Monday, February 11, 2013

The Indiana University Center in Kokomo, 1958-1960

Seiberling Mansion, c1890
Don and I enrolled at the Indiana University Center in the fall of 1958. The Center, located in the old Seiberling mansion on west Sycamore Street was a striking Victorian edifice, built in 1890 with an interior of magnificant wood paneled walls, fireplaces in every room, and a large carriage house in back. It is now owned by the Howard County Historical Society, and has been placed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Some of the guys on campus, Dick Conwell, 2nd from left, 1960
The Center became our hangout and social outlet for the next two years. Student volunteers converted the cavernous basement into a club house. Many joined in cleaning the three connected rooms, painting walls, one with a mural, and filling the place with an eclectic collection of furniture. Thereafter we had our own place to go between classes, of which most were scheduled on weekdays during the evening. It was a popular place where students could be found in a penny-ante poker game, or lounging on couches, talking, reading and studying. We even had a couple parties down there on Saturday nights. The IU Center was a friendly, informal place to start and restart our college careers.
Ed Raab, Don and Sarah Raab on Campus
Don signed up for business courses, and eventually received undergraduate and master degrees in that major. I was starting out and took basic core subjects, but gravitated almost immediately toward math and science. Most of the students at the Center seemed to be business majors, but I was the exception. That was because I had no idea what I wanted to major in or be when I grew up. The only thing certain was my complete disinterest in business. I signed up for composition, literature, algebra, chemistry, and German, but wisely dropped the German after the first semester - no talent for languages.

Campus When John Kennedy Stopped by, 1960

Seiberling Mansion today
Don liked business classes, and became involved and happy for the first time in several years. He started dating a girl named Susan, and it was about then that he got a job driving a late-night delivery truck for the Cuneo Press. I don’t remember much about the job other than it was a graveyard shift, and he backed into a gas pump at a filling station one night. I don’t recall the incident as causing a fire or anything dramatic - mainly a bit embarrassing for him.
John Kennedy on Campus, 1960
We worked through the summers and signed up for college classes each fall. The most memorable event at the IU Center for me was when John Kennedy came to town in the spring of 1960. We heard that his motorcade would pass by the Center on its way to a rally, and the student body went all-out to decorate the campus with banners and posters in the hope that he would stop. It worked. I had an 8mm movie camera and captured the event for posterity.

Ed Raab meets John Kennedy, 1960
Dad steered us toward a union job early in the summer 1959. It was on a highway construction site on US 35, heading east toward Greentown. A short section just out of Kokomo had been duel-laned, and we got the job of laying sod in the medium. It was hot and sweaty toil. Eight or ten of us young men were dropped off along a section each morning where the cut sod had been delivered. The strips, rolled and stacked, measured two by four feet each and weighed fifty or sixty pounds. We’d unroll a strip, grab two fistfuls of grassy blades, lug the sod to the desired area, drop it in place and fall to our knees to maneuver it into position - one after another for ten hours a day. Several workers were let go because they couldn’t keep up the pace. That particular job was completed in two weeks and we had to go back to the union hall and sign for another job. Luckily we became self-employed before another position came available.
Jim Caine meet John Kennedy, 1960
We became house painters. Don and I had mastered a working knowledge of painting from our experience at “Buckingham Palace“, and added expertise by painting our house on Sycamore Street after negotiating with Dad to trade the paint-job for a fishing trip to Minnesota. .We enlisted our friend, Lamar Hammer, to help. It took us most of the summer to turn our respectable white house into a shockingly yellow warning sign. Dad had supplied the paint, one called “Canary Yellow”, but we soon referred to it as “city yellow”, as it closely resembled the tone used on barriers seen at construction sites, stop signs and highway warning signs. That moniker persisted all the years the house bore that particular coat of paint.
Ed Raab, 1960
I don’t recall exactly how we got into the business, but our first job was to paint the house of the parents of a college friend. I had graduated high school with Ed Raab, but did not get to know him until we met at the IU Center. Don and I became good friends with Ed’s family - his parents, and three sisters and younger brother. His father, Mr. Clarence Raab, offered Don and me one hundred dollars to paint the family home, a modest house on east Mulberry Street. We were experienced and knew preparation was the most important part of the job so we spent considerable time chipping loose paint and cleaning the boards. We finished the job in four days. Mr. Raab was pleased with our work and got us several more jobs during the summer. Also, it didn’t hurt that we worked real cheap.

The next house was a huge two and a half story behemoth that occupied most of the lot it sat on. Our extension ladder barely reached the eaves as we clutched the slow oscillator with one hand while working with the other. The old sailor adage of “one hand for the ship and one hand for yourself” still comes to mind when I think of that high altitude sway job. We spent more than two long weeks completing that job. Our price was probably a third of what a professional quoted, and the woman gratefully gave us a check for more than we had quoted.
An old guy, well into his seventies, requested a bid on the eaves and windows only, not the siding. Don quoted thirty-five dollars. It was a cheap trick, and the old fellow knew it. He told us later that everybody who had quoted the job misjudged the amount of work. He had the sides painted one year and the windows and eaves the next. The place was only one story but had several windows on each side. The eaves were long, projecting over the side of the house three or four feet. Each window had many panes, maybe a dozen or more. I don’t remember needing to caulk many, but it was time consuming to paint them, as it required great care to avoid getting paint on the glass. The old guy bragged that he had had the house built in the 1920’s and had paid the workers a ridiculously low wage - like eight or ten cents an hour. Don and I laughed about the irony, figuring that we were earning about the same rate as those who built it in 1920.

