HINTS FOR CANCER PATIENTS:

things they don't tell you 
 

FROM A CANCER SURVIVOR 

ZIGGY, MY BLUE FRONT, PILFERS SOME FRIED EGG


When I was growing up, cancer was a virtual death sentence.  At the same time, though, we all "knew" that medicine would "pretty soon" be able to cure any disease.  In the 1950's, I didn't imagine that there would be any diseases left to conquer by the year 2000.  Alas...

DEALING WITH A HYPERSENSITIVE MOUTH
 
Treating cancer means keeping cancer cells from reproducing.  The problem is that treatment also interferes with the reproduction of normal cells, such as those that line the stomach, mouth and other mucosa.  During my chemotherapy (and for months afterward), I had to do without most spices--no salsa, no ginger snaps, nothing hot or spicy.  I couldn't clean my mouth properly: mouthwash wouldn't work because alcohol and astringents were painful, and eventually regular toothpaste became unbearable.  Mouth cleaning was nightmarish even though I used a prescription oral gel (Gelclair®) designed to soothe such irritation.
 
I discovered a mouthwash, though, that allowed me to keep my mouth clean without irritating the mucous membranes: it's called Biotene®--a little more than six bucks a bottle at Wal-Mart.  It's alcohol free, and uses enzymes for cleaning.  Another practical use for Biotene is when you have to eat away from home and brushing is inconvenient.  (In such situations I also recommend keeping handy the self-labeled "World's Best Toothpick," BrushPicks®, a plastic toothpick.)

One side effect of chemotherapy that never gets mentioned is gum recession, which can create dental complications.  It is unlikely that insurance will cover "dental-related" problems because, to insurance companies (and the medical profession), "dental" and "medical" are two different universes.
 
The divide between the medical and the dental professions has long amazed me.  We now know that your "medical" health is intimately related to your "dental" health.  The correlation between gum disease and heart disease, for example, is due to the fact that gum disease induces the production of C-reactive protein.  One of the biggest surprises for me when I experienced cancer treatment first-hand was that doctors do not routinely screen patients for dental problems. Simple logic would dictate that something as simple as an abscessed tooth could cause a life-threatening infection during chemotherapy, and the older the patient is, the more likely such a possibility would be, yet I never had a doctor say one word about my dental condition.  Dental hygiene is always important, but it is most crucial during chemotherapy, when your immune system is depressed.
 
Cancer treatment may also inhibit the body's production of digestive enzymes. I took supplemental digestive enzymes to make sure that what I ate got properly assimilated. I can't say that any one brand is better than another; I chose one that had multiple enzymes.  Probiotics ("friendly" bacteria) should be supplemented also; you don't have to worry as much about pathogenic bacteria when friendly bacteria are flourishing.  You should, of course, consult your physician about any such choice or other medical decision.

DEALING WITH SKIN PROBLEMS

If you are getting radiation treatment, you may discover that skin in the affected area is subject to inflammation and infection.  In my case, no one substance seemed to be effective against all the conditions that arose, and I often used a different topical ointment or medicine every couple of hours. The single most effective substance for keeping anything infectious at bay was silver sulfathiazine, a prescription item.  Another indispensable item is Lantiseptic®, an amazingly effective prescription ointment; it is slightly antiseptic, but is mostly lanolin.
 
Calmoseptine® is good and is available over the counter.  It's a little hard to find, but is not too expensive.  I also used pure aloe vera gel, as well as over the counter ointments containing vitamins E, A, and/or D.  Hypoallergenic infant formulas are just as effective and much cheaper than "beauty" products aimed at the vain among us.  Wal-Mart has a house brand A&D ointment that I like, not just because of its price, but because it contains cod liver oil and carrot oil, which means that it contains micro quantities of nutrients other than a few simple vitamins.  (Annoyingly enough, though, it does contain added fragrance.)  Another simple treatment to soothe the skin is to squeeze vitamin E out of capsules and apply directly to the affected area.

I have also used a natural oil called tamanu oil from Vanuatu on various wounds in the past.  An article in HerbalGram, the official magazine of the Herb Research Foundation, states "Tamanu oil has been used traditionally by Pacific Islanders for thousands of years as a topical skin remedy....They also use the seeds and leaves for soothing sores, bites, blisters, dry or scaly skin, scrapes and sunburn, as well as to reduce foot and body odor....The oil is used externally by Polynesian women to promote healthy, smooth skin. They also use it on their babies to prevent diaper rash."  Tamanu oil has a lot of anecdotal recommendation for treatment of skin wounds and even anal fissures, and is claimed to possess antimicrobial properties, but published scientific studies are lacking. It may not be a panacea, but it is quite soothing.
 
