Fundraising Countdown

The support and fundraising that has happened on my behalf has touched my heart and has made alternative cancer treatment a possibility for me. Donations continue to be my primary funding for healthy food, supplements, living expenses and medical bills. If you feel moved to give to my Health and Wellness Fund, please follow the Paypal "Donate" button below. To avoid Paypal's 3% fee, checks or cash can be sent to Zachariah Walker, 1003 Chipeta Ave, Grand Junction, CO 81501. Blessings!

*CRITICAL ANGELES HOSPITAL VISIT: CURRENT ESTIMATED COST = $25,000. AHHH! PLUS UNEXPECTED CRISIS CONTROL AND 4 DAYS IN ICU*

Donate to Zachariah's Health & Wellness Fund

Thursday, May 31, 2012

Hospital Angeles: Day 1

The first 24 hours have passed at Hospital Angeles in Tijuana and I sit here knowing I should get to bed early.  It is hard however to give up the solo quiet time that the night brings.  Time for a bit of self reflection, yoga and meditation.  I woke to a dream this morning of walking through an orchard.  There was something strange yet comforting in the image as I woke.  Even more relevant though was the timing, the nurse walked in to take blood just moments later.  Refreshing for sure to get such an undisturbed night of sleep in a hospital.  In fact, the nurses and doctors here are super sensitive to interrupting meals and sleep.  On many occasions, "I can come back when you're finished."  Por ejemplo, the psychologist today wanting me to have time to finish my meal before our visit and the nurse last night apologetic for waking me for something we could do in the morning.  Strange indeed when coming from a paradigm where I have been literally woken up in the middle of the night to be given sleeping pills.

After giving up the blood, urine and stool for sampling Christopher and I went outside for some morning sun and a bit of stretch time.  Breakfast followed.  It's been interesting comparing my meals the acompanante meals (those they prepare for Chris).  I'm usually jealous of his, particularly with the lack of dairy in my meals.  However, the organic and gluten-free preparation have been tasty and darn near satisfying.  They bring 3 meals plus 2 snacks daily and adjust my dietary needs based on the results of my blood work.  A big focus on adjusting to the body's needs through nutrition as opposed to drug therapy.  The big outing today was to the biological dentist.  An animated brother/sister team checked me out.  My perspective on the whole experience was it felt half like important information regarding my cancer situation and half a sales pitch on dental work.  A digital xray showed no significant concerns with my bone and roots (particularly regarding infection), which was great perspective as I have had major concerns with this for years due to auto-immune issues, gum disease and root loss.  I have also had much more tooth sensitivity since my rounds of chemo.  The quote for minor cavities and cleaning certainly seem like an afterthought for me.  I'm feeling a bit more of a priority on surviving prior to dental work.  However, upon my survival, the dentist (who through his stories relayed much informacion, including how he broke his ribs surfing and busted-up his knee skydiving) personally offered to give us the best personal guidance on a healing Mexican vacation with the best unknown places to stay and eat.  He also managed to get Dr. Lepisto's opinion regarding his father's prostate cancer.  We have his card!

I experienced a bit of an emotional shift later in the day after finally meeting Dr. Perez, the head oncologist who we've had various phone consults with.  We ironed out a few miscommunications regarding my chemotherapy treatments and the second marrow biopsy that I did not end up having done back in the states (again, the biggest challenge here is the language barrier despite the fact that the lead docs speak good English).  He had a bit of abruptness and his concern regarding my immune-compromised state heightened my own concerns.  I realize I am very empathetic and am very good at observing and taking on energies as opposed to just information.  My worry and angst later in the day I had to process as I began to feel like I was not getting enough information and another day passing was bringing up a sense of urgency within me.  By dinner time a visit from Dr. Garcia with a run down of most of my lab work returned a sense of calm and optimism.  Other than my white blood cell count, which is even lower than it has been, the rest of my counts looked improved.  Both Chris and I felt really good about these numbers in comparison with past recent labs.  We were also assured that we would see the hematologist in the morning and would get a much clearer picture on treatment options.

I did squeeze a nap into the day, however, now that we have settled here the exhaustion has settled in as well.  It certainly was an amped up couple of days as things unfolded to get here.  Last minute flight logistics, uncertainty in arrangements and faith with a journey to Tijuana, puddle jumpers with pilot characters across the southwest, emergency pee in my Nalgene bottle, a backroads shuttle with a driver who "retired" back to Tijuana because living in the states was way too scary and dangerous (great perspective in that story), checking in to the hospital and dealing with a moment of concern about whether or not we would be staying here, and finally landing in my room and going, "WHOA!"  Here's a video wrap up of the day as well:

video

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Mexico Bound!

