Marifran Korb

Overcoming Cancer

My Relationship with Cancer, Part 17

by on Nov.12, 2015, under Overcoming Cancer

It’s now been five and a half years since I was diagnosed. A ‘long and windy’ road for sure. It’s risky doing it my way. I could lose, and lose big.

My choice is not something I advocate for anyone else. The traditional route could kill me as well as the non-traditional. People takes sides. I’m only sharing my choices and reasons that apply to no one else. Had I had surgery as was advised, I truly think I would not be here today. Now I have lived beyond the five-year cancer success date. And I’ve lived happily and passionately, knowing that each day is a gift. Some things I’ve learned is that I must focus on what uplifts me, and what keeps me going. I’m no longer willing to keep people in my life that do not value me.

Yet, living five and a half years is not enough for me. Looking ahead, I still don’t know what will completely turn the ship around. Not for a minute can I be sure what kept the tumor from going to stage two, despite the fact that the tumor is close to the ureter and the blood supply.

Last December, the CT scan showed that the tumor had grown for the 4th year. It was stage one, but any larger and it would be stage 2, whether it spread to other organs or not. This was my last year to get it under control on my own. If it grew, I’d be in deeper trouble.

To make matters worse, reluctantly I had to forego Low Dose Naltrexone, a prescription drug. It was getting harder to obtain. Though it may have kept the tumor from growing a lot, after 2 1/2 years of use, it had not stopped the continual growth.

So, with lots of research, I decided to try Artemisinin, a drug that is easy to acquire on Amazon without a prescription. With constant research in books and on web, I know what I’ll do and won’t do. Consistently, I receive and practice Reiki. Yoga, Tai-Chi and Qigong also are frequent practices. Continually, I meditate and exercise. Daily I eat well, take supplements, and have fun. I appreciate every morsel of life.

Last Monday, I had a CT scan. From the CD of the scan, I saw that the tumor looked a tiny bit smaller. Next day, I picked up the radiology report. The tumor is 1 mm smaller on one side and 4 mm smaller on another side. Though it is not all I had hoped for, I am relieved and encouraged.

However, the report refers to the tumor as basically the same size, despite the numbers. Evidently, it’s not an important distinction for the medical field. It is for me, though. For the first time, it has shrunk rather than grown!! It’s the same size it was two years ago.

What put a damper on the excitement was the scary words: “it may have metastasized.” The report said that it may have metastasized to my left lung since there is a new nodule there. After studying past chest scan reports, I realize that this is a new nodule on my lungs. Yet, what I recognize is that my lungs have had other nodules that have disappeared. Each one has been in a different part of my lungs. So I am not going to worry. This new one can disappear, too.

If the new spot means stage 2 cancer, then it will be a difficult game changer. I declare the smaller size kidney tumor is a healthy game changer.

To me this is a success. This gives me hope the tumor will continue to downsize in my kidney, and in my life.

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My Relationship with Cancer … and Creativity.

by on Apr.18, 2015, under Life is a celebration., Overcoming Cancer

Getting a diagnosis of any deadly disease can shut down your creativity. It is easy to be and stay in a shocked state. From my experience, the saying: “Plan for the worst and hope for the best” can be very wise. One needs to be practical. Yet the part about “hope for the best” often gets lost in the fear that comes up with that terrible diagnosis.

The timing for each of us is different in our shifting from fear to hope. Often both are occur simultaneously. The immune system, so important in health, can be lowered by fear. So it seems to me the more often we flip the switch, the better off we are.

Hope alone is a long shot. Most of us want to walk the fine line between whatever one thinks reality is, and what one thinks hope is. My thought is that creativity can help keep both in balance.

When you are creatively self-expressed, you tend to be upbeat and peaceful. Yet, many of us think we’re not creative and tend not to try things. With some friends, I spend an hour a week writing to prompts. This week we wrote to a quote that speaks to creativity: Creativity is inventing, experimenting, growing, taking risks, breaking rules, making mistakes, and having fun. ~ Mary Lou Cook

Anyone can relate to this definition. There are so many forms and so many directions to go with creativity. Most of my life, I believed what I was told … that creativity was just given to those few souls who were famous for their paintings or writings. The message I got was that the rest of us were riff-raft that had to find a way to live the nose-to-the-grindstone life. The feeling I was left with was depressing to the core. Despite myself, most of my life, I was being creative without seeing it as such.

