Choosing the Wright Way to Live
HELEN C. HEALY, ND
You may not know the name Bill Iffrig, but if you were watching news coverage of the 2013 Boston Marathon, you know the image of the 78-year-old runner in the orange top, who was knocked off his feet by the blast of the first deadly bomb. What most of us did not see was that he took the hand of a race official, got up, and deliberately finished his marathon.
In countless ways, we are all “knocked off our feet” by the unexpected events that a long life delivers, and with the help of others (friends, family, spiritual advisers, and health care professionals), we get up and finish what we have started. Or, we reconsider our options and redirect…
In early 2008, I met Don Wright, a 66-year-old semi-retired computer engineer, a devoted husband and father, and a long distance runner. Four and one-half years earlier (2 weeks after he completed his first marathon) he was diagnosed with smoldering multiple myeloma, an early stage of multiple myeloma, before any symptoms appear. He said that if it were not for a persistent pain in his back that drove him to see the doctor, the multiple myeloma would not have been caught at such an early stage. That pain, by the way, was not due to any osteolytic lesion – it stopped when Don stopped doing chin-ups.
At the time of his diagnosis, the median survival was 5 years, with conventional treatment. He explained that one of the chemotherapy agents administered to him did not help him, but rather gave him “neuropathy almost immediately, bradycardia, a deep vein thrombosis, and an awful rash.”
Near the end of running his first marathon, Mr Wright recalls thinking that he “couldn’t imagine why anyone would ever do this twice!” After receiving the diagnosis, though, he was determined to qualify for Boston, and run Boston while he still could. His next 2 marathon times were good enough to qualify, so he ran the Boston Marathon the following April.
Since he was having fun and enjoyed traveling, his focus moved away from his cancer and toward his quality of life. He began eating more wholesome, organic foods, and included more supplements to replace over-the-counter medications for his joints, bones, cholesterol, liver, nerves, and immune system. He and his family continued to run more marathons around the country. In time, Don set his sights on running a marathon in each of the 50 states.
As the years passed, he felt the chemo regimen was outmoded, and decided to seek another opinion from a doctor at the Mayo Clinic. Don asked for a doctor who was a runner and a specialist in multiple myeloma. She ordered a bone scan and discovered 3 lesions. His blood work did not look good either. She put him on dexamethasone and entered him in a drug trial that later proved to be successful. [Note: pomalidomide is now approved to treat patients with multiple myeloma.]
At that time, Don came for naturopathic medical advice as well. Since he was already on 22 supplements, it was clear that he did not need more, but rather needed to take what was necessary. He already knew the benefit of vitamin D3, so I informed him that vitamin K2 was helpful in rebuilding bone, and that it exhibited anti-cancer effects. Likewise, genistein was known to stimulate osteoblast bone formation, and inhibit topoisomerase II, in order to reduce mutations.
During subsequent visits, I asked him to consider eating more red meat to help support his bone marrow, and to take proteolytic enzymes in between meals. I informed him about using L-glutamine, alpha lipoic acid, and vitamins B6 and B12 for his persistent neuropathy. I told him about the wet sock treatment and alternating hot and cold applications to increase the circulation in his feet, but he preferred to keep it simple with dry, warm socks. The neuropathy, which had been getting worse, stabilized.
Don had been experiencing some reduction in muscle mass and some abdominal weight gain due to the dexamethasone, so we discussed muscle-supporting nutrients such as acetyl-L-carnitine, CoQ10, and L-glutamine, as well as some weight lifting. And he had some thyroid issues that responded well to a naturopathic thyroid supplement.
He paid close attention to our discussion of foods as being vibrant, alive, and healthy, or dull and adequate, or actually toxic. Clearly, being in the midst of dealing with cancer and achieving his athletic goals, he committed himself to the vibrant foods and went gluten-free to reduce inflammation in his system. Don avoided sugary treats except after marathons, when he would treat himself to ice cream.
Don became a “thriver.” As of 6 months ago, the lesions in his bones have filled in. At 5’ 11” he has not lost any height, and weighs 164 lbs. He gets his 8 hours of sleep each night, and says that his cat helps him modify his stress. He believes that the supplements, good food, and exercise are essential to strengthening his immune system and keeping the multiple myeloma from mutating and developing drug resistance.
By the beginning of 2014, Mr Wright (now 73 years old) will have run 78 marathons, and have a new goal to strive for: 100 marathons. Although he doesn’t like having multiple myeloma, he feels lucky. A few months ago he said, “My mom and dad each died at age 100, so that’s my goal. It might not be realistic, but I couldn’t have expected to live 10 years, certainly not 74 marathons, or 50 states. Of course we may not ultimately be able to choose when or how we die, but we do get to choose how we live, and I choose to live a healthful and enjoyable lifestyle that I believe gives me the best chance to get to 100.”
Helen C. Healy, ND received her bachelor’s degree in biopsychology from Vassar College, Poughkeepsie, New York, in 1977, and her ND degree from National College of Naturopathic Medicine, Portland, Oregon, in 1983. She is a founding member of the American Association of Naturopathic Physicians (AANP) and has served the profession in the capacities of AANP board member and speaker of the House of Delegates, president of the Minnesota Association of Naturopathic Physicians, and chair of the Registered Naturopathic Doctor Advisory Council to the Minnesota Board of Medical Practice. Dr Healy practices at Wellspring Naturopathic Clinic in Saint Paul, Minnesota.