My favorite product for the treatment of wounds and radiation burns is a physician-prescribed "primary wound dressing" called Vigilon®.  Vigilon is a gel-like formulation held together by a plastic webbing. You cut a piece to fit, then apply the gooey side to the wound area.  It can be applied with or without medicating ointments. Vigilon is extremely effective at relieving skin pain for an extended period of time.  It feels cool and refreshing, and helps wounds heal by keeping the wound moist enough and by absorbing any exudate.  It is a little bit of a hassle to use because it is bulky and has to be taped to the body, but, now having used it, I cannot imagine a medicine cabinet without Vigilon.
 
Radiation burns are no different than regular burns: simply running water over the burned area can be torture, and the soaps and shampoos that you once used now cause agony.  I found that Aveeno® Body Wash was effective and refreshing.  The Aveeno product is hypoallergenic, and the least irritating of any that I tried. I recommend it highly.
 
PROTECTING AGAINST INFECTIONS
 
Some of what I suggest may seem extreme; just remember, what I suggest is not applicable to individuals with normal immune systems. In fact, there is evidence that over-paranoia on the part of doctors and parents over the last couple of generations may have contributed to an increase in childhood allergies and asthma.  The over-use, or perhaps even just use, of hand sanitizers may be part of the reason for the rise in more resistant strains of bacteria.
 
Your biggest worry during cancer treatment will probably be what doctors refer to as “opportunistic” infections.  Of course, most infections are by definition opportunistic: bacteria and fungi strike at any weakness in your immune system.  Your body can and does handle pathogens every day; most pathogens don't cause infections in a healthy individual.  However, your immune system requires normal cell reproductive processes to be fully functional, and most cancer treatments interfere with these processes, which means that your immune system cannot fully protect you during your treatment. 
 
Most patients overlook common sources of infection, like their own toothbrushes.  You can infect yourself with something that has been hanging around on your toothbrush from weeks ago.  The simple fix to eliminate that possibility is to regularly soak all dental care products in a mild bleach solution at least once a week.  Don't overlook the fact that other personal care products, like nail clippers, can be potential sources of infection (or reinfection), especially if others in your household use them.
 
You would be shocked at how many bacteria, including dangerous coliform species, survive trips through a typical washing machine.  The bacteria that caused the recent spinach recall were coliform; although they are omnipresent in the colon, some strains of e. coli can be deadly, especially to the immune-depressed.  You may recall the deaths caused by contaminated hamburger meat that seem to occur every couple of years or so; those, too, are usually caused by e. coli. You may have heard of "Dr. Germ," Dr. Charles Gerba of the University of Arizona, who has documented how filthy even our washing machines are.  See, for example, an April, 2010 ABC news report on this issue, at http://abcnews.go.com/Health/Wellness/washing-machines-loaded-bacteria-dirty-clothes/story?id=10751420.
 
An inexpensive cure for this problem is to add a good disinfectant to every load of laundry and let each load soak a while before turning on the wash cycle.  Sam’s Club carries a good disinfectant made by ProForce®; it comes in gallon sizes and only costs a few dollars.  ProForce is lemon scented, but the disinfecting agent consists of 3.8% of various alkyl or alkyl/aryl ammonium chlorides, the same active ingredient as Lysol®-type sprays.  Speaking of disinfectants, it's obviously a good idea to spray all environmental surfaces, not just those in the bathroom and kitchen, with such a disinfectant.

It pays to be a little paranoid about hygiene when your immune system is extra-susceptible.   Don’t share utensils, and avoid public restrooms. If you see someone sneezing, run in the other direction.  At home, you have to change your normal washing habits.  Don't wash your towels--especially the dishtowels and dish cloths--just once or twice a week: change them daily.  Don't share towels with others in your household.
 
Studies have repeatedly shown that when you flush a toilet, the act of flushing creates a small amount of mist that contains bacteria and gets in every corner of the room.  It is not visible to the naked eye, but is evident to a microbiologist.  The stronger the flush action, the more gets in the air. Considering that fecal matter contains an incredible percentage of bacteria (as much as 30% of the dry weight), I would recommend always putting the seat down before flushing.  In fact, I keep a spray bottle containing Pro-Force next to the toilet, and I put a couple of squirts into the bowl before flushing.  Don't infect yourself with your own bacteria!

Do not use sponges: sponges are filthier than diapers.  Boiling a sponge in water may not help either.  A scientific study that appeared in early 2007 did report that sponges could be sterilized by microwaving; unfortunately, this has resulted in a number of microwave fires, so the safest course would be to avoid sponges altogether.