We did quality work and did it at a reasonable price, so we were in constant demand - one job led to the next. Some came to us through friends and others through people affiliated with the Moose Lodge. Advertising was never needed as we were able to get jobs by word-of-mouth. We worked two or three summers at that endeavor, between 1959 and 1961, earning money toward the coming college year.

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

The Piano Players

Don and I were introduced to the piano in 1949. That must be the year because I remember the old upright we started on, and the vague memories of practicing on it. That was when we lived on Lafountain Street. We moved to East Sycamore Street in 1950 and that is the place at which most of my piano memories reside.
Don's son Lee  looking like a natural on the old Spinet, 1967
One of the first additions to our east side home was a new Spinet piano, a dark one with a shiny walnut finish. It sounded much better than the old clunker we had been pounding on, but along with the new piano came the edict that we were to increase our practice time from half an hour to a full hour each day - seven days a week. That is no small assignment for a ten year old, especially one that is not especially inspired by the opportunity to play a piano. That was me. I was a clock-watcher with eyes locked on the moving hand until the last minute slowly and finally clicked by, playing not a second longer than required, even stopping in the middle of a song - gone.

I like music and have always taken pride that I could read it and play the piano, but it has been a regret that the act of playing did not mesmerize me - like some who play past the clock, captivated by the rhythm of their moving hands as they unlock harmonic sounds of beauty. They are the ones bestowed with a special gift not granted to me.

Don and I walked downtown once a week. Our destination for five years was a building across from the Isis Theater on Main Street, a half block south of Sycamore. We climbed the stairs to the second floor studio of Sunshine Fitch, our teacher. Don carried three dollars in his pocket for two half-hour lessons. I don’t remember the cost for certain, but that sum is close. I don’t recall which of us took our lesson first, or if we alternated week by week, but the one waiting would sit quietly in the room while the other played the week’s assignment and received instruction for the following. Sometimes the one waiting would hang out in the narrow hall, but the starkly bare walls and dim lights offered a less stimulating environment than the studio so we didn’t linger there very long.

Miss Fitch was a spinster in her fifties. I wondered what happened to her and did an online check of the local newspaper, The Kokomo Tribune. There was an obituary listing for one Gladys Sunshine Fitch - born in 1897, died in 1986. That had to be her. I also found several announcements advertising piano recitals by the students of “Gladys Sunshine Fitch”, one in 1945. Don and I were in at least three of her recitals. Official recital photos showed the class and Miss Fitch grouped around a piano. She was nice a lady, slim, of medium height, and with glasses covering a kind face and sad eyes. I never knew anything more about her or saw her anywhere other than at her yearly recitals.

Sunshine Fitch's Recital, c1950 - Joe and Don, 1st row far right
I learned about fear and stage-fright from those recitals. I suffered through them with my stomach in knots, my pulse racing, and my hands trembling uncontrollably. It was a wonder I could play. I remember three pieces I played. “Little Black Sambo” was the tune I performed at my concert debut. I had it memorized and played through it as fast as I my fingers would traverse the keys – to heck with tempo or timing, just get it over. It was an innocuous tune and I no longer remember the melody. I performed “Under the Double Eagle” during a later recital. That title popped into my mind only after I started writing this piece. I looked it up on YouTube as I was curious as to what it sounded like, and found it to be a popular song I’ve heard many times. Unfortunately, the versions I heard on YouTube had nothing in common with the song I remember playing sixty years ago. Don and I teamed up to play a duet of “The Merry Widow Waltz” for one of our last recitals. That seemed to go well.
Sunshine Fitch's Recital, c1952 - Joe 2nd row left, Don back row center
We stopped taking lessons in 1954 and seldom sat down at the piano after that. I attended Hoosier Boys State three years later, between my junior and senior years. It was at Indiana University in Bloomington, and housed in the men’s quad, a big sprawling edifice. I walked by a lounge on several occasions and noticed a skinny black kid playing the piano. I stopped one evening when there was a small group of boys standing around the piano listening to him. He was pretty good. I mentioned that I had taken lessons and he got up and wanted me to play something. I should have kept my mouth shut. I wasn’t fishing for an invite, but that was what it must have sounded like. The next thing I knew I was sitting at the piano, but after an awkward minute of fumbling, admitted I no longer knew any songs . He said he never took lessons, had learned it by ear, and would have given anything to have had the chance. That one hour of practice had always been a chore to me, but a piano at home, and a chance for instruction, would have been a priceless gift to him.

