping pills which I resisted taking, opting instead to lower my night time dose of the steroid.  However, I’m taking the sleeping pills now — and an additional anti-anxiety pill in the afternoon just to get me though to surgery.

Until I actually go into surgery, I’m exploring how to exercise my power of psychoneuroimmuniology.  It’s simple, right?  Fear vs love.  Perceptions of fear lowers our immune response and perceptions of love enhances our immune response.  It’s our body’s perceptions, correct or not, that regulates our immune system.  However, these perceptions of love and fear are mostly part of our habitual mind (aka subconscious).  The habitual mind is just running a recording, like learning to drive.  Once you know how to drive a stick shift, you don’t have to think about it again and can focus your conscious mind on something else while you drive.  To make things even more difficult, the conscious mind and habitual mind work very well independently so as not to drive you crazy.

So then how do I tap into my habitual mind to promote deep feelings of love?  Where do I start?  Considering I spent the last year doing daily positive affirmation work, you’d  think there wouldn’t be anything left — but I have to approach this from a “beginner’s mind”.   I decided to “go within” and meditate on it.

Time dilated.  I must have need to just relax and mediate — without being on any anxiety drugs.  I was going deep.  “You’re not what you do.  You’re not what you own.”  Then a flash off light.  My mom took my picture while I meditated.  How annoying!  I went back to the guest bedroom to escape my singular paparazzi.  All I could do was laugh.  I went back to finish my meditation and remembered how a co-worker teased me about going to lunch at Fat Burger and reveling in the greasy meatiness.  Both him and I had a great laugh — but my next thought was how long it’s been since I’d laughed like that,  not for several weeks at least.  Since then, not for several weeks until today.  I think I had my answer: “Enjoy all the humor around you“.

Bad News

9 05 2010

I was shocked to see the MRI pictures.  The large empty tumor bed from the original surgery had filled up with fluid and was compressing the left side of my brain in all directions: front, back, and even compressing the very base of my brain.  If I had never seen this MRI, I wouldn’t have known anything was wrong.  I guess I was just lucky to not have any major symptoms yet: seizures, numbness on my left side, etc.   My oncologist put me immediately on steroids to reduce the swelling and I was very happy to take them — although they would lower my immune system which was sort of the opposite thing you want to do when you have cancer.

The following Tuesday, I reviewed the MRI scans with a neurosurgeon and neuro-oncologist.   We agreed on doing an “open incision” biopsy on May 21st to see what was going on with the other side of the tumor bed — it looked massive and angry in the MRI scan dwarfing the original tiny cancer on the opposite side that we had all been focused on for the last two years.  The surgeon explained to me that the best case scenario would be a diagnosis of “radiation necrosis”.  The worse case would be for the biopsy result to be “glioblastoma” — then they would need to go in again and take out about 95% of the tumor.  The difficulty here is that what seems to be angry-looking is very close to my motor-cortex, the part of my brain that controls the my right side of my body.  The surgeon explained that I could be paralyzed on my right side, but I could opt to be awake for the surgery if I wanted to be just to make sure that my motor functions would stay in tack.  “Whatever it takes”, I thought to myself.

Towards the end of my meeting with these doctors, my neuro-oncologist asked if I had read “Anticancer: A New Way of Living”.  I told him I had (didn’t mention this blog) but that I had read an even better book: “The China Study”.  I explained how it became clear that, in a lab mice, you could turn cancer on and off by adjusting the amount of animal protein in their diet.  I noticed the neuro-oncologist shaking his head in agreement (perhaps just to humor me) but the neurosurgeon turn to me and asked: “are you macrobiotic, vegan?”  I looked at him and nodded.  His reply was a comment on how difficult the vegan diet was to keep and that he was a “localvore” himself attempting to grow his own garden.  Needless to say, I wasn’t expecting the topic of plant-based nutrition to come up but the book “Anticancer” seems to have legitimated the conversation on the relationship between food and cancer — even if the “Anticancer” book, which recommends some meat and dairy, did get it wrong.

They signed me up for a special “mapping” MRI of my motor-cortex and a simple MRI for the brain-lab.


Later, I met one-on-one with the neurosurgeon to review the results of the mapping MRI.  It turns out the risk of paralysis would be low.  The mapping MRI showed my motor-cortex was a safe distance away from the area they were worried about.  However, he wanted a lab tech to wire up the right side of my body during surgery so as not to harm the bundle of fibers that ran from the motor-cortex to the rest of my body.  Nicking these fibers could cause paralysis for about six weeks.  Overall, I feel like I’ve dodged a bullet.

Looking at the brain-lab MRI, I noticed that the tumor bed was mostly empty, with a combination of protein fluid and blood filling only half way.  So the swelling had gone down, but there was still an angry half-inch margin glowing in the MRI.  Along with a relatively new large area which seems to be the source of the problem.

The neurosurgeon and I had come to an agreement I that could feel good about: he would continue to go in and pull out biopsies and have someone there on-hand to type them.  If they came back, “radiation necrosis” then he’d stop.  If not, then he’d get as much as he could.  That would be the plan.


So there I was Friday, May 21th at 6am with my mom, step-father, and my brother being prepped for surgery.  I had to shave my beard off the night before, and get re-aquatinted with the bare face that I haven’t seen since the first incision.  The nurse couldn’t find a vein to tap so she put a warm towel on my arm and left the room.  When she returned, she told me that the doctor was not feeling well and canceled the surgery.

In disbelief, we all went out to breakfast since it was early and I could not have anything after mid-night.

Later, the realization would sink in.  We were going to have to start over: another set of MRIs for the brain lab.  Then there’s the issue of what to do between doctor’s appointments?  Since I’m already doing everything I can with regards to following a strict vegan diet, I’ve decided to focus more on the psychoneuroimmuniology aspects of cancer.  I firmly believe I can shrink, calm down, heal, reverse the angry brain cells.  Where the emphasis used to be green-smoothies, I need to figure out my deeper calling, tap into a deeper meaning, and grab a hold of a deeper passion for life.