FOOD PREPARATION & CONSUMPTION

In the kitchen, clean all fruits and vegetables with a brush.  Just think:  the produce has been exposed to whoever picked it in the fields, to whoever stocked it at the store, as well as to whatever other shoppers have handled it, dropped it on the floor, etc.  You don't need to pay extra to get a special cleaning solution for fruits and vegetables; there's no law against using a cheap but effective mixture of detergent (not soap) and water, maybe with a few drops of bleach. (
You have to be fast if it's a veggie with skin that absorbs water at all, like carrots.)
 

 

ZIGGY INSPECTS MY CEREAL 

  
YES, SALADS ARE GOOD FOR YOU--
BUT DON'T EAT AT A SALAD BAR
 
First of all, you are not going to tell me that some Billybob in the back of a restaurant or other establishment is going to take the same care I do when cleaning produce, say, for a salad.  Billybob doesn't care because he doesn't have to eat it, and his work is a lot easier if he doesn't have to bother too much with things like cleaning it.  Secondly, you are not going to tell me that a "sneeze bar" is adequate protection against the general public.  A sneeze bar is not going to stop little Junior from reaching in with his dirty hands to grab something out of the containers.  And, I hate to tell you this, but when someone actually does sneeze, the particles in the air don't just magically head straight for the sneeze bar and attach themselves to it:  they go everywhere. 

DO NOT BUY PRE-CUT FRUIT OR VEGGIES

When you see pre-sliced fruit at a grocery store, stop and think before buying it.  If you want, say, some watermelon or honeydew, buy the whole fruit.  Do NOT buy precut sliced fruit unless it is canned or otherwise pasteurized.  When you buy a melon,  first clean it with soap and water.  Then, when you slice it, the knife blade is not going to smear bacteria across the fruit like what happens when the store preslices it.   I can't imagine a typical grocery store employee cleaning a melon with soap and water before slicing it for sale.
 
DO NOT EAT AT A DELI
 
Do NOT buy luncheon meat or cheese from the deli section if they have to slice it for you.  Even if you are the first customer of the day and they are using a freshly cleaned meat slicer, the meat or cheese itself you are getting sliced could be contaminated from a previous day (when it was in the then-dirty meat slicer.)  
 
I learned about the deli the hard way, about 25 years ago.  I used to fix salads that were complete meals, with boiled egg, cheese, bacon or sausage, along with assorted veggies.  One night, I had enough of a sniffle that I couldn't smell, but, not feeling bad otherwise, I was in the mood for one of my fancy salads, so I stopped at a local Kroger Signature Store and bought all the fixings, and had them slice some sausage for my salad.  I got sick as a dog later that night, but my sense of smell returned the next day and, lo and behold, I had saved a little of the sausage to snack on instead of putting it all in the salad, and that remainder smelled horribly bad.  It had to have been what made me sick.  I felt sorry for whoever got any food that had touched that slicer after they sliced the bad sausage. (I am not trying to single out Kroger; the problem seems to be universal--I still do some shopping at Kroger.)

IN FACT, AVOID EATING OUT AT ALL
 
I cannot overemphasize this.  If you live in a large metropolitan area, at least one of your local TV stations likely has a weekly report on restaurant health inspections.  Think about why health inspections exist before you decide to eat out, especially at inexpensive restaurants.
 
This is not some paranoia that came to me out of the blue; actual studies reinforce my mistrust.  For example, the percentage of the general population who don't wash their hands after using the restroom is shocking--as many as 30% in a 2003 study at airport restrooms.  A similar 2007 study at public restrooms came up with a 23% figure; see http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2007/09/070917112526.htm.  Logic would dictate that people who don't minister to themselves properly are just as unlikely to take care of others properly.  (There are bound to be some who take better care of others than they do of themselves, but I am confident that those are in the minority.)  You would think that food handlers would be especially conscientious, but direct observation suggests otherwise:  actual observations of restaurant worker hand-washing practices were published in a 2006 article in the Journal of Food Protection cited on the CDC government website.  For more information, visit the CDC website; they have pdf files of that and related studies available for the public to download, at http://www.cdc.gov/nceh/ehs/ehsnet/highlights.htm.  The problem is so bad that researchers at Kansas State University had to conduct a study to find out WHY restaurant workers don't wash their hands; see http://krex.k-state.edu/dspace/bitstream/2097/964/1/RobertsJADA2008.pdf.
 
