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Living a Full Life After Pancreatic Cancer Diagnosis
Monday, Sept. 3, 2018 – By Mary Shinn, Health & Topics reporter for The Durango Herald View Original Article Here
Combination of naturopathic and traditional medicine proves effective for Tom Riesing.
When it seemed likely that Durangoan Tom Riesing had pancreatic cancer in 2013, one of his doctors apologized profusely to his wife, Mindy Iris.
“He was basically shutting the door on any hope,” she said.
At the time, Iris thought to herself, “You don’t know who Tom is,” she said.
Only 26 percent of pancreatic cancer patients survive a year, according to the Hirshberg Foundation for Pancreatic Cancer Research. Of all the major cancers, pancreatic has the highest mortality rate. But Riesing, 80, has not only survived four years after his diagnosis, he has thrived, his friend Jamie Matthews said.
Riesing was diagnosed with stage 2 pancreatic cancer in December 2013. Since then, he has sought the most effective blend of allopathic and naturopathic treatments, traveling to Europe for testing and Canada for hyperthermia treatments. He has also focused on having a healthy diet, taking supplements and bolstering his immune system, which is weakened during cancer treatments.
His goal is to fight the cancer until there is no evidence of disease, he said.
Riesing attributes his tenacity to seek treatment to his natural curiosity and somewhat irreverent attitude toward authority.
“Each person, will, of course, vouch for whatever they are comfortable with. But that doesn’t mean there isn’t something else,” he said.
Riesing and Iris have made decisions about his cancer treatment as a team and have asked doctors about what treatments they would recommend to their own family members.
Iris describes the cancer as a dark cloud of stress that comes in and out of their lives. It first entered a year after the couple was first introduced to each other.
A mutual acquaintance introduced them through email and they connected even before they met face-to-face, Iris said.
“Tom’s a unique sort of man; he is very open, he is a great communicator,” she said.
They spent the year before his diagnosis traveling, going to music festivals and dancing, she said.
She was interested in him in part because he has re-created himself several times. He earned a doctorate degree from Massachusetts Institute of Technology and taught at Harvard Business School before working for banks on Wall Street.
After he moved to Durango in the late 1990s, he founded the Oakhaven Permaculture Center in Hesperus, which focuses on agriculture education. After the sale of the center, he started to study energy medicine, an alternative type of medicine focused on ensuring the energy in the body is in balance.
“I’ve never let myself not do something because I was too old, because that becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy,” Riesing said.
After his diagnosis, Iris said she felt depressed and hopeless. But Riesing did not go through the fear and panic many cancer patients experience, she said.
He discovered he had pancreatic cancer much earlier than many others, because the tumor closed his common bile duct, preventing digestive fluid from being released, he said.
“I turned yellow, so I knew that something was wrong,” he said.
He had the tumor removed in February 2014 at the University of Southern California and was released within five days. The minimum stay is usually six, he said.
“Within the first week I was out hiking, resuming my life,” he said.
He attributes his quick recovery to his energy medicine practice and treatments.
He knows it works because he can feel the difference it makes, but he acknowledges many people doubt the practice.
“Some people can’t deal with it because our society is built around concrete things, and energies are a subtle thing,” he said. “The only way of knowing that it’s working is that you do things because you’re feeling bad and suddenly you feel better.”
After his surgery, Riesing was treated with chemotherapy, but he sought an oncologist who would use a combination of the chemotherapy drugs gemcitabine and Abraxane, because his research showed the combination increased his chances for survival and reduced the chances the cancer cells would spread.
When he started the chemotherapy, Riesing also started to work with Stacy Mulkey, a naturopathic doctor at Namaste Health Center in Durango, who has guided his decisions.
After the chemotherapy, he went into remission for about three years, although he knew he had tumor cells circulating in his blood after having medical tests done in Switzerland.
About a year ago, doctors discovered three tumors on Riesing’s lungs. To treat them, he has undergone a combination of chemotherapy, hyperthermia treatments and high-dose vitamin C infusions – and he has responded well to all of them.
