Here are final thoughts in reflecting on some of the why and how a healthy middle aged guy comes down with a sudden and rare stage 4 cancer. In retrospect, I did -mostly- take my own advice. And there is not always a rhyme or reason to life. But there were absolutely gaps that are generally known and backed by quality science. To summarize-
1. Shortchanging sleep.
2. Not enough vegetables and practically zero omega-3 fats in the diet.
These are two dietary issues. Everyone wants to fixate on diet for every ailment when evidence shows that’s not the entire issue. The two points above describe many adults who don’t come down with major autoimmune problems. Hmmm.
The final gap, I believe, has to do with stress. I do not believe myself a high strung person. Ask my wife, or anyone who has worked along side me for the last twenty years. The illusion of control and amount of involvement seems to be a sliding scale depending on temperament and values. History has shown that I tend to generally know when to step in and when to be quiet, when to be concerned and when to say “not my monkeys, not my circus.”
I enjoy making the most of my time, nothing wasted. And I enjoy a lot of things. And there was a lot going on. Five kids that ARE my monkeys, self employment, and managing a home. I looked forward to two to three weight training sessions per week. I would regularly stay up reading, some praying, some plain goofing off, decompressing. Weekends were spent attempting to stay organized, enjoying a lot of soccer games, usually a little work, church, sporadically mountain biking, and if there was spare time, making time to just hang with friends.
In retrospect, it was just far too many “ands.” Too much mental processing, even on good things. Too much physical stress. For this season of life, cutting a few things would have been fruitful. But what? Just because you enjoy the work and play does not mean that it’s stress free on the system.
This issues of systemic stress is another trip down the many routes to inflammation. Dr. Rediger, quoted above, and so many others in this field point to chronic inflammation as the common culprit behind so many chronic diseases, especially those having to do with the autoimmune system.
Dietary insufficiencies lead to systemic internal inflammation. Being in constant “go” mode without enough “rest and relax” mode, inadequate sleep, and too much stress from any source is all additive. Through many avenues (not only diet) this leads to a hormonal balance that promotes chronic inflammation.
Dr. Rediger writes extensively about the importance of managing weight/body composition, bitterness/unforgiveness, having deep connections with a community, and the true health benefit of holding brotherly affection for others. His chapter on the latest evidence pointing to “survival of the kindest, as opposed to “survival of the fittest,” was one of the most eye opening things that I have read in a while. I honestly do not think these were gaps in my life. My childhood was like a dream, no trauma and minimal drama. I have no bitterness to revisit.
Oh, but the inflammation. I swear that at times, I could feel it.
My very first blood test prior to being diagnosed showed a (blood level) C-reactive protein of 90-something. The normal range is less than10. Elevated CRP is a non-specific finding especially associated with liver function, but can come from a number of issues. However, that degree of inflammation was literally off the charts, especially in someone without suspected metabolic disease, or literally in the process of having a heart attack.
By the time of that blood test, I did have a rather huge metastases involved directly in and around my liver. I had history of very limited Tylenol or alcohol use, nothing that primarily causes extra stress to the liver.
The liver and gall bladder still went haywire. Was this a cause or a reaction to the massive amount of inflammation? At this point, it doesn’t matter. But I do know that changes will need to be made when and if I get a chance to get back to “normal.” There will be zero intake of drink or medicine that stress the liver. No big deal.
There will be a general cutting back of mental and physical workload. I read (and believe) that for some, managing this type of disease to the greatest extent possible truly hangs on cutting back, even on “good” stress. In my current state of mind, the previous schedule seems exhausting. But I know that if and when the time comes for returning to “normal,” this cutting will be a challenge.
At the moment, stressors for me include watching the news for too long, lots of noise and jostling immediately around me, and sometimes the school day. It helps me to have quiet recovery mixed with every occasion of noise in the home and socializing with others (even from a distance). Focusing on tasks and challenges of the day is helpful, and thinking in terms of prognosis and percentages and Google is not good for me. Reviewing things with my medical team is helpful. Reading my own imaging reports is brutal. This diagnosis in itself is pretty brutal. For now at least, it’s better that I stick with the outlook and expectations that I have established.
I’m not putting this on display for entertainment. I hate being the guy known for having cancer. I hope this retrospection will help you to take a brutally honest inventory as only you can do. What gaps, if any, do you have in “natural” temperament and lifestyle? Is there bitterness? Do you mis prioritize the time it would take to create some quiet space to reflect on the unconditional love of God? Or get in some structured exercise, or just play with the kids? Perhaps you are one who holds on to your diet, your regimen, your work life, or even your own family far too tightly?
Please understand that I do not intend to be a bit preachy or judgmental. I believe there is definitely a time for judgement, but that’s not my job, especially not here. But this holistic picture is where the evidence lies. Our lives, at least in part, depend on exploring these gaps. I absolutely understand that it is not easy to make adjustments.
We are all dealt a different hand, and I do not believe things like cancer and lymes and car accidents are -given- from God. But God is with us. And hindsight is not always 20/20.