Mary bought a piano shortly after we were married and took lessons for a while. She’s added a couple of guitars, and bought a concertina for me at Christmas in 1984 when she worked at Down Home Guitar. I liked the idea of a small portable instrument, and was a bit more successful with it. I sat up my studio in a downstairs room and taught myself to play. I was fairly consistent for several months then something intervened and I sat it aside, not getting back to it for several years. I’ve picked it up more than once since then, and even built a repertoire of a couple dozen of my favorite songs, but four or five years have how passed without it being taken from the case. We have four musical instruments in the house but our pursuit of them is, at best, lackadaisical. It seems we like music, and like the idea of playing music, but just don’t get around to it with much consistency.

Don did a little better, but I understand it to be only by a small degree. Our shiny piano of years ago eventually became scratched and worn, and some ivory went missing from the keys. It sat idle at the old Sycamore home until Don moved it to the Wisconsin farm he and Ellie bought in the mid-seventies. It stayed behind when they sold the farm a decade afterward. I ran across a good deal on a nice keyboard at a garage sale and sent it to him for Christmas some years afterward. Ellie and the kids bought a stand for it, but it mainly lingered by the wayside - like an abandoned orphan.

Monday, January 14, 2013

The Life of Donald Lee Buckingham (1938-2002)

Our Early Years, 1940 -1950

 For ten years I considered my brother Don to be the toughest kid on the block, the one others looked up to, the one nobody messed with. He was my hero, my protector. Of course that was the opinion of a child nearly void of life’s experiences, and whose physical realm was limited to one city block in a small Indiana town. I eventually began to see Don as one who possessed both strengths and frailties, and as that knowledge accumulated I readjusted my judgments of his position among us fellow mortals.
My image of his stature was not transformed by one single event, but by small incidents that tended to confuse me. I thought of him as being all knowing and capable. Then a dog appeared in the neighborhood one day. It was a cute little puppy, no more than few weeks old, with a fish hook embedded in its tongue. The other kids all cleared a path as Don came onto the scene. Someone said “He’ll fix it”. He knelt down, opened the dog’s mouth, and tugged lightly at the short piece of line attached to the hook. He looked again, tugged again, and then announced he could not get it out. I had witnessed my brother’s first failure. That happened in 1946 when he was eight years old. I was six when I experienced my first disillusionment.
I thought of him as being invincible, but that illusion was also shattered. One day we were walking on the backside of our block, on the street running parallel to Lafontain, our home street. A boy crossed from the neighboring block and tried to start a fight by standing on the walk blocking our way. I’d never seen him before and I don’t think Don knew him. Don edged to the side attempting to step around the boy, but the fellow crowded him, hooking his leg around Don’s, trying to trip him. He persisted but Don wouldn’t fight. The thought flitted through my mind that maybe Don was scared of him. The bully finally left after some taunting and verbal abuse. I noticed he was bigger and probably a year older than Don. When you’re nine or ten a year can make a heap of difference. I  understood why he wouldn‘t fight, but it still hurt.

Don had a potential for being an athlete with few peers. There was a lot of natural athletic ability in him, but he didn’t seem to have a lot of interest in sports. When he was in the seventh or eighth grade he tried out for the Central Junior High football team. I fully expected him to be playing first string, but he was relegated to the sidelines in every game. Most players had real football jerseys, but Don wore an old sweater stretched over his shoulder pads. I can yet visualize him kneeling there, fidgeting and eager to get in the game, but hardly every called. I still think the coach played favorites. I knew Don’s abilities, had seen him in action on dirt lots before and after. He was a good athlete, could have played varsity, could have been a champ, but he didn’t get a chance, and never went out for sports again.

The First Separation, 1956-1958
I am mainly an optimist about life’s adventures, but I remember the first time I had a bit of unease about the future. That was when Don went off to college. The two of us had been as close as brothers can be through the early years. I don’t honestly remember the anxiety I must have felt, too many years have passed, but do remember what it had been like. Those first sixteen years could be described as like those of Siamese twins, joined at the hip. We did everything together, from piano lessons, to sporting events, to family chores.

There were really three of us, inseparable for years. Lamar Hammer became like a brother, the third musketeer, after he and Don met in the sixth grade at Central. During those years we walked many miles together, miles in passage between our homes, miles to school and city events, and more miles exploring the countryside along Wildcat Creek east of town. Our separation came after they graduated from high school in 1956. Lamar signed for a hitch in the Air Force and left within a month. Don enrolled at Purdue University in Lafayette, Indiana and went missing in the fall. My life took a drastic turn.

I’m not certain which of us was most affected by the separation. I was on my own for the first time and forced onto a path that was probably better for me. It gave me a taste of independence I’d never known, and set me on a path leading to greater self-confidence. I returned to familiar Kokomo High School as a junior that fall, but I had to do things on my own, make new friends, and find my own way.

