Actor and bestselling author Marilu Henner had only been involved with Michael Brown a short time before he received a double cancer diagnosis. But she was determined to stay by his side and to help him get well. The start of that journey was terrifying: doctors wanted to pursue what Marilu calls “violent” procedures to beat Michael’s disease: surgeries that would dramatically change his quality of life forever. So the couple looked for another way, aiming to combine the “best of East and West” medical practices. “Taxi” star Marilu Henner and her husband Michael Brown on searching for the best treatment for cancer, and why they say it’s time to change what’s “normal” when it comes to managing our health.
- Marilu Henner Bestselling author and actor, known for her roles on "Taxi" and "Evening Shade"; author, with husband Michael Brown, of the new book "Changing Normal: How I Helped My Husband Beat Cancer"; one of a dozen people in the world to have Highly Superior Autobiographical Memory
- Michael Brown CEO of BrownTrout Publishers, the largest calendar publisher in the world; author, with wife Marilu Henner, of "Changing Normal: How I Helped My Husband Beat Cancer"
MS. DIANE REHMThanks for joining us. I'm Diane Rehm. When Michael Brown was diagnosed with bladder cancer, one doctor swiftly detailed the path forward, cut out the bladder, cut out the prostate and radically change Michael's quality of life. His partner, actor and author, Marilu Henner had spent years researching and writing about health and she felt there must be another way. Together, the couple went after a new approach to Michael's eventual double cancer diagnosis, avoiding multiple surgeries, chemotherapy and radiation and focusing instead on overall health.
MS. DIANE REHMThe new book documenting their journey is titled "Changing Normal: How I Helped My Husband Beat Cancer." Marilu Henner and Michael Brown join me in the studio. You, as always, are welcome to be with us. Call us on 800-433-8850. Send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow us on Facebook or Twitter. Well, Marilu and Michael, it's so good to see you both.
MS. MARILU HENNEROh, my gosh. It's always great to see you, Diane.
MR. MICHAEL BROWNIt's good to see you, Diane.
HENNERYou look as gorgeous as ever.
REHMThank you. Thank you so much. Before we begin our conversation about your marvelous book, "Changing Normal," the Supreme Court has sent the Obamacare contraceptive coverage case back to the lower courts. And I find this very confusing so we asked Julie Rovner, the senior correspondent at Kaiser Health News, to join us very briefly to talk about this. Julie, thank you for joining us.
MS. JULIE ROVNERAlways my pleasure, Diane.
REHMTell me -- remind us about the issue before the court very briefly, please.
ROVNERWell, one of the things that the Affordable Care Act does is it requires that insurance plans cover, with no upfront cost to the woman, all forms of contraception approved by the Food and Drug Administration. There is an exemption for actual -- for churches, for houses of worship, but for religious-oriented organizations, which are mostly religious hospitals and universities and other schools, there are what they called and accommodation to make it easier for them to provide this coverage without actually paying for it or being involved in the provision.
ROVNERThere were several changes to this. The final change allowed these religious organizations simply to notify their insurers that they did not wish to cover this and then the insurers would have to. The religious organization said that wasn't good enough. They sued. There seven cases before the Supreme Court and it was pretty clear when this case was argued in March that there was a 4-4 tie. It was pretty obvious. The court came back a couple of weeks later, asked for further briefings from the two sides and then today issued a decision that basically said we're not going to decide this and they sent it back to the lower courts to see if they could work it out.
ROVNERIn fact, there is, in this unsigned opinion, they make very clear. It said, the court expresses no view on the merits of the cases. So basically, it's an 18-page punt.
REHMHuh. So how does that affect the provision of contraceptives to those who wish to have them from these particular kinds of hospitals when they are asked for it?
ROVNERWell, this is a good question because they didn’t -- if there had been a tie, the lower court rulings would've stood. And in all but one of the cases, the lower court rulings were for the government, saying that these religious organizations did have to provide this coverage, you know, using this accommodation. So, you know, that the insurance companies would have had to do it. In this case, they have vacated the court of appeals decision.
REHMA lower court...
ROVNERRight. Well, not the lower, lower court, but the court of appeals decision.
REHMRight, but the appeals.
ROVNERSo I think it's going to depend on what the decisions were on the -- below that or I don't know whether the stays are still in place pending this. There's a lot of questions still to be answered, but basically what the Supreme Court did is they bought themselves at least another year before they'll have to look at this again when presumably there will be nine justices again and not eight.
