State Street Scribe
by Jeff Wing
About 6 months ago Kerry Witzeman decided to stop in at the doctor to see what the deal was with a nagging little urinary tract thingy she couldn’t seem to shake. Nobody likes a burning sensation when making pee-pee, but this annoying and familiar little discomfort doesn’t top the list of symptoms one associates with ravaging illness and death. Life’s funny that way.
“I thought it must just be a urinary tract infection,” Kerry says today. “I called my gynecologist and they just gave me a prescription for antibiotics over the phone.” Kerry took the meds for a week and called her doctor back. She was told to come into the office, where they did a urine test. Two days later they called her back and told her to head straight for an emergency room; there was blood in her urine and they didn’t know why. She went to the emergency room, feeling a little alarmed, and there she had a CT scan and underwent some blood tests. They gravely regaled Kerry with some medically obtuse chit-chat, the upshot of which was that she had “calcifications” in her bladder and they didn’t know why. “They told me to make an appointment with the urologist as soon as possible.” As soon as possible (a couple days later) she headed on over to the urologist, who produced one of those alarmingly tiny cameras that make tactical use of our orifi. He took a look-see at the inside of Kerry’s bladder. What he saw was, in his world, something of a commonplace, and he delivered himself of the news with the matter-of-factness of a seasoned deliverer of the verbal body-blow.
“Oh, it looks like you’ve got cancer.”
Shunts and Bladders
The nightmare C-word (Stage 2 Squamous Cell Bladder Cancer, to be exact) seized and paralyzed Kerry and her husband Jeff like an enormous smothering blanket. They learned that calcifications had formed around a golf-ball sized tumor, a stroke of darkling good luck. The development had caused both the blood in the urine and the discomfort that had prompted Kerry to go to the doctor. Now the jury had returned their verdict.
Hurry hurry hurry. The Witzemans made a panicked appointment to have the tumor removed, a procedure that had been roughly described to them as a “quick routine surgery.” In the waiting room Jeff thought it was taking longer than it ought to and his mind began to race. When the urologist finally appeared, surgical mask dangling around his neck like a tv actor’s prop, his body language did not radiate buoyant good news. “He came out with this grim look on his face,” Jeff says. “And he looks at me and he says, ‘Well, I’m very sorry, but your lives are going to change forever.’” The tumor had spread to the muscle wall, making its removal an impossibility. While he had Jeff’s attention, the doctor went ahead and elaborated on what they could look forward to. Since removal of something seemed to be in the cards, he told Jeff that they would soon need to remove the cancer-stricken bladder itself.
The removal of a bladder is not a difficult thing, but the necessary accommodations thereafter are not the stuff of lilting song and dance. In the absence of a bladder, Jeff and Kerry were told, there are two options for dispensing of waste water: 1. The urine is conducted directly out of the body through protruding tubes that empty into a bag, and not the kind of stylish, show-offy bag Mary Tyler Moore used to sling around the streets of Minneapolis. 2. Faux-organ engineers take a slug of intestinal tissue and build a “neo bladder” out of it, which sounds like something from The Matrix but is pointedly not. “It has no muscle around it,” Jeff explains. “So in order to pee you have to sort of bend over and tense your stomach muscles to get the urine out.” This solution requires the regular wearing of what can only be called a diaper for the rest of ones days, because neo-bladders are known to leak. The Witzemans began to mentally brace themselves for a Journey. Kerry e-mailed her family to give them the news. Shortly after that her sister called and got Kerry on the phone.
“What are you thinking?!” her sister wanted to know.
Kerry was abruptly reminded that her sister had gone to a clinic in Frankfurt, Germany some years before and received treatments for her melanoma, treatments that are considered unorthodox here in the U.S., illegal treatments comprised in part of illegal, unpatented compounds. “She’d gone over there and had her melanoma taken care of,” Kerry says. Jeff interjects. “What ‘taken care of’ means is that she’d been given a year to live here in the States, went to Germany, got it (the cancer) completely killed, and has been cancer free for 5 years now.” When this so-named “Naturopathic” option was brought to the fore by Kerry’s sister, the Witzemans made some quick unscientific calculations and decided to board a plane for Deutschland. Kerry was enthused neither by the dangling tubules nor diaper scenario. Even with the prospect of having her bladder go away her chances of living for, say, 5 more years were not that stellar. The choice seemed simple. They spoke at length with Kerry’s sister, did some research of their own, and all but made the decision.