I tried out for the football team but discovered that one-hundred and forty pounds doesn’t carry much weight in the sport. I started going to the Teen Canteen after school and on weekend nights. The place occupied a large space on the second floor of a building on the town square and had a free jukebox, a dance floor, ping pong and pool tables. I found my niche high-jumping on the track team that spring, and surprised myself in discovering I was a better-than-average cross-country runner in my senior year.

Don went off to Purdue, but seemed to develop a disliked for it almost immediately. Maybe he was too alone and in a place that was too far from home? Lafayette lies fifty miles west of Kokomo. Purdue University has two main schools, Agriculture and Engineering. Don enrolled as an engineering student. In 1956 engineering was a popular career choice. It seemed to be a national goal to produce more engineers, and that is what Dad wanted for Don. I’m not certain if Don wanted that. He and I didn’t talk much about such things, but he had been tracked in that direction for some time. It was always understood that both of us were going to college; he, being the oldest, was going to be an engineer. Nothing was ever hinted as to what my profession was to be, and no one asked Don what he wanted.

I think he was conflicted. Dad was not an overbearing person. He simply assumed Don would automatically want the same thing as he. Don was the oldest, the smartest, and the one with the most promise, so Dad put all of his aspirations on him, and the results were a life-long disappointment for both. I knew of Don’s unhappiness early on. He told me one night as we lay in bed that he didn’t want to go back, but he couldn’t tell Dad that because he would be letting him down.

Somewhere in the middle of the second year the school sent him home. Mom told me years later that he had been caught breaking into a teacher’s office. It was his second attempt and the campus police were waiting for him. He had been trying to find test copies. The school suspended him for the remaining of the year. I have always wondered if he might have done it so he could come home.  Don’s life started out with so much promise, but over the years it seemed to crumble, and I think it may have started there at Purdue with an unhappy situation and a bad decision. Don came home and we fell back into our routine as if he had never left. It may seem strange to many, but we never spoke of the incident, not then, not ever.

Don planned a bus trip to Mexico in June of 1958, right after I graduated from high school, and asked if I’d like to join him. It surprises me yet that I declined, but I had become more independent, developing my own interests and friendships, during the two years he was away. The relationship we had shared during those early years was forever changed, and the two of us became more like equals after that.

He headed south on a bus traveling all the way to Mexico City and Acapulco by himself. He was gone several weeks, and eventually hooked up and traveled with a guy he met on the bus. I no longer remember the fellow’s name, but the two exchanged letters for several years afterward. Don seemed to have had a good time, and told enough about the trip that, in retrospect, I wish I’d have gone with him. But I was traveling in my own universe, and not interested at the time. Instead, I spent my summer working at a small manufacturing shop owned by a family friend and hanging out at the local swimming pool nearly every evening.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Cancer on My Mind

Part 7 – Battle Scars and The Devil’s Node – January 9, 2013

More than seven months have passed since I was diagnosed with esophageal/gastric cancer. I feel somewhat like the man who steps off a ten story building, free-falls several flights, hasn’t reached bottom, but thinks the view is great and all’s well… so far.

I continue to feel fine, have plenty of energy and maintain a stable weight. I’ve been a vegan four and a half months, lost ten pounds in the first six weeks, but have stayed a consistent 185 since. I eat all I want, and that’s a bonus of being vegan – no calorie counting. I prepare about one meal a day, spending time cutting vegetables or choosing spices, and often freeze a quart from some of the pots: beans, vegetable soup, etc. Snacking is my favorite mode of eating though – a cup of beans, a celery stalk, carrots, then a handful of nuts followed by a small bowl of dried fruit. I graze all day and through the night.

After completing chemo and radiation therapies, and rejecting surgery, I had the dilemma of deciding my next move. I’ve reached my limit for radiation, at least of the stomach, and I consider chemo as a poison that will eventually wear me down as it slowly destroys my blood and immune systems. Cancer cannot be cured, not by the present array of medical treatments. Doctors shoot cancer with radiation, poison it with Chemicals, or cut it out surgically, but that doesn’t cure it – It too often pops up in new places. And while the doctors are shooting at my cancer, they are hitting me. I therefore decided to try an alternate path in the treatment of my cancer.

Primarily I switched from an animal based food diet to a plant based diet – I became a vegan. I also continued to take a daily regimen of multi-vitamins and minerals, along with additional doses of vitamins C and E because they are both powerful anti-oxidants. I chose four specific supplements to help fight the cancer: Turmeric, glutamine, IP6 (inositol hexophosphate), and beta-Glucan. Modern medical science has shown an ever increasing interest in the four, and numerous research studies can be found on the Internet.

I was due for another CT scan in December. The question entered my mind as to why I should even bother with more tests. The surgeon would want another scan, but I wasn’t going to be cut, and I would be hard pressed to submit to any more traditional treatments – no matter what the tests showed. But I was curious about what might be found and how it could help me make informed decisions.

My oncologist, Dr. Verneeda Spencer, scheduled a CT scan for December 5th and a meeting on the fourteenth to discuss the results. The good news: the tumor was gone, replaced by a patch of scar tissue. The bad news: a couple of nodes have enlarged. Dr. Spencer read parts of the report. My first impression was that it was rather vague – nothing definitive other than the tumor was gone.

