The Marvels of Acupuncture?

Before Dr. G. commences each weekly acupuncture treatment, she feels my pulse in both wrists. She merely nods her head after feeling my pulse and moves on to swabbing down with alcohol the spots she intends to stick with tiny needles.  She generally sticks  several spots around my lower calves, abdomen, right ear and a single spot on the top of my head, after which she turns off the fluorescent light overhead and leaves me to nap for 30 minutes, needles and all.  Then, those needles are removed, I turn over on my side, she sticks me with many more needles in my mid and lower back and then I take another 30-minute nap.  Dr. G. moves very quickly, efficiently and confidently, which to me is evidence of her nearly 40 years doing this and the fact that she does indeed know all the hundreds of mysterious pressure points that hold the keys to unblocking  the human body’s qi or energy; it’s said that such blockages are the source of all ailments.

I love acupuncture; it is minimally uncomfortable – the initial stick hurts less than an ant bite – and is unbelievably relaxing.  I started acupuncture after my second chemotherapy treatment in late August on the theory that it couldn’t possibly hurt and that it might indeed help, particularly with combating the neuropathy that is so common with oxaliplatin (since acupuncture is all about nerves and pressure points).  Four months later I give it credit for the shockingly few issues I’ve had with neuropathy.  If anything, the neuropathy has become less severe with more chemotherapy which is counter to everything I’ve ever heard and read, since chemotherapy side effects are supposed to be cumulative.  Many people have to discontinue oxaliplatin because of the fear of permanent neuropathy or at least undergo a reduction in dosage.  Neither has happened in my case.  At the beginning with the first few treatments, in addition to feeling like a thousand needles were piercing my fingers when I touched anything cold, my hands would draw up like claws from the cold sensitivity (even though it wasn’t all that cold outside then), my sensitivity in my mouth to the first taste of food was extreme bordering on pain, I’d experience light sensitivity within the first 24 hours of infusion and random muscle spasms in various parts of my face when outside.  The weather is much colder now and I still feel a thousand needles piercing my hands when I touch something cold, but all the other side effects have either eased significantly or completely disappeared.  Maybe my body has learned to welcome the chemotherapy as the most powerful weaponry in our war against the cancer and rejects all notions of it being a poison – I feel very strongly about not demonizing chemotherapy as so many are wont to do.  Maybe, my age, general health and hours invested in the gym for so many years have given me some resilience.  Or maybe, just maybe, it’s the acupuncture…

In terms of other side effects, as concerned as I was initially, I’ve not lost any hair, not even the thinning that is so common for those on oxaliplatin.  I think thanks to Chinese herbal medicine, my blood counts remain acceptable, albeit on the low side; I’ve not needed any injections to increase blood cell production.  Nausea and fatigue also remain tolerable, although these two side effects have gotten marginally worse with every treatment.  Nonetheless, I still manage to remain active and go to the gym during treatment weeks.  The addition of avastin has caused my blood pressure to fluctuate considerably; it is consistently high right before treatment.  However, on the two occasions I’ve followed up with my internist, my blood pressure always measures as normal, so no medicine yet.  For now, we monitor the blood pressure.

Last week, in a deviation from her usual practice, Dr. G. actually made a comment after listening to my pulse.  “I believe you are cancer-free now.  I feel that the cancer cells are gone.”  It was a bold statement, indeed.  Never mind how exactly it is that one can feel through a pulse whether cancer cells are present in the body.  I just remained silent and did not challenge her statement.  I was about to get my CEA tested again in the next few days and so we would see.  The truth was that I had been feeling very good of late, better than I had felt during earlier rounds of chemotherapy in terms of my energy level and just general sense of well-being, and I was starting to feel like I wanted to reclaim my old life,  Maybe it was that I could see the light at the end of the tunnel of treatment.  Maybe it was that I had gotten used to living a life with cancer.  Or maybe, Dr. G was right and that I was really cancer-free and my body could sense that.

This past Monday I went in for my 10th round of chemo which was uneventful except for the fact that my CEA was again tested and it was 4.0, nearly 2 points lower than what it was a month ago.  The normal range is 0 to 5.0, although my understanding is that most people without colorectal cancer are in the 1 to 2 range and that smokers are more likely to be on the higher side of normal.  I’m happy with the number, obviously, but I would like to see it go down more.  I’m actually quite happy with the number since because of a pump malfunction during the 8th round of chemotherapy, I didn’t receive any of the 5-FU that’s supposed to be infused for 48 hours at home (although I did receive the oxaliplatin and avastin, arguably the more important drugs).  I’ll spare you the details of that saga.

On Wednesday, I went in again for acupuncture.  Again, Dr. G. said after feeling my pulse, “I really do think you are back to normal.  The cancer cells are gone.”  She went on to tell me that back in September, when my parents accompanied me to an acupuncture session, she’d felt that I still had cancer in my body, but as is consistent with her Chinese medical training, she did not tell me what she felt.  Whereas Chinese doctors are more likely to tell the family rather than the patient details about the patient’s medical condition, Dr. G. did not know my parents well and so she decided to keep silent and take a wait-and-see approach.  (There’s a practice of keeping negative information from the patients in Chinese culture for fear that that information might dishearten the patient.)  Now, that she felt the cancer was gone, she was comfortable revealing to me her past impressions.