Holy Shmidt!  As I have explained a few times in the past day, this whole journey through this cancer healing process is: MADNESS, MADNESS, MADNESS!!!... stillness... stillness... stillness... MADNESS, MADNESS, MADNESS!!!  Last Thursday was one of those mad days.  I had an apt with my oncologist with expectations of getting my bone marrow biopsy back following my 2nd round of chemo.  I was optimistic as I had been feeling great and had not yet heard anything from her (following that old adage that "no news is good news").  My spirits certainly dropped as she conveyed to me the reality of the situation.  My cancer blast count was at 17%.  In her 25 years of experience I am one of two cases she's had that did not experience a cancer remission following 2 rounds of chemo.  As I explained, the rest of that day was BIG in terms of processing, talking, and getting a grip on what to do next.  I left the Pavilion scheduled for a 3rd round of chemo the following week with the prognosis that the chances of it being successful was dwindling.  To be more precise, as she explained to me, statistically the 1st round of chemo has an 80% of remission (though it may be temporary) and by the 3rd round, if there hasn't been a remission, the odds are down to 20-30%.  By the end of the day, I can truthfully say, I had taken this disheartening news and had channeled it into a new level of motivation and focus.  For the next 3 days I operated in an newly empowered state knowing, as I have deeply known all along, that this healing journey is about me and my ability to find the healer within me.  There is more to this part of the story... for another time.  The reality right now is I am typing madly away at 6:30 in the morning in a dazed sleep-deprived state with partially packed bags on my bed and a flight at 10am...

Yesterday (Tues) was another one of those MAD days.  I woke up with angst following a day of processing some deep anger that was triggered by discovering a broken window in my van in front of our house (another story!).  By noon I had calmed down and was researching the new chemo protocol I was slated for.  As has been the case all along, the temptation of a trip to Angeles Hospital in Mexico was lingering, the logistics just seemed so challenging.  I had been stuck and disappointed a few times already with that process.  I was researching flights to San Diego, which were affordable, but the concern of traveling commercial in an immune-compromised state is a bit daunting.  Efforts had been put into Angel Flights, a service offered by private pilots to transport medical patients for care, and we had been approved, but the actual reality of it aligning seemed less and less likely.  "We've got a pilot for one leg, but not the other..." and other logistical issues.  However!  Upon glancing at my email around two I noticed a second email from "Mission Coordinator" and my thoughts began to spin.  Upon reading it, my mind started to spin.  I could be in Mexico by tomorrow?!!!

My head has been spinning since.  The rest of the day yesterday I can hardly describe (like so many of these days) other than a blur of doing what seems has to be done.  Details aside, by 6pm I had the final stamp of approval, an email from the coordinator at Angeles Hospital saying, "Confirmed, we will have a driver pick you up at the Brown Field Airport tomorrow."  The day didn't end until after midnight when I fell into bed with mostly packed bags and a buzzing energy bounding throughout my body.  Snuggles and deep breaths and a good five hours of sleep later I sit here dazed and amazed.  Here we go!  The next episode of this beyond epic experience...  I feel very good about it, as does everyone around me.  One thing that's been remarkable about this experience has been the flow of it.  How things have aligned, even seeming dismal at the time, the unfolding of the process makes sense, even if in some unexplainable, strange and abstract way.  This opportunity feels right.  I have had a week straight of feeling the best I have since this whole thing started.  Despite the chemo's lack of success, and the presence of cancer in my marrow, I have felt myself getting stronger.  In fact, I speculate if the energy within me is part of what has kept the chemo from working.  As my oncologist said, "I have never seen anyone bounce back from chemo the way you have..."  There are many questions that will never be answered, but for now one thing is clear.  I will be in Mexico by tonight.

Scheduled is a 2-3 day consult with a treatment plan and price tag to follow.  At that point I will decide what is next.  It's likely that I'll stay for treatment for two more weeks after.  As with everything there are risks.  As they stated a number of times, if anything happens that requires intermediate or intensive care the costs would get astronomical.  We are planning on a smooth experience, as I've said, this feels right.  Still, this is an out-of-pocket experience with payment required before treatment.  Due to the short timing those details aren't yet set, but, another opportunity to invest in faith.  Manifestation mission: $35Ks by Monday!  WHOOOO!!!  What a journey!!!  Two hours and counting before I need to be out the door.  Christopher and I will be sailing through the skies today on two different 4-seater planes and landing near the Mexican border around 2pm.  See you from the other side!

