An Eventful June
Our family trip to Africa was wonderful (15 of us in 3 generations.) Our first stop was Africa University (AU), where I taught from 2010-15, and where I have many friends and former students. The Old Mutare Mission, which had been important in my family’s history, was only a mile away from AU. Visiting the mission and staying at AU for its graduation events were highlights for all of us. (The summer issue of Africa University Today reports our story in “Family Love Affair with Africa!”)
We spent a day at Victoria Falls before flying on to Ethiopia. The falls were magnificent. Walking the mile-long observation path opposite the thundering falls was an experience not to be forgotten. Pervasive mist from the falls would have drenched us if we weren’t wearing rented ponchos! Sunlight blazing through the mist created multiple gorgeous rainbows. And the mile-long falls themselves, far bigger than Niagara Falls, are incredible!
Ethiopia was special for us in three ways. I taught public health in Gondar 50 years ago. The town of 30,000 people has grown into a city of a quarter-million people, and the public health college has become a major medical school. Despite the changes, we found the home we’d lived in. Visiting it brought back priceless memories of early childhood for my three children, now in their 50s. We also visited ruins of great castles built in the 1600s, when Gondar was the capital of Ethiopia.
Another goal was to visit Project Mercy. My son Randall served on its board and was COO for several years. To learn more about this remarkable organization, we spent two days at its main base in Yetebon, seeing a few of the thousands of students and families it has helped, and glimpsing some of its medical and agricultural work. The vision of its Ethiopian founders and the story of their accomplishments is amazing!
A final purpose of our trip was to re-introduce my Ethiopian granddaughters to Africa and Ethiopia. My daughter and son-in-law had adopted two baby girl orphans 18 years ago. They graduated from high school in Florida this year, not having seen Ethiopia since infancy. We visited the Ethiopian National Museum in Addis Ababa one day and attended a cultural dinner event one evening to give them a feel for their history. Along with everything else we did in Africa, this helped give the girls a sense of their roots. Our two weeks in Africa was a bonding and enriching experience for all of us.
August Shock: Cancer
Six weeks after our return home, I was diagnosed with bladder cancer. To say this was a shock is an understatement. I’ve never smoked (the top risk factor for bladder cancer), and I’ve promoted the value of a healthy lifestyle for decades. A healthy lifestyle is valuable for many reasons, including prevention of 60 to 90 percent of many chronic diseases. Still, it does not guarantee freedom from disease. I’ll return at the end of this newsletter with a few thoughts about this. First, I’ll review several recent reports about dealing with cancer.
Diet, Physical Activity and Cancer
Diet, Nutrition, Physical Activity and Cancer: A Global Perspective, is an in-depth report by the World Cancer Research Fund and the American Institute for Cancer Research. Published in mid-2018, this is the group’s third expert report. The first report in 1997 and the second report in 2007 provided early evidence of the value of diet and physical activity. This third report, over 12,000 pages long, is their most authoritative one yet. A summary of over 100 pages provides a good overview of the scientific evidence for their latest Cancer Prevention Recommendations:
- Maintain a healthy weight – the evidence is strong that overweight status and obesity are significant risk factors for cancer.
- Be physically active.
- Eat a diet rich in whole grains, vegetables, fruit and beans.
- Limit consumption of “fast foods” and other processed foods high in fat, starches, or sugars.
- Limit consumption of red and processed meat.
- Limit consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages.
- Limit consumption of alcohol.
- Do not use supplements for cancer prevention.
- For mothers, breast-feed your baby if you can.
- After a cancer diagnosis, follow these recommendations if you can.
The reported scientific evidence to support these recommendations is strong. The summary goes on to provide specific desirable goals for each recommendation, and provides public health and policy implications for each one. Finally, it shows that while these recommendations are geared toward preventing cancer, they also help in prevention or management of many other non-communicable diseases (NCDs) today.
The Plant-based Solution, a new book by Joel Kahn, MD, emphasizes a wholesome plant-based diet as the key to preventing most of our NCDs today. Kahn, one of the world’s top cardiologists, has been practicing holistic cardiology for years. He found a plant-based diet to be a powerful healing tool, not only for heart disease, but for most non-communicable diseases. He makes this point in chapters dealing with everything from cancer to type 2 diabetes. In summarizing this, he says that the plant-based solution is the best way to enjoy good health over a long lifespan.
The Angiogenesis Foundation
Angiogenesis is the process the body uses to grow new blood vessels to support normal growth. Cancer subverts this process by attracting new blood vessels to allow cancer to grow like wildfire. Research over several decades has allowed scientists to develop tools to stop this process in cancer. The Angiogenesis Foundation was established in 1994 to make the vision of angiogenesis-based medicine a reality.
Many plant-based foods have powerful anti-angiogenic ways of slowing cancer growth. Remarkably, research shows that a well-designed eating program can literally stop some cancers. William Li, MD, president of the Angiogenesis Foundation, was connected with Harvard and Tufts Universities in doing much of the basic scientific research on anti-angiogenesis. He is a strong advocate of eating wisely to stop cancer. The Angiogenesis Foundation has a website, Eat to Beat Cancer, billed as a global campaign to crush the cancer epidemic by encouraging people to eat foods that starve cancer.
This is an amazing story of a young man who beat metastatic colon cancer by starving his cancer with anti-angiogenic food. He was only 26 when he was diagnosed with colon cancer in 2003. Surgery showed that it had already spread beyond the colon. He was advised to go on chemotherapy, but his prognosis was poor. Chris refused chemotherapy, and instead, started a super-healthy nutritional program. Up until then he had been a “fast food junkie,” but he changed his diet overnight to consume only highly nourishing veggies and fruit in juices and large salads. Remarkably, he became cancer-free within two years and has remained so ever since.
He went public with his story in 2010, and since then has helped hundreds of others to beat cancer. Dr. Li endorses his program. Chris is careful to say that he is not giving medical advice in any way. He simply offers people the option of following his nutritional program in addition to whatever route they choose medically. He tells patients to stay connected with their doctor(s). His new book, Chris Beat Cancer, is coming out September 25, 2018.
When I chose cancer as the theme for this issue of the newsletter, I didn’t know it would involve me personally. My final pathology report showed the cancer to be non-invasive (good news,) but high-grade, meaning that it’s prone to recurrence. I’m scheduled for repeat surgery in November to check its status. Then I may be placed on a long-range treatment plan. Meantime, I’m boosting my nutritional intake to as high-quality a level as I can. We’ll see how all this plays out over the next few months.
Receiving a cancer diagnosis has sharpened my focus on life values. Most important are relationships with family and friends and the qualities of love and joy that bind us together. Being with friends or loved ones; fixing supper with Carol; eating nutritious meals; puttering around the yard; feeling the warmth of the sun and the kiss of a passing breeze; seeing gently stirring plants and trees: all are genuine blessings. The diagnosis of cancer has increased my appreciation for a healthful lifestyle more than ever. Please don’t misunderstand. I would much rather not have cancer. Yet, this diagnosis has brought me unexpected blessings. For this, I am grateful.
Ed Dodge, MD, MPH
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