Saturday, January 30, 2010

Oral Melanoma: Cheating the Reaper

Sasha always attracted admirers, but didn't like to be petted by them. He was handsome and fluffy, but I heard he bit someone who put his hand over the fence. He was more cat than dog, but ended up with a common canine disease: oral melanoma, a cancer of the mouth.

My vet, Dr. McCarthy, said he'd live three months if I let nature take its course, and referred me to a veterinary oncologist.

The oncologist was taken with Sasha; Sasha let her look in his mouth. After discussing our options (chemotherapy, expensive radiation, ghastly partial jaw removal), we decided on chemotherapy.

A few days on chemo put Sasha at death's door: he wouldn't eat and had become incontinent. I took him to Dr. McCarthy with the intention of putting him down. But she recommended Zantac and a diet of chicken breast and white rice, and no more chemo. She looked at Sasha as if she'd never see him again.

About that time, I consulted a holistic veterinarian who recommended a grain-free diet. I had also gotten a book on herbal cancer treatments and another on Eastern medicine for dogs and cats (Four Paws, Five Directions). I decided to give Sasha a combination of herbs like garlic, astragulus, reishi mushrooms and ginseng, along with grain-free dog food. Dr. McCarthy was skeptical and reminded me that natural doesn't necessarily mean harmless, and some treatments are of questionable efficacy. True--but Sasha and I had nothing to lose.

He bounced back from his chemo experience. The cancer was still there, of course, but tumors were slow in returning. Sasha had tumors removed once or twice, was eating well, and seemed to be enjoying life. Several months later, the vet prescribed a daily pain pill for an inoperable tumor that might have been causing him some discomfort. Still, the dog seemed like his old self.

Almost a year passed--not long before Sasha was ready to go--and Dr. McCarthy said she'd been telling people about this amazing dog who'd lived for a year with oral melanoma.

After Sasha passed, I talked with someone else whose dog had lived a long time with oral melanoma, and she said she, too, gave her dog grain-free dog food. (Need I say this is what my current dog, Molly, eats?)

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Wheat Free (Almost): On the Right Track

It's been three and a half weeks since I stopped eating wheat (except on my weekly free day). I haven't changed my exercise routine, just my diet. Keep in mind I that about the only wheat I ate in one day was two slices of bread, maybe a pita too on a rare day. I've substituted fruit, beans, rice and potatoes for wheat. Results:

  • My cravings for junk food have disappeared. I've stopped snacking on caramel corn, chocolate and diet soda on my non-free days. I eat two tiny pieces of chocolate per day, at most.
  • My hair stays clean longer.
  • Certain foods taste better. Coconut chai tea tastes like a candy bar in a cup (yes, I drink it straight) and even sardines taste better.
  • Since I got a scale ten days ago, I've lost two pounds. I even had to tighten the straps on my backpack today.
  • Three happy words: no menstrual pain.
  • I have more energy. If I were a horse, my name would be Secretariat.

My mother, who is diabetic and in a rehabilitation center with a broken leg, agreed two days ago to try a wheat-free diet. Results so far:

  • Her blood sugar the first day was 110--very close to ideal.
  • The second day, it was 130. That day, she ordered white toast because she didn't want the wheat toast. Oops. We had a conversation about what foods are made of wheat. "Well," she said, "most food is just trash, isn't it!"
Just to be clear, most foods that are made of flour contain wheat, even if they aren't named "Wheat Thins" or "Wheaties" or "Whole wheat bread." Even potato bread might have wheat in it. Read the label! All of the following foods are made mostly of wheat unless the list of ingredients says otherwise:

  • Breakfast cereal
  • Crackers
  • Cake
  • Pie crust
  • Rolls
  • Bagels
  • Bread
  • Buns
  • Pastries
  • Pitas
  • Pasta
  • Noodles
  • Doughnuts
  • Tortillas

But what about "healthy whole grains"? Those are what you'd give to Secretariat's friend Bessie the Cow if you wanted to fatten her up. Grains are what I eliminated from my dog Sasha's diet when he had cancer. The results left my veterinarian flabbergasted. More on that in my next post.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Gettin' off the Train to Fat City

I eat right (well, mostly). I exercise (a lot). How did I put on 20 pounds since 2005? What have I been doing differently since then?