This quote defining creativity includes me. I’m super good with making mistakes. Experimenting and having fun are innate. Teachers hit my knuckles for breaking rules and having too much fun in the classroom. Experimenting was how I learned.

Risk-taking, part of creativity, has run with me since I was an 18 month-old, climbing out of closed cribs and jumping across wide alleys. Breaking my collar bone twice before I was two, did not stop me. Wearing casts for a year, did not slow me down.

Later at age 17, I chose a college I had never seen, in a state I had never been to. Flying alone to Cincinnati that long ago September day, I started a new life where I knew no one.

Continuing to risk, I traveled to and around Europe alone, at age 23, with only a general idea of what countries I wanted see. Everything else had to be invented moment-by-moment. This was a time when, at every border, I had to obtain, learn and use entirely different kinds of money. It was also before the internet and booking long distant hotels. Getting into unforeseen challenges, I learned how to think quickly and create solutions.

For fun, I live life as an adventure. In my business: “Rising to the Occasion” I am a Celebrations Consultant. Some friends call me “Merry Friend,” and “Mary Fun” instead of “Marifran.”

Even difficulty can be greeted with creativity. That is when it is needed most. Challenges are opportunities for growth. My most recent CT scan was last December, and it had grown a little more. That was discouraging, given the many things I am doing to shrink the tumor. Still, I walk the fine line between hope of being free without surgery and the danger of the tumor spreading. For me, there are multiple dangers of a three-hour surgery that make it not an option. My reality includes the “damned-if-I-do” and “damned-if-I-don’t” predicament. Doctors offer only surgery as an option, despite admitted low chance of surgery survival. Living with cancer does not stop me from living creatively doing all I can for my physical and emotional health. Looking at the present and the past, I notice that I have invented a life that I cherish.

If your early experience around the topic of creativity was unhealthy like mine, examine what creative outlets you use regularly. Do you recognize how creativity flows out of you? Look at what other ways you might want to self-express. Knowing that creativity takes many forms, how does “… inventing, experimenting, growing, taking risks, breaking rules, making mistakes, and having fun” contribute to your life? How can it support you in challenging times?

Feel free to write your response to the questions in the comments section below on the blog.

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My Relationship With Cancer, Part 16

by on Oct.21, 2014, under Overcoming Cancer

Huge things have been occurring. Since my lungs are a risk factor in any surgery that may be necessary, I am doing what I can to heal without it. Primarily, I have been enjoying life, receiving reiki and practicing meditation. Besides, I use Low Dose Naltrexone and take many supplements.

When I made an appointment with another urologist, I asked if she did partial or complete nephrectomies. There is no way of telling from internet information. The nurse I spoke with me assured me that this doctor does both. I needed to ask since one urologist, Dr. B, kept me going to see him for two years before admitting that he “was not allowed to do complete nephrectomies (cutting out the whole kidney), only partials.” Due to the location of the tumor, I knew from the start that I am not a candidate for partial, meaning taking only the tumor and leaving the rest of the kidney.

After six weeks of waiting for this appointment, today I saw urologist Dr. R. She told me she does neither type of nephrectomies. Happily, she stated that the doctor in her group who does complete neprectomies is Dr K, who happens to be the first urologist I saw four and a half years ago. He is the one who told me it was necessary to have surgery immediately. He told me the date he had schedule my surgery, without consulting me.

Meanwhile, Dr. R said my only option was surgery, despite my risks. There was no discussion of surgery benefits vs. risks, so I mentioned a few risks I knew. 1) For healthy people there’s only an 87% chance of surviving and 13% chance of not surviving. There’s a very good chance my 38% capacity lungs will not withstand the three-hour operation. 2) Most people in otherwise good health who get complete nephrectomies due to cancer will die within ten years. This is due to increased risk of cardiovascular health. My heart is already compromised by my lungs.