The more troublesome finding: One of the lymph nodes in the left Supraclavicular fossa, close to the base of my neck was enlarged. She examined the area but could sense nothings more than “maybe” a bit of swelling. She offered three options: 1. Do nothing for the time being and have another scan in two months; 2. Biopsy the lymph node in the Supraclavicular fossa, and if malignant; 3. shoot the “Bomb”, Herceptin. She said the radiologist was conservative in his approach and if he didn’t think the biopsy could be done then option number one (wait) would be our default. I told her that I had to think about it. Later that evening she left the message that the biopsy could be done, and wondered how I wanted to proceed. I didn’t want to be hurried. I returned her call after the weekend and told her I had decided to wait three months, have another CT scan and then decide.

I received a copy of the report a few days later and perused it (with the aid of a dictionary) to decide my next move. The Supraclavicular fossa is that triangular depression at the base of the neck, behind the clavicle. Its lymph node is called Virchow’s Node. Virchow's Node takes its supply from the abdominal lymph nodes, and is also described as "the seat of the devil". One that is enlarged and palpably hard (a condition referred to as Troisier's sign) is regarded as a signal of gastric cancer
. Mine was enlarged but not hardened, and finding the enlarged node was no surprise. I already knew I had a gastric tumor; radiation had obliterated it. The doctor was not able to feel any sign of a palpably hard object, and I run my fingers over it several times a day and cannot feel anything either. So what does all that mean? Has the cancer metastasized? I’ve read of other causes for swollen lymph nodes – a cold, the flu, infection. It’s not an uncommon phenomenon, but then again, I do have cancer.
GO TO: 123456, 7,

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Cancer on My Mind - November 1, 2012

Part 6 – Fighting Cancer with a Plant Based Diet, November 1, 2012

I’ve been a vegan for more than seventy days now, and the part of the transformation most surprising to me is that I’ve made the change with few misgivings – it might be somewhat due to the fact that I like beans, any type of beans, cook a big pot nearly every week, and can eat them every day – my substitute for meat. I’ve discovered that beans are some of the most nutritious in the vegetable diet. They supply a higher quality protein (meat is over-rated), and three types (red, kidney and pinto) are listed in the top four of those plant foods having the most antioxidants (wild blueberries are #2). Pintos are my favorite, so I tend to choice them more often. Having cancer has, of course, been the primary incentive toward my transformation.

I continue to feel quite well, have a lot of energy, and noticed that the swallowing difficulty that alerted me to the problem has greatly diminished over the last few weeks. I harbor no doubts about my decision to skip surgery – time will tell if I’m right. According to statistics I have less than one chance in five to be alive five years from now. That’s if I elect to have surgery, the final procedure of three that the medical establishment recommends. I recently completed the other two (five weeks of chemo and thirty-three sessions of radiation). Tests had shown that very little metastasis had occurred (the Chemo was to kill any wandering cancer cells), and I wanted to shrink the tumor to nothing (so I opted to have an additional five radiation treatments).

My Oncologist, Dr. Spencer, said I was the first she had heard of to opt out of surgery. She had seen the video Forks over Knives, was quite impressed by it, and seemed curious and supportive of my one-man experiment. Doctor Spencer appears to be very religious and we got into a short discussion about the Bible. She mentioned that the Garden of Eden had two trees, the other being the Tree of Life and she recited scriptures in the book of Genesis: “And God said, Behold, I have given you every herb bearing seed, which is upon the face of all the earth, and every tree, in the which is the fruit of a tree yielding seed; to you it shall be for meat. And to every beast of the earth, and to every fowl of the air, and to every thing that creepeth upon the earth, wherein there is life, I have given every green herb for meat: and it was so.” It seems that Adam and Eve started out as vegans.

My naturopathic doctor, Markian Babij, is also supportive of my decision. I think he occupies a sensitive position since he works within the medical establishment of oncologists and radiation therapists, and has to walk a fine line of balance between his own philosopy and theirs – which at times must be in conflict. He was the one who told us about the video Forks over Knives. At a later appointment, I told him I’d read the book The China Study, and he said I need not look at the video as the book was in more detail. We told him we had bought the video and were lending it to interested friends. He has made many valuable suggestions of suppliments that I might take during the different stages of my treatment. I think that is mainly why I came through the Chemo and Radiation with so few negative side effects.

There may be others like myself who have opted out of surgery, but I assume their numbers are small, and it is unlikely that any studies have been conducted, so no statistics are available to calculate my chances of survival over the coming years. My story will be anecdotal.

My thinking is really simple and straight forward. I reason that an animal based food diet caused my cancer, and to continue that diet after treatment is to invite its return. I decided to eliminate all animal based foods from my diet; I even cut out fish. I’m as complete a vegan as its possible in this modern world of refined foods, food additives, and genetically altered foods. For example, I love chocolate and have tried to switch to dark variety, but have been unable to resist milk chocolate now and then. I consider myself a 99 percenter - economically, politically, and veganly. Peruse any grocery food isle and notice how much the selection is limited if you are vegan. The shelves might as well be empty, and there are far more choices today than there was just a few years ago - people are catching on. The Natural Pantry here in town has just broken ground for a large new store on 36th Avenue. It will do well.

