My Cancer Journey
– What Goes On In My Head –

Dr. Al Danenberg Nutritional Periodontist

October 4, 2020

 

 

 

 

25 months ago, my life journey was diverted. It took a sharp turn into uncharted pathways and scary moments. That’s when my cancer journey began, and that’s when thoughts started percolating in my head.

 

No one knows what has been going on in my head. Dealing with cancer has affected my emotional state. I’ve had to deal with “lows” and “highs” over the last two years. Thoughts of cancer are constantly on my mind.

 

 

First Concerns

My cancer diagnosis of incurable bone marrow cancer stopped me dead in my tracks. I was given the dire prognosis of 3-6 months to live! And my oncologist thought I might be dead by the end of 2018.

 

When I was diagnosed, I was forced to consider my mortality for the first time in my life. My mind was abuzz with all kinds of stuff. Deep thoughts turned into intense fears. All within a few days. I had to make some quick decisions:

 

  • “How would I proceed with treatment?”
  • “What would I say to my loved ones?”
  • “Was there a way to continue with my life?”

 

And then there were all those financial questions. I was overwhelmed, but I had to stay in control. Fortunately, I never entered a state of denial or blame. But my mind has been playing games with me from the start of my journey until today.

 

 

The Journey

You know me. I’ve done extremely well. First, I rejected chemotherapy because my type of multiple myeloma could not be cured by conventional medicine. And my oncologist agreed that chemo most likely would decrease the quality of my life. Personally, quality of life was (and still is) more important than longevity.

 

Rejecting chemo didn’t mean I had a death wish. On the contrary, I had a healing wish. I immediately began to research my options to heal my body by improving my immune system as best as I could. Destroying my immune system with corrosive chemicals did not make sense to me.

 

My wife and kids agreed with me. But many of my friends and some of my relatives felt I made the wrong decision. I knew that I was engaging in a self-declared experiment where I was trailblazing a new path. Although I was stoked to take control over my body, I felt abandoned by many while pursuing this path alone. When I had several setbacks, I kept thoughts of these failures inside my head. They fed my moments of depression.

 

My severe setbacks were results of my weakened skeleton. Because I had severe demineralization in my skeleton from multiple myeloma, I experienced many pathological fractures. I had to go to the emergency room far too many times. The constant fear of breaking another bone often affected my sleep. At times, I woke in the middle of the night with panic and sweat.

 

In late August 2019, my most severe setback occurred. While in my bathroom, I twisted my body, instantly snapping my right femur in half. Crashing to the floor, I also broke several ribs and split my right humerus in two. I lay on my bathroom floor in excruciating pain. I couldn’t move. Screaming for my wife, I felt the end was near. I was prepared to die. I wanted to die. “How could I go on with a quality of life?”, I thought.

 

After being transported to the ER, my femur was repaired to prevent my femoral artery from bleeding out. Totally dejected, I rejected further treatment and was transferred to a hospice hospital to die. My memories of crushing the right side of my body are vivid, and I relive them frequently. While in my hospice bed, I was heavily drugged, catheterized, and demoralized. But then something miraculous happened.

 

After a couple of few weeks in hospice, I began to rally. My success allowed me to revoke hospice and return to my Unconventional Cancer Protocols. In October 2019, I saw my oncologist in his office. He was visibly surprised that I was still alive. My mind was clear and motivated. I was ready to live again!

 

In May 2020, my oncologist wanted to see how my cancer cells were progressing and ordered a new PET Scan. On May 8, 2020, my new PET Scan did not show any active cancer cells in my entire body! I was euphoric knowing that I had progressed to that point from the edge of death. All this without infusing my body with chemotherapy drugs.

 

Wow! Everyone was surprised. But the reality is that I was not in remission. I have not cured this malignancy. And I am not in remission today. But I’m an experiment in progress with a vision of future healing.

 

Today, I feel amazing. But all along, lingering in the back of my mind, I continued to have infrequent fears associated with bad dreams. No one knew if I would or if I could survive. I was counting my remaining time on earth in months – not years. And I still am counting my life expectancy in months even though I have come a long way in healing my body.