This time, I did take her on.  I asked her if she’d ever been wrong, if there turned out to be cancer despite what she felt in the pulse.  She said, very matter-of-fact and without arrogance, “Not that I’m aware of.”  Dr. G. says that once I’m done with treatment and fighting off whatever lingering chemo side effects, I can come in once a month for maintenance acupuncture.  I’ve never viewed acupuncture as a means to actually curing me of cancer or preventing recurrence.  I’d only viewed it as a means to deal with the side effects of chemotherapy.  But it’s clear that Dr. G. believes that acupuncture is a more holistic form of treatment (as well as complementary to Western medicine) that seeks to restore balance to the body, which includes detoxification and boosting the immune system, both of which can lead to ridding the body of cancer as well as preventing recurrence.  (Incidentally, Dr. G.W., my Chinese medicine doctor, also believes herbs can be used to prevent recurrence.)

It seems too good to be true.  I feel like a fool for believing that acupuncture and these alternative treatments can save me.  And yet, how can I know for certain that they won’t?  Acupuncture has been around for at least 5,000 years.  If it were ineffective, it would have disappeared long ago as have so many mistaken medical theories of the human body.  I’m willing to do whatever it takes for the rest of my life to prevent a recurrence and if that means coming in for monthly acupuncture treatments and drinking nasty tasting Chinese herbal medicine twice a day, so be it.  Cancer must be attacked on as many fronts as possible with as many weapons as possible.

[Note:  For those who may be reading this for information on treatment, I’m not suggesting that acupuncture or any other form of Chinese medicine is a cure-all.  I’m merely expressing my desire to use it in combination with Western treatments and monitoring practices.  I should also state that Dr. G. was trained in China and has been practicing since the mid-1980s.  I think, as with any practitioner, it’s vital that one finds a good one.  I’m fortunate to live in New York City where much talent resides.].


10 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Della
    Dec 19, 2013 @ 19:41:06

    Hi Julie, I work with Denton and have been reading all of your blogs as they come. I haven’t commented as of yet because many of the other comments left state what I am feeling. I have told Denton several time that I love you and you are an inspiration to me. I just love it when people tell it like it is and dont sugar coat anything. I also just wanted to say YAAAY!!!!! This is wonderful news so happy you are feeling better and have had positive feedback from your doctors. Keep up the fight! – Della


  2. paddleboardgirl
    Dec 19, 2013 @ 20:00:35

    What awesome news!!!!


  3. Paula Roberts
    Dec 19, 2013 @ 21:45:38

    Thank you Julie for sharing this post. I just finished an excellent book, Dying to be me, by Anita Moorjani, about her miraculous recovery from cancer. I believe. I don’t know why some people are cured and others are not but it is happening all over the world. It very well have happened to you.
    I was spared from death once at 25 during the birth of my twins. I don’t know if I have used up all of my (cat like) lives, but I have always believed that I was given a second chance at that. It was the most important thing in life, to care for my family. I don’t know this time, but I am less afraid now, as my children will be 18years old soon. I can only attribute that to the great creator.
    I’m so moved to know that you may have a real chance to raise your babies, and not have to haunt the 2nd slutty wife.
    My heart truly loves you and am encouraging you on with my belief, “what man can do, another man can do.”


    • julielyyip
      Dec 20, 2013 @ 10:59:45

      Thank you, Paula. I don’t believe that you’ve used up anything. I don’t believe that’s how life works. All the experieinces of our lives prepare us for what lies ahead. Like me, you’ve been close to death. That gives us a certain strength, a fearlessness, a sense of we’ve nothing to lose so fight and fight and fight some more!


  4. Katie Vogler
    Dec 20, 2013 @ 07:29:21

    Julie, I am so happy to hear that you are feeling so well and that your CEA has decreased so much! I did a few sessions of acupuncture but stopped because I wasn’t sure the cost justified the limited benefit I felt. But maybe I will
    start again when I go back on chemo.


    • julielyyip
      Dec 20, 2013 @ 11:04:51

      Hi Katie. I hope you are doing well. I think with Chinese medicine, consistency is key. The effects take time to show up. Secondly, I think you need to go somewhere good, to someone who has experience with cancer and who was trained in China or at least by a master acupuncturist. The first acupuncturist I went to was this French woman who tried to deal with my neuropathy by sticking various points in my hands and telling me to breathe in and out like I was supposed to be meditating. She was very nice but I don’t think she was experienced. Dr. G. almost never touches my hands even though the neuropathy is worst in my hands. And there’s none of this new age-y stuff which I think is a load of you-know-what.


  5. Lisa
    Dec 23, 2013 @ 04:22:08

    Great News Julie. CEA levels down , wonderful!

    I am not sure I buy into alternative treatments as cures for anything. As far as I know there is no scientific data to support them. I am also kind of sceptical that If treatments were ineffective, they would dissappear because witch doctors even exist to this day as do a multitude of alternative treatments. No one really knows if they helped in any particular scenario and there is no evidence to suggest they do.

    However, having said that I certainly think that acupunture can stimulate nerves and perhaps help with neuropathy. That is reason enough to try.

    Enjoy the holidays!


  6. Kit Grady
    Dec 23, 2013 @ 17:48:49

    Great news Julie, Glad you are improving.
    I’m very interested in the type of Chinese herbs/medicine you are using. I think this is an untapped source that our Cancer Doctors need to look into and study more.


  7. Shan
    Dec 25, 2013 @ 21:13:41

    This is awesome news! I don’t know how I feel about acupuncture exactly, but in my limited personal experience I was surprised to see some personal changes as a result – I’m glad in your instance it’s been helpful. What awesome news.


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