Conversely, a whole food plant-based diet offers more than just changing to a nonpoisonous food source. The diet is vastly superior, not only in the variety, but also the quantity and quality of nutrients. Animal foods are mainly protein and fats – not really a whole lot more – not when compared to plant foods. There are literally thousands of nutrients in the world of plant foods that are not to be found in the animal based diet. The problem seems to be that no one knows which nutrients do what. That’s because most money for cancer research goes into studies to cure the disease; little to nothing is directed into research that might demonstrate how cancer can be prevented or even cured by a nutritious diet. This is also typical for research into the other major “diseases of affluence”.

I think this is why one reads and hears of the many anecdotal stories about miraculous cures credited to specific plant foods, or extracts from exotic tropical plants. Many despairing people fall victim to scam artists promising salvation. I am certain there are curative nutrients out there, but like everyone else, I don’t know which ones they are, so the solution for me is to eat great variety, to awash my body in the most nutrition mixtures of food and spices that I can discover.

There are hundreds, probably thousands, of antioxidants in the world of plant foods. It was long thought that they functioned mainly to latch onto and deactivate free-radicals, thus preventing them from damaging cells. Now researchers are beginning to think the chemical behavior inside cells may be more complicated, that many of those antioxidants may work in unison, a choreographed dance, while others regulate gene expression. So I am, little by little learning to cook vegan. We attended a seminar a few days ago on, “Spices: A Key Ingredient for Cancer Prevention and Treatment”, and I checked out a library book about cooking with spices, The Spice Merchants Daughter.

Parts: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7,

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Cancer on My Mind – October 1, 2012

Part 5 – An Eye Opening discovery about Nutrition, Disease and the world of Veganism

Vegans and the world of veganism have always been foreign to me, like aliens from Mars. I never felt animosity toward them, but looked upon their practice with a bit of curious puzzlement. Like most Americans, I grew up starting my day on bacon and eggs washed down with a big glass of milk. There was fried chicken on Sundays, turkey at Thanksgiving, ham on Christmas, and corn beef for New Years. In between there was pork chops, meatloaf, hamburgers, hotdogs, and the occasional steak. We always had a green vegetable and potatoes, often smothered in gravy, but meat, milk and potatoes made up the centerpiece. Everybody knew that meat provided protein and milk made for strong bones and teeth.

I grew up believing that animal based foods were superior, later I changed my thinking to accept the idea that vegetables were probably better for you, but by only a degree. Now I’ve come to the conclusion that animal based food diets are slow poisons that are instrumental in causing many of our diseases. I’ve come full circle; I’m a vegan, and feel I should explain the why of that decision and the reasons for other choices I’ve made concerning my cancer treatment.

I have come through the Radiation and Chemo therapies with fewer of the side effects than predicted. I completed them with remarkable continued good health. I’ve had a couple days of being slightly constipated, had a slight nose bleed a couple mornings, noticed a bit more hair than usual in my comb, but nothing of the other ill effects that I was warned to expect: no nausea or vomiting, no periods of sudden and extreme fatigue, and only a moderate weight loss (10 pounds – down to a trimmer 185). I believe the weight loss was due more to the change in diet than to cancer. On the contrary I have a feeling of well-being I did not possess six months ago when I first noticed I had a problem. That is not to say I felt bad six months ago. I considered myself to be in good health and living a vigorous life style for someone my age. I now feel even better than when I started the treatment. That’s not supposed to happen. The doctors seem, like me, to be pleasantly surprised.

The present medical establishment’s recommended treatment for esophageal/stomach cancer consists of three steps: 1. Radiation Therapy; 2. Chemo Therapy, and 3. Surgery (after a resting period of a month or two). Surgery would remove a third of my stomach and a portion of my esophagus, and it is one of the most invasive. My surgeon would make two incisions, one from the side, and the other from my abdomen, lop off the parts close to the malignancy, pull the stomach up and staple it to the esophagus. This procedure adds a further peril to my survival. After heart disease and cancer, medical care is the third leading cause of death in this country. I already have cancer, number two killer, and medical care (surgery and its aftermath) is to be piled on top. I’m nearly seventy-three years old, and though my constitution is presently strong, it will not stay that way. There is the chance of infection or that the staple job will leak, necessitating more surgery. And then there is the recovery, six months or more. During that time I’m told that I will lose a good fraction of my weight – maybe forty or fifty pounds. I will be weakened, and my immune system will be further compromised, thus making it possible something else might come along to take me.