In February, Riesing started 12 weeks of a nontraditional chemotherapy regimen developed by Dr. Nick Chen at the Seattle Integrative Cancer Center. His tumors reduced in size after receiving high-dose vitamin C infusions and lower doses of chemotherapy for a longer period of time compared to traditional patients. Vitamin C severely stresses cancer cells because they don’t have the enzymes to break them down, Chen said.
Chen said he has seen other pancreatic patients have success with his combination of treatments, so he is starting clinical trials of the treatment.
“Many of our patients are living two years or more,” he said.
The treatment also has lower toxicity levels than traditional treatment, which helps Riesing and others to tolerate it better.
Riesing has also undergone hyperthermia treatment. That treatment uses high temperatures to damage and kill cancer cells without harming healthy tissue, according to the National Cancer Institute.
Hyperthermia treatments can improve the effectiveness of other treatments, such as chemotherapy and radiation, Mulkey said.
“There are certain types of cancers that respond really well and better than they normally would to just chemo alone or radiation,” she said.
Riesing received localized hyperthermia treatments on his lungs at the Integrated Health Clinic in Vancouver, B.C.
He also had full-body hyperthermia treatments beneath infrared lights. The treatments require him to bake beneath the light for 4½ hours to bring his body temperature into fever range (100 degrees or higher) for 2 to 2½ hours, he said.
The high temperatures heighten the response of the immune system, in the same way a fever would, Chen said.
While Riesing’s body temperature is heightened, he stays hydrated through an IV, and a doctor monitors his vitals.
In June, he stopped his chemotherapy treatment and continued the other treatments to help determine if the hyperthermia treatments and other strategies are effective on their own, he said.
Many of the treatments Riesing has received, while effective, are not covered by Medicare, and his friend recently set up a GoFundMe page to help with his debt.
“If Tom was just doing what Medicare covered, we don’t have any question that Tom wouldn’t be alive,” Iris said.
His quest for treatment has preserved his ability to pursue his hobbies, including Nia, a mix of dance and martial arts, and to work with clients jointly with his wife, who is a massage therapist and a counselor.
While thinking about the future can make Iris nervous, Riesing is optimistic.
“I’ve never seen him beaten down by any of this,” she said.
You can read more about Riesing and Iris at agingwellwithiris.com.
Of Miracles, Strengths and Battles
January 6, 2012, By Rodika Tollefson for North Mason Life
Community leader Randy Neatherlin continues to stand up for his beliefs as he fights his own battle with cancer.
Randy Neatherlin is the first to admit he’s not always the most popular guy around. Known for his passionate testimonies at some public meetings and for his outspoken beliefs, Neatherlin has created his fair share of adversaries while running for political office or taking a stand on controversial issues, including the hotly contested Belfair sewer project.
But even some of his opponents have come back to shake his hand, and even more so in recent months.
To an outsider, it has been business as usual the past eight months for Neatherlin, who is a commissioner with the Port of Allyn and Mason County Planning Commission, as well as being active with other boards and nonprofits. He attended a dozen or more meetings a month. He helped with Habitat of Humanity fundraisers. He sold real estate as a top John L. Scott broker.
While that kind of busy schedule is not unique for the father of three young children (as well as an adult daughter), what has left his friends, associates and even some adversaries in awe is the fact that throughout those eight months, Neatherlin was fighting his own battle for life.
Last April, at age 48 he was diagnosed with esophageal cancer, and was advised to get his affairs in order. The esophageal cancer, which is rare in the United States, had advanced to stage four and spread to his liver and lymph nodes.
“I was supposed to be dead by June,” he said. “Even my doctor was emotional. The tumor was huge and my throat was almost closed off. The chances of survival were next to nothing, and there wasn’t a lot they could do.”
He said it felt like he was watching an episode of the television show “House.”
“You’ve been healthy all your life, and all of a sudden you’re hooked up to all these machines,” he said. “It’s so surreal.”
Asking a few of his friends to take care of his young children — including a 1-year-old — when the time comes, Neatherlin decided to seek a second opinion at the same time. With the support of his wife, Pam, who is a radiology technologist, he was determined to fight.
That fight has paid off. Neatherlin’s cancer is now in remission, and he’s traveled the entire journey without skipping a beat.
