Thriving While Battling Cancer

Dr. Al Danenberg Nutritional Periodontist

April 27, 2020

 

Thriving While Battling Cancer

 

How can a person thrive while battling cancer? Is it really possible?

 

Yes, it is. And I’m an example! But I also had to deal with the reality of my mortality.

 

Let me share my awesome life today. But first let me share the importance of being open to the conversation about dying.

 

 

Dying

Dying rarely gets discussed. Most families shun the idea of talking about death. And when a member of the household is stricken with his or her mortality, most family members don’t know what to say. Most are in denial. Most can’t accept dying as the beautiful end to living.

 

Hospice is a unique palliative care and psychological support program provided for many terminally ill people who elect hospice care. Dr. Elisabeth Kübler-Ross was a powerful intellectual force who helped create the hospice system in the United States. She was a Swiss-American psychiatrist, a pioneer in near-death studies, and author of the internationally best-selling book, On Death and Dying (1969)[1]. In this book, she elaborated on the Kübler-Ross Model – a method that explains the five stages the terminally ill will go through as they experience dying.

 

When my dad was dying 37 years ago, my mother refused to allow Hospice to come into our home.

 

My mom was in denial and refused to talk about death. She forbade us to talk about death with my dad. Her refusal was stressful for my sister and me, but her refusal was devastating for my dad. He never had a chance to express his thoughts, fears, beliefs, or how he wanted to die. He never was allowed to share the memories of his shortened life with us. Could my mother not have known that her husband was screaming within himself and wanted to talk about his most important part of life – his death?

 

My dad passed away alone in a hospital in Charleston, SC at the age of 69. I swore to myself that I would never deny talking about death with my wife, my children, or anyone else.

 

My mom passed away thirty years later in Indianapolis, IN at the age of 93.

 

 

My Mortality

At the age of 71, I was confronted with my mortality. In September 2018, I was diagnosed with incurable bone marrow cancer and was given 3-6 months to live. Since this cancer was incurable, I rejected chemotherapy and investigated a path of unconventional cancer protocols. After some research, I integrated necessary conventional procedures with my unconventional metabolic and physiologic protocols. My conventional oncologist has been amazing by helping me balance my personal healing modalities.

 

You must understand an important fact: I never thought of myself as a victim.

 

I never was in denial of my diagnosis or prognosis. When my wife, kids, and I were in my oncologist’s office and learned about this cancer, I was devasted. I felt the emotional punch of this game changer called IgA Kappa Light Chain Multiple Myeloma. Although it would disrupt my life, I refused to let it end my life. By the end of this appointment with my cancer specialist, I was OK with my decision to pursue a natural and unconventional journey to help heal my body. Most importantly for me, my wife and adult children also were in agreement with my plan.

 

Along my journey, I had some serious setbacks – especially in early August 2019. While in my bathroom brushing my teeth, I twisted my body to the left with my right foot planted on the floor. Since my bone structure was weakened from multiple myeloma and riddled with lytic lesions, my right femur snapped in half. I collapsed onto my ceramic tile floor breaking several ribs and my right humerus in addition to my right leg. I felt my life was over.

 

After being rushed to the hospital and having my right femur repaired, I was transported to a hospice cottage to die and was heavily medicated with narcotics. As circumstances would have it, a couple weeks later while I was in the hospice cottage, hurricane Dorian was threatening a direct strike on Charleston, SC. The hospital was ordered to evacuate all patients, and I was transported to my home. My wife scrambled to get a hospital bed delivered. The hurricane hit my home on September 5, 2019. All power went out for 12 hours.

 

During my hospice care, I experienced the loss of dignity. For more than a month I was confined to a hospital bed in the hospice facility and then in my home. I had to use a bedpan for bowel movements and was catheterized. In the past, I was shy about my bathroom activities, but now nothing was sacred. For sure, this was a learning period for me – but for the better.

 

Miraculously, I started getting better. I wasn’t going to die after all – at least not now. I got out of my hospital bed and rejected hospice care the first week in October. My goal was to mend. But while in the hospital bed, I was not able to follow my healing protocols. After I was able to get out of the bed and had my catheter removed, I began to live again, I was able to restart my detailed healing therapies. Most importantly, I also began my detox from narcotic dependency.

 

I was practically off and running with my new life. Yet, I did have another setback in mid-October – this time a fracture in my left femur. Fortunately, it was not as severe as my collapse in my bathroom in August. Some physical therapy after the second fracture was sufficient to get me right.

 

By December 2019, I was able to walk and do some exercises in my home. I was ready to thrive. However, I never went into remission. But I was feeling marvelous.

 

 

Thriving

My only physical limitations are few. I have discomfort every day in my legs from my previous pathological fractures. However, I rarely have to take anything for pain. I am limited with my ability to travel. For example, I can’t fly, and long car trips are not very comfortable. I also have a unique situation. When my right femur fractured and was surgically repaired, my leg length shortened by 1.5 inches. So, I needed lifts added to my right shoes to walk evenly. No one knows but me. I still am impeccably graceful and handsome.