All this reminds me of a dog I once owned. Kody was a wolf/husky mix, an alpha type with lots of character, friendly to people and other dogs, but one that exhibited a self-possessed independence, and would abide crap from no human or other dog. He was still in prime physical shape at fifteen until he got into a fight with another of our dogs. Liquor (the other dog), a beautiful golden retriever, was not so smart, and psychologically damaged because he had gotten lost and was on his own for four months. He would jump Kody on occasions – sneak attacks. I didn’t know about the fight until Kody collapsed several days afterward. Liquor had bitten him near the groin and it had become infected. I treated the wound and he recovered, but lost a good deal of weight. After that Kody was an old, old dog, and lived less than a year. I think that type of outcome is similar to what I might face. Originally I expected to do the surgery, but I’ve been doing research and reading on the subject, and found enough information to give me another idea. I’m going to skip the surgery and go a different direction. I did elect to take five more radiation treatments for a total of thirty-three. This is to better insure that the tumor is shrunk as much as possible and the cancer is well devastated. I finished chemo two weeks ago and the completed radiation therapy last Friday.

I was in college for nine years, and loved it, nearly becoming professional student. Half of the courses I took were science classes, mostly biology, but I had a wide selection in chemistry, physics, math, geology, astronomy, and physiology. When I taught biology, I switched from the traditional approach to one that concentrated on biochemistry, cellular structures and their functions. I included a small section on basic nutrition – protein, carbohydrates, fats, vitamins and minerals, etc. I didn’t bother with diet or which foods to select. It was meat, milk products, vegetables, fruits, and grains – balance was the important thing.

I can therefore read a complex medical research paper. I may have to look up a few words, but am able to make since of it. I don’t have to rely on the authority of the medical establishment to make up my own mind of the efficacy of information. One of the things I did while researching was to read a book that was a real eye opener; one that changed my outlook on diet, nutrition and disease. A young friend of ours, Holly Glenn, gave me the book in August, about the time I started treatment. She is interested in vegetarianism, but said the book was a bit too academic, with more charts and graphs than she cared to wade through. She thought I might be interested, and passed it on to me. She was right. I couldn’t set it down. The book is The China Study by T. Colin Campbell, one of the most renowned nutrition researchers in the world. There is also a related documentary, a ninety minute video titled Forks over Knives that covers the same information.

The premise of the book is that an animal based food diet causes the “Diseases of Affluence” that plague the western world (USA and Europe). Those include heart disease, cancer, obesity, diabetes, and the many autoimmune diseases that afflict western populations. And, conversely, a whole-food plant based diet will prevent those diseases; in some cases reversing their trajectory. Dr. Campbell sites one study after another, scientifically controlled experiments on laboratory animals and people that have been conducted over the last fifty years as he weaves a convincing argument backed up by a mountain of evidence.

The China Study was the clincher. It was ultimately made possible by Chou EnLai, one of the last survivors of the Communist Revolution that defeated the Nationalist Chinese and took over the country in 1949. He came down with cancer in the early 1970s. As premier he ordered a vast survey of the death rates of twelve different cancers. The survey was nation-wide, involving over half million data collectors and covering 96% of its population. A resulting colored map of the cancers showed an interesting distribution of the diseases: some areas were devoid of certain cancers while others revealed a high concentration. This in a country where 87% of those surveyed were of the same ethnic group, the Han people, and most were poor farmers whose family had lived in the same locales for generations. That survey lead to the China Study a decade later.

The China Study was made possible after the United States and China re-established diplomatic relations in the late 1970s. It was conceived when the Deputy Director of China’s health research laboratory came to Cornell to work in Dr. Campbell’s lab, and they began discussing the possibilities of an in-depth health study. The study became a reality in 1982. The two published an 896 page monograph in 1990. It described the study, led by Dr. Campbell, of 6500 subjects (100 from each of 65 chosen counties spread across the country), weekly blood test for all, weekly urine tests for half, and food samples collected to be analyzed. There were 367 variables, and when completed, the results provided 8000 statistically significant associations on life-styles, diet and various diseases. There has never been a more thorough study, before or since, on human nutrition and its impact on disease.

I get disturbed when I think about this study and the many others which show a direct link between an animal based food diet, commercially processed foods and our over-weight, diseased citizenry. It’s like someone has been keeping a secret from us for nearly a quarter of a century. Vegetarian diets and restaurants seem to be more popular these days, but I’ve yet to find many people who have heard anything about the connection. Two of my doctors have the book; one seems to have read it. Only a few other people have heard of the book or of its main points – An animal based diet is causing our diseases, and driving our escalating health costs; a whole-food, plant based diet will lower both.

Why hasn’t my government beat the drum of public awareness? Where is a Surgeon General like Dr. Charles Everett Koop who would take on such a political hot potato? Why does the Food and Nutrition Board (a government agency) continue to put out that silly food pyramid which includes meat, dairy and refined food products? Could it possibly be monetary? The big food related industries like Monsanto, Con Agra Foods, Kraft, Archer Daniels Midland, McDonalds, etc. stand to lose big money should the population change its diet to a more healthy one. The industry is represented by powerful forces in Washington, lobbyists that push their agenda, fill campaign chests, and influence government policy. The members on the Food and Nutrition Board have deep ties with the food industry, and the industry finances the board. It’s a conflict-of-interest.

