Part 14. Chemotherapy - Course Description

August 27, 2016

My cancer marker had been rising over the last few months; the anti estrogen therapy was not working. It isn’t that the cancer had “returned;” it actually never left. I knew this and we were all hoping the anti estrogen therapy would keep it in check but it didn’t.  So then, now what?

I have a tremendous amount of gratitude for my original oncologist. She was the calm within my chaos last year; the placeholder for my climb out of the abyss that was my existence. I always appreciated her availability, her care, and her calm demeanor. She outlined my options as we contemplated the next phase of my treatment - chemotherapy, a chemotherapy pill or a combination of an anti estrogen pill with the addition of another, Palbociclib.  In each case it would be buying me more time only. Frankly, none of the alternatives were making me jump up and down with excitement. She then said the words that gave me my freedom. “Renee, this is not curable.”

"If the only thing her recommendations can do is buy me more time," I thought, “What option do I like that buys me the most time, and is there an option out there I don’t know about that might give me the cure that I believe is possible?” I researched clinics in Mexico, San Diego, and Germany. I thought about trying alternative treatments that would require  buying the products from Canada because they are not approved here; I read about different strains of medical marijuana that have proven successful for some; and I explored various well known alternative protocols that I could implement on my own and then supplement with some of these other options.  I discussed these with my naturopath who then mentioned a doctor in Seattle she calls, “an out of the box Western Medicine oncologist, Dr. Chue”.  Wes and I scheduled a consultation at his office.

Upon entering the office, above the receptionist desk is the name of the clinic, Lifespring Cancer Treatment Center (love the name!), and a quote underneath, “With God, all things are possible.” Matthew 19:26. The juxtaposition of that statement and “Renee, this is not curable” was palpable. Here was an entire office that believes in the possibility of a cure. After a brief wait, I was brought to the area to check my vitals and above the chair I sat in was a painting “You are loved” and I thought, “Well, so far they are speaking my language everywhere I look!”

Dr. Chue talked to Wes and me for two hours and explained how his way of treating cancer differs than most oncologists. “First of all, I don’t see stage 4 cancer as incurable. Stage 4 cancer means you have more cancer.”  I am very much going to paraphrase what he said and hope I get it right. I’m not a science kind of gal as you know! Any mistake I make is mine in the translation of what I heard him say.

 “Cancer cells are smart in that they eventually learn how to outsmart the chemotherapy drug that is used. They also send out chemicals to create blood vessels to feed the tumors and these blood vessels aren’t great for getting the chemotherapy or immune system to reach the tumor. Usually, the amount of chemotherapy drug used is low enough so the patient doesn't die, but high enough to kill the cancer cells. Often there needs to be three weeks in between infusions to allow the patient to recover.” 

Because of how cancer behaves, Dr. Chue developed a three pronged approach to his system that differs from the normal approach and he’s been doing it this way for 20 years.

  1. One drug, Paclitaxel, is given to shut down the blood vessels feeding the tumors.  Shutting down those vessels weakens the cancer.
  2. He then adds in one or more other chemotherapy drug to kill the cells.
  3. Finally, each patient is given one to three immunotherapy drugs like interferon to boost the immune system. Adding in the immune boosting functions make the chemo drugs synergistically work better. 

All of this is possible because he is using low doses of everything and it is given on a weekly basis, This way of treating cancer is called metronomic chemotherapy. After twelve rounds of chemotherapy he assesses the progress and then switches the chemotherapy drug to outwit the cancer before it can get smart. He keeps switching it up every twelve weeks or so until the cancer is gone. This can mean you can be doing chemotherapy for quite awhile, particularly with stage 4 cancers. While I was not thrilled to be doing chemotherapy again, I was excited because his explanation made sense to me. There seemed to be logical, purposeful intent to the process and it resonated. Had I stayed with my original oncologist I would have opted out of chemotherapy as she had outlined it...not as a way to buy me more time only.

Dr. Chue truly believes he can help everyone and the attitude is infectious throughout the office. I heard of a woman who is thirteen years cancer free after having had breast cancer metastasize to her bones, liver and lungs. Today I met, Karen (not her real name), who was diagnosed 10 years ago with stage 4 pancreatic cancer that had metastasized to her liver, lungs and lymph nodes. She was given 45 days to live...10 years ago. Here is another article about a 35 year old man with metastatic pancreatic cancer who found Dr. Chue.  He was so weak when he started treatment that he was brought in on a stretcher for his infusions. Five years later he completed the Seattle to Portland 175 mile bike ride. Patients in Dr. Chue’s office use words like, “amazing”, “brilliant”, and “genius” to describe him and people travel long distances to take advantage of his protocol. One woman travelled from Florida weekly for two years.

I love the infusion room overlooking Lake Union in Seattle. Last year my chemotherapy was done in a lovely, private area sectioned off from the other patients by a curtain. In this office there are 10 chairs set up side by side so that patients can chat with one another. If it weren’t for the infusion drips standing next to each person one might think we were all getting pedicures!  Inherent in a set-up such as this is confidence; confidence that the chatter amongst the patients is going to be beneficial to their well being, not detrimental.

So, to all of you who may know someone recently diagnosed with cancer, please, please share Dr. Chue’s information if it resonates. To all of you who are concerned for me...thank you AND I have been living with cancer for awhile; this is my new normal. My view is that I’m just in a different phase and it’s an exciting one! I feel like I’m getting to be part of something special! I’m living my life with as little interruption as I can, and yet, I honor my body’s need for a slower pace. The bummer is I will lose my hair again. Drat! Vanity still speaks strongly! In anticipation of that, I had my friend Jami cut my hair really short so it won’t be as hard emotionally when it begins to fall out. Oh, and I find myself searching for cute little hats again...