A week later they saw a specialist in LA, a doctor affiliated with a storied university med center. They asked him point blank; might they be able to get this cancer taken care of over in Germany? The doctor looked them in the eye and did not mince words. “There is no way you will be able to deal with this in Germany. “ He gave them the name of an oncologist, a radiologist, and a surgeon in L.A., a trinity of medical professionals to help them corner and pummel the cancer with poison and knives, a method that, it must be said, has a measurable, if physically and emotionally ravaging, success rate, depending on the type of cancer. But for all that, the vibe remained a sort of professionally muted hopelessness. “When a doctor looks at you and says basically you’re not going to make it…fear courses through you and the air suddenly feels like sludge,” Jeff says. “You can’t move. You’re planning for a death that’s about to happen.”
Frankfurt: A New Hope
The Infusio clinic is a low-slung modernist edifice with lots of windows, and resides in a Frankfurt neighborhood fluffy with foliage. The clinic’s neighbors are vaguely Bavarian, gabled stone houses. Nearby are a Volkwagen dealership, a discount grocery store and, tellingly, a Fitness First gym. Infusio has a U.S. office in Beverly Hills and in that location offers treatments and consultation that are largely to do with auto-immune dysfunctions. The cancer treatments offered in the Frankfurt clinic have been to one degree or another disavowed by the medical establishment here in the U.S., some more severely than others. But as a loose grouping of what we call “alternative cancer therapies”, these methods are generally those that we in the U.S. have been conditioned to consider at best unserious and silly, and at worst deceptively hope-conferring, cruel and diversionary. We imagine folks being spirited away from our aggressively modern attack scenarios by false hopes and dangerous dreams of miracle cures.
Infusio’s regimen cost $28,000, and that had to come out of pocket because these are the sorts of treatments that most insurers won’t approach with a telescoping 50-foot pole. A generous member of the family underwrote the treatment, and the Witzemans were made to understand that they could head over whenever they wanted. They picked a date in early June and flew to Frankfurt. An apartment had been arranged and on arrival they put down their suitcases and, as they’d been instructed, placed a call to Infusio’s offices. “Hi! Come on in tomorrow and we’ll get you started,” they were told. The next day, Jeff and Kerry took a cab over to the clinic using the taxi vouchers they’d been sent. When they reached the Infusio clinic they were stunned.
“First of all, it was like a spa,” Jeff says. “There was some New-Agey music playing, it was very calm.” Kerry adds, “I think they were partly modeling how we’re supposed to be living our lives. Relax, have a cup of coffee. Have a glass of wine, take it easy.” Much of the treatment is done intravenously, and Kerry has floating veins that can defy easy “locating and poking” (if I may use a bit of arcane medial terminology here). One day, following a brief episode of vein hunting, the clinician threw in the towel. “You know what? Take the day off today, go do some shopping. If we can’t get it today, we’ll get it tomorrow.” Jeff picks it up. “Over here in the States it was like, ‘Okay, I’ve got this appointment for you with this doctor who’s gonna do surgery, a doctor who’s gonna do oncology, a doctor for chemo – you need to get right on this.’ It was like a ten-alarm fire! You go over there…” he starts laughing…”it’s a spa! They’re very relaxed. They’re in no hurry. It’s like, ‘oh you missed one of your treatments today. It’s okay, we’ll make it up tomorrow.’ “ He pauses to choose his words. “They had no fear of the cancer. They were relaxed, confident, and they had no fear. It’s a beautiful thing.”