Why did my doctors not instruct me that it was meat, dairy, eggs, and refined foods, consumed over my life-time, that caused the cancer, and maybe I should think about eliminating them from my diet as it might just help me cure? Complete silence from them. It’s like they never heard of it, and maybe they haven’t. Few medical schools stress the subject of nutrition, offering at best a cursory survey. And it’s money again. The emphasis of the medical establishment is to treat diseases already established, not to prevent them, and there is lots of money to be made, in heart bypass surgery, chemo, radiation, expensive medical equipment, and drugs produced by the pharmaceuticals. They wouldn’t be able to make nearly as many sales to a healthy population – they’d take a hit in their bottom line on blood pressure medicines, cholesterol medicines, blood thinners, and the myriad of other drugs that make for such great profits.

The people have a right to know this information, but twenty-two years have passed, and most of the nation is yet ignorant. Many would not change old eating habits anyway – but people have the right to know, the right to have the information so as to make their own decisions. The official message is silence in a vacuum - we are being lied to – they’re lying by omission.

Parts: 1,  2,  3,  4,  5,  6,  7,


Thursday, September 6, 2012

Cancer on My Mind - September 6, 2012

Part 4 - Financial Costs... and other Things

I have amassed a short stack of medical statements in the last three months. They total $21, 290 to date. More are coming. This is twenty-one thousand dollars just to find out what’s wrong with me. I started treatment, the “cure”, on August 13th, but haven’t, as yet, received any of those statements. I expect the total cost to dramatically climb.

I’m one of the lucky ones in that I have grown old enough to have Medicare and the State of Alaska offers supplemental insurance, so my out-of-pocket costs each year is limited to $800. I have enough reserves that I could have paid the bills to date, but doubt that my resources run deep enough to cover that which is coming. Many in the country do not have that peace of mind. I don’t know exactly how many are without insurance, but they count in the millions, and showing up at Emergency will not get them the serous treatment they need for catastrophic illnesses. Most bankruptcies and financial ruin are a result of the enormous bills that pile up when an “unexpected” illness befalls a family that lacks adequate coverage. The financial burden and emotional anguish must be overwhelming.

And then there is the “cure”: Chemo, Radiation, and Surgery - two poisons and a dagger. Granted, the radiation machinery is impressively sophisticated, and the chemicals are refined and targeted. But the best modern medicine can presently deliver is, in a way, indistinguishable from the tools of a medieval alchemist. I have to get sick before I can get well. The radiation is to shrink the tumor - the chemo to kill any wandering cancer cells. I may be free of the cancer after that.

I feel fine now but it’s an irony that when the first two stages of therapy conclude in another month I may be weak, nauseas, bald (more so), somewhat emaciated, and need to recover before I can go under the knife. The surgeons will remove a good portion of my stomach and esophagus in hope of preventing the cancer from returning, but there are no guarantees.

I have a blood draw on Tuesday and am injected with two Chemo drugs on Wednesdays. I sit in a comfortable leather recliner for Chemo, in a room with eight other patients, all reclining in theirs – some reading or on their computers, some sleeping, and a few eating snacks.

The nurse puts a warm bean bag on my arm and then hunts for a large vein in which to insert the needle. The larger the vein the larger the needle can be, and the faster I get the dosage. I’m going to be there two and a half to three hours. A saline solution is first to flow, then a pain killer, and then the first drug, Paclitaxel (trade name: Taxol). Paclitaxel functions by causing abnormal microtubule formation in cells. That inhibits cellular replication and causes cell death.

When that bag empties it is replaced with one of Carboplatin. (trade name: Paraplatin). This one produces its anti-cancer effects by binding with DNA, damaging it, and killing the cell. I am told they kill healthy cells along with the cancerous, but fewer cancer cells survive each week. I completed the fourth of five treatments this week – one to go. So far, I cannot claim any ill effects from Chemo. I continue to have plenty of energy – cut the grass, cleaned the rain gutters (on an extension ladder), and varnished the front door recently. Mary has had to take over the dog and cat poop as the doctors say I need to avoid such things.

I go to radiation every weekday at 3:30pm, and am scheduled for 28 treatments. It’s in the same hospital complex as oncology so I have just a short walk.
 The spacious radiation facility congers images of a medical temple with a sacrificial alter centered in the middle of the room. It is the Siemens Oncor Impression Plus Linear accelerator, an external cone beam radiation device coupled with a CT scanner. I remove my clothes from the waist up and lay down bare chested, and am offered a warm towel which I always decline. They tattooed several reference points on my abdomen and sides (not really noticeable) which are used to ensure I’m properly aligned when I lay down on the alter, my head resting in a cup. X-rays are taken at the beginning of each week to ensure nothing has moved around. The machine then rotates around me, stopping to beam radation at my tumor from seven different angles. The procedure takes only about 15 minutes. I’ve had sixteen treatments so far – twelve to go. So far, so good - no ill effects that I can claim.
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