My GP chalked it up to getting older. But I went from age 36 to (almost) 41, not 25 to 50.

In 2005, I had been on Body-for-Life (BFL) for two years. Basically, BFL involves eating six small meals a day of balanced proteins and carbohydrates, plus two servings of vegetables. It also involves three strength training workouts and three cardio workouts every week. I was also dancing two or three nights a week. I don't know how much weight I lost, but once I started BFL I went down two dress sizes and felt great. All was well.

The results of a car wreck and an unrelated illness in late 2006 and early 2007 no doubt caused some weight gain. The car wreck left me unable to dance or exercise for several months; the illness (an infection of H. pylori and acid reflux) made my stomach so sore that it was painful to eat fruit. I ate wheat products instead.

About that time, I bought the cookbook Eating for Life by Bill Phillips, who created BFL, the diet and exercise regimen I'd been on. Despite Phillips' assertion in the BFL book that he only reluctantly allowed bread, several recipes in the book used bread, pitas and pasta. I made and ate them happily.

By the end of 2007, I was feeling better and doing the same exercise regimen as before. I didn't go dancing as often, though; my job required me to be wide awake. The years 2007 through 2009 also saw some long, cold winters that coated the sidewalks with thick ice. I took fewer walks than before. I was getting less exercise, but still doing six hard workouts a week.

Even though my stomach was feeling better with the H. pylori gone and daily pills for acid reflux, I hadn't gone back to eating little or no wheat. Could that make a difference? Dr. William Davis, cardiologist, thinks so. He coined the term "wheat belly" in 2007, and advises his patients to try going wheat-free for four weeks. An excerpt from his blog:

You've heard of "beer bellies," the protuberant, sagging abdomen of someone who drinks excessive quantities of beer.

How about "wheat belly"?

That's the same protuberant, sagging abdomen that develops when you overindulge in processed wheat products like pretzels, crackers, breads, waffles, pancakes, breakfast cereals and pasta....Wheat bellies are created and propagated by the sea of mis-information that is delivered to your door every day by food manufacturers. It's the same campaign of mis-information that caused the wife of a patient of mine who was in the hospital (one of my rare hospitalizations) to balk in disbelief when I told her that her husband's 18 lb weight gain over the past 6 months was due to the Shredded Wheat Cereal for breakfast, turkey sandwiches for lunch, and whole wheat pasta for dinner.
(emphasis added)

I guess it's no coincidence that big bellies are called "bread baskets" instead of "salad bowls." "Pansa" is the Spanish slang term; "pan" is Spanish for "bread." Instinctively, people seem to think as Dr. Davis does.

Dr. Davis mentions in other posts that wheat can be addictive. Indeed--I can't stop at one bowl of cereal or a couple of cookies.

A few weeks ago, even before my doctor said I'd put on 20 pounds, I stopped eating wheat except on my weekly free day (BFL allows a day of rest from both diet and exercise). I eat fruit, beans, potatoes and rice instead. Result: the bloating is gone. My clothes fit a little better. My belly is flatter. I immediately felt a little thinner. Much of the urge to snack, stuff myself and cheat on BFL are gone.

Much of our digestive system is still a mystery, and theories about nutrition come and go. The best thing to do, IMO, is to see what gets good results for you.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Shoulder Pain; Weight Gain

Shoulders are more delicate than they seem. There's a joint that is easily injured (don't ask me its name) and muscle/tendon structure called the rotator cuff. Rotator cuff injuries can be treated or repaired if they aren't left to deteriorate. Untreated, they can become irrepairable and leave you in constant pain. My mother suffers this pain every day.