REHMAll right. And Julie Rovner is senior correspondent at Kaiser Health News. Thank you for joining us even though these questions still remain up in the air. Thanks again.
REHMAnd now, turning to you, Marilu Henner and Michael Brown, I think we have to say right up front that you and I, Marilu, have appeared repeatedly in Trish Vradenburg's wonderful play "Surviving Grace." You play my daughter. I am the woman who falls into Alzheimer's. So it's a pleasure to see you in another situation.
HENNERI know. I mean, it's great. And I'd seen you four years ago, remember, from one of my other books, "Total Memory Makeover."
REHMOf course. Absolutely.
HENNERAnd now, we have this whole other relationship and it's always great to see you.
REHMI love it.
HENNERYou know. And you're so perfect for the part because, you know, my lines are all about my beautiful, elegant mother, how incredible. You're always, like, wiping schmutz off my face. I always feel like I should have lipstick on when I see you, wear pearls and...
REHMSee, she remembers every single one of these lines. Okay. Michael, to you, there were signs of a health problem even before you reunited with Marilu. Give us a little of the background because you two knew each other a long time ago.
BROWNAbsolutely. Yes, you know, the book details the fact that I lived a pretty rough lifestyle. And about two years before I got with Marilu in 2001, I had my first episode of blood in the urine and from that, I had intermittent bouts of blood in the urine. I went to my doctor. My doctor then sent me to a specialist, being urologist. I went to the urologist repeatedly and got the standard treatment, which was a cystoscopy to look in the bladder.
BROWNAnd it never revealed anything to this particular urologist so I went over two years undiagnosed and symptomatic.
REHMAnd what did you do about it? Anything?
BROWNI didn't go beyond my urologist. I was a typical good American patient, a middle-aged American accepting my fate. And so I didn't get a second opinion. I just continued this, accepting these explanations of it being a gall stone or a kidney stone or whatever, which also seemed to require some sort of treatment.
REHMSome kind of treatment one would've thought.
BROWNYeah, and I just sort of accepted that until I finally got with Marilu.
REHMAll right. So Marilu, take us back to when you first knew Michael at the University of Chicago, but it was really a very long distance relationship.
HENNERWell, long distance -- well, he was my dorm mate's boyfriend.
HENNERShe had met him the first week of school. I met him a couple weeks later and thought, damn, why didn't I meet him first? But didn't dare twinkle in his direction and, you know, always really respected their relationship. I mean, I adored Linda and the two of them were really close. We double-dated. We hung out. He actually saw me in the original production of "Grease," which was even before Broadway or the movie or "Grease On Ice," you know.
HENNERAnd so he was my friend, but I always really liked him. I thought he was this great guy, brilliant, handsome, all of that. So anyway, what happened was he and I -- they broke up second year so he was kind of the enemy on campus. I'd just wave across the quadrangle.
REHMOh, 'cause you didn't want to double-cross Linda.
REHMSo he became the enemy, okay.
HENNERRight, of course. Then, I left to become a professional actress. Years later, I'm getting married or I'm getting a marriage license to my first husband in a courthouse in New Orleans. Who do I run into but Michael? It's like ships passing, totally random. He's living there with his wife and kids. I'm about to get married. I just thought, wow, you know, how come I'm not marrying a guy like that. Okay. That doomed my first marriage, but we were friends.
REHMWell, but in addition, you thought, at that moment, I should invite him to the wedding and you said something to him.
HENNERYes, I did. I did. I thought, oh, I'm getting married this weekend. Do you want to come to the wedding? And he said, yeah. And I said, well, give me your number. I have a great memory. Just give it to me. So I gave him my -- he gave me his number and I said, I'll call you. And then, I got -- and then, I thought, I can't do this. I can't invite him to the wedding.
REHM'Cause that's really gonna mess things up.
HENNERIt's gonna mess things up. I probably won't end up getting married if I, you know, and he was -- it wasn't -- it sounds even more romantic than it was because I always did respect that I was getting married, that he was married, but I just always had a feeling about him and just didn't think it was good for him to be at my wedding.
REHMSo you went through the wedding.
HENNERI went through the wedding. I was married with him for two years. Met my second husband. We were together 16 years, two beautiful sons, fantastic sons. One of them's graduating this week at Columbia University and the other one's a sophomore at Northwestern.
REHMDo they have your memory talents?
HENNERThe younger one does, kind of.
HENNERHe could be tested. He doesn't own as much as I always did, you know.
HENNERBut yeah, he definitely has it.
