I Live in a Lab

It’s hard to write when you’re wondering why your body is breaking down and to what extent it intends to break down further.  My blood work reads like a horror story in places, most of it spelling out a resurgence of cancer.  (The official term is “regression”; but the cancer, if returning, is actually progressing.  Doesn’t it say a lot about us that our veneration of the word “progress” will not allow it to be used of any unpleasant event, even when it’s the obvious logical choice?)  Yet this is not entirely true: what my tests show, rather, is that I have an abundance of cellular particles floating around loosely, abnormally, in my blood, and that proteins are not being integrated effectively in the restoration of strained muscle cells.

At least… well, that’s interpretation competing with the “resurgent cancer” hypothesis.  I seems to me to account for more of the alarming values on the blood tests, and it also has a likely culprit within easy reach: the testosterone-suppressor Firmagon, which I have been taking in excessive doses (50 percent excessive) for half a year due to a clerical error.  Testosterone is needed for cell repair and is also an anti-inflammatory—but it feeds prostate cancer, as well, and hence is regularly targeted in prostate patients by drugs like Firmagon and Lupron.  As a result, unrepaired muscle tissue, overdosed with this poison, could well be expected to spill its disiecta membra into the blood system while also giving the patient chronic, anguishing pain (far worse, believe me, than, anything I encountered with cancer during our first tussle back in May).  An elevated Prostate-Specific Antigen test number (PSA) might well follow: the PSA’s mechanism apparently reads inflamed tissue indiscriminately as cancer cells on the move.  But my “regressing” cancer (please God that it indeed be regressing!) isn’t striking me along bones as it did earlier.  It manifests precisely as muscle pain—all over the place, dependent upon what I’ve been doing lately.  A long walk yesterday?  Pain in the glutes.  More stair-climbing than usual?  Pain in the calves and knees.  And a torn triceps I incurred in making a baseball video has constantly nagged me for three months now.  Clever son of a bitch, that cancer: it finds your most vulnerable muscle tissue and sets it on fire!

Or… well, it really doesn’t, you know.  In my personal experience, cancer doesn’t work that way at all.  Even when it was raging through me like a forest fire in late May (thanks to the American medical establishment’s refusal to diagnose and treat it: more important concerns like COVID had preoccupied it), I could always take a two-mile walk or do a medium-level workout without great discomfort.  I wasn’t paralyzed with pain.  No, I contend that Firmagon has done this to me.  My PSA had flatlined throughout the months of late summer and early fall: then, just before Thanksgiving, it surged to 42, and lately has almost doubled up on that plateau.  Yet there’s no specific generator to account for such an explosive resurgence.  I’ve been taking all my supplements; my vegan diet is exemplary; I keep very regular hours and nap during the day if my night’s sleep goes poorly; I religiously adhere to the regimen of therapies (hyperthermic pads and lamps both targeted and full-body, ultrasound cleansing of the prostate area—the prostate itself having been almost fully removed, by the way—and even hours of experimental Rife technology five days a week).  There’s simply no “driver” for a riproaring comeback of the disease in my case.

What there is, instead, is a steady build-up of Firmagon in my system for months.  I don’t know what the critical mass would be to trigger muscular meltdown: that is, I don’t know how much Firmagon you have to overdose on for how long before your muscles go to pieces.  By listening to my body, though, I’m utterly convinced that escape velocity for massive malfunction was reached some time shortly before Thanksgiving.  My body, after all, is a lab wherein I live every minute of my days.  I get to observe constantly running experiments there which men in white coats may never hear about.  Some of them don’t want to hear: they have their test numbers, their “objective evidence”.  This is the feigned wisdom of a pompous fool, however.  Numbers require interpretation.  If Smith’s manager refuses to start him in a World Series game that Jones is pitching, the decision may or may not be justified by Smith’s never having landed a hit against Jones.  Perhaps the sample size is small.  Perhaps Smith hit the ball hard most of the time but was unlucky.  Perhaps he had only faced Jones before in Jones’s home park, where the hitting background is poor.  Perhaps, through trial and error, he has completely overhauled his approach to Jones.

