Dr. Al Danenberg ● Nutritional Periodontist
November 6, 2022
My 4-year cancer journey has led me down many different paths …
- In September 2018, I was given a diagnosis of incurable bone marrow cancer with a prognosis of 3-6 months to live.
- In August 2019, I fractured many bones on my right side at the same time and was placed into a hospice hospital to die.
- In September 2019, I revoked hospice and returned to thriving.
- In May 2020, my PET Scan showed no active cancer cells in my body.
- In June 2021, I contracted severe COVID with lingering long haulers, which reactivated my bone marrow cancer.
- After February 2022, I experienced numerous pathological bone fractures because of the reactivation of malignant myeloma, which was eroding the inside of my bones.
Most of these events easily could have made me feel like a victim.
I am only human. And being human, I have had significant but short bouts of depression. But I owe my strength to my wife, Sue, who always has been there to lift me up by my bootstraps and out from the abyss of depression.
She and I are a team, and she has helped me regain my focus whenever necessary.
Sue has been in the hospital since 10/9/22. That’s 4 weeks and counting. She has seen some success only to be minimized by further complications. It almost seems like she was moving 2 steps forward and then 1 step back.
But finally, there is a light at the end of the tunnel. She just was moved into the Rehab Center located in the hospital. This Rehab Center is one of the best in South Carolina.
After going through extensive physical and occupational therapy, she finally will get out of the hospital and move into our new apartment. I excitedly have been preparing our new home for her return to me and to our life together.
But there is another wrinkle.
I had a CT scan of my brain on 11/1/22, which showed progression of a new mass of myeloma cells invading my right parietal bone. This new development is the manifestation of the damage to my immune system from COVID, which I contracted at the end of June 2021.
But I’ve been here before. I’ve had dire prognoses from the first day I was diagnosed with bone marrow cancer. So, I have experience along the road less traveled.
Once again, my journey is being tested and challenged. Once again, I could ask myself, “Am I a victim, or am I a survivor?” But once again, my quick and easy answer is, “I am a survivor!
I have learned throughout my life and certainly during my cancer journey that attitude is critical to success. A positive attitude is not Pollyanna thinking. There is science that demonstrates that patients with a positive outlook have more healing success physically and emotionally than those who have negative and destructive thoughts.,
Norman Cousins, MD, wrote about healing and a positive attitude. His writings have revolutionized modern approaches to mind, body, and spirit.
In contrast to a person with a positive attitude, I know a woman who has a terrible attitude. She has many medical issues but is self-sufficient and lives by herself in her own home. She exudes negative energy. She is upset with her life. She hates where she lives. She says terrible things about people who try to show her caring and empathy. She turns almost everyone away from her. Her circle of friends seems to be dwindling and not supportive only because she turns them off. She will never heal physically and emotionally. She is going down a deep and dark hole that could have been avoided if she only had a different attitude toward life.
Stressing vs Coping
Stressing is when you apply emotional pressure to yourself, and you become worried and agitated.
Coping is when you successfully manage stressful circumstances and make the effort to solve them. By coping, you can master, minimize, reduce, or tolerate the stress.
Your attitude dictates if you stress excessively or if you cope effectively.
Stressing can get the better of us. And experiencing too many life’s bumps within a brief time often creates a sense of lack of control. This perception contributes to the development of anxiety, depression, and self-victimization.
Coping strategies for stressful life changes can help you keep a positive self-image and assist your body in healing.
Here are some coping mechanisms which may help:
- Thoroughly research your options and solutions.
- Lower your expectations.
- Ask others to help or assist you.
- Take responsibility for the situation.
- Engage in problem solving.
- Seek emotionally supportive relationships.
- Maintain emotional composure.
- Challenge previously held beliefs that are no longer valid.
- Directly attempt to change the source of stress.
- Distance yourself from the source of stress.
- View the problem through a spiritual perspective.
Coping is a process rather than an individual event. Combining several of these coping strategies will provide the best results.
And the most important coping strategy appears to have emotionally supportive relationships with others. This is what I have enjoyed with my wife, Sue.
Here are some stress-reducing activities to help your ability to cope:
- Eat nutrient-dense, animal-based meals as I describe in my Better Belly Blueprint and Eat As If Your Life Depends On It.
- Exercise efficiently.
- Sleep restoratively.
- Take brief rest periods during the day to relax.
- Take vacations away from home and work.
- Engage in pleasurable or fun activities every day.
- Practice relaxation exercises such as yoga, prayer, meditation, or progressive muscle relaxation.
- Avoid use of caffeine and alcohol.
Victim or Survivor
Your attitude affects how you deal with life-changing stresses. Do you allow them to overwhelm you and make you a victim? Or do you force yourself to cope with these changes in such a way to enhance your quality of life and assist your body in healing?
If you view yourself as a victim, you will never overcome what you perceive is devastating your life. As a survivor, you always will improve your situation no matter how dire it might be. Even individuals near the end of life can prepare positively for their transition.
There is a series of audio tapes that was developed by the Monroe Institute and Dr. Elisabeth Kübler-Ross. These tapes help an individual who is dying to transition in a positive way. They also aid caregivers who are tending to the person who is dying.
If you are in a situation when death is imminent or anticipated, I highly recommend these audio tapes to ease the transition from life to death. As a person enters the last moments of conscious life, his or her mind continues to function. The mind is the manifestation of thought, perception, emotion, determination, memory, and imagination that takes place within the physical structure of the brain.
