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Case Study: The Surprising Remission of Cancer Growth

62-year-old John is a successful defense attorney at a prominent San Francisco law firm.  He manages high profile criminal cases with a stellar track record of wins both inside and out of the courtroom. John loves providing a valued service to his clients, irrelevant of the crime they’ve been charged with. He doesn’t envy or resent them; only hopes to make a positive difference in his clients’ lives. After twenty years of practicing law, John doesn’t need the money to live a comfortable life. He loves law, and as many of his firm’s partners can contest John is “married” to his work. This was very apparent to me after our initial meeting.

One year prior to John seeing me as a patient, he had suddenly gone from being able to easily walk his dog for thirty minutes and do an hour-long yoga session every day to gasping for air with every step he took. The only health challenges John faced over the past five years was carrying a bit of extra weight, having high blood sugar (diabetes), and decreasing sexual function.  At the time, John felt all of these issues were being well-managed with sugar and blood pressure lowering medications along with a monthly testosterone injection, all of which were managed by his primary care doctor and cardiologist. He’d felt fine until BOOM!  

“I can’t breathe!” John complained to his cardiologist. 

A routine echocardiogram (aka., ultrasound of the heart) was ordered to better understand what was going on.  It showed John’s heart was only pumping out 25% of blood during each contraction; this is what we call congestive heart failure (CHF).  John then started on a long-term prescription “water pill” (on top of his other four heart medications) in order to stop putting excess stress on his heart and to prevent excess fluid from backing up into John’s lungs and legs. Unfortunately, his breathing and leg swelling only got worse over the next four months.   

John’s cardiologist suspected more testing was required to get John’s CHF under control. A computerized tomography (CT) scan, utilizing contrast dye and radiation, was ordered which showed John had pneumonia (due to an occult lung infection) and long-standing fatty liver disease with two large abnormal masses later biopsied to confirm cancer. 

Because John’s health declined so rapidly, he was hospitalized and placed on intravenous antibiotics for two weeks.  Once stable, John’s liver surgeon and hepatologist (a liver specialist) both urged him to undergo surgery as soon as possible to remove the liver mass before it had a chance to spread to other areas of his body (aka., metastatize) or cause life-threatening internal bleeding. 

John was frustrated and scared. How did everything go south so quickly? How did he suddenly go from being super active to feeling like every step was hell? And why was all of this happening now in his young age?” 

John just wasn’t sure what to do. It was at this moment he spoke to two of his closest friends who recommended John get a second opinion. They highly recommended he see me since I am renowned for taking an “out-of-box” approach and seeing the whole picture. I had also helped both of his friends successfully recover from their life-threatening conditions (i.e., ovarian cancer and extensive leg blood clots) with no residual complications. John was ready to make the investment!  

Six months after his diagnosis of CHF, I met a robust, 6’1”, 237 pound man.  He was mildly out of breath simply walking up our integrative medical center’s one flight of stairs. John looked at least twenty years older than his stated age and was carrying about fifty pounds of excess weight. He was extremely sharp, witty, well-mannered and dressed, and had an impressive grasp on the complexities of his health condition. 

After spending over an hour understanding John’s health history, conducting a thorough physical exam, and reviewing all of his test results, I came to discover John’s liver and kidneys were at the root of his declining health. Since these detoxifying organs hadn’t been working effectively for many years, due to an poorly suited diet and lifestyle, the liver and kidneys were unable to properly regulate his blood sugar and blood pressure levels or detoxify his sex hormones. This would explain John’s long-standing diagnoses of type II diabetes, hypertension, gout, and sexual dysfunction.  

John’s excess abdominal fat was linked to his diagnosis of non-alcoholic fatty liver disease where large fat deposits take up too much space in the liver and prevent it from functioning properly. As these deposits grow, they become benign tumors which are at risk of progressing into cancerous tumors like John had. Being under too much stress, even though he loved his job, the pressure he put himself under also put pressure on the liver’s main artery (portal artery); as the pressure rose it increased the blood pressure to the heart (its neighbor) and kidneys. Over time, all of these critical organs begin to incrementally suffer. 