REHMSo then, how did Michael come back into your life?
HENNERSo my second marriage was over. Six months after my divorce was final, out of nowhere, Michael called me and I was shocked.
REHMWhy did you call her?
BROWNWell, I actually had her number for about five years. A mutual friend had got the number.
HENNERBut I was married, yeah.
BROWNI was in a relationship. She was still married. I wasn't really tracking her marriage or anything, but, you know, come early 2003, I was feeling the need to settle down, to find a life partner. That was part of it. I don't know if I was so consciously into the whole romantic part of it, but Marilu, I'd always had, you know, a warm feeling for her. I knew about her life.
REHMMichael Brown, Marilu Henner. Marilu is a New York Times bestselling author. Together they've written a new book titled "Changing Normal: How I Helped My Husband Beat Cancer." Stay with us.
REHMAnd welcome back. Marilu Henner and Michael Brown are with me. I want you to know that this book is already on the New York Times bestseller list, number one on Amazon. It's titled "Changing Normal: How I Helped My Husband Beat Cancer." Now Marilu, take us back to the first day you realized that Michael was having blood in his urine. What did you do?
HENNERWell, we finally got together. He called me out of nowhere. I was so excited. We decided that we'd, you know, go out to dinner. I kept thinking, is it a reunion dinner, a date, a reunion dinner, a date. The way I describe is that we sat in this restaurant for four-and-a-half hours talking.
REHMThat's more than a reunion dinner.
HENNERYeah, and then we went to my house, and we were making out on the couch in the kitchen. That was definitely the date part. And, you know, we were madly in love, talking about spending the rest of our lives together. We decided to take this trip together three weeks into our relationship. He's got a business in Mexico City, that's one of the places where BrownTrout Publishers has an office. We're in this, you know, fabulous hotel and sharing a space for the first time, and I follow him in the bathroom, and I noticed there was a little telltale sign of blood in the toilet bowl.
HENNERI knew it wasn't mine, and I said, Michael, are you okay, are you bleeding. He said, oh yeah, I've had blood in my urine for two years, it's no big deal.
HENNERI said what? No, blood in your urine always means something.
HENNERNo, that's not acceptable. Anyway, the more we talked, the more I realized that he had been symptomatic for two years. He tells me all these stories. I said you know what, I've got the greatest doctors, I've been in the health field for a long time, and I'm going to take you to my doctors in Los Angeles. He said, no, let me go see my guy, et cetera. And we had some traveling to do in the meantime.
HENNERSo finally he goes and sees his doctor.
REHMHis doctor, okay.
HENNERHi doctor first, and it turned out that his old urologist had passed away. This younger one was now -- what?
HENNERRetired, he -- oh passed away, yeah. See, I want to kill him. That's in my fantasy mind, he's gone, both of them. So he retired, the older one retired. The second one, you know, examines him. I'm not there that day because he had made this appointment the same day. He was so blasé about it that I went okay, all right, you think it's no problem.
HENNERI'm packing up something for a family member. And it was in 2003, May 22, a Thursday, and what happened was I'm waiting and waiting and waiting for this phone call. Finally he calls me, and I could tell that it was kind of two and a half hours later than I thought he was going to call me. And he says, uh, yeah, I went -- they went in, and I have cancer. And I said, wait, what? He said, what -- it's okay. They -- it's just little skin tags. This is what the doctor said.
HENNERIt's like little skin tags, they just lop it off, it's fine. It's, like, you know, you get a little thing on your face, they lop it off. I went no, no, no, what -- did he -- did he use the word cancer? Did he say cancer? He said yes. And I said, um, and it's bladder cancer. He said yeah. And there was this whole thing, and I'm losing reception, and I'm, like, the boondocks in -- you know, outside of El Paso, Texas, and I'm thinking oh my gosh, you know. And now this is 2003, so you can't just go on safari and queue up information on your iPhone, you know what I mean.
HENNERSo I said I will be home as soon as I can tomorrow. So the next day I deadheaded home with one of my brothers, and I saw him, and I said no matter what happens, we're going to get through this together. I'm going to your appointment next week when they have the pathology report back.
REHMWhat was it about you, Michael, that was almost passive about this diagnosis, this continuing blood in the urine? I mean, did you not consider that this could really be something serious?