The further possibility exists, I acknowledge, that if Firmagon overdose stresses the system as much as I’m conjecturing, cancer cells may opportunistically profit from the chaos and proliferate while the body’s immune reaction remains focused on ailing muscle.  That just might be the driver for a genuinely resurgent cancer.  I’ve been poking about this morning into the subject of cachexia: the degeneration of skeletal muscle implicated in as many as a third of all cancer deaths, it seems.  One government site observes with a relevance to my case that’s pretty alarming, “Researchers still need to dig deeper into how cachexia develops in patients with cancer… and how its course is influenced by everything from nutrition and physical activity to disease-specific factors, such as reduced testosterone levels caused by cancer therapy or opioids to treat pain” (my italics).  That sentence froze me in my tracks.  Yet the onset of my muscle pains has been so precipitous, and my previous health was so unusual in a man of my age, that I’ll cling to the optimistic view of my still having time to flush Firmagon from my system and right the ship.  As I write these words, I’m engaged in a day-long fast with heavy water-drinking.  We’ll see.  At some point, you know, optimism is the only card one has left to play.

My present doctor has heard out my theories and very helpfully offered to keep me closely monitored for further verification, all the while encouraging me, as well, to lay the ground for some aggressive kind of cancer-fighting strategy.  I would return to the Immunity Therapy Center in a heartbeat if I could afford another long stay in Tijuana.  Even though entrusting me with booster shots of dangerously excessive potency was the gaffe of a low-level ITC employee, it’s the sort of thing that could happen anywhere.  (And believe me, it does.)  In the meantime, I’m working in my little lab and watching.  I need the honest truth, not a narrative that eases my mind; but I also need a sensible truth, not a line of crunched numbers that permits an arrogant “expert” to play God with my life.

I have this to say in closing: are you comfortable surrendering your life and lives of your children to guys in white coats who’ve never met you—who stick you in masks, confine you to four walls, declare public spaces off limits to you, and soon may decree regally that you be forced to accept an inoculation—all because… well, because they’ve actually never met you?  Because their Olympian vision isn’t obscured by farmhouses and shop fronts?  Because they have numbers at their fingertips, and you have only experiences?  Are you among their vast throng of idolaters?  I suppose I was, too, in the early days of my cancer… and then, after they had very nearly killed me with their indifference—their exclusive attention to the “big picture”—I learned the importance of working away in my lab. 

Death and I Get Re-Acquainted

At this very instant, as I peck out my initial words one-handed (because I have a Vitamin C IV dripping into the other arm), I await my doctor’s appearance to discuss some “concerns” about my latest blood work.  It’s never an easy wait for a patient who has had cancer.  Every time more blood is drawn, a clock starts ticking.  A couple of weeks for results, more or less: that’s what you expect in the US.  (At Dr. Carlos Bautista’s Immunity Therapy Center in Tijuana, I never waited more than 48 hours.)  So how will it go this round?  Will you roll another seven… or has Destiny decided to send you Snake Eyes?  Will the hammer click harmlessly on an empty chamber again… or has your spin of the pistol’s cylinder found the bullet today?

Meanwhile, Burl Ives is crooning, “Have a Holly, Jolly Christmas” somewhere down the hall.  And out in the parking lot, sitting alone in a cold car, my wife awaits the return of her awaiting husband, the quiet caboose in a train of tension and misery.

Can you understand why it pisses me off so much that my fellow citizens readily surrendered our republic and our personal freedom over their fear of a damn flu virus?  They’re so very afraid that they might die—that if they were among the millions to be infected, they might also fall among the .3 percent of the known infected to perish.  (About 40 percent of the infected never know bout it, since they have no symptoms.)  Meanwhile, as these panic-moths hurl themselves into the flame to escape a disease indetectible almost half the time, I play Russian Roulette every few weeks with a blood test.  They can’t crawl out from under their beds in their terror of a bad cold, but every day of my life is lived in the shadow of a tombstone.

One thing I know to be amiss with my blood (though I dare not take anything for granted: must keep myself prepared for the worst) is the effects of overdosing on Firmagon for six months.  Almost unique among the drugs I was administered in Mexico to be accepted by mainstream American medicine, Firmagon dries up testosterone—and testosterone is the favorite food of prostate cancer.  This is, indeed, a major ground of optimism about the “mystery concern”: I’ve been shooting myself so full of the drug that cancer would have to overhaul its menu to make a comeback.  Interesting, isn’t it, that ITC so grudgingly supplied me with additional boxes of the stuff while, as it appears, having reached some international compromise to permit the shipping of substances disliked by the FDA.  Could it be that American distributors want exclusive dibs on Firmagon—that the FDA is far less alarmed at the prospect of a witch’s brew entering my system than it is at that of US doctors and drug companies not carving maximal profits out of big-ticket items?

