Lessons Learned from my Father's Illness and Death
On August 18th of 2017 I was with my father while he had surgery to explore an aggressive growth on his pancreas. We were not surprised to learn that the growth was, in fact, pancreatic cancer, the "worst case scenario".
Up until this point my dad had truly been one of the healthiest people I knew, biking 10+ miles every day, rain or shine; felling trees and chopping wood; riding his motorcycle (which he had recently purchased at 78 years-young); enjoying life and, especially, loving and caring full time for our mother (she had fallen into a sad state of dementia for the last 10 years or so). He was planning for the future in which he hoped to again be free to fly kites and go on bike rides with his kids and grandkids.
That summer’s day Dad’s life was taken away. The surgeon removed 1/2 of his pancreas, an organ vital to the body's wellness, leaving it damaged and still diseased. But it wasn't the cancer that killed him; in fact, just four months later he was declared cancer free! He had recruited me to help him develop a plan to beat the disease using alternative therapies. We found a functional medicine doctor in his home state of Wisconsin who would help him with our protocol which included Low Dose Naltrexone, high doses of Liposomal Vit. C, Alpha Lipolic Acid, CBD oil, pancreatic enzymes, and a mostly organic diet rich in quality fats and low carbs, in addition to a few other things. The oncologist within his conventional medical system agreed to track the cancer, and appeared humbled and dumbfounded when, on December 29th, I sat before her to receive the results of various tests and scans. She could not argue with the answers before her: no sign of cancer!
So what ultimately took his life? Well, 2 months after his surgery Dad began experiencing severe sciatic pain. No cause could be found, and no chiropractic or other treatment would help. Nothing but rounds of Prednisone, which of course he knew he could not continue. That, and bouts in the hospital when even the highest doses of oxycodone and fentanyl couldn't cut through the pain. On his last hospitalization it was noted that he was very hoarse, not from a cold or other illness, but from screaming out in unbearable pain! When we, my siblings and I, think of our beautiful father in such a state, it drives us to tears.
From the outset, I had encouraged my father to monitor his blood sugar as it just made sense. After all, he was missing half of the very organ that he needed to keep his blood sugar under control, and the remaining portion was in a compromised state. But he assured me that his doctors weren't worried (they weren't), and they would test it in the office when he had an appointment. If they weren't concerned, he wasn't either. As he was on a low carb/high fat diet for the cancer, I chose to dismiss this as well, hoping that the diet would take care of potential blood sugar issues. Dad still enjoyed a heavily buttered slice of bread in the morning, a beer in the afternoon, or a very occasional small treat; I could not push him nor insist on deprivation, though I knew these things could be problematic. Indeed, they were.
Dad liked for me to attend his doctor appointments when possible, and I often did so during those last 5 months of his life, making frequent trips to be with him to help. So I was with him when his neurosurgeon finally gave the diagnosis, and prognosis, for Dad's condition: demyelination of the sciatic nerve brought on by high blood sugar. The good doctor told my father that if he controlled his blood sugar, the myelin sheath should regenerate in 6-12 months. He saw this often, he said, and Dad was now declared "diabetic". It mattered not, as I gently protested, that my father wasn't truly diabetic, but that he was missing half of his pancreas and thus the ability to produce sufficient insulin to control blood sugar was duly sliced in half as well!
I sat with my father while the dietician discussed his new diabetic (high and constant carbs) diet. My father knew better and took it with a "grain of salt" (which of course was, literally, restricted in the hospital and rehab along with fat!), but he spent many weeks in and out of that hospital and rehab. He was doomed!
Should I mention those rounds of prednisone which Dad was given for the sciatic pain, driving his blood sugar into the 400+ range, and holding it there for up to 2 weeks at a time?! Yes, high blood sugar really does eat away the fatty coating of nerves, and in this case the therapy for pain relief only brought on more demyelination, more pain.
So, he was put on metformin, a bandaid. It would have seemed appropriate to consider insulin, ro replace what the pancreas could no longer produce. But who am I to suggest such things to the doctor, the professional?
Meanwhile, I consulted with Dad's functional medicine doctor, who really was frustrated that Dad wasn't working with him on each of his issues. After all, that is what functional medicine doctors do: they work with the whole, not just in parts. But as this was not covered by insurance and was quite expensive, Dad chose to stick it out with his health "care" system. Dr. Schwartz urged Dad to continue with the Alpha Lypolic Acid and do several rounds of Vit B12 shots, methylcolbamin in particular, which has been clearly shown to promote rapid re-myelination. Dad was ok with this, but wanted it to be within the "system" so as to have the relatively meager costs covered, and I think he also sought the acceptance of his doctors. So, I made phone calls and gave information to the nurses in charge of two of the doctors’ offices. They were intrigued, curious, but not convinced. Thus it was declared unnecessary.
So, on Friday the 10th of February my sister took our father to what would be his last appointment with the neurologist, who essentially gave him no hope. None. My sister overheard Dad telling the doctor that if this was what life was to be, it just wasn't worth living. Two days later, he was gone.
That appointment, those words, took away all hope that my father had of ever enjoying life again and, especially, of bringing his beloved, our mother, home from the nursing home where she had been for more than a month, as he was unable to care for her in this state. He lived to have her by his side. She lived on, oblivious to her loss, in a facility rather than her own home, away from everything she knew and loved, mercifully for only a few more months.
So what is to be learned from this? If only more people would hear! Our current medical paradigm does not heal people, far from it. It is a system of disease management, of controlling symptoms by slicing and dicing, of prescribing chemical pills for ailments instead of understanding and correcting the root causes of disease. It is a system that looks at individual parts, rather than the whole. And it never, ever, actually "cures" anyone of anything! It is a business, and it robs people of not only money, but their very lives, every single day.
This is not to say that there aren’t many fine people out there truly dedicated to healing, as they understand it, and helping people. It's just that the allopathic understanding of how our bodies work is deeply flawed, and literally dangerous. As long as medical schools and text books are written and funded by pharmaceutical companies we will never have a true "health care" system. Just as my dad's cancer was not due to a deficiency in chemotherapy, our own bodies likewise need meaningful nutrition, detoxification, exercise, and knowledge in order to prevent and heal disease and maintain health.
Dr. Weston A. Price's dying words, "You teach, you teach, you teach!", are never more relevant than now. Let's be willing to hear, and learn!