Free Press Article: An Unfolding Journey with Cancer
Free Press Article: Part 2
Free Press Article: Part 3
LEPISTO: Treatment notes from south of the border
A week ago Wednesday, Zachariah Walker “Z” and I had just arrived at Angeles Health International Hospital in Tijuana, Mexico, and were nervously awaiting the receptionist, who couldn't seem to find us in the system. There was a moment of panic in our minds.
“I'm sorry, who are you? Why did you come? Where were you planning to stay tonight?” We were both playing out the possible scenarios of being forgotten or having somehow found ourselves in the wrong city/country/planet. This all dissolved quickly as we were graciously welcomed, enrolled and escorted to Zachariah's home for the next few weeks while he undergoes intensive treatment for his acute myelogenous leukemia.
His accommodations look straight out of a fine hotel, with artwork, faux-wood floors and a massive tiled shower. “Well Zachariah, don't you-a worry. We a-going to treat you very nice,” cooed Carmen, his day nurse.
By conventional terms, Z has “failed” two rounds of chemotherapy, meaning his cancerous process is not in remission. He has been recommended a third round of chemotherapy, with statistics in the paltry 20-30% range for success. This is not to say that he has not considered this therapy.
In the meantime, he has chosen to travel to Mexico for an integrative approach, and it is very clear that here, the patient comes first. Several times already the staff, including the doctors, have waited patiently while he completed a meal, finished some time in the sun, or returned from a walk.
From my perspective, many things are done well at Angeles International. This is a clean, professional but relaxed hospital environment. They offer integrative assessment with internists, specialists, a clinical nutritionist, a biologic dentist and a psychologist. They serve 100% organic food, including a curious focus on one particular vegetable, celery. Because it has literally shown up in almost every single meal, we have taken to calling it the “Celery Conspiracy.” The known medicinal qualities of celery include its ability to clear water from the system, soothe digestion, reduce inflammation, and relax and calm the nervous system. The latter may explain why celery also has gained a reputation of being a potent male aphrodesiac. Just relax and eat this celery, baby.
The therapies I have witnessed here are based on the best available science, following most closely what would be considered a German model of care. Zachariah has begun intensive treatments (individualized for him) of IV vitamin C and glutathione, transdermal (across the skin) ozone, steam, magnetic and bio-immune cell therapy using natural killer (NK) and dendritic cells. The cell therapies are the primary reason he has come, as they are inaccessible in the U.S except in limited clinical trials that often include radiation and chemotherapy. Another therapy, systemic ozonated hyperthermia, is not available in the U.S. unless the patient elects to receive radiation concurrently. For many, the thought of using a cancer-causing treatment to remedy cancer is absurd.
For a science-minded doc like myself, the autologous (self-donated) NK and dendritic immune-cell therapies have been fascinating. Last Saturday they drew six large syringes of Z's blood, performed multiple tests and concentrated his NK and dentritic cells in order to multiply them from 10 into 1,000,000 cancer-clearing warriors. The NK cells were delivered all within five minutes in what Z described as a rather “anti-climactic moment.” I guess he was looking for some kind of blue-gowned haz-mat lockdown like they do when delivering chemotherapy. He also seemed disappointed when he didn't get any power-line surges as cells entered his Hickman port, which is installed directly into his jugular vein.
The dendritic cell treatment was a different story. Pre-treatment included numbing ice and a xylocaine injection into his groin. Research has demonstrated that the dentritic cells work best when injected just under the skin, very close to lymph nodes. They migrate directly into the lymphatic system, where they circulate the body and have shown success even in stage IV patients with cancer who have failed other therapies. Pain at his injection site did occur, but even Z said that it was minor compared to the pain of bowel obstructions. With the possibility of eliminating his leukemia, it was completely tolerable.
He will also be getting Nupogen, a drug which will stimulate his body to build more white blood cells (Z has a critically low white blood cell count). Additionally, an immune system cytokine (messenger) called IL-2 will be used to cause a fever, making it intolerable for cancer cells to survive in his body. This is in stark contrast to conventional medicine, which sees fevers as an indicator of a potentially life-threatening infection to immune-compromised patients like Z.
From my perspective as a naturopathic doctor, there are a few approaches to treating people with cancer that are missing here. There is clearly a focus on nutrition, however Z mentioned that it would be nice to get a description of what foods he is being served and why. However, I admit that it has been a pleasurable pastime, trying to identify yet another delicious but mystifying Mexican fruit juice. Perhaps the most fun was figuring out that today's mystery meat was actually ostrich. We're still not 100% sure, but it definitely didn't taste like it had once squawked, mooed or bugled.
There has also been no discussion of herbs or supplements, but perhaps that is because they know that I have been handling the cancer-specific turmeric, green tea, mushrooms and Vitamin D that Z has been taking, along with the other custom supplements I have tailored specifically for him. More than once I have noted that they would benefit from a naturopathic doctor on staff.
So what happens next? Time will tell. Tracking his blood indicators will tell us whether or not his immune system has successfully responded to the therapies and another bone marrow biopsy is currently the only way to identify if his leukemia has receded or is in remission. For any patient with cancer, the waiting game can be excruciating. For now, Z will continue to blog his experiences, put on another Netflix movie and have a tall glass of celery juice.
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. Lepisto practices downtown near Fourth and Main. For more information, visit www.grandjunctionnaturopath.com or call 970-250-4104.