 

 

Physical Limitations

I have limitations today that are the direct result of my cancer journey. Because of my many pathological fractures, I know my bones are fragile. I have to be careful not to fall or trip or twist abruptly.

 

After breaking my femur in August 2019, I developed complications. Following the repair of my right femur, I lost 1.5 inches in the length of that leg. To compensate and to be able to walk comfortably, I had to customize all my right shoes to include a 1.5-inch lift.

 

In addition, my past vertebral compression fractures left me with continuous back pain. Also, my previous leg fractures continue to cause leg discomfort. And my right humerus fracture has compromised the movement in my right arm.

 

These physical limitations have reduced my ability to function as I had before my diagnosis. Unfortunately, I think about my impairments from time to time. Sometimes, it sends me into a state of depression until I climb out of this pit.

 

 

My Depressed Moments

I am only human. Moments of depression are a reality in my life since my diagnosis. Although I don’t engage in these thoughts frequently, they happen. When they occur, I can fall deeply into the “victim” status. I know I have come a long way and that I am a survivor. But sometimes, thoughts of my mortality and a feeling of loneliness turn into fears of weakness and the unknown.

 

My wife is the pillar in my life who pulls me up by my bootstraps. Also, my strong sense of purpose and spirituality help me out of the abyss.

 

I believe I am here on this earth for a reason. And I believe in the immortality of my soul. Both of these are ingrained in my being. My beliefs along with the strength of my wife help me climb out of the deepest depths of depression.

 

 

My Dreams

In 2020, Dr. Christopher Kerr[1] published his book, Death Is But a Dream: Finding Hope and Meaning at Life’s End. Dr. Kerr is the Chief Medical Officer and Chief Executive Officer for Hospice & Palliative Care Buffalo. In his book, Dr. Kerr interviewed over 1400 patients who were in hospice. All of his patients have two things in common – they are dying, and they know it. These extraordinary people described their dreams to be “more real than real”.

 

Many of the hospice patients in Dr. Kerr’s book saw visions of deceased loved ones positioned around their death beds. I have not had such dreams.

 

When I was in hospice during August through September 2019, I remember some dreams were about dying. These dreams were not all the same. I had good dreams some nights, and then I would have extremely disturbing ones on other nights.

 

My good dreams were vivid, colorful, and reassuring. They were not scary, horrifying, or upsetting. Many of my dreams at that time were about my spirit moving out of my body. They felt real. They gave me peace.

 

On other nights at the hospital, my dreams were dark and unsettling. I can’t remember them except that I remember waking up very depressed.

 

After rallying and revoking hospice, my dreams changed. They still were numerous but were more adventure-driven and less spiritual-driven. However, during my moments of depression, my dreams were filled with hopelessness and fear. After waking, I usually was sweating with my heart throbbing.

 

 

My Antsy Personality

Since I am not as mobile as I was before my diagnosis, I get antsy if I am not doing things that I perceive as productive. I make every effort to stay busy by walking outside daily, exercising in my home a few days a week, and staying mentally active. My weeks are peppered with virtual Zoom consultations with individuals from around the world. My days are filled with constant writing and reading. Independent research is my “go-to” activity to learn and connect-the-dots of medical science. If I am not staying busy, I feel hollow and weak. During those times, I am prone to falling into the depths of depression, as I described above.

 

 

My Fears

One of my biggest fears that floats in and out of my head is the way I will die. I fear dying in a hospital bed with no other loved one by my side. I fear dying from not being able to breathe or struggling to breathe. Suffocating is what I fear. Death does not scare me. But being alone, suffocating, and then dying panics me.

 

 

My Mind Today

I am in a great place today. And I have so much for which to be thankful. I am grateful for my wife, my children, and my grandkids. I have supportive friends and well-wishers from all over the world. This journey I am on has given me strength and purpose. The more I remember all I have going for me, the less I fall into moments of depression.

 

My energy level is high; my wife is by my side, and I stay busy with productive projects. My oncologist sees me as an amazing personal result. And my story is going to be written up as a case report for a major medical journal.

 

All this good stuff is going on around me and inside of me. In my head I know that my cancer journey has given me an opportunity to share my experiences and help motivate those looking for difficult answers. I have frailties and vulnerabilities. But I have a desire to move my body forward to heal.