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Free Press Article: Part 3

This is the 3rd in a series of articles that Dr. Christopher Lepisto is writing for the Free Press.  My friend, thanks for continuing to share the story and educate readers.  It is an overwhelming process that so many people are dealing with.  What a crazy reality!

An unfolding journey with cancer: Part III

Editor's note: Dr. Lepisto presents the first in a series of columns on cancer. The following story is revealed with the consent of the patient and family, and is consistent with HIPAA regulations.

This is the ongoing journey of my best friend, Zachariah Walker, in his process of dealing with acute myelogenous leukemia (AML) beginning two months ago.

“The days have been a slow motion kind of blur, but they're passing fast. It's late Wednesday and the next bag of chemo is currently dripping at 190 mL/hr into my veins. Tightness in the chest, I think due to liquid overload in my system… I've been dripping steroid eye drops into my very healthy eyes to protect them from possible adverse effects. My vision has always been great and I covet my sight, very nervous dripping chemicals into my eyes. So much trust is necessary through this process.” — Zachariah Walker, 5/3/12

Trust. Have you ever considered the faith that we place in medical professionals to do what is always in our best interest? You may take that for granted, just like we do when power comes out of the light socket. The truth is, dealing with cancer is often such a scary and heavy diagnosis, that the pure shock can be overwhelming. Conventional medicine has become so technical and detailed that you may not even understand what is being recommended to you or your loved one. But that is not to say that you are powerless on the journey.

Dave deBronkart, a survivor of kidney cancer, has said: “The most underutilized resource in all of health care is the patient.” Dave advocates for people taking a more active role in their treatment and getting informed about choices. One of the greatest tools that people have is information, and that means reading, watching, consulting and questioning.

A good place to start is local Grand Valley author Leigh Fortson, who has authored a fantastic book on dealing with cancer titled, “Embrace, Release, Heal.” Leigh details her own survival story with cancer, and her process of receiving conventional and complimentary therapies. The internet is also a valuable resource, although it certainly requires discernment and sorting through all the sawdust and sand.

If you don't mind technical reading, Google Scholar is a good place to find evidence-based research on what works and what doesn't. If this is too much for you, then I suggest finding a medical professional that you trust to help you sort through the information. Sometimes it is enough to just come to your provider with questions. Be willing to ask the tough ones as your life could depend on it.

Many people create a “dream team” to help them through the process. I have witnessed Zachariah create a team of family, friends, medical professionals, social workers, massage therapists, yoga teachers, hair stylists, web designers, chefs, cleaners, musicians, fundraisers and more, all helping him to deal with his innumerable needs. It is inspiring to watch what action he has taken, and what others are doing for him.

Support groups can be incredibly helpful, no matter what form they take. According to cancer expert Lise Alschuler, ND, FABNO, support groups “provide a social support/network, emotional outlet, an opportunity to face fears (i.e. fear of death), [and] guidance regarding practical issues of daily living.”

Zachariah completed his second round of chemotherapy Saturday, May 5. He has said that this round is different from the first, in that the initial “buzz” around his condition had faded, and that less people are directly involved in his day-to-day life. This has brought with it some natural feelings of solitude and introversion. And in a nuclear sense, there is no one else who can walk his path. It is a journey of fundamental aloneness.

Clearly, this is not that others cannot support him, but that there are many decisions about his care that only he can make. The success of his two rounds of chemotherapy is unknown at this point, and the unknown waiting for anyone undergoing medical treatment can be agonizing.

For the patient, a cancer diagnosis naturally comes with many emotions such as distress, depression and anxiety. Dr. Alschuler notes a direct correlation between cancer outcomes and patients who feel great distress. In other words, the more distressed the person feels, the less chance they have to put cancer into remission. This probably has more to do with how well someone is dealing with the fear of death, anger, despair and hopelessness.

Another huge consideration for many people is the amount of financial burden that they face with a diagnosis of cancer. Conventional treatment is expensive, especially for the uninsured. Zachariah is fortunate to have had all of his conventional therapy covered outside of his deductible, but none of his naturopathic or complementary therapies are paid. Like every patient's right, he has chosen to pay for holistic treatments that he wants, despite the costs. Until we have a health care system that covers this on a regular basis, many people choose to get alternative care on their own, even if it means they have to pay for it out of pocket.

There is no one right way to deal with cancer. There are countless paths, convolutions and decisions. Family and friends often offer up advice based on their own experiences through people with cancer. What we can do is investigate, explore and distinguish what is truthful for us.