High prices are no guarantee of sparkling cleanliness, but logic would dictate that there must be some correlation.  If you're like me, though, your economic circumstances are now limited.  Not to be able to afford fast food may be a blessing in disguise, not just because of the lowered risk of contamination, but because fast food is generally less nutritious than home-cooked.  One resource to consult would be your local TV stations, such as Channel 13 here, which has "blue ribbon awards" for the cleanest restaurants.  Another resource would be your own city's health department; more and more cities are making health inspection reports available online.

No matter how honest and hardworking the employees are at a fast food place, and I'm sure most of them are, you have to consider that, even if they actually wanted to be working at all, most of them would probably rather be doing something else and making more money than minimum wage.  They don't necessarily understand (or want to follow) every single step in the procedure that a particular establishment uses to ensure that the products it sells are safe and pure.  If an employee thinks nobody is looking, do you imagine that he or she is going to follow every procedure correctly?  It's more likely that the employee will skip a step because it's easier.  Look carefully at the lettuce on your fast-food hamburgers:  I have often seen pieces that were slimy or were otherwise unappetizing, and which you would never have served your family.  Yet fast food workers don't think twice about serving it to you.  
 
Most fast food corporations have specific policy directives to deal with situations such as an employee dropping food on the floor or otherwise accidentally contaminating it.  The food cannot be served; it must be thrown out.  Managers are directed to tell employees that, no matter what, if something like that happens, they must not serve the item and that discarding it will not be held against the employee.
 
Imagine this, though: suppose you are an employee at a fast food place, it is the lunchtime rush, there are dozens of customers already waiting for whatever food you've finished preparing, but the food just landed on the floor.  If customers cannot see you because you are out of their sight, wouldn't be easy to pick the food up off the floor?  Do you think that a typical employee is actually going to believe that the company won’t penalize him or her if the food gets discarded?  Which is more likely: that the worker will try to cover up his mishap, such as by putting new buns on hamburgers that had dropped--or that the employee will admit to the incident and force the manager to announce to the customers that they will have to wait another 15 or 30 minutes before their orders can be reprocessed?  What do YOU think? You have to consider the "they'll-never-know-the-difference" mentality.
 
CONSIDER THE MENTALITY YOU ARE DEALING WITH
 
Not only do we not all think alike, but some of the people you see every day are more radical in their thinking than you may realize.  Some people don't believe in the germ theory of infectious disease, for example.  I have met such people; this is common in other parts of the world.  There exist people born and raised here in the USA who honestly believe that diseases are a punishment from God, or that disease is caused by witchcraft or the devil.  If a person doesn't believe that germs cause infectious diseases, he or she has no rationale for washing his or her hands or taking any other precautions--and probably doesn't.
 
ANOTHER RISK FACTOR:
PEOPLE WHO BELIEVE IN FATE
 
You might also consider that a significant number of the people you deal with every day--even seemingly well-educated people--believe in fate or predestination. In other words, they believe that they have limited or no influence over the outcome of events.  Anyone with such a belief pattern obviously cannot believe that free will influences day to day reality--what will be, will be, they say.  If someone believes that he or she is fated to die in a car crash, for example, then you are not going to be able to convince that person that fastening his or her seat belt would do any good.  You are not likely to convince such people that washing their hands might prevent a deadly infection; after all, if they believe that they are not fated to get an infection, then they believe that they won't get one regardless.  If their carelessness causes you to become infected, it won't be due to their actions, it'll be because you were fated to get infected--or so they would believe.
 
I was shocked recently when I saw people giving bites of food to their children and then using the same spoons that had just been in their children's mouths for scraping the leftovers into storage containers and some extra plates for consumption by others not in their family.  These are God-fearing Christians who have all the technological marvels of the 21st century in their house--yet they seem to be oblivious to elementary food handling precautions--and that is right here in America.
 
MANDATORY PSYCHOLOGICAL TESTS FOR FOOD SERVICE WORKERS?
 
Another factor to consider that should keep you from eating out is that companies don't give psychological tests to people who are supplying your fast food.  I once knew a person who, while working at a very large fast food chain, and angry at its manager, put a scab from his fever blister (herpes sore) into a lunch he had prepared for the manager, or so he bragged (can you imagine the mentality of someone who would not only do that but would brag about it to boot?)  Once when I was driving a taxi, I had a customer tell me about how one of her relatives had dealt with a drive-through customer who had dared to complain about a previous hamburger being too dry: he spit in the customer's next hamburger; that made it nice and moist.