 

My quality of life has been my prevailing concern all along my cancer journey. Although I had some setbacks, my goal was to make new memories for my family and myself. I had to retire from the active practice of treating patients in an office environment when I was diagnosed in September 2018. However, I stay professionally active by doing Skype and Zoom consults with individuals from all over the world and writing extensively. Not only do I talk about gut health and overall health, I have been speaking out about my unique cancer journey and my personal healing protocols. Several podcasters have interviewed me about my life’s work.

 

On April 14, 2020, I was honored by the IABDM (International Academy of Biological Dentistry and Medicine). The IABDM appointed me as its Chair of the Periodontal Committee. In addition, I have written and recorded an 8-hour, Zoom program titled, “Biological Nutritional Approach for Dental Professionals”. The IABDM will sponsor my program and then award students who successfully pass the final exam with the designation of “Certified Biological Nutritional Dental Professional”. This is the only Certification of its kind. I am excited about this.

 

 

Your Take-Home Message

My life has not been broken by this incurable malignancy. I have no problem with acknowledging that this disease most likely will be the cause of my death. And I have no problem measuring my remaining life in months. Without a doubt, I have taken these lemons and made them into lemonade, although lemonade is not a nutritionally healthy drink (ha ha!).

 

If you have a life-threatening condition or concern, you have the ability to reframe your thoughts. You can become your loudest fan. You can investigate and formulate a new path. Ask questions to all who have knowledge to help you carve out your journey.

 

Being human, I have dived into the abyss of depression at times. But I have climbed out of this hole with the help of my amazing and supportive wife. You also have someone who cares for you as much as my wife cares about me. Welcome the help. It’s not a sign of weakness; it’s a sign of strength and determination.

 

Be well and thrive. Thriving is what all of us were meant to do on this earth.

 

[1] https://www.amazon.com/Death-Dying-Scribner-Classics/dp/0684842238/ref=tmm_hrd_swatch_0?_encoding=UTF8&qid=1587580465&sr=8-2

 

 

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A Memory of My Dad

Dr. Al Danenberg Nutritional Periodontist

June 17, 2019

 

 

A Memory of My Dad
Philip S. Danenberg
April 14, 1914 – December 6, 1983

 

 

My dad was diagnosed with idiopathic dilated cardiomyopathy in early 1980. In those days, his condition was considered incurable. I went with him to his cardiology appointment when he learned of his diagnosis. As his doctor discussed the dismal prognosis, I saw the pain and loss of hope in my dad’s eyes. The physician basically said that there was nothing that could halt the progression of the disease, which would lead to death. I wish I knew enough to talk to my father about other options. I did not, and we never spoke of it.

 

Over the next couple years, his quality of life slowly declined. Sadly, my mom never allowed a discussion about his terminal illness. She was in denial and stayed in a state of denial.

 

When he began to deteriorate quickly, my mother continued to refuse us as a family to discuss his impending death. To her, “death” was a word never to be spoken. She prevented my sister and me from discussing life and death specifically with our dad. My mother also never had one-on-one discussions about death with him. He never was given an outlet to express his fears, his desires, his concerns, his last wishes, or his beliefs and disbeliefs about his transition after life.

 

Since my mom was in total denial, she would not allow hospice to be called in to help my father die peacefully with dignity. Bringing in “hospice”[1] would only confirm that he was dying. And she refused to let him know of, or discuss, his mortality. However, I’m sure he knew.

 

 

Hospice

Today, hospice is a well-equipped, all-embracing, empathetic way of approaching the end of one’s life. The hospice team can provide care in the patient’s home. Staying at home in a loving and familiar place could make all the difference for the patient’s emotional comfort.

 

Hospice’s directive is to keep a person with a terminal illness comfortable until death. In addition, the hospice staff will support the entire immediate family by offering assistance in many ways – both physically and emotionally.

 

When the time is right, the doctors and nurses of hospice will provide pain relief using various medications including opioids. Opioids progressively reduce severe pain and also suppress respiration.

 

 

Dad’s Final Days

I saw the hopelessness and fear in his eyes during his final weeks of life. I didn’t know what to do. My father was in and out of the hospital many times. One time, his doctor said he would die that day, but he then rallied and was able to go home. Still, my dad never could talk about his innermost feelings since my mother didn’t allow the opportunity.

 

A couple of days later, he was back in the hospital for the last time. I was with him in the hospital when his physician was “pushing drugs” into his intravenous drip line. My dad’s head was turned to the right, and he was looking straight up into the corner of the ceiling. He just stared at a point where the ceiling met the wall. His head never moved from that spot. His eyes glistened and teared. He never spoke. I never knew what was going on in his mind. I was distraught. I never was given a chance to talk with my dad on his deathbed.

 

That was the last time I saw him alive.

 

 

My Promise

I felt so helpless in those last weeks of my dad’s life. After that emotionally draining experience, I swore to myself that I would never allow anyone to be denied the ability to talk about his or her death. Death is a normal course of life. How could anyone deny a healthy conversation about death and whatever lies beyond death?

 

Today, I am open and communicable about my impending mortality. I support family discussions about death. I encourage emotions to flow and questions to be asked. When the time comes, I will welcome hospice into my life.

 

In the meantime, I’ll continue to make awesome memories for my family and myself – all the while striving to heal my body from my incurable bone marrow cancer.

 

[1] Hospice was included as a Medicare benefit in 1982.

 

 

 

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