Perhaps J.R.R. Tolkien said it best in “Fellowship of the Ring” when Gandalf the Grey said to Frodo, “All you have to do is to decide what to do with the time given to you.”

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Dr. Christopher Lepisto graduated as a naturopathic doctor (ND) from Bastyr University in Seattle, Wash. He is a native of Grand Junction and opened his practice here in 2004. Previously, Lepisto lived and worked in New Zealand, where he developed a special interest in indigenous herbal medicines. Lepisto practices downtown near Fourth and Main. For more information, visit www.grandjunctionnaturopath.com or call 970-250-4104. 

Friday, May 11, 2012

Past Performances

The past week, again, has zipped by in the blur of this whole experience.  Tomorrow (Sat) afternoon will mark one week out of the hospital post round 2 of chemo.  My first three days home were the best consecutive days of good health I've had in ages.  As with round 1 it seems that the chemo effects kick in more in the week after.  I have definitely been slower and dealing with gut issues the past few days.  I've felt an all body toxicity since the chemo started, headaches at times and the feeling of fuzz growing on my tongue.  However, considering all of the horrors you hear about chemo I've felt fortunate to have the energy I do.  There are many more details deserving of a blog update, and I hope to write it up soon.  In the meantime, I wanted to get a video on the blog that I recently downloaded from Danielle that she took minutes before I started my first round of chemo.  I've also added an impromptu video performance that was done the evening after returning home after my initial 2+ week hospital stay.  These are intended for entertainment purposes!

April 4th: Z's Freestyle
  A big day of anxiety before starting my induction round of chemo.  By evening I'd gotten myself clear and centered with the decision.  Here's the unplanned video take minutes before starting:

video

Friday the 13th: Dinner Theater Improv
  This is rather silly and long but there are some more spontaneous rhymes!  Also, there's a clear sense of celebration in being home around the dinner table with friends and family after the long ordeal of the first hospital stay.  The sound quality is a bit low, you may have to turn it up.

video

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Blurry Days - Round 2 Chemo

The first take of this video I thought it was Tuesday.  Wednesday, actually.  The days have been a slow motion kind of blur, but they're passing fast.  It's late Wednesday and the next bag of chemo is currently dripping at 190 mL/hr into my veins.  Tightness in the chest, I think due to liquid overload in my system.  I've also got 150 mL/hr of sodium bicarbonate dripping into a second port.  That's to keep my system alkalized, particularly to keep my uric acid levels low to protect my kidneys.  I've been dripping steroid eye drops into my very healthy eyes to protect them from possible adverse effects.  My vision has always been great and I covet my sight, very nervous dripping chemicals into my eyes.  So much trust is necessary through this process.  This video was recorded late afternoon today after a day of "doing time." I sit in my room looking out of windows with blinds that don't recede, kind of like looking through bars.  Three square meals and a bed and a clock ticking on the wall.

I am grateful my body so far is handling the chemo with very few side-effects.  I just hope the chemo is doing what it's supposed to do to the cancer cells.  The first go round didn't quite have the desired effect, so this time we're "hitting it hard" as my cancer doc said.  The anxiety of what that means to my body so far has been worse than any actual ramifications.  Each time a new bag of chemo starts I bless it, write positive words on it with a Sharpie, and ask it to focus its work on the dis-ease in my body while avoiding the healthy and productive cells.  Especially be kind to my digestive system!  Perhaps it is listening and we are working together.  The focus is certainly on chemo as friend, not foe.  The next dose starts at nine in the morning, then I'll have a day off.  The final doses are Friday night and Saturday morning, and trusting that I am not having complications of any sort I will get to go home.  I move forward, doing my best to stay centered and express emotions as they arise.  I do my best to continue to come back to all of the healing energy I have access to, inside and out.  One blurry day at a time...

video

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Day 1 - Phase 2

A day of solitude and tears, I am healthy and strong, doctors and nurses feel my pulse and explore my body looking for something wrong. Two doses of chemo saturate my body, I eat, drink, stretch, distract myself, consider brushing my teeth... I am doing time. Parole on Saturday? I am healthy and strong, my color is good. Why am I not riding my bike? Why am I not teaching a class or cooking my own meal? How is it I have come here? How is it my blood and marrow harbor a life-threatening crisis while I balance on my arms and salute the sun? I am surrounded by love, kind faces with deep eyes, I feel the energy of a tribe. And I am alone, ever learning, looking into my own eyes for motivation. The sun rises and sets, and emotions follow it's trail across the sky. From the commotion of all that surrounds me, I come back to my breath and it is calm. At least for a while, until I again find the need to return. How much time has passed in the practice? How much time?