“I can’t count the number of times Randy drove himself home from chemo treatments and then attended some community meeting. When I told him I was concerned that he was sapping energy he needed to recover, he said staying involved is what he needed to get well,” said Mary Swoboda, who sent updates to his friends and supporters about his fight with cancer. “I can’t argue with his logic, obviously it worked!”
Battling on Two Fronts
Neatherlin, a Belfair resident for more than 30 years, said he’s developed somewhat of a reputation for “fixing things” and protecting people or issues since he was a student at North Mason High School.
A football player and president of the ASB, he said in those days he stood up to a group of teenage boys bullying girls. Since then, he started building many connections while also fighting for other issues. “I got to know so many people, in a sense they adopted me,” he said.
An entrepreneur even back then, Neatherlin bought his first property while still in high school. He also ran an arcade business and a mill — a business he has continued for many years, making roof shakes and shingles.
“When I look in the mirror, I’m still the shake and shingle man,” he said.
After owning a car lot in Belfair for almost a decade, Neatherlin started selling real estate nearly three years ago. He also produces television commercials after getting into the field while making video ad’s for his car lot.
He loves his work, especially being a real estate broker, but it’s his civic involvement that has become a major commitment, and may have even cost him dearly — he said the timing of the car lot fire was suspicious, since it happened while his run for state office was announced in the press and he was out of town.
“I’ve had some hard times here but I’ve survived. When you try to protect something, you’re taking someone powerful on,” he said. “One of my flaws in politics is I can’t stand certain things like others can.”
This past year, one of those things was the Belfair sewer. Neatherlin joined many other business and community leaders in protesting the rates and other issues related to the project. At those public meetings last summer, he was one of many people speaking out passionately in front of county commissioners — but outsiders had no hint that those meetings literally knocked the wind out of Neatherlin, who was undergoing weekly chemotherapy at the time.
“He hasn’t missed any (port) meetings, that’s what’s miraculous,” said fellow port commissioner Judy Scott, who has known him for many years. “He speaks his mind so he’s not always very popular, but that’s why he’s admired too because he’s willing to stand up for the community.”
Scott, who lost both her parents and her previous husband to cancer, said she knows a diagnosis usually means a death sentence, but Neatherlin refused to accept it.
“I know his faith and courage helps with survivability,” she said. “I think the faith and prayers of the people helped carry him through.”
Scott says even when people were going after Neatherlin for standing up for his beliefs, he has kept a positive attitude instead of becoming bitter or angry — much the same way he has gone through his journey with cancer, maintaining an upbeat attitude.
Neatherlin said his attitude goes back to his faith. He looked at all the positive things in his life instead of thinking he didn’t have much time left.
“I was sad but I looked at my life and all the things I had the opportunity to do, and a new chance at life with my (young) kids,” he said. “I’m so blessed, so it’s hard to look at God and say, ‘You haven’t given me enough.’ I looked up and said, ‘You have given me so much.'”
Neatherlin’s quest for a second opinion led him last spring to the Seattle Cancer Treatment and Wellness Center in Renton, where he was introduced to Dr. Nick Chen. He’s learned about an experimental treatment Chen used successfully on pancreatic cancer and wanted to try on other types.
“Instead of treating it according to the recipe book, he wanted to make a new recipe,” Neatherlin said.
The recipe included weekly chemotherapy (a cocktail of nearly a dozen drugs) and homeopathic treatments such as vitamin D boosts.
“Because Randy’s cancer was spreading to distant organs, radiation wouldn’t have helped him,” Chen was quoted as saying in an article published in the cancer center’s newsletter. “Without innovative chemotherapy and an integrative approach, his disease would have continued to spread, becoming even more difficult to treat.”
The treatment worked rapidly. Based on Swoboda’s email updates, by June two of the tumors in his liver “have disappeared, one (was) almost nonexistent, two have shrunk to one-quarter of their original size and one has shrunk to one-third of its original size.”
By August, most of the tumors were gone except for a few small ones. In October, Swoboda reported to supporters that there was no indication of tumors in the liver and the esophagus looked good, and on Nov. 2, she followed up with the news that Neatherlin was declared cancer-free in both his throat and stomach.