All I can say is, Firmagon is one hell of a torment even to some who consume it in recommended doses.  Chills, dizziness, soreness at the site of injection, joint and muscle pain… I came to know all of these thanks to overdosing; and the last, it occurs to me, is probably routine in anyone who leads an active life.  You need testosterone to stimulate muscle repair and recovery after a vigorous workout.  I wrote of this weeks ago.  I’ve been aware for some time that I couldn’t tax my body as I used to on a regime of hormone-suppressants and plant-based proteins.  I learned my lesson as a result of a couple of hard take-downs and their aftermath.  As I would try to ease my incidental tears and pulls back into shape using a tried-and-true pattern of stretching and “nudge” exercises (the kind that refuse to let the sore spot flee all pain and go slack), I would find myself merely re-aggravating old problems—maybe making them worse.  I couldn’t demand anything of my muscles at all, it seemed.

It’s not like the last six months have given American constitutionalists no other cause for distress… but I began to grow downright depressed.  Finally, last week, as I prepared my monthly Firmagon injection, a chain of thoughts began to close its links which was to pull down my vast wall of error.  I was dissolving the powder in distilled water from the ampule.  (I won’t give you a step-by-step account: every Firmagon kit has over half a dozen components, and the procedure for using each in proper position and sequence is tortuous.)  I knew that the box containing two kits was marked dosis inicial, and I knew that each hypodermic of the two contributed 120 milligrams to the 240 total.  (A single shot of that magnitude in one spot would make the first-time user’s tummy swell up like a watermelon.)  I knew that each booster, of which this was my fifth, should be 80 mg.  Therefore… therefore, I would need to squeeze out approximately 33 percent of my preparation before injecting the remnant.  I say “approximately” because the ampule had no calibration.  The only way that I could reduce 120 mg. of Firmagon to 80 mg. was to “eyeball” it.

This I did, though deliberately underestimating the ejectum.  (The stuff is expensive!)  For some reason, I still needed a few more mental links to close.  I think it literally occurred to me between sleeping spurts that night (the muscle pain doesn’t allow steady sleep) that I’d never squeezed out any “extra” from the previous shots.  Not only that… but the first supposed booster, administered on my last day at ITC by a couple of novice nurses—it was a Saturday, and the duty roster was pretty thin—didn’t feature any expulsion of excess in its preparation, either.  None.  I would have noticed, for I knew I’d have to imitate the procedure.  Every booster of Firmagon I’d ever received was a 50-percent overdose, except the one I’d just completed.  That one was probably just a 10-percent overdose.

….

The doctor came, and we had our talk.  He’s a sweet guy.  I haven’t seen that degree of caring among very many Americans in this profession.

My PSA is up from nearly dead zero three months ago to 42.  A huge leap over an incredibly short period.  We’ll retest it next week, we’ll schedule a bone scan, we’ll plan for contingencies… maybe I’ll go back to Tijuana.  I would, in a flash.  I’d stay there, if I could.

So… Death and I are chained at the ankle once again.  We always were, of course… but now I get to see his leer whenever I take a careless peek.  Everyone is saying, “Oh, this is just a setback!  We’ll figure it out!  Everything will be fine!”  Actually, I—the lowly patient—am the only one who seems to have a coherent theory of events.  Firmagon caused my muscles to bleed without mending; inflammation (as an independent professional confirmed for me just now) can severely elevate PSA scores; thus my tests are going to show high numbers as long as the poison in my system continues to keep my triceps and gluts and thighs from sealing up.

And, just to add a personal speculation… why wouldn’t genuine cancer cells rally and multiply when the body is over-strained in the simple matter of repairing leg muscles after a walk?

Firmagon was the most “American” of my treatments, and I never really liked its m.o.  Annihilate your adversary by annihilating one of your own battalions… how very like the American medical establishment!  I guess this present challenge, as my son calls it, is an opportunity to form a better battle plan.  Everything seemed day-to-day before.  Now we can go long-range.

All the same, the ultimate in long-range thinking is recognition that one’s body cannot function beyond a certain point.  It’s understanding that life in this world doesn’t have a ticket for infinite trips up and down the track. My own destination cannot be so very far up the line.