When I stated this, Dr. R acknowledged that it was true, treating these as insignificant details. She clearly expected me to go to Dr. K for surgery.
My response was: “If I wanted to see Dr K, I would have made an appointment with him. I would have said yes four and a half years ago.”

In Cincinnati, it appears the urologists are in three groups: The Urology Group, the UC Group and the Christ Hospital Group. I have been to at least one doctor in each group. So I came home and made an appointment with yet another urologist. The earliest appointment is over a month away. In case I have to resort to surgery as my last option, I got assurances that this new doctor does complete nephrectomies. Wish me luck.

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My Relationship with Cancer, Part 15

by on Jan.13, 2014, under Overcoming Cancer

“Do I need BOTH my adrenal glands?” I asked Dr. S., the pulmonologist. “Yes,” he asserted. “Two really are better than one. Together they affect every organ and every gland of the body. They produce hormones you need. Indirectly, adrenals are useful to the lungs.” When I told him that the urologist and I had parted ways over that point, he simply said I should find someone else to do the surgery.

Then he informed me that he would not approved of me for surgery just now anyway. He recommends eight weeks of pulmonary rehab first. “Your lungs are at high risk for surgery,” he asserted. Though he stated that damaged lungs do not improve and that lungs get worse as one ages, he believes that rehab could improve my lungs by 10 percent. Doesn’t that seem a contradiction? And why wait until I need surgery to improve my lungs by 10 percent?

Accustomed to doctors not making sense to me, I did not verbalize the incongruity, though I wish I had.
One thing I did say was: “The idea that damaged lungs cannot improve, and only get worse, is very depressing.” Dr. S. neither said a word, nor did he look at me. What I was struck with was the pure hopelessness of it all, as I was seeing his viewpoint. While not fully accepting it for myself, I remembered hearing this before.

Also, I was pointing to the fact that his job must be depressing since no patient with damaged lungs gets better. That seems like it would be most, if not all, his patients. All he can do is give medications to make life somewhat bearable, while he watches those patients get worse.

The belief that damaged lungs never improve was one I heard when I went to my first pulmonologist. It was in 1985 and I was already a busy wife, mother and youth director. A nurse-acquaintance in a seminar reached out and shared concern for me. My breathing was labored, though no different than what I was used to. Sally suggested a pulmonologist at the hospital where she worked. She may have saved my life. At least, Sally saved what was left of my lungs after 41 years of breathing challenges from birth.

That first pulmonologist, Doctor B, sent me for lung tests that showed I had only 16% of my lungs functioning. I’m not sure if it was the same exact PF Tests as is done now. The results were enough of a shock to the doctor that he said he could not help me. So he put his pulmonary nurse, Nancy, in charge of overseeing my care for whenever I needed something.

Five years later I had pulmonary tests again and results went up to 19%. The same pulmonologist was stunned. He informed me that when there is lung damage, lungs never improve. Besides having asthma and emphysema early in life, I had repeated bouts of pneumonia, bronchitis and bronchiectasis that created damaged lungs resembling Swiss cheese. Yet, my lungs expanded in some ways.

Recently, when I saw the present pulmonologist, he clarified the ‘gold standard’ that doctors now use to evaluate stages of Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease. Explaining the stages, he said that there is no category for less than 15% of lung function. That is because the body cannot sustain lungs that function at 15% or less, he stated. No one ever told me that. Without knowing it, I was so close to the edge all my life before seeing that first pulmonologist. I knew that when I saw that first pulmonologist, I was no worse than I was when I grew up.

Also, on this latest visit, I had lung tests resulting in a score of 39% of capacity for a woman of my age. The norm is 80-100% for any age. At less than half the norm, I still live a normal life. Despite having less than half of my capacity, I live a normal life. Yes, I may have a more difficult time climbing up hills, walking up stairs, dancing in the rain, breathing frigid air, and facing heavy winds than others. And, I still do those things. Always, I manage to do what I want and need to do. I have no complaints.

It is astonishing, considering that my lungs are not supposed to improve and considering how much better my lungs are since 1985, despite the fact that I am now much older.