As a matter of fact, the mind can still hear when other signs of death have occurred. To this end, the Monroe Institute produced this specialized audio series with guided imagery for the caregiver and the dying person to listen to even after “death” has clinically occurred. The series is called, Going Home, and here are three links to these audio tapes HERE, HERE, HERE.
I Am a Survivor
In all my writings, I have emphasized that my goals are to heal my body as best as possible and to maintain my quality of life for as long as I can. To this end, a positive attitude has helped me accomplish these goals. I do not have a cure for any disease or cancer. But I have developed my series of Protocols to reach these goals. And I have been successful in managing these goals.
My current challenges are just challenges that require me to cope effectively and make the best of the situations that confront me. I am not in denial. I am a realist. But I know that a positive attitude can help prevent me from being a victim and help assure me of being a survivor.
I look forward to continuing my virtual coaching and consults, to creatively writing and publishing my blogs, and sharing my ideas of a healthy way of eating and living to all who want to listen and learn from one who has been to the edge of death and has returned triumphantly.
How do you cope with the hurdles that life throws your way? Do you see yourself as a victim or a survivor? Share your stress-reducing activities in the comment section – I’d love to hear them!
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I have been following your journey since your diagnosis. I completely agree that having a positive attitude and a good support system is key. I was diagnosed with stage III colon cancer last December. I chose to do adjuvant chemo and I had some challenges with it, starting with a skin glue reaction after port placement that required port removal, open wound recovery and then a second port placement. This caused a 3 month delay in treatment and was itself a source of stress.
Here are a few gems I’ve learned.
This has been and continues to be a journey, but it’s a wonderful life experience all the same. I’ve met the most compassionate people and I’ve learned how to spread kindness to strangers and to empathize with others who are struggling.
I learned that most people on chemo do well with the coping and side effects. We just want to feel normal around others and be able to engage in normal social activities (limited by our immune system and threat of COVID). We humans are very able to adapt and cope in many hard situations. And guess what – we can laugh as much as anyone. Being human is awesome.
I created a few strategies to help combat the “dread” of a chemo session. I actively worked at creating stories to help me cope. For example, I started referring to my chemo visits as spa days. And this had the effect of making me actually look forward to them. You go to a place where you get awesome customer service. You are offered snacks, drinks, warm blankets and pillows. You get a deluxe reclining chair with heat and massage. You get waited on hand and foot by super caring people. And when you do come home, you know that you’ve climbed one more step on the ladder to completing treatment. It’s really all about how you look at it.
I’ll leave you and your readers with one final thought. I know as a doctor you know this already. But one of the best ways to improve attitude and benefit from your body’s own healing powers is to eliminate highly charged negative words from your vocabulary and replace them with positive words. Don’t get a second opinion, but get an additional opinion instead. Second implies inferior. Know that there is a reason placebos work 37% of the time. They work because humans who believe they will recover or be cured or get better often do. Our brains and our bodies are awesome at self healing. Change the words you use and change your life. Looking at research can be empowering, but be careful that you don’t translate the negative stuff into your own thinking. For me, I told my oncologist to avoid discussing prognosis numbers with me. I plan to be on the winning end, no matter what the numbers say. If that doesn’t work out, that will be fine too, but why should I allow myself to worry over numbers? And I have a science background. When I Google, I am careful to stop reading anything if I see trigger words like prognosis, survival rate, etc.
I do have one more thing to add. Connecting to your spiritual self is also very helpful. Whatever your beliefs are, don’t ignore this part of your identity. I found guided imagery and meditation helped keep me calm and centered. I also spent time thinking about others and keeping them in my thoughts. I make a point of thinking of these people before I go to bed and I wake up each morning thinking of at least three things I’m grateful for.
Thank you for the update Dr. Al. Praying for you. I admire you so much and credit you for doing what you’re doing and staying positive. In my story, I survived many years of narcissistic personality disorder, alcoholism and financial ruin. It was not easy but I have survived and thrived through my faith. Continue doing what you are doing. I look forward to your next overcoming challenges. Enjoy your new home and wife by your side.
You are such an inspiration to me. Attitude is such a huge part of survival and recovery
Serious problems present opportunities to move beyond the fear and pain. I always have felt stronger once I tackle an issue. I learned decades ago when I kayaked in a storm to head directly into the waves. It gave me control.
I read one time about a fisherman and some sailors in Alaska who when a huge tsunami wave approached them they headed directly towards it. They survived.
One time while I was at the helm of our sailboat and got too close to the waves from a large ship. I knew to head right into them. Scary but it worked.
So any time I have a scary, stressful situation or problem I visualize heading into a wave because I knowI the best thing to do is to tackle it head on. I always feel so empowered when I’ve done this.
Thank you. As a widow, a cancer survivor (12 years and counting) and as stepmother to 2 50-something stepsons with Huntington’s Disease, I’ve learned that positive thoughts can make all the difference. When I was going through chemo, I used to visualize Dorothy throwing water on the wicked witch. And then little Pac-Men gobbling up the cancer in my body. It made me giggle And here I am. I am grateful every day for so many things (and people) in my life, and just for life itself. I feel lucky that I can see, hear & feel the beauty, creativity, humor& love around me as I watch my boys lose their abilities. I take pride & pleasure in their accomplishments. I treasure my time with my family & I take nothing for granted.