It’s hard not to smile around Christa Wittmier. Her joie de vivre is infectious and her enthusiasm for the projects she’s working on bubbles up with a positivity you wouldn’t normally hear in a conversation about living with cancer.
The former marketing director, event planner and blogger (she wrote the SuperCity nightlife blog for the Honolulu Star-Advertiser), was diagnosed with stage 4 breast cancer in May 2015. She recently shared what’s going on with the Aloha Cancer Project, a nonprofit she co-founded to help others with cancer. Events have included workshops on scrapbooking, exercise and essential oils, along with a kitchen makeover seminar on clean eating and creating cancer-fighting grocery lists. To find out about the latest events, check out the nonprofit’s website at alohacancerproject.life.
It hasn’t always been a path of positivity. Despite going into remission just four months after her initial diagnosis, Wittmier’s cancer returned in May 2016 spreading to her liver, lungs and brain. And it’s been up and down since then, as Wittmier has tried a combination of traditional and holistic medicines.
Still, she doesn’t give up. The 42-year-old spends six days each week on a strict diet regimen and keeps her body fueled with whole, natural foods and her spirit fulfilled through meditation and exercise.
She also shares advice based on her own experiences in an “initial cancer plan of attack” paper, which has been downloaded more than 30,000 times. (You can find it at Aloha Cancer Project’s website.)
Wittmier (aka SuperCW), also known for her deft DJ skills, still spins occasionally for events and landed a recurring role on the upcoming CBS reboot of “Magnum, P.I.” Hint: She plays a DJ.
We asked Wittmier to share a few of the things she loves that are essential to help her thrive while living with cancer. — E. Clarke Reilly, Star-Advertiser
When I was first diagnosed I was given a 30 percent chance for survival with an “aggressive chemotherapy plan.”
I learned about naturopathic medicine when I was connected to a naturopath who specializes in cancer. If I hadn’t seen him I would have just done the “aggressive chemotherapy plan” as outlined. Instead, I was getting weekly IVs of 50 grams of ascorbic acid (or the cuter name, high-dose vitamin C), the day prior to my chemo infusions.
When my oncologist could feel the tumor shrinking significantly each week, she lowered the chemo dose. In the end I only did a quarter of what she originally prescribed. The ascorbic acid not only kills off cancer cells, it also helps curb toxic side effects of chemotherapy.
Although my battle with cancer continues, the ascorbic acid IVs together with hyperbaric oxygen therapy speed up the healing from chemo side-effects and radiation damage. Both of these were game changers for me. I am certain they are why I am still here today.
These days I am in Dr. Stephen Benchouk’s downtown office twice a week for ascorbic acid IVs.
The ascorbic acid IVs are $200 a treatment at Hawaii Natural Medicine with Dr. Stephen Benchouk. Call 524-8715; hawaiinaturalmedicine.com. Hyperbaric oxygen therapy treatments are $100 and up at Pacific Integrative Medicine with Dr. Kevin Gibson. Call 955-9556.
Cancer patients know it’s not the actual cancer that causes so much pain and discomfort; it’s the treatments. It feels so unnatural when you’re on chemotherapy. You are distinctly aware that your insides are at war with themselves and all you can do is just lay there and let it happen. Radiation is like a third-degree burn from the inside out. When I had my whole-brain radiation in 2016, I slowly developed dark red burns on the sides of my forehead as my hair fell out in clumps. I looked like Annie Lennox meets Fire Marshall Bill from “In Living Color.”
While the burns healed best using a cracked leaf from an aloe plant, I couldn’t find anything that would soothe my lips. Chapstick, coconut oil, Vaseline, and even Surfer’s Salve, only made my dry, cracked lips shiny.
Finally after a few weeks I discovered Aim Hi, a North Shore company that uses all organic ingredients in their skin-care products. Everyone’s body reacts differently to specific ingredients, but for me, this lip balm was the salvation I so dearly needed. The ingredients, including shea butter, coconut oil and sweet almond oil, are nontoxic and chemical-free. The 1/4-ounce Soothing Lip Balm Tin comes with a tiny little rose quartz. I believe. Available for $15 at aimhieveryday.com, Owens & Co. in Nuuanu and Bikinibird in Kailua.