Everyday, I feel the difference. In the past, breathing was so difficult that I struggled all the time, even when I rested. While it took many years of gradual progress, I breathe well when resting now. Greater physical endurance is another way my lungs have progressed. So much for that theory about damaged lungs.

It appears I have overcome more than I realized.

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My Relationship With Cancer, Part 14

by on Dec.30, 2013, under Overcoming Cancer

Due to irreconcilable differences, the surgeon and I parted ways. A week ago, I met with my urologist surgeon for a consultation so I could ask questions. My husband Ed attended the meeting and neither of us liked what we heard.

The main disagreement was that Dr. W. planned to remove my adrenal gland along with the kidney. Never did he reveal that until I asked about it. He insisted I don’t need the adrenal gland since I have two. I said I want to keep it to help my lungs. Without acknowledging my point, he said: “I don’t want to be bothered with that little thing.”

Though I did not say that the adrenal gland was a deal breaker for me, immediately I did say I would have to reconsider the surgery. Dr. W. seemed unconcerned about my hesitation.

Though I had told him of the COPD that I’ve had since age 14, the surgeon said he wasn’t doing anything different for my lungs during the three hours of surgery since he “can’t imagine any problem.” He did not talk to the pulmonologist as I requested. There’s more, but those were the most problematic issues.

It is sobering to realize that surgeons can do things without your permission. They can justify it and get away with it. Had I not read about the frequency of kidney surgeries resulting in loss of the adrenal gland, I would never have known. Whenever I would discover it, the damage would have been done and it would be too late. Then the surgeon can say: “I was only trying to protect you.” I want to have the choice to say yes or no to the risk. I want to be included in the decision, so that if the adrenal gland is fine, I want it saved.

Hoping to bridge the gap between the surgeon and me, my daughter Ilona spoke to the doctor. She quoted a study that said if a kidney tumor is less than 8 cm, the adrenal gland should remain in the body. Dr. W. said he knew of the study and he thought the tumor could spread to the adrenal gland anyway, despite my smaller than 4 cm tumor. In other words, he knew better than the study and he would do as he pleased. His real motivation came when he spontaneously said to me: “I don’t want to be bothered …”

Already I had been through many pre-op tests this month, including a nuclear scan, and a CT scan with contrast that I drank and contrast in my veins. After seeing the surgeon, I cancelled the pre-op blood tests. Interestingly, I had scheduled lung function tests for this morning. The pulmonologist got sick and it was rescheduled for January 9. If I were still planning on surgery, I would need the lung function tests and it would be very difficult to schedule them before the surgery date of January 6. The lung function tests would have determined definitively whether or not my lungs could handle the surgery.

Looking forward to having this all over with, I was prepared to be recovering for three months. Totally, I was ready to put all the searching, all the questioning, and all the recovering behind me so I could greet the spring with a new tumor-free body.

Yet, I have to see everything that happens as part of my path to wellness. All I know for sure is I will not be having surgery next week. While I sort out what my next move is, I am as surprised as you about the twists and turns in this story.

Clear that I am making the right decision in this moment, I eagerly await what opens up next. Meanwhile plenty of parties are planned for New Years Eve and New years Day. I will enjoy them all. Wishing each of you a healthy and happy 2014.

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My Journey with Cancer Part 12

by on May.25, 2013, under Overcoming Cancer

The tumor is still there. Of course it is, you and I say. Who gets rid of a tumor without surgery? My thought is that it does happen. If it happened once, it could happen again. There are many routes to healing. Any of us could be that person who heals. Am I delusional to think the tumor could go away?

Though I am taking a risk not to have surgery, surgery itself is a big risk for me, given my lungs. Constantly, I am weighing the odds. Right now, I feel I am not putting myself in ridiculous danger.

To this day, it has been three years since it was confirmed I had cancer. Since I have been on the prescribed Low Dose Naltrexone (LDN) for seven months, I decided to see if is working. So, three days ago, I had an ultrasound.

When I arrived in urologist Dr. B’s office, he said that ultrasounds are too dark to determine anything. When I protested that he was the one who ordered it, he said he was trying to save me from too many CT scans.

