When my head and neck cancer came back for the third time in the fall of 2017 in the form of a tumor at the base of my tongue, I pulled out all the stops and tried almost every imaginable thing to fight it. Given my credulous nature, and self-proclaimed "research" skills, you can imagine the wild goose chases I went on. It might be considered a character flaw, but when I think I know something i.e., I "believe" that the conclusions I am drawing are reasonable, I'm inclined to act regardless of the opinions of authority figures. In the case of my cancer treatment, the jury is still out.
I had nowhere to hide, no silver bullets left, no easy surgical way out -- the clock was ticking and the tumor was tocking. After having refused radiation and chemotherapy twice (2011 and 2016), and taken the relatively easy surgical way out, I now had an inoperable tumor making me feel like I was constantly choking back tears.
Since this all started back in 2011, I have done a lot of research, tried a lot of things, and made many changes to my life-style to try and fight the cancer. I do plan to write about all of this, but now I want to discuss the little drama I went through when I learned that radiation and chemotherapy were both ototoxic. In general, I learned that inflammation caused by radiation affects the Tympanic membrane (eardrum) and the ability to balance inner ear pressure via the eustachian tube, and chemotherapy ototoxicity is potentially more damaging to the audiovestibular nerve.
Despite MollyAnn Wymer's advice not to, I want to share dramaMINE with you. Perhaps, you, or someone you know, may benefit from it.
The first thing I did was get my hearing tested to establish benchmarks. The thought of sustaining permanent hearing damage in exchange for "curing" my cancer was a desperate a gamble. Froedtert Hospital, where I was receiving treatment, keeps no records as to the actual outcomes their patients are having regarding hearing loss from radiation or chemotherapy treatments, and this despite being a teaching college.
Though I was frustrated by this lack of data, I had to roll the dice. But, was there anything I could do to stack the odds in my favor? I continued researching and found many references to the efficacy of hyperbaric oxygen therapy (HBOT) in wound healing. I read Paul Harch's book: The Oxygen Revolution .
At the same time, HBOT also has a host of other effects. In particular, and perhaps most important, is that a variety of studies have shown HBOT seems to recruit stem cells to wounded areas. In using HBOT, genes are stimulated to produce growth and repair hormones simultaneously with stem cells acting as a stimulus to tissue regeneration. This is what makes HBOT such a versatile treatment.
The understanding is that we are simply using pressure and oxygen, two entities to which all living organismas are sensitive, to manipulate gene expression and suppression in order to prompt the body to heal itself.
And I watched his excellent lecture about hyperbaric oxygen and cancer.
Here are some of the key points Dr. Harch makes:
- Hypoxia is common in cancers.
- Hypoxic cancer cells are resistant to radiation and chemotherapy.
- Effectiveness of radiation and chemo are dependant on oxygen levels and reactive oxygen species (ROS)
- HBOT is the only therapy that can reliably elevate pO2 in cancers and increase ROS.
- HBOT alone has a neutral effect on cancer.
- HBOT can be adjunctively effective with radiation, chemotherapy, or photodynamic therapy.
- HBOT effectiveness is dependent on dose, time of intervention, type of cancer, and stage.
- HBOT in cancer Rx is still in its infancy
If cancer is a serious issue for you or someone you care about, you will want to watch the above lecture multiple times. It is densely packed with information and I cannot do it justice with a cursory summary.
After reading Dr. Harch's book and studying his presentation, it seemed like a slam-dunk to integrate HBOT, until I learned that it may cause barotrauma that could result in permanent damage to my ears. On top of that, many sources were claiming that hyperbaric oxygen therapy was contra-indicated for Cisplatin.
Can you feel the dramaMINE? HBOT has the potential to both help and hurt me. The stakes are high. What to do?
I made the choice to go ahead with the HBOT therapy concurrent with the radiation and chemotherapy treatments. The risk of damage to, not only my hearing, but to my saliva glands, thyroid gland, nerves, bones, muscles and blood vessels from the radiation and the potential DNA damage induced side-effects of the chemotherapy persuaded me to go for the systemic benefits that HBOT appeared to offer. This was against the advice of all the medical experts at Froedtert Hospital and even Dr. Harch advised against utilizing HBOT without the supervision of an experienced practitioner.
I bought a portable hyperbaric oxygen chamber from Oxyhealth using some profits I took from the sale of a few bitcoins when it was trading around $14,000, and began self-administering HBOT commensurate with the beginning of the radiation and chemotherapy. I started out with 2, 1 hour, HBOT sessions per day.
This unit uses room air, not 100% oxygen, and has a maximum atmospheric pressure (ATA) of 1.3.
Within a week of starting radiation and after the first of 3 chemotherapy treatments, I began having difficulty balancing the pressure in my right ear. My eustachian tube was not working correctly anymore. Tinnitus was a constant companion. My head felt like it was stuck inside a bell and my voice was strangely distant. Imagine the dramaMINE: had I made a dangerous situation worse by foolishly and recklessly integrating HBOT with my treatments? Was I experiencing barotrauma, ototoxicity, or both?
You can imagine how nervous I was at my next auditory examination: then I would find out how badly mistaken I was. Fortunately, while the tests did show significant hearing loss in my right ear, the auditory nerve was not impacted. This meant that the ototoxicity of the chemotherapy had not impacted me. The problem was the radiation had caused an inflammation of my eardrum, which impaired my hearing and also prevented my eustachian tubes from functioning properly.
The dramaMINE resolved itself. The tinnitus eventually went away and, as the inflammation of my eardrums subsided, my eustachian tubes began working correctly again. Although I have not confirmed 100% recovery of my hearing yet via another auditory examination, I can tell that I have recovered.
I am cautiously optimistic that I have survived the ototoxicity from the radiation and chemotherapy. I did not suffer any barotrauma from the HBOT. I am hopeful that the HBOT did improve the effectiveness of the radiation and chemotherapy -- I won't know anything until the results of my next PET/CT scan on May 2 are in. Since I don't see any downside to it at this point, I'm going to continue self-administering HBOT 5-6 times a week for the foreseeable future.