BROWNYeah, well, I think first of all that I'm very calm, especially among American males. And so I was passive, yes, I was passive. First of all, cancer, especially in relatively early stages, it doesn't hurt. There's no pain involved. So that doesn't give you the signal. Pain can't be your guide in this case, it has to be something else, some other sort of symptom to get you going. I think I was, you know, 50 years old, I was going into a middle-aged malaise. I was thinking I was breaking down physically and that -- I think that's one of the reasons I reached out to Marilu to begin with, because I knew that. And...
REHMSomehow instinctively you knew, you had to, yeah...
BROWNIntuitively, yeah, somehow I found my way through, I groped my way through that. And, you know, I have to say that once I got the diagnosis, even then at -- my initial reaction was kind of blase. I write about that in the book. But as time went on, as the weeks went on, I became more and more convinced, especially when I did a cystoscopy and actually saw my bladder and the state of my bladder and realized how bad this was that it took on a lot more urgency.
REHMAnd at first, at least one doctor said, well, it's easy, we just take out the bladder, take out the prostate, and you just would not hear of that.
HENNERWell, when we went to the follow-up, when we went to the, you know, pathology report, second meeting with the urologist that he had, and the guy literally said oh yeah, it's like skin tags, you know, come back -- this is May. He said come back in September. And I said I don't think so. I said I think -- you know, I don't think so. But thank you, we'll take the reports, and maybe we'll see you in September. And I said to Michael this is unacceptable.
HENNERI said, let me line up some appointments with my doctors, but let's go see what, you know, a typical bladder cancer person, a surgeon would say.
BROWNWell, this urologist, he said come back in September, if they've grown back, we'll just lop them off again.
BROWNSo that was his way of treating it, and it's a very common way of treating it, and that's the thing. Everything I went through is a standard procedure. That's standard protocol. It's not usual what happened to me.
REHMHow common is bladder cancer in men at that age? Do we know?
HENNERWell first of all, a lot of times the people who get it are the people who are either -- let's put it this way. I think it's 80 -- your bladder holds 80 times the liquid, you know, it sits there 80 times more than any other liquid that passes through your body. So if you are a smoker, a lot of photographer, a lot of...
REHMWhich you had been.
HENNERHe was a smoker. He was also exposed to a lot of chemicals in Rio. You know, but you think about the amount of time that your urine sits in that one organ and can sit there taking in the toxins, and they kind of like settle there, almost like a cesspool, it's very easy to imagine that people who smoke, people who are exposed to chemicals, a lot of hairdressers who are exposed to a lot of chemicals, bladder chemicals is very high among some of those, you know, jobs.
BROWNI think the other big issue here is dehydration.
BROWNYeah, the amount of water that you're pouring through your body or not really has a big effect on your susceptibility to this disease. Bladder cancer is the fourth most common cancer in men and the fifth most common in women and becoming more common all the time.
REHMYou're talking about dehydration. You're saying we simply do not put enough simple water into our bodies?
BROWNAbsolutely, absolutely. Since 2003 I've been drinking about 100 ounces of water a day. You know, I had an extreme case because of course I had urinary tract cancer, so I needed to really flush myself out and continually do that. But I think everybody -- if you get on a diet where you're really drinking enough water, you'll notice that you don't really urinate much more than you did before. But what you're doing is you're hydrating your body, and your body actually needed all that water, and it's just been deprived all this time.
HENNERWhen I spoke in front of Congress, I've done it -- well, I've done it seven times, but two of the times that I did it was for the dietary guidelines. In 2004 I was one of two private citizens that was allowed to speak. There were 25 of us in the room, in the -- 25 of us that could speak. In 2014 I did it again, and there were 50 of us, and I kept saying let's get water on the food pyramid or, you know, in the dietary guidelines. No one is talking about water and hydration. It's very, very important. It was also talking about labeling dairy and meat and the other health robbers, as far as I'm concerned.
REHMBecause you are a true vegan.
HENNERWell, I've been doing this, no dairy, no meat, haven't had dairy since the '70s, and, you know, that's another whole story, but...
REHMHave you got him on the same diet?
HENNEROh, almost instantly, yeah, because I knew I was going to take over his diet, if nothing else.
REHMShe took over, period. She took over.
BROWNThat's for sure, yeah.
HENNERFor sure. But just to get back to the story part, what happened was after we had seen this doctor, he said come back in September, we'll just lop it off if there's any more cancer, I started -- I had done research in that week while we were waiting for the pathology report, and it turns out that 80 percent of the people who get bladder cancer do get the -- now this is 2003 that I'm talking about, so people can't go oh, it's, you know, so many now.