This is where John was when he met me: at age 62 his body had been working to “death” for over two decades, which fundamentally caused negative shifts in his liver, kidneys, heart, digestive, and immune systems. Nothing was being excreted from his body anymore. 

Our first step in figuring out exactly what were the key elements in driving all of this damage was to check John’s exposure to eighteen different industrial toxicants, mold, heavy metals along with his cells’ mitochondrial functioning capacity (aka., all cells’ powerhouse responsible for converting water and oxygen into usable energy). John’s results demonstrated that he had extremely high levels of mold toxins, pesticides and gasoline additives: huge culprits for his health problems. Notwithstanding his hazardous exposure, the good news was John’s cells were functioning at 98% capacity. This meant that if we could focus on first removing the biggest culprits harming his organs, John had a high probability of bouncing back and healing. 

Again, by focusing on the philosophy to do no harm, we developed a personalized treatment plan based on the following three steps:  

Step #1:  To stop John’s diabetes with diet and lifestyle interventions and wean off 3 out of 5 of his blood pressure-lowering medications since they were harming his kidneys and preventing blood from being adequately delivered to every organ in his body.  

Step #2: To have John focus on consuming an organic whole food, plant-based diet void of alcohol and caffeine, which were additional stressors to his liver and kidneys. By specifically eliminating eggs and meat, John decreased his exposure to high concentrations of pesticides and gasoline additives; avoiding these animal proteins prevents cancer growth.  

Step #3: To get John to invest in longer periods of intermittent fasting (i.e., 14 to 16 hours at night) and relaxation time. By giving his gut needed rest and turning off the stress response, his immune system would be better supported, inflammation decreased, and cancer cells naturally killed. . 

Within 24 hours of implementing most of these simple shifts, John was no longer experiencing any breathing problems and his legs were no longer swollen and super painful.  We also realized that one of his heart medications, Carvedilol (brand name Coreg) which is commonly prescribed for CHF and high blood pressure, was the main cause of John experiencing severe gout attacks in his feet preventing him from walking comfortably. Over the course of the next three months, John lost over twenty-five pounds. He was safely able to stop all of his prescription medications. His liver, kidneys, and heart were continuing to work more efficiently, and his cancer was gradually shrinking in size without the use of chemo or radiation.  

The main challenge John now faced was the frequent pressure applied by his cardiologist, hepatologist, and liver surgeon to have restart his heart medications and urgently remove the liver tumor. They couldn’t grasp the idea that CHF and liver cancer could remarkably improve with only dramatic lifestyle shifts (no drugs, surgery, or chemotoxic drugs) implemented over the course of only three months despite John feeling great.  John inevitably succumbed to the liver tumor being surgically removed, partially to appease the specialists since he feared they would abandon their care if he did not follow their exclusive recommendations. 

John's medical team was shocked when the liver mass’s pathology report came back:  No malignant cancer.  It had regressed to being a benign (non-worrisome) liver growth which had no risk of causing John any harm. The tumor had just needed more time to shrink since John’s  organ systems were functioning optimally—to continue losing more weight and letting the body be well-nourished in the right ways. These impressive results meant the work John and I had instituted over the past few months had actually killed his cancer, and surgery could have actually been avoided in the first place. John was over-the-moon, and so was I.

(The one sad part of this story was John’s hepatologist never acknowledged what we discovered and denied ever pressuring John into the surgery. His hepatologist’s ego and not believing in John’s instincts regarding how his body was positively responding to his dramatic lifestyle shifts left the specialist biased in the care he’d recommended John. Being more open-minded to taking a holistic approach to care was just a part of his specialists’ style of care.)

Over the next year John continued to thrive. He is still gradually losing weight, maintaining his plant-based diet, and being physically active. His heart function has also returned almost back to normal without needing to take any pharmaceutical drugs. Knowing he has personally changed his story from almost walking into death’s door to now having complete control over his health has been a game changer for John. Learning how to self-heal through a whole person approach has reinstilled hope back into his life.  The sky's the limit now.

Author
Dr. Payal Bhandari Dr. Payal Bhandari M.D. is a leading practitioner of integrative and functional medicine in San Francisco.

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