As my wife drove me home through the maze of backroads where the GPS led us, I studied the mowed green farm lawns, the fields now stripped of their cotton, the horses blanketed for one of our first sub-freezing days… and the small new subdivisions of young professionals fleeing Atlanta taxes, above-ground swimming pools for toddlers dryly weathering the winter, Christmas lights making candy-canes of columns here and there, mansards and bay windows and railed porches or broad decks proposing scenes for private domestic celebrations….  It was beautiful.  It was all beautiful, including the “bourgeois domesticity” (words inevitably sneered by the mortal enemies of families).

And yet, if I was supposed to mourn silently, “Please, God!  I’m not ready to leave all this!  Please let me live a while longer!”… well, I thought no such thing.  I thought of my own special places where I was a child, and how much more beautiful they were to me than these, and how I could walk right into them and see all my lost people, never to be parted from them again, on the day when I broke through the barrier.  I’ll stay for now, all right… or I’ll try.  I’ll tolerate Death’s cold breath down my neck as I gaze at the sun’s afternoon scythe harvesting a tawny field.  But when I finally pass through, the chain that bonds my clammy companion to me will break forever, and he will be left behind.

I began writing this page last Tuesday.  On the calendar day when I post these words, December 4, I have reached my sixty-eight birthday.  Will I see another?  If I do, it is well… and if I don’t, that is well, also.  I don’t like to mar my plateau of peace by adding that the cowardly traitors sure to make this world so much more challenging for my son will be a pleasure to leave behind, but… well, so it is.  I tell you, I pity grown human beings who so fear my dark, mute companion that they will sell their souls for a pair of blinders.

Why I’m Not Dead: Treating Cancer in Mexico

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When my blood was drawn for the first time at the Immunity Therapy Center in Tijuana, it returned a PSA reading of 295.  Ask an older man in your life what that means; no layman I’ve spoken to has ever heard of a score so far in the clouds, though one doctor claimed that he’d seen higher ones.  I had metastasized prostate cancer, and U.S. medical professionals (including the one who “consoled” me with his awareness of higher PSA’s) all gave me up for dead, offering no more than palliative treatments to help me go gentle into that good night.  The Harbin Clinic in Rome, Georgia, persistently refused to return my calls.  I have to assume, in this stone-cold absence of response, that the clinic’s physicians didn’t want their batting average of successes compromised by a guy with one foot already deeply in the grave.

After two weeks of “non-traditional” (i.e., non-invasive, largely non-pharmaceutical) therapy in Tijuana, my PSA score was 65.  After four and a half weeks, just before my departure, it was 4.3: well within the normal range for a man of my years.

Something’s wrong with this picture.  In fact, not very much is right.  I have vowed to my creator that I will make several changes during whatever additional years my new lease on life may give me.  The foremost of these will be to alert cancer sufferers that they don’t have to die: not like lab rats in a cage that failed to make the cut in an experiment—not shivering and shedding their hair after procedures to “cleanse” them have reduced them to little more than shiny white skeletons.  I was actually the healthiest person in ITC’s treatment room on any given day.  The fact that I had received no treatment whatever back in the States left my body much better prepared to fight its battle against the invader.

(Full disclosure: in the esoterica of medi-speak, I’m still classified as Stage Four because, I believe, supplements and injections continue to be part of my daily regimen.  You have to be off the program for a certain period and remaining cancer-free, I’m assuming, to be considered in remission.  But call me any stage you like—I’m in the game again, and I have the strength and the attitude I need to win.  Nobody in my native country ever gave me that gift.  No doctor among the lot would even write me a letter on medical letterhead so that I might obtain an emergency passport—none would dirty his sterilized fingers by implicitly condoning “voodoo medicine”.)

In this first of what I suppose may be many articles, I want to accomplish a couple of ends.  Right out of the gate, I offer my sincerest thanks to those who wished me well in my struggle and urged me to be of good cheer.  Most of these are Internet friends.  I’ve never met them personally, but their concern was the more obvious and credible for being expressed in thoughtful messages rather than squeezed into one of those awkward corridor-encounters.  (“You have what?  Wow… I’m so sorry.  Well, good luck, dude.  Oh, shoot—that’s my phone.  I gotta take this call.”)  Not included in the radius of my gratitude are the comments of a pair who exhorted me to get religion—*their* religion—in my hour of need.  It seemed as though they had been waiting, like the proverbial snake in the grass, throughout our “friendship” for a mortal crisis in my life to tell me that my spiritual convictions were forged of hellfire and brimstone.  What a way to encourage a friend—or to encourage anyone—confronting a deadly disease!