HENNERBut in 2003, what I'd read was 80 percent of the people who get bladder cancer do have the papillary kind, which grows up like a little stalk and can be lopped off. There's a second kind that 20 percent of the people get, which is called CIS, carcinoma in situ. It's red, flat, velvety and starts to grow down into possibly other organs or through the organ, whatever. So I just had a feeling that Michael didn't just have the papillary kind. I just had an instinct from the way the symptoms, all those things, that he had the other kind, as well.
HENNERSo I said, well let's go, you know, on my...
HENNERLet's go find out. So we went to -- before I took him to my doctors, we went to a bladder cancer -- the number one guy in Los Angeles, and we walked in...
HENNERA surgeon. We walked in, and literally he said to Michael this is your lucky day. And he said why? And he said because I have a cancellation on Wednesday. I'm going to go in, I'm going to take out the bladder, I'm going to take out the prostate, I'm going to pull down the intestines and make a neo-bladder, I'm really skilled at that, and his assistant was, like, oh yeah, and very excited about that we were, you know, this was our lucky day.
HENNERAnd he looked at the horrified expressions on our faces, and he said and don't worry if you two want to have sex because I'm just going to run a small hose up his penis, and you just pump it up six times. And I said, well, can we have the seven-pump model because we're a sexy couple. I said, and what about nutrition and health, detox. And he said, go have all the steak and highballs you want.
HENNERSo, and then, you know, was going to follow it up with chemo, radiation and everything. So we go to the parking lot, we walked away from him, like, okay, we'll let you know about Wednesday, you know, with these, like, expressions in our faces.
REHMOh good grief.
HENNERWe thought oh my gosh, are we just going to go like lemmings over the cliff. And Michael said, I'm not losing my organs like that. And I said I don't think you have to, let's find another way.
REHMGood for you, good for you.
HENNERLet's go to my doctors now.
REHMSo who were your doctors? How were they different from the doctors?
HENNERWell, they were integrative medicine doctors, which means that they really do use the best of East and West, but they are full AMA doctors. You know, usually what's happened a lot of times is there's a doctor who's on that path, we just ran into one at the airport the other day, someone came up and told us how much he liked the book. They're on a path, and then they have a health crisis, so then they go oh, maybe what I learned in medical school isn't going to work for me, let me try something else, and then they go full force into integrative medicine.
REHMI want to remind listeners that we are video streaming this hour because people do know you, Marilu, and now they are knowing you, Michael, and hearing all about this extraordinary journey that the two of you have had. So you see your doctor, and what happens?
HENNERAnd we go to see Dr. Soram Khalsa. I call myself the doctor concierge and have called -- you know, my friends nicknamed me that because I -- I just have been doing it a long time.
REHMYou put them through to, yeah.
HENNERPut them through and know how to connect them with good people.
HENNERUnbelievable here in Washington, D.C., Dr. Neal Barnard and Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, I mean, they're unbelievable. So we go to see Dr. Khalsa. He immediately asks Michael to write an entire history, an entire health history. Like he wanted to see in letter -- you know, in an email form what is Michael's story, what did he do as a kid, and so many things. I mean, I guess -- yeah, so many things came out about that.
BROWNSo many toxic exposures.
BROWNThroughout my life, which I chronicle in the book because I really expanded on that.
REHMHow come? I mean, how come you were so exposed?
BROWNWell, in my childhood I didn't have much -- much choice. I mean, as a kid we used to have DDT trucks spraying DDT in the neighborhood. We'd chase the trucks as a child. I happened to be living downwind from the nuclear tests that were happening in Nevada at the time because I was raised in Utah. I don't think that really had any effect, but it was certainly part of my life. I smoked cigarettes from the time I was 15 until I was 35.
REHMAnd then Rio, what happened in Rio?
BROWNWell, Rio wasn't -- Marilu said that. It was really more about the -- being a merchant marine and having a lot of exposure in the oil field and on ships in the engine room to benzene and other chemicals. So I just had a lot of heavy metal exposure.
REHMAnd you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." So...
HENNERI have to -- can I...
REHMSo once you took him to the doctor, your doctor, and he had filled out this whole form, what did the doctor do next?
HENNERWell, the doctor -- we found not only Dr. Soram Khalsa, who was a great, you know, connector of a lot of other people, but we also went to a fabulous urologist, who said that okay, well, let me go in and check again, but I need a little time because he had just had the cystoscopy, and so you can't go in right away.
HENNERBut, you know, he was -- he was -- we were both traveling, too, at the time. So he was getting supplementation, I was teaching him about food. I taught him how to skin brush, how to use a rebounder.