No amount of my questioning Dr. B, gave me the information I wanted to know. Did the 51 ultrasound pictures of my kidney show enlargement, shrinkage, or similar size to the CT scan in October? He dismissed the questions. That part of the appointment was over in a minute. So I had time to ask about whether he offered gene mutation testing. After Dr. B talked in a long circuitous route, the short answer was a big fat no. Then, he said I should come back in two weeks to have a CT scan and to see him again.

While I was in a daze of disappointment from having no information in exchange for the cost of time and money there, I followed Dr. B to the secretary’s office. He instructed her to schedule me for an appointment in two weeks. As the secretary dialed the radiology department for a CT scan schedule, I woke up from my shock and told her: “Thanks anyway, but no.” Politely, I stated I would call her if I decided to do anything.

Yes, a CT scan would more accurately determine the size of the tumor so I could see if all I am doing is making any difference. Yet, knowing the tumor is there is enough for me to step up my plan of action.

Today, I received the radiologist’s report with specific measurements. It showed that the tumor is seven millimeters smaller. That difference may seem small, but it appears to be going in the right direction. That is not how it usually goes with tumors.

While I do have to acknowledge that ultrasounds are not considered to have pinpoint accuracy compared to CT scans, I’m elated about this apparent progress. Still, I’ll continue taking LDN and high doses of tumeric, reishi mushrooms, and vitamin D3.

Just in this past year, I have not been 100% disciplined about avoiding sugar, grain, wine and cheese. These are my biggest temptations that may increase cancer. Now my commitment to speedy recovery is to go off these substances again. In these last 3 days I have lost a pound of weight from renewed self-discipline.

An interesting note here is that recently, on a CD, I heard the voice of a healer named Braco speaking in his native Croatian language. Wanting to do all I can to heal no matter how strange, I sat for about 45 minutes listening to words I could not translate.

What I am about to tell you sounds bizarre to me. About 25 minutes into listening to the CD, I had a dramatic and unexpected feeling on my right side. It was not painful, but seemed like a lightning bolt with its strong, sudden start and quick, abrupt exit. Getting my attention, it took a minute to realize it struck where my tumor is.

Never have I had an experience like this. If someone else told me this story, I might think they were wacko. Definitely, I would not be able to relate. If I tried, I couldn’t make this very real experience happen. Unwilling to assume anything, I wondered why it happened. While I am skeptical, I could not deny this experience. I do not know what it might mean, if anything.

Was the smaller tumor due to the LDN, the supplements, or hearing Braco? I have no idea.

Braco will be in Indianapolis, Indiana in person on June 26 and 27. His site is www.Braco.net From Braco, many people have stories of being healed of deadly illnesses, difficult relationships, disastrous finances, etc. Of course, not everyone is healed. Keeping an open mind, I will go to Indianapolis with friends.

While I am not counting on healing through Braco, and I am not counting on healing at all, what I can count on is what I do. Since I am taking many supplements, taking prescribed LDN and improving healthful eating, I hope to have even better scan results in the future. If it does not happen the way I would like, I will have surgery, despite its danger to my lungs. No matter where this journey with cancer takes me, I am finding things that intrigue and amaze me as a result.

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My Relationship with Cancer, Part 10

by on Jul.20, 2012, under Life is a celebration., Overcoming Cancer

After two years of living with cancer, and overcoming the physical challenge of losing weight and the emotional challenge of overcoming fears, I set a destination celebration that would test me to the core. What I chose was akin to aiming for the distant stars.

With my daughter Ilona, I planned an 18-day independent trip to Italy’s hill towns. For a long time I have wanted to go, and I figured I wasn’t getting any younger. It was a test of strength to stand up to the cancer and to defy life-long lung damage.

From a trip to Italy seven years ago, I knew what I was in for. Among a few Italian cities we visited, the so-called “hill” town of Siena was one. More accurately, it was a mountain town.