 

[1] https://www.drchristopherkerr.com/

 

 

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My Depression

Dr. Al Danenberg Nutritional Periodontist

July 15, 2019

 

 

 

My Depression

 

My journey to fight my cancer has taken some ups and downs – both medically and emotionally. Rather than being a straight road, it has been a roller-coaster ride.

 

Medically, I have been on a path that has allowed me to keep my bone marrow cancer stable. Frequently, I have tweaked my protocol to hopefully improve my results. However, I am not in remission, and I never was in remission. While I have had a couple of setbacks, today I feel relatively alert, healthy, and energetic. One of my greatest joys is that I am surprising my oncologist and defying his original prognosis to live only 3-6 months from the date of my diagnosis in September 2018.

 

Emotionally, when I go down that roller-coaster, I can go way down. It’s rare, but once I’m there, I am a mess.

 

My biggest emotional challenge has been to deal with my innermost feelings. Sadly, when I am really down, my negative energy is contagious and spreads to those whom I hold dear. As this nostalgic song title claims, “You always hurt the one you love”.[1]

 

Fortunately, I have found that writing is therapeutic. When I put into words how I feel – no matter how irrational those thoughts might be – I am able to bring myself back to a much better place. So, I want to share my recent experience that exposes the depth of my emotional weakness. I am opening myself up for all to see. Maybe this will be cathartic for someone who reads it.

 

To give you a heads-up, the outcome from this moment-in-time strengthened me. Right after I finished my writing, I felt better. Here is what I wrote only minutes ago:

 

I’m sitting at my computer. My fingers are clicking away. A story is developing. Thoughts are floating and bumping and getting out of proportion. Emotion is taking over rational thinking. I am depressed!

 

I’ve been a pillar of motivation through logical thinking, practical expectations, and a strong sense of purpose. But I’m human. And I get depressed at times. And I’m depressed now.

 

I’m not depressed because of my incurable bone marrow cancer. I never was in a state of denial. From the onset of my diagnosis and prognosis, I was OK with it. I knew I would be proactive with my unconventional protocol to deal with my disease. Whatever the outcome would be, I knew I would have done my best.

 

I’m not depressed with the thought of dying, since I am comfortable with my belief in the transition from the physical world into the spiritual world when it is my time. As a matter of fact, I feel blessed to know what I know. Realizing my bone marrow cancer is not curable and my life expectancy is limited, I can make amends as necessary, say good-bye to those I love, and delve into my bucket list ASAP. It’s as if I have been given a “heads-up” to get my act together now.

 

I’m not depressed because of pain because I have been able to deal with it through non-narcotic medicines. Although I have discomfort all the time, my quality of life has been good. I have no regrets. My outlook has been positive at least 95% of the time.

 

So, I ask myself, “Why am I depressed right now?” As I put more thought into the question, I come up with two causes – (1) abruptly leaving my wife alone after my death and (2) feeling I have little purpose left in life now.

 

I can trace both feelings back to when my wife and I celebrated our 50th wedding anniversary on 6/22/19. My emotions ran high then because we didn’t think I would have been alive on 6/22/19. Moments ago, the thought of leaving her alone overwhelmed me. This transferred to doubting my self-worth.

 

 

You just read my thoughts revealing my weakest emotional moment. Translating my feelings into words is empowering for me. Bringing these dark emotions into the light has immediately helped me deal with them more effectively. Instead of them festering within me, they are now diffusing and deactivating. My therapeutic writing is helping me climb out of my funk and return to my positive view on my mortality.

 

I hope the following is your takeaway after reading my post:

 

Everyone gets depressed at times. Some situations causing depression are more obvious than others. Some depression is deeper than others. Some factors are beyond your control to fix. Yet, if you can identify what is causing your “down” moment and speak about it or write about it, you may be able to rise above it quickly. For the most part, this is how I have dealt with my infrequent bouts of depression.

 

Next time, I’ll bring you less emotion and more practical stuff.

 

In good health,
Dr. Al

 

[1] Song released by the Mills Brothers in 1944

 

 

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