REHMSkin brush? Tell me about skin brushing. I hadn't heard about this.
HENNEROkay, it's -- it's so funny because it's one of the first things I learned in 1979, when I first decided to get healthy. You get a natural, dry, sauna brush. You use it before you shower or before you exercise, and you do a -- long sweeping strokes toward your heart. Women don't do their faces and their breasts. Men just don't do their faces. But you do all the lymphatic parts of your body, your inner arms, under your arms, backs of your legs, inner thighs, and you do long, sweeping strokes, bottom of your feet. You do it for two minutes.
HENNERIt's going to stimulate your lymphatic system, it's going to open your pores. You're going to end up sweating evenly all over, and it's...
REHMHow do you do your back?
HENNERWell, you either do it with a long handle, or you really stretch it, or you have somebody do it for you.
REHMGot you, okay.
HENNERNo, but you do your back, that's part of it. You know, do, like, the moving and stuff like that, yeah, and you do it dry, totally dry, and do it before you shower or before you exercise.
REHMAnd what happens to the skin?
HENNERBut you go this way, you go towards your heart.
HENNERBut your skin actually is like a baby's bottom after a while, and it -- you know, your largest organ, I don't care who you are, is your skin.
HENNERYour body sheds two pounds of toxins a day through your feces, urine, breathing, everything else, and because it sits on -- your skin sometimes sheds but sits there, what you want to do is you want to really get rid of that outer layer of skin. It's funny, I did it on Conan O'Brien years ago, I was talking about skin brushing, and I skin-brushed Conan's arm, and they went in on close-up, and it looked like a Hiroshima cloud because he had so much dry skin. They did it in slow motion. It was so funny.
REHMYeah, yeah, okay. So in addition to skin brushing, what did you get him to do?
HENNEROh, well, I got him complete -- he went totally plant-based, plant-based diet because it's not only wet food but it's also so much better for your digestive tract. He ended up getting, you know, high colonics, infrared sauna, we had an infrared sauna put in the house for him, lymphatic massages, tons of hydration, chelation therapy, shot himself with iscador, which is extract of mistletoe. That was supervised by Dr. Khalsa.
HENNERAnd so his urologist went in, checked again after he had started, you know, when she was able to go in. But, I mean, these things happened over a period of time. When she was able to go in again, she said, I don't know how you guys knew, but he does have -- he does have CIS.
REHMAll right, short break here from the book titled "Changing Normal," Marilu Henner is New York Times bestselling author. Her husband Michael Brown, diagnosed with bladder cancer and even more, which we will tell you about when we come back.
REHMAnd welcome back. Marilu Henner is with me. You know here, I'm sure, from her book. She has a phenomenal memory. She also is what she calls a concierge doctor. She refers people to the specialist you need to go to. Marilu Henner did that for her husband, Michael Brown. They've written a new book together.
REHMIt's called, "Changing Normal," and refers to her efforts and Michael's agreement to change the way he had lived normally. He thought it was normal. It was not so normal. Michael, you wanted to make a reference or a differentiation between a -- your logic specialist and a urologic surgeon.
BROWNYeah, I think I just wanted to say that that first doctor who wanted to just go in and start cutting was very specifically a surgeon. And I think everyone needs to know that surgeons are there to sell surgery, they're there to perform surgery. They certainly believe in their surgery and their surgical practice. But if you go to a…
HENNERAnd many times it's very necessary.
BROWN…surgeon you have to expect that they're gonna recommend surgery 'cause that's what they specialize in. That was one thing. I also wanted to expand a little bit on the integrative doctor or integrative medicine. It's not only that they combine the best of East and West and that they believe in holistic treatment. They also tend to have more patients and tend to want to take a longer view on these things, not rush in and start cutting things. Watchful waiting is often a very good strategy for -- especially early stage cancer, just to wait and see what's really gonna happen with this tumor.
BROWNIf it's just gonna go away on its own, if it's gonna continue to grow, what sort of procedure is warranted. And so we really, you know, think that people should really consider trying to find a more gentle way to deal with their body and their cancers.
REHMIndeed. And what you were saying just before the break is that the doctor did find out it was a cancer in situ.
HENNERYes, yes, yes, which was the more dangerous one. It was the red flat velvety kind that was growing down and into the organs.
REHMNow, normally, would that have been something that a surgeon would have recommended, let's take it out right away?
BROWNWell, yes and no. Depends on if you're with