Stress and APML

I’ve been thinking about the cause of my cancer a lot lately. APML is a weird one, with no direct link to the obvious risky behaviors I undertook, starting with a decade-long smoking habit through my 20’s and during the same period working a few months in a warehouse and factory job close to all kinds of toxic chemicals.  I also live within a few miles of a nuclear power plant. I ate red M&Ms, washed down pounds of Doritos with gallons of Mountain Dew, and stood way too close to the microwave if edge-case conspiracy is your thing.  My oncologists rightly shrug when asked, as science has yet to prove a cause with only the hematologist weighing in that weight may have played a role. Other APML patients are equally lost, but there seems to be one common thread, stress.

First and foremost, there is no scientific data that links cancer to stress. There are many suggestions that it might be, going as far back to physicians in ancient Greece.  Stress does lead to behaviors that have clear linkages, such as alcohol abuse and smoking. You can find countless studies on pub med and the internet that are mostly inconclusive in their findings. So, as a smart data-driven person, you probably should hedge your bets towards, they don’t know, with a nod toward the fact that time, reputations, and money has been expended looking at it. Do not look to it as the sole cause of cancer, and do what your doctor tells you.

I believe there is a linkage between stress and my cancer. Our fight-or-flight responses are constantly at work, more so during times of stress, do all kinds of things to our bodies to help them adjust, starting with releasing hormones to get the body moving. Generally, blood pressure, heart rate, and blood sugar rise to meet the perceived threat. If it’s chronic stress, there are proven linkages to digestive, heart, urinary, reproductive issues, and most compelling to me, a weakened immune system.  I don’t think it’s a stretch to think this likely extends to our genetics and may cause a change that kicks starts creating cancer cells. This belief has grown as chronic stress seems to be the common thread in adult APML stories, including my own.  It is anecdotal for sure, but it has become more compelling after reading or hearing many APML stories.

Reducing stress is a no-brainer, but the problem is motivation. There is no much in our lives that are not conducive to reducing it. You know this.  Good thing cancer is an excellent motivator. I’d say it’s a good quality, but cancer doesn’t have any. So what I can say is, you don’t want it, and I think most APML people feel it’s ok for you to learn from our experiences and not have to learn from yours.

I have found a few things that have helped me deal with my stress.  First, take stock of it. Take a look at your life and see the incremental things you can do to help. Small things like limiting screen time and going for a walk helps. Maybe lose that FB account. Second, if you had big things in your life happen, get help. Professionals are educated and are emotionally invested in a different way than your friends and family. They can also prescribe meds. Third, meditation has changed my life. It isn’t hocus-pocus. It takes patience and practice but has helped me step back and evaluate my thinking. I have used an app with guided meditations for well over a year, and it has well-surpassed the cost.

I hope this helps.

As per my last cancer posts, this is the usual disclaimer. I’m not a doctor or licensed medical professional. Nobody should construe what I post as medical advice. I’m just an APML patient trying to help others through my experiences.

Cancer Books That Don’t Suck Part 1

Cancer reading is hard. It is not the most uplifting thing, and like other self-help books, it is hard to sort through what is authentic with what is not. Does the author want to help you, or are they starting a cult or looking to make a fortune? The amazon reviews don’t really help sort that. So in the spirit of limiting other’s exposure to douchebaggery, I thought I’d start pitching books I find authentic and helpful to me.

The first book is David Goggins’s Can’t Hurt Me: Master Your Mind and Defy The Odds.  It is not a cancer book but can definitely help patients build their mindsets during the storm. This is most definitely marketed as a tough-guy tome, but there is so much more going on under the hood.

Let’s back up a little for context.  I was terrified, felt fragile, chemo-brained, and mentally tired when I left the hospital. I had eight more months of treatment ahead of me if things went well. The hospital stay had given me a bed-sore that quickly became an infection. This would develop into something requiring a painful surgery that would take a long time to heal due to Leukemia. It would be a long haul, and I had no trust in my health or body. Things were a little grim. A relative who has cancer reached out to help and sent this book.

I started reading it and got hooked as the best thing to distract you from your issues is somebody else’s issues, and good lord did David have them. He also was a Navy Seal. He overcame many issues and a challenging career with a highly developed mind-over-matter mental toughness, but what is most valuable is his thought process in looking at each challenge. It helped me reframe my stuff in a way that was tangible and accessible to me. Things stopped being how I’d like them to be, but how they are.  It helps solve problems, push through them, or in some cases, don’t cause them. This didn’t fix anything and I was by no means entering the next Iron-Man contest or becoming CEO, but it helped me mentally navigate some real humps and bumps. It still helps me today, and I think it could help you too.

The second book is Suleika Joaouad’s Between Two Kingdoms: A Memoir Of A Life Interrupted. I picked up this during remission after hearing her speak on a podcast. She struck me as authentic, and when I dug deeper, I saw that she had been writing about her cancer experiences for some time. A few articles and blog posts in, I definitely wanted to read the book.

The book is skillfully written and covers Suleika’s journey from illness to recovery and its impact on her friends and family. It doesn’t pull any punches, and you will feel some of her pain reading it if your heart isn’t made of rock. It also travels a bit to her life before and after, giving context and a destination. It is honest, authentic, and well regarded.

The book is priceless to me because her experiences and thoughts resonate enough to feel like a sanctuary. I see hope through example because of her ability to communicate it so well.  Her exploration of her own and other’s life-changing events helped me consider my own.  This book will be important to me for many years to come. If you’re out of the storm and a little lost about what is next, read this book. It will help.

Ultimately the events of the last few years have been a terrible lesson in being present-and not just present in my own life but in the lives of the people that I love. Tomorrow may happen or tomorrow may not.