I think I might be the medical version of an X-file, which rather thrills me. I was a pretty big fan of the fictional TV series. FBI cases concerning unexplained phenomena, filed away and forgotten, were solved when Mulder appeared on the scene with a passion to uncover the truth. The truth, though, was met with quite a lot of resistance, not in the least by Scully, MD. Similarly, my carcinoma’s disappearance thanks to macrobiotics will not be included in any medical statistics or even written up in my personal medical file as such: it was deemed unexplainable by my breast surgeon. Yet the truth about the way the body can heal itself is out there.
About two years ago I had really bad migraines. My husband had been macrobiotic 20 years earlier and told me to call Denny Waxman. When I called Denny to make an appointment I mentioned my son, who was four at the time, had speech delay and a number of other vague global delay symptoms that were deemed either extremely serious or totally transitory, depending on which professional gave what opinion. My son and I both went to see Denny, and in both our cases we were helped enormously by making just the basic changes: vegetables and whole grains with most meals, no dairy, meat, or sugar. My son improved overnight! Although his speech delay is only now pretty much resolved, the other symptoms disappeared literally with weeks and months. When I (very enthusiastically) told my son’s pediatrician about his improvements and macrobiotics, she stopped writing in his chart. At every subsequent visit, she now asks me whether he drinks the recommended four glasses of milk per day.
My condition improved for a while and then came back with a vengeance: a three-week long headache, followed by a two-week long migraine, and I was tired all the time. Shortly after that, I received a bad mammogram and had a needle biopsy. I had DCIS, or Ductal Carcinoma In Situ, which is a stage 0 cancer, with III grade cell necrosis.
My medical options were a full mastectomy, with a risk of local recurrence (recurrence in the breast only) of approximately 5% after 10 years, a lumpectomy with radiation, with a 12% chance of recurrence, or a lumpectomy without radiation, which has a 30% recurrence rate. These numbers were based on a study in the 1970s on women with invasive cancer, when the standard of care was a mastectomy and the medical community wanted to establish breast conservancy as an equivalent option. Generally the same numbers apply to DCIS. The survival rate after 30 years was the same for all three options. Currently, the recurrence rate is further reduced by half with a tamoxifen, an estrogen blocking medication, if the DCIS has estrogen receptors, which mine had. And when cancer does come back, 50% comes back as DCIS, but 50% comes back as an invasive cancer. Hence, the standard of care for my DCIS was a lumpectomy with radiation followed by tamoxifen, with a recurrence rate of about 6%, more or less equivalent to a mastectomy.
A surgeon at Penn gave me a second opinion. He proposed the same treatment plan, and recommended a HER2 test. Penn has clinical trials testing the drug Traztuzumab or Herceptin, a protein blocker which is thought to decrease the chance of DCIS turning into an invasive cancer. When I told him I wanted to try macrobiotics for six months, he allowed it, as in that period of time, my condition probably wouldn’t worsen. The very next day I received a call that they had looked at the biopsy slides again and found a suspicious looking spot that might be interpreted as an inflammatory cancer and they urged me to at least get surgery right away. I didn’t believe I had invasive cancer. I thought it was a scare tactic to convince me to go the medical route, to be on the “safe” side. At my most cynical, I thought they wanted me on board because I would make a pretty good candidate for their HER2 clinical study, being fairly young and healthy. I went back to Denny.
He explained my condition: too Yang, too much stored animal fat and bad past emotions, over-mothering (although I had a hard time accepting that, I now admit reluctantly it might be somewhat true) wreaking havoc on my gall bladder and liver mostly. And when the body tries to get rid of stored excess, it goes to a place near the surface, in my case, up to my breast tissue, although I suspect it was going down to my reproductive organs as well.
I went whole hog Macrobiotic. I took the Strengthening Health Intensive, which changed my whole being. From that weekend on I cooked gorgeous and delicious food, took walks, rubbed my skin with a damp washcloth (though never as much as I should), tried to meditate, and received amazing Shiatsu massages. I discharged.
About four months later my breast started hurting. Denny and I suspected that the metal marker left at the site of the biopsy was causing this reaction. It had to come out. The breast surgeon was rather relieved that I came in: the surgery to remove the metal marker amounted to a large biopsy or small lumpectomy essentially. By the way, I was incredibly lucky to have a surgeon who thought me rational and committed to my choices. She respected my wishes to take out as little tissue as possible. The tissue she did take out (about five months after the Strengthening Health Intensive) was completely clear of DCIS.
Before the surgery, my surgeon said, “Hey, if it’s gone, we’ll say macrobiotics cured it.” After the results came back she said, “I can’t say macrobiotics cured it. Maybe the needle biopsy removed it all, maybe it went away by itself.” She Scully’ed me and I’m sure the word macrobiotics never made it into my medical file.It’s an unexplained disappearance of cancer.