Even Neatherlin’s physician who made the original diagnosis told Chen he has never seen this kind of turnaround. “His response to treatment was dramatic,” Chen said in the newsletter.
The Journey Ahead
Neatherlin is not completely off the hook. He still has to undergo monthly chemotherapy, and even a small tumor could rapidly spread again. He said if the cancer doesn’t return in the next month or so, his chances are excellent.
But he’s not dwelling on that either. Even at home, his life has not been any different. He did break down into tears, privately, just once, he admits — after having a vision of his young daughter saying she didn’t remember what her father sounded like.
One of his main reasons for sharing his story with others is the hope to bring more people to the Seattle Cancer Treatment and Wellness Center and expose them to Dr. Chen’s treatments.
“This experimental program has blown things out of the water,” he said. “If it’s not a fluke, this could change everything for people with this cancer.”
As he and his medical team continue to keep a lookout for tumors, Neatherlin said he has much unfinished business, and that he’s seen a lot of beauty through his battle. “You can see God’s perfection and that there’s so many reasons behind this.” he said.
Fellow Mason County Habitat for Humanity board member and 2011 president Kelly Zoldak said Neatherlin blew her away by asking to be involved with new projects and never showing the huge toll the illness was taking on him.
“I think staying busy kept his focus off being sick. And he wants to encourage other people to be advocates for themselves.” she said. “If anyone deserves a miracle, it’s Randy. This community is better because of him.”
(c) North Mason Life
Dr. Chen and Dr. Mark Gignac Recognized
Excerpts taken from a monthly publication by Ralph W. Moss, PhD:
Dr. Chen and Dr. Mark Gignac Recognized by World Renowned Cancer Researcher Ralph W. Moss, PhD
Metronomic chemotherapy is the use of lower doses of chemotherapy than normal but on a more frequent (hyperfractionated) schedule. Its efficacy was first proposed by the great cancer scientist, Judah Folkman, in the 1990s as part of an anti-angiogenic strategy. Dr. Nick Chen*, the leading medical oncologist, at Seattle Cancer Treatment and Wellness Center, makes a persuasive case that by giving drugs metronomically (in conjunction with naturopathic post-care) he can get exceptional results in a number of different cancers. In 2008, he presented a poster at a cancer conference in Hawaii that showed remarkable results in non-small cell lung cancer. This work definitely needs to be reproduced, but it is promising. Nick Chen impressed me greatly with his intelligence and experience. Several of our clients have gone to him since then and some have had really exceptional results. This was a fitting end to a very memorable clinic tour.
Nick Chen is the rare medical oncologist who recognizes the importance of nutritional, mental and emotional health in cancer. He works closely with the two naturopaths at SCTWC, Mark Gignac**, ND, FABNO and Paul Reilly, ND, LAc, FABNO. Nick is not only board certified in oncology but has a PhD in immunology from the University of Iowa. He completed hematology fellowships at University Libre de Bruxelles in Belgium and Shanghai Medical University in China.
Dr. Chen completed his internal medicine residency at the University of Nebraska Medical Center, and a fellowship in medical oncology at Moffitt Cancer Treatment Center and Research Institute in Tampa, Florida, one of the top cancer centers in the nation. He joined CTCW in 2002. His focus in on innovative treatments for difficult-to treat cancers, such as lung cancer, metastatic melanoma, brain cancer, and relapsed lymphoma.
When it comes to integrative oncology, “I have seen the future, and it works.” Naturopathy functions in Oregon and Washington as a fully accepted and integrated part of medical care (including cancer care) in these states. As a resident of a part of the country where naturopathy is not even licensed, I cast envious eyes on the Pacific Northwest, whose residents have far greater options when it comes to the varieties of treatment they can access. I think those who fear the sky will fall if they license naturopathy should study how well it works in states such as Oregon and Washington, where naturopathy has been accepted since the1920s. *Dr. Nick Chen is now the Medical Director for Seattle Integrative Cancer Center in Seattle, Washington. **Dr. Mark Gignac is now the resident naturopath at Seattle Integrative Cancer Center in Seattle, Washington.