Cure Talk Interview With Mike Baker, Lung Cancer Fighter, Journalist, And Media Trainer
Mike Baker is a man to reckon with. A non-smoker, Mike was diagnosed with Stage 4 terminal lung cancer but is determined to outlive the cancer. His blog, Mike Baker’s Cancer Blog, was listed at Number 5 in Cision’s Top 10 Cancer blogs in the UK, 2011 and features in the list of CureTalk’s Top 5 lung cancer bloggers. Mike is an award winning journalist, author, broadcaster, and consultant. He specializes in education. He was named UK Education Journalist of the Year twice (2002 and 2008). After working with the BBC for 27 years, he is now a freelance journalist and broadcaster. You can read his regular column on education in The Guardian. Get to know more about Mike on his website: http://www.mikebakereducation.co.uk/.
I had the privilege to interview Mike and discuss with him, his blog and his fight against lung cancer. Read on and enjoy the interview.
Me: You were diagnosed with inoperable lung cancer (adenocarcinoma) in April 2011. Your blog, Day 1 – I’m told I have cancer, I’m sure resonates with many who have experienced the same. What is your advice to them?
Mike: The shock of being told you have cancer is immense, especially if (as in my case) you have been told several times already that you do not have cancer. I felt as if I was being physically knocked sideways off my chair. It was not well done either. The physician said there was a ‘glimmer’ of hope for me if it turned out I had a particular cell mutation. Well, it soon turned out I did not. So, that meant the ‘glimmer’ was extinguished, if I took her words literally.
Fortunately my wife was with me that time and that gave me great strength. My advice to others is that however bleak and dark it seems at the time of diagnosis, there is always hope. It takes a while for the shock to subside, but it does ebb away. For weeks my own mortality kept crowding in on me. But now – a year on – I think of it only occasionally, even though the medical prognosis is unchanged.
So, remember things will get better. We are infinitely adaptable. Try to think positively, however hard that is at first. Positive thinking is a habit and it develops with use. For me, activity was another form of overcoming the shock, whether it was physical activity or researching more about my type of cancer and the possible alternative treatments. I also took great comfort from reading about the experience of others who had overcome bleak outlooks. This is what prompted me to start the blog.
Me: I felt while reading your blogs that you had made up your mind to proceed with complementary medicine in combination with conventional medication from quite an early stage in your diagnosis. This is unique since most people try complementary medicines as a second resort when they feel that conventional medicine is not helping them much. How did you decide that complementary and alternative medicines would help you?
Mike: I was rushed straight into chemotherapy within days of my diagnosis, so I had little time to really think about the complementary options at that stage. I have no medical background (I am an arts graduate and a current affairs journalist with no scientific training) and probably began with a very trusting attitude towards conventional medicine and a skepticism about complementary approaches. However, my wife – and several of my relatives and friends – are involved in various complementary medical approaches. My wife was trained as a conventional nurse but has been a reflexologist for many years. So, I was not short of advice about complementary treatments and the more I researched them, the more attractive they sounded, especially as conventional medicine could offer me nothing more than palliative care.
After the first set of chemotherapy I was offered a second round but, after researching the statistics and the side-effects, I decided not to go that way for now but to go all out for complementary approaches. So far, they have made me feel much better and stronger, although I am clearly not ‘cured’ yet.
I continue to see my oncologist. Last time we met he noted how well I seemed and that I had outlived the gloomiest prognosis and said, in a kindly way, ‘I don’t suppose you’ll be wanting any more of my poisons, then?.
Me: In the blog, Week 41 – Going Raw, you talk about starting a new alternative medicine regime…can you tell our readers about this.
Mike: Yes, my naturopath has put me on a tripartite approach: large doses of pancreatic enzymes (the method pioneered by Dr Kelly and now continued by Dr Gonzalezin, New York), an extensive program of vitamins, antioxidants and other supplements, and a diet that is 80% raw food and prohibits glucose, red meat and dairy products. Cutting out glucose is tough as it is in so many foods (grains, bread, alcohol, fruit etc). To maintain strength, I do a lot of juicing of vegetables and eat a lot of nuts, seeds, avocados and red fruits (low in glucose). I feel it is working but I cannot deny that it is hard, especially the diet element. It is also expensive as the enzymes and supplements are costly. Mind you, they are a lot cheaper than the chemotherapy or conventional drugs I would be on otherwise, although in the UK I would not have to pay for those as they are covered by the National Health Service. I felt like asking if I could have some of the money instead to spend in my own way!