If you pay attention to the news, you will notice occasional food-spiking stories about waiters or fast food employees spicing up orders (even that of lawmen!) with an overload of chili or hot sauce (which can result in assault charges.)  Not long ago, Burger King® was sued because an employee had allegedly put pot into the food of two police officers.  I know that the statistical probability of such occurrences is low, but if you accept the iceberg theory of crime (i.e., that only about 10% of it ever comes to light), then you have to realize that a lot more is going on than what we find out.  The point is that you are taking your life into your own hands if you eat out when your immune system is compromised.

Cancer and Health News



FAST FOOD IS NOT "EVIL."
 I EAT IT TOO, BUT....

Let me emphasize that I am not an enemy of "fast" food per se or of eating out.  I am an enemy of trans-fat, though, which, as far as I am concerned, is a poison.  The high sodium levels and low overall nutritional levels of most processed foods are of equal concern.  KFC® recently took the trans-fats out of their fried chicken and I was one of the first in line to get the now-safe (except for the high sodium content) "original recipe."  I do wring the grease out on a paper towel first (it takes 2 towels for each piece).  I will not touch Popeye's® until they remove the trans-fats.  Since my immune system is now back to normal, I figure I can handle an occasional fast-food burger. 
 
AIR DUCTS AND AIR CONDITIONING:
BREEDING GROUNDS FOR PATHOGENS
 
Pathogens hide and breed in the air ducts of your home.  Your air conditioning/heating system may be putting you at risk.  You may remember outbreaks of deadly Legionnaire’s disease and the difficulty investigators first had in trying to figure out its origin.  The hiding place for the bacterium legionella pneumophila turned out to be cooling towers of air conditioning systems.  You might not be at risk for that particular bacterium in your home, but the seriousness of those outbreaks should alert you to a potential hazard that most people would overlook.  You may have heard of "sick building syndrome" or seen the PBS special on that subject; no one definitive cause of sick building syndrome exists, but the mold Stachybotrys chartarum is one of the suspected main culprits.  See the Wikipedia article on mold health issues at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mold_health_issues.
 
If you've seen ads by companies that steam clean ductwork, you've probably assumed that the scary pictures they show of the filthy ducts, which make the inside of air ducts look like mini-Carlsbad Caverns, are exaggerations.  I'm sure exaggeration occurs, but the problem is very real.  If you want to protect yourself, get a high quality air filtration system.  I have found uncleanable mold on the inside of my own window air conditioners, where it was hiding on the inaccessible Styrofoam they use as insulation these days. See pictures of that mold by visiting our tripod web site.
 
CARPETS: THE MODERN WAY TO KEEP YOUR HOUSE FILTHY
 
They may look nice and clean, but carpets, like sponges, are filthier than diapers.  The CSI unit of your police department could probably find traces of your carpet installer's DNA in the carpet, regardless of how many times you've had it cleaned.  Before the expansion of the middle class into suburbia after WWII, carpets were not as common, and were more the province of the wealthy (think "filthy rich"--literally.)  Houses, for the most part, had either tile or hardwood floors, which are easy to keep almost antiseptically clean if necessary.  Since the rich had carpets, having carpets became a status symbol, so now carpets are almost universal here.  The impossibility of keeping a carpet clean might be one of the causes of the dramatic increase in childhood asthma over the last few decades.
 
Another instance of how the wealthy inadvertently do themselves in is by purchasing expensive towels and washcloths.  Expensive cloth is much thicker and has a higher density of fabric.  The thicker a piece of cloth is, the more difficult it is to clean it.  Picture a microscopic cross section of the cloth: the thicker and denser the cloth is, the more difficult it will be for water to circulate to the inside of the fabric when it is in the washer.
 
Other dirt in houses you think are clean:  inside the garbage disposal (and you standing in front of the sink when the disposal throws spray up past the stopper) and sink stoppers (the rubber is impossible to clean properly, especially the upper layer of it.) 
 
THE BIGGEST HELP FOR CANCER TREATMENT:
 
Support of family, friends--and pets.  Ziggy, my blue-fronted Amazon, has been with me no matter what. He doesn’t care what I wear, how I dress, or anything else as long as he gets all the attention and food he wants (which he does).

Visit ZIGGY (THE EMPEROR PARROT) AND GEORGE (HIS COMPANION HUMAN).

LEGAL STUFF:  I am not a physician or a medical or veterinary professional, and I do not in any way practice medicine, human or veterinary.  I do, however, have a degree in biochemistry, and so am qualified to make some statements about foods, medicines and supplements.  My statements on this web site are the results of my experience and knowledge, and are not medical or veterinary advice.  You should certainly double-check any ideas you might get from me, or anything that you might construe as medical advice, by consulting with an appropriate legally licensed professional. 

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