A few days ago, I went to the doctor because I had shoulder pain and worried that I might have a damaged rotator cuff. It turns out that I just had shoulder strain. However, when I looked at my chart, I noticed that I had gained 20 pounds since 2005. I knew I had gained weight, but 20 pounds!

I admire the attitude of loving your body no matter what your weight, but I intend to get back to my 2005 weight. Those 20 extra pounds aren't causing me any pain at this time, but I have 20 pounds of fat that my heart has to pump blood to and my knees have to carry. Besides, my dance partners are starting to lose their balance when they dip me. Despite the concerns of friends and family that I was too thin in 2005, I remember a day in July that year when I painted the house in 104 degree heat, then danced my brains out that night.

For next time: how I think I gained it and how I plan to lose it.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Dancing and Knee Pain

Normally, four nights of lindy hopping, two lower-body strength workouts and three cardio dance workouts in the course of a week would make my knees sore. But they felt better near the end of the week, after three hours of enthusiastic dancing, than they did at the beginning.

Here's an example of lindy (the dance I did for four nights), demonstrated by two of my teachers, Tiff and Kenny:

Tiff and Kenny did a show-stopping dance on Thursday that inspired me to dance better on Friday. Instead of doing the same few styling moves (foot and leg movements in this case), I pulled out all the stops and did every one I could think of--and I think that doing several movements instead of repeating a few movements dozens of times was what kept my knees from hurting. My partners enjoyed the variety, too!

Another dancer and I were talking about workouts. I mentioned I had stopped doing squats a few years ago, and she said she didn't do them, either. "Unless your knees are perfectly lined up over your feet, it'll hurt your knees." Perhaps; all I know is that I feel better not doing them. For my lower-body workout, I use the DVD Ballet Conditioning. Lovely Elise Gulan, ballerina, leads viewers through a series of exercises to rival the Navy Seal Workout.

The morning after my dancing epiphany, I did a 20-minute cardio dance workout (a la Body-for-Life) without any knee pain.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Antibiotics and Probiotics: How to Prevent a Yeast Infection or Keep from Feeling like Crap

Years ago, a classmate who was taking antibiotics told me she could make $100 by participating in a study on yeast infections. She always got a yeast infection, she said, when taking antibiotics.

I told her she might avoid a yeast infection by taking Lactinex (lactobacillus), a probiotic that replenishes the good bacteria that antibiotics kill. She reported later that the Lactinex worked--and that it wasn't worth $100 to get a yeast infecton.

A few weeks ago, I had stomach aches and motion sickness while I was taking cleocin (another antibiotic). Normally, I can spin and spin without getting dizzy, let alone seasick. But I was suddenly unable to even read on the bus. Taking probiotics (Udo's Choice Super 5 Lozenge Probiotic) made me feel better. Super 5 contains lactobacillis acidophilus, bifidobacterium bificum, streptococcus thermophillus, l. bulgaricus and l. salivarius. Some of these are in various brands of yogurt, but you'd have to eat a lot of yogurt to get as much flora, and it's not a good idea to eat dairy if you're already nauseated.

You can find probiotics at drug stores and health food stores. They have to be refrigerated, so you may have to ask the pharmacist for a bottle if there is no self-serve section.

Friday, January 8, 2010

Root Canals III

Monday, I was back in the dentist's chair to get a permanent filling. I told the dentist about the muscle relaxant (Cyclobenzaprine) that my TMJ doctor prescribed. It had stopped the pain in its tracks.

The most helpful things I found for my tooth infection and root canal pain:

  • Hot water bottle for pain.
  • Cyclobenzaprine for muscle spasms and intense pain.
  • Ibuprofin for three or four hours' moderate relief from intense pain.
  • Probiotics (Udo's Choice Super 5 Lozenge Probiotic) for my stomach while I took cleocin (an antibiotic). The cleocin must have killed some of the good bio in my digestive system, which the probiotics helped restore.