Life: A Cocktail
It’s a journalistic commonplace to describe life-giving drug combinations as “cocktails”, and I’m going to continue that tradition here, though one of the administered treatments at Infusio is delivered by what is described as a hamburger press. The Infusio regimen is generally a cocktail (see?) of detox, immune system fortification, and tumor-bullying. The month-long regimen cycled between intravenous drips and two therapies called Hyperthermia and Ozone Therapy, these last two acute and very localized assaults on the cancer where it lives. The laundry list of concoctions delivered through Kerry’s forearm included Reishi Spore Extract, Revivin, Myomin, Angiostop, Procaine-Base, Artesunate, DCA IV, Aminopeptides (2 different varieties), GC-MAF, EMS, Del Rio, Selenium, Magnesium, Calcium, Vitamin B17 (not the vintage airplane) and Dioxychlor.
In addition Kerry received in the course of the month-long treatment 10 shots of a compound derived from the thymus of a grass fed cow, to boost the immune system. The iv drips were aimed at drawing out the miasma of metals and other toxins that infest the body’s foundation. “Some days they would just say ‘you’re not going to smell too nice tonight..’” Kerry laughs. And then there was the Hyperthermia. “It’s basically just heating up a particular region of the body to 105 degrees (Fahrenheit),” Kerry says. “Cancer cells don’t like heat for some reason. I had what looked like a hamburger press applied to me, one on my stomach and one on my back. Some sort of microwave activity heated my insides, but there was no real sensation of heat.”
Love is Like Oxygen
Lastly, in a procedure called Ozone Therapy, Kerry’s blood was removed and cycled through an oxygenating process and put back in her body. “Cancer doesn’t like oxygen,” Jeff says. But for the mild daily discomfort of having the patient German clinicians politely chase Kerry’s nimble little veins around with the iv needle, the month-long regimen of treatments was quite comfortable. Apparently the human body, if given a little respite and a good pair of boxing gloves, can rope-a-dope cancer into the turnbuckles and do all its own fighting. And like a cheating, referee-dodging tag-team partner (excuse this brief conflating of the Sweet Science with WWF), the heat and oxygen therapies get in there and knock the cancer off its pins till the immunity team can clear their heads and get to swarming the illness with 6 billion years’ worth of homegrown cellular and chemical ingenuity.
Whatever conventional, highly specialized oncological wisdom says about the right and the wrong ways to deal with cancer (and a few of these ‘wrong ways’ are legally actionable here in the States), Kerry’s tumor subsided and finally disappeared during her treatment in Frankfurt. The clinicians made it clear, though, that the rest was up to Kerry.
“As great as the people were over there, their ability is just to kill cancer. The patient still has to do their own research to close the loop, and Kerry has done that,” Jeff says, referring to the recommended lifelong nutritional housekeeping one adopts in the wake of these treatments. Kerry cut refined sugar out of her diet completely, and buffed up her fruits and veggies, a less than muscular approach to what had been hinted at in Frankfurt (they truly do leave this part up to the patient). Some time after returning to the States, Kerry went in for a checkup and the doctor found a polyp in her bladder, and it was of a different kind of cancer. “That was very discouraging to me,” Kerry says. Tests showed that Kerry was deficient in chromium and Vitamin A, and she began taking supplements. “And that’s when I decided to severely change my nutrition.” She delved into the nutritional research and pulled from it what she needed. They removed the polyp, and a checkup a month later showed that Kerry is cancer-free.
Of course the Witzemans had to tell their original urologist about all this. The bladder removal he’d all but insisted on had finally not been necessary. They’d gone to a medically augmented comfy-spa in Germany where a team of soft-spoken chill-Deutsch had killed the squamous cell cancer and without much patient distress. Jeff further explained that they’d found a little cancerous polyp after returning home, and had lasered that off and were for the moment cancer-free and felt they were moving in a good direction. He laid the whole thing out in an e-mail and hit send. Their doctor e-mailed them back in fairly short order
“Thank you for sending an update. I wish you continued success. I’m glad you chose a new Western Medicine doctor to go along with your naturopathic doctor.”
**Jeff Witzeman tells Kerry’s and his story on Medium.com