Me: What are some of the complementary and alternative therapies that you have tried for your lung cancer and tell us about two of them, which you would recommend.
Mike: The other approaches that I have used and found beneficial are herbalism, homoeopathy, acupuncture, Reiki, reflexology, Emotional Freedom Techniques, and Spiritual Healing. That may sound like a long and indiscriminate shopping-list but each has been useful in its own way and the appropriate time. The herbalism was particularly good for mitigating the side effects of chemotherapy and for strengthening my immune system. The others all helped in various ways, including mentally and emotionally.
Such a list may sound overwhelming – and sometimes it is – but you don’t have to do them all at once and throughout this time I have been able to continue working and exercising. I would also say that exercise (cycling and walking for me) and yoga and breathing techniques have all helped too. My oncologist is amazed at how well I am (I always make a point of cycling to my appointments)
Me: You have been biking throughout your cancer journey…and you are planning to participate in The Ride, how is your preparation?
Mike: Yes, as mentioned, cycling is very important to me both as a relaxation, as a sign of normal life continuing, and because I feel sure it is helping my lungs. I was very influenced by champion cyclist, Lance Armstrong’s book on overcoming cancer, which I had actually read before my own diagnosis. When I am on the bike I feel I cannot die (unless I’m hit by a truck, of course) and that the cancer cannot catch me.
I already had in mind doing a charity-ride when I was approached by a group of cancer patients who were organizing a marathon cycle ride through the UK to raise awareness of the lack of advice given to cancer patients about the value of diet and exercise. The match was perfect. So in July, I will be joining them as they ride through Wales (very hilly, Wales!) on The Ride. My preparation has been slow (not helped by appalling Spring weather in England) but I am now beginning to pick up the weekly mileage. It’s going to be tough, but I’ll enjoy the challenge. I am raising money for a wonderful UK cancer charity called Yes To Life.
Me: You never smoked in your life, yet you have lung cancer. What do you think about the social stigma attached to lung cancer (regarding smoking)?
Mike: I’d like to think I’m not affected by the social stigma around lung cancer (and the unspoken message that it is partly your fault) but I must admit that whenever I am telling someone I have lung cancer I almost always add ‘…and I was never a smoker’. But that is wrong. No-one deserves to have cancer and people smoke for all sorts of reasons (stress, peer pressure, lack of advice). The irony is, though, that I was always a very militant anti-smoker and had no time for the tobacco companies. Apparently some 10% of those with lung cancer have never smoked – a fact you don’t often hear.
Me: Recently, Cancer Research UK’s press release talked about lack of lung cancer awareness. What can be done to increase the same, according to you?
Mike: Lung cancer is one of the more unfashionable cancers, if you can use that term. In the UK, there has been virtually no progress on mortality rates. That is partly because people are slow to go to their doctors but also because doctors can be slow to recognize the symptoms. In my case, it took 6 months from first getting a chest X-ray to getting the diagnosis. There have been local experiments in the UK with public awareness campaigns (e.g. adverts saying if you’ve had a cough for more than 3 weeks, go to a doctor) but too little is being done about it and treatments have not moved on. I cannot understand why advice on exercise and diet is not given to everyone with cancer but especially those with lung cancer.
Me: You are an inspiration to many people suffering from lung cancer. What would you like to tell them?
Mike: There is always hope. You are not a statistic and no matter what odds have been quoted to you, you can exceed them. Also that you need to take ownership of your cancer, not just be passive, and explore the various options (and there are so many, even for a ‘terminal’ case like mine) that you can follow. And, finally, there is a connection between mind and body so – however hard it is – be as positive as you can, for as much of the time as you can. But also – and this is important – don’t beat yourself up if you cannot always manage to keep up with your various treatment regimes. Be as kind to yourself as you would be to others.
I thank Mike for his time and for sharing his thoughts with us.