The waiting room in a cancer center can sometimes be more depressing than the actual disease. Those lucky enough to join the cancer club will be happy to know there is a great resource out there to lift your spirits, created by Honolulu resident Sharon Kim. It’s important to keep track of appointments, but logging symptoms, medications, side effects, foods, supplements and even your emotional state can help your doctors and caregivers tailor your care to best meet your needs. Filling out the daily tracker of the CanPlan cancer planner distracted me from the waiting-room blues.
The best part is you can use it to conjure up things you want to happen. Experts say writing down dreams and goals is a cognitive method of achieving them. Writing carries the idea from our idyllic right brain to the functional left brain. It’s proven!
The 2018 edition of the CanPlan is vastly improved as a three-ring binder so you just need to replace the calendar each year, not the entire book. Valuable resources include suggested questions to ask your doctor, a chemo tip sheet that lists things to bring to your appointments, a cancer-fighting food list, financial and caregiving resources, and (my favorite) positivity exercises. When you are neurotically writing down everything and constantly checking in, it’s hard to wallow in your diagnosis.
Caregivers, it can be tough to figure out how you can help your loved one. This is the perfect gift.
As luck would have it, I live in a second-floor walk-up with the steepest stairs in Makiki. The first eight years living there I loved it (and so did my taut tushie). After I was in cancer treatment, not so much.
During the tougher days I had a support system of good friends that took turns taking care of me, bringing me food, and taking me to my appointments. Three years later I’m dealing with my second recurrence and frankly a bit ashamed to ask for help anymore. My poor, exhausted friends need to get back to their jobs and their lives.
Then the Instacart grocery delivery app just seemed to fall into my lap directly from heaven. Instacart lets you pick from a few stores such as Safeway, Times, Foodland and … COSTCO! I can imagine that even disease-free people wouldn’t mind paying a small delivery fee to have someone shop at Costco for them and deliver to their door. Fees depend on the delivery window you are looking for, items you have picked and the total dollar amount spent. The range is $3.99-$9.99. Instacart also makes it easy to select the items I need and not be tempted to throw other random things in my IRL cart.
The app is free to download at iTunes App Store and Google Play.
There has been a surge of green juices popping up in coffee shops and markets, but many contain a ton of sugar and other preservatives. Drinking just one can put you way over the recommended daily intake of sugar! Make sure to read the ingredients. The juices can be a great way to pack in vitamins without eating a huge bowl of greens.
Or do what I do — support local. A few places in Honolulu create juices using local organic produce with a cold-pressed method, which preserves the nutrition in the vegetables and fruit.
My favorite cold-pressed juicery is Instapressed in Kakaako. It’s a bit hidden in the back alleys, but I can just pull up, grab my favorite Green Aloha juice, gulp it down, and leave the bottle with them. If I need a little more substance I’ll order off a food menu that has portions big enough for both lunch and dinner.
It costs $9 a bottle. At Instapressed, 856 Ilaniwai St., Unit 101; instapressed.com.
The tiredness you feel from cancer treatment isn’t like any kind of “tired” you ever had in your life. Even those days you are SO TIRED are nothing compared to the actual fatigue experienced while on chemotherapy. No matter how much sleep you are getting, the violent war happening inside your entire cellular structure takes over and shuts everything else down.
One day after chemo a friend dragged a finger soaked in peppermint essential oil down my neck. By the time we got home, I was able to hop out of the car and bounce up my steep stairway before plopping on my punee. It was a hot summer day but I still felt cool.
Another time when I was hospitalized and starting to feel nauseous a nurse gave me a little sniffing pod to use while waiting for the Zofran (anti-nausea medicine) to kick in. It was lavender and peppermint aromatherapy, which helped weaken the nausea.
With all the supplements, medications and IV drugs, sometimes the best method to ease side effects is to use simple essential oils. My favorites during cancer treatments are peppermint, lavender and frankincense.
Sizes vary, $8 and up. At health food stores, Down to Earth stores or goldendropsociety.com.
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