The broader theme I’d like to dispose of in relatively few (far too few) words is the almost knee-jerk supposition that capitalism is responsible for our dysfunctional medical system.  Over and over from fellow American patients at ITC, and again and again from family members after my return home, I had to listen to this tired refrain.  In my more vigorous moments, I would introduce the word “corporatism” into the discussion.  Socialized medicine isn’t the cure for what ails our health care: it’s Stage Four of the degeneration.  Why do we cancer patients have so few options in the U.S., and why will Medicare and the federal income tax turn a very cold shoulder to us if we seek assistance elsewhere?  “Because of Big Pharma,” pipe the critics.  “Doctors get a cut of the take on all the hugely expensive meds they prescribe.  They also love to do surgeries and radiation treatments with whopping price tags that typically produce very temporary good results.  They trick the patient into thinking that he’s mending while they actually weaken his body, and they bleed his insurance and Medicare for all they’re worth, at the same time.”

Yes to all that… but notice that our government has tidily arranged the scam.  Most of us are not paying out of pocket for these Pyrrhic victories scored over specific, localized outbreaks of cancer.  The government’s micro-managing allows us to believe that the cost is being absorbed by a benign Uncle Sam, or by insurance megaliths whose unfathomable resources permit everybody to prosper.  The truth is that—yes, again—pharmaceutical companies prosper, and so do the doctors who play their game.  That’s not capitalism in action.  At most, it’s late-stage, failing capitalism: it’s corporatism, the collaboration of private and public sectors in securing a choke-hold over the market.  Small insurers go under; or they’re certainly not able to compete broadly with the big names, at any rate, thanks to legislation that tightly squeezes the marketplace’s limits.  And while we can all concede that drug companies need mountains of funding to continue their world-class research and development, the entire health care system should not be enthralled to this worthy objective.  If an alternative therapy shows promise but does not involve medication, then it should not be branded “voodoo” and its successes denied even so much as access to peer-reviewed medical journals.

Such arrogant neglect, by the way, is seldom a result of behind-the-scenes pay-offs, in my opinion.  I think it reflects a root-level philosophical bias in our medical establishment, and in our technological enterprises generally.  Our culture regards its progress as adversarial to nature.  Rivers must be dammed.  Energy must be ripped from the earth’s bowels.  Viruses must be slain by super-vaccines.  The notion that the body might defeat cancer on its own if only given the right fuel and submitted to the right regimen of training is the equivalent, to our clinicians, of shaking rattles and eagle feathers over the patient.

Meanwhile, the private-sector half of the corporatist arrangement prospers handsomely, because every patient is placed on the same assembly (or disassembly) line involving drugs, surgery, and massive radiation; and the public-sector half, having received its cut of the profit (in campaign donations to statist candidates, etc.), supplies the muscle in the “protection” racket by forcing citizens to pay into a system that only underwrites the drugs-surgery-radiation protocol.  The resources beneath it all, far from being unfathomable, soon reach bottom as the system’s tentacles claim more and more of the populace and wrap around more and more treatments.  Instead of the best care for the greatest number, we have whatever care is available after strained resources have been divided by a denominator climbing into the hundreds of millions.

As I once pointed out to a fellow patient at ITC, Dr. Bautista would not be running his operation if the Mexican system enjoyed the sort of choke-hold over options that the American one exercises.  The Center’s physical therapist explained the situation in her homeland in terms that, I’m afraid, were too “inside baseball” for me.  (And we talked a lot about baseball, too!)  My garbled version of her brilliant summation would be this: the Mexican government is hopelessly corrupt.  Its agents know that they can’t serve the nation’s health needs adequately.  They therefore allow maverick start-ups like ITC to operate untouched.  The results are positive, demand is high, and profits escalate.  A government that can’t do much of anything on its own is very happy to let the private sector—a true private sector, a free-enterprise marketplace—purr along just under the radar.  In the U.S., where a Uncle Mao is still securing his power over every aspect of our lives, such benign negligence doesn’t happen.  Disobedience is not tolerated.  But in Mexico, where the line between patron and peon was drawn deeply and long ago, trickles of officially unnoticed efficiency are allowed to flow.

That may just be our own last best hope, as a nation—or as the shambles of a nation: enclaves of efficiency rising from the rubble of totalitarianism.  Or, should I say, that is the first hope awaiting us after the Collapse.