Halloween 2001 was scary indeed.  My local doctor and I agreed that some blood in my stools and on toilet paper might be more than “just hemorrhoids,” and that despite the fact that I was just 56, a colonoscopy would be a good precaution.  And even though the result was terrifying, it was lucky we chose to do it. The exam was just in time to give me at least a fighting chance. 

The scope revealed cancerous polyps in my lower colon (in fact we decided to call it colorectal cancer).  And, sad to say, the cancer had metastasized to several of the lymph glands outside the colon! So, I talked with several specialists and the consensus was that I was not yet “a dead man walking” but my odds were no better than 50/50.  I was blessed with a young and aggressive wife as well as two very young kids (a newborn and a 2 year old) so we agreed with the oncologist I eventually selected that we should do “everything but kill me” for treatment. I had a lot to live for.

And that is what led me to my first experience with Green Tea.  My wife is now an American citizen but was born Japanese and spent her first thirty years in Japan, so she knew the benefits of Green Tea when it comes to cancer fighting.  But, she did not know what awful Green Tea is available to American consumers. She rushed out to the local market and brought home boxes of tea bags from reputable brands and insisted I start a Green Tea regime immediately.  But when we brewed them up—I was appalled. The taste was awful and brewing was difficult—I never got the same strength of tea!

For a couple days I was a good soldier and drank a lot of tea.  But, on the morning of the third day, I vividly remember standing in the kitchen with a tea cup in my hand and declaring to my wife– “Kiyomi, I would rather die than drink this stuff.  Just leave me alone and let me die.” And I was serious.

But so was she.  Kiyomi researched about it, contacted many of her friends in Japan and soon we had lots of choices.  The best was an organic ground (powdered) Green Tea but it was not Matcha, it was Sencha. I tried it and declared “I could drink this!”  It was tasty, easy to make by just adding hot water and stirring, and I could also enjoy it cold or in a smoothie, etc. And it was naturally sweet enough that no sweetener has ever been necessary.

“Why Sencha?” you may ask.  Sencha is the Japanese name for Green Tea (Camellia Sinensis) grown in full sun and minimally processed.  It has the highest amount of antioxidants of any Green Tea and seven times less caffeine than Matcha! A great healthy choice.

Also, since my Sencha was powdered rather than leaf tea, I did not have to drink the twenty to twenty-five cups that were recommended if one is drinking brewed tea and wants to get enough antioxidants to beat cancer. No—only about 3-5 cups, each made with only ¼ teaspoon of Sencha powder, would give me more than enough EGCG, the cancer fighting antioxidant that is famously present in the Green Tea leaf.

Later, as I researched Green Tea and cancer, I discovered a study by a University of Colorado chemist that found a cup of tea made with powdered Sencha had more than 150 times the antioxidants that a cup of tea brewed from Sencha leaves provided.  Why? Because most of the antioxidants and vitamins like A and E that are in the green tea leaf are not water soluble, so they cannot come out in the brew water—no, you must eat the leaf. Or more precisely, eat the leaf in powdered form! And, it is worth noting that even in ancient days, Chinese and Japanese ate Green Tea as a medicine—it was called “Heicha” or “Dancha” a small ball or dumpling of Green Tea! Do you suppose they knew they were missing most of the health benefits otherwise.

After the diagnosis, we began the search for the specialists that could treat me.  It was agreed by all consulted that surgery was the first and necessary step. I wanted to put it off until after Thanksgiving so we could enjoy the holiday, but my wife vetoed and we were fortunate to find a very qualified surgeon at the hospital in La Grande, Oregon, just an hour and a half from our home.  We set the surgery for November 21st,  just three weeks after the diagnosis, and met the surgeon who turned out to be something of a “wild woman” who had recently served at the Trauma Center of Providence Hospital in Portland.  After the surgery, she said that she had taken out “all of my guts and laid them on a stainless cart and inspected them for cancer”and that she was “confident she had gotten it all.”