You may wonder: Why walk when you can drive? The only cars and motor cycles allowed are ones belonging to the towns folk. And yes, the police know immediately if you are a local or not. They will find you and ticket you, even if you are from a different country. As a non-local, you can drive to the town. Then, you have to park at the foot of the hill and walk up, and up, and up. In Siena it felt like my lungs would explode, even while I was moving at a sloth’s pace.

Knowing what I was up against, I trained on a treadmill from January to May 2012. No stranger to the treadmill, I’ve been walking on it for years at the lowest level. Due to the pre-condition of serious COPD, that is all I thought I could, or should, do.

Twenty years ago, I told my pulmonary nurse that I planned to expand my lungs through vigorous walking and exercising. Kindly and gently, she told me that my lungs “do not do the whole alphabet.” “Your lungs,” she told me, “only go from A to B. You cannot expand your lungs.”

In spite of the advice, I continued to climb steps, walk fast and lift weights. Regularly, I go to a gym. So when I knew I was facing and embracing almost vertical hills, I set goals to see if I could go beyond my most recent best efforts. Each day I pushed myself for a few minutes more on the next highest level on the treadmill. By the time the month of May came, I had moved as far as the treadmill goes. Besides walking a few minutes a day at level ten, I did not go lower than level eight. It was very strenuous for me. Still, I was not sure it was enough.

Level ten on the treadmill was nothing compared to the hills I climbed. They were equally as vertical as Siena. Fortunately, Cordova, Orvieto, and Perugia have escalators to get into the towns. Once inside, only your legs will get you up the steep streets within the town.

As a result of my work, I made it up ALL the slopes in the hill towns of Tuscany and Umbria. It was slow and steady. Usually, Ilona insisted on going slow with her mother, the turtle. Once, I sent her ahead so she would possibly see the Rocca Maggiore Castle before it closed. It was situated at the highest hilltop in the precipitous town of Assisi. Eventually, I got there, though it was already closed for both of us.

Assisi has buses. Yet, those buses only go so far. There still remain at least half the hilly streets where buses do not go.

Ilona and I walked up the arduous streets and alleys of Volterra, San Gimignano, Cortona, Orvieto, Perugia, Spello, Spoleto and Assisi. And, we spent a day in each of two easier walking cities of Milan and Bologna. When we enjoyed two days near Rome, one at Hadrian’s Villa and another at Villa D’Este, both had innumerable steps. Yet these two days seemed less strenuous compared to the hill towns.

Travel is invigorating. We experienced sights we cannot see anywhere else, foods we cannot eat anywhere else, and met people we cannot meet at home.

While I ingested lots of pasta, gelato, and wine, I did not gain a pound. All that walking and climbing paid off. Yes, I went off my sugar free diet for cancer, but it was only 18 days.

Besides the ancient towns, the medieval buildings, the art museums, and the sensational scenery, we loved the people we met in Italy. On every trip, we meet people from all over the world. With our limited knowledge of Italian words, we connected briefly with some who speak no English. The language of love really is universal.

Some memories include Ilona and I surviving a level 6 earthquake and two aftershocks that happened at 4 AM on May 20. We were in a modern hotel that withstood the quake. Most homes and hotels evacuated people immediately. some people died. Two weeks later on May 29, a second earthquake occurred in that same area. At the time, we were safely in Assisi, about 120 miles away. Sadly, the epicenter was turned to rubble. Thousand year-old homes, museums, and churches were destroyed entirely.

Other memories include facing the fact that we did not like the hotel in Assisi as much as we expected. So we arranged to go back to Orvieto, where we were the happiest. It was there that we excitedly and cheerfully talked politics with like-minded couples from four different states all at once.

We enjoyed the many kindnesses of B&B owner in Orvieto. On returning, we were treated like royalty. When we left, the owner and his staff lined up to hug us and wish us farewell.

Another experience was staying up to wee hours drinking wine and limoncello with an English speaking couple from Belgium. For several nights, we had animated discussions on their culture and ours. Now we have a standing invitation to visit them. They are invited to visit us. Meanwhile, we stay in touch by email. Cheers to them, and to all the delightful people we met.

It required patience and perseverance to prepare mentally and physically for that journey. It was a personal triumph for me to overcome every challenge and to scale those hilly mountains.

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