Nonetheless, the treatment conventional medical protocols were clear.  I needed to do a series of radiation treatments and then about a year of chemotherapy.  The radiation had to be done at Swedish hospital so we moved the whole family to an “Extended Stay” hotel near Swedish and stayed for more than a month.  Even the darkest clouds have a silver lining, and our son got to go to a Japanese preschool and my wife, though she spent most of her time caring for me and for our seven month old daughter, did enjoy some Asian foods and shopping not usually available to her in our small eastern Oregon town.

Did the Green Tea help?  Absolutely—and my oncologist, Dr. Henry Kaplan of Swedish Hospital agrees.  Two years after we first met, my treatments were done and my tests and exams showed no cancer present.  As he discharged me, he said, “Unless you get a bad test result, you don’t need to come back and see me, but I’ve looked into the Green Tea idea and I am convinced—Don’t stop drinking your powdered Green Tea.”  And I have not. I begin each day with a warm Edible Green and have several more during the day, usually the Decaf version in the evening. The decaffeination is done just with hot water so it is very safe and only 5% of the antioxidants are lost while almost all of the caffeine is washed away.

But of course all the other treatments helped to save me, along with the good wishes and prayers of all those who supported me during this awful time.  With all the things being done to me, it gave me great comfort to know that I too was doing something to help myself. Thanks to the Green Tea, I felt better during chemo treatments than I expected to and never actually got nauseated though it was close.  And each time I made and enjoyed a comforting cup of tea, my Mantra was “Die, you B—–ds, Die” and I imagined hundreds of cancer cells dying on the spot!

When we do something powerful to help ourselves, we fortify our resolve and change outcomes!

Take aways:  It was a terrifying and painful two years but the lessons learned are worth sharing.

Believe you can beat cancer.  Not everyone wins, that is for sure, but BELIEF is key to success—as is your effort to survive.  The sixteen years that I have been given have been worth every bit of the struggle. Believe.

Seek out help.  My dear cousin Bruce, bless his soul, quickly arranged for me to be treated by Dr. Kaplan, an oncologist with Swedish Hospital in Seattle who is, year after year, ranked as the top specialist in his field.  I had every confidence in him. Get second and third opinions and talk to lots of folks who have been through what you are facing. Cancer survivors are members of a special club and are more than willing to help.  Find a support group and participate. You will have an opportunity to give support to those who are even worse off than yourself and that will give you strength.

Accept help—it will help you regain control of your life.  As word spread about my illness, friends showed up. One Saturday, a group of men from our Church arrived and said they were there to help me catch up on household chores.  They fixed broken boards in my porch deck, trimmed trees and generally got us ready for Winter. We were so grateful and uplifted by their unbidden help. And one day I expressed my sadness that I hadn’t the strength to decorate the outside of our home for Christmas, as was our custom.  You guessed it. A couple showed up, asked where the decorations and ladders were and went to work. The lights were the best ever and our gratitude, and the conviction that we were not alone, buoyed our spirits.

Get tested.  A timely diagnosis, catching cancer in its early stages is a huge advantage to survival.  Cancer spreads rapidly, so delay is deadly. I did not know I had a family history that made me vulnerable.  My father had polyps removed before they were cancerous but I was away at college and never heard a word. Had I known, I could have insisted on a colonoscopy at a younger age.  As it was, I had fully developed Cancer before the age that exam was normally given back in 2000. Fortunately, thanks to Katie Couric and many others, the standard of practice has changed.  Cancer is aggressive, so you too must be aggressive and vigilant and advocate for your own health. Note that I had surgery just two weeks after a biopsy confirmed the cancer.

Realize that each type of cancer is different and requires different sorts of treatments and different types of chemotherapy.  Each person too is different and what works for one may or may not work for another. Do research and know as much as you can about what is going on with you.  Some choose only to use natural therapies, others more conventional medicine, and still others, like myself, throw everything at the cancer and hope that the combination will prevail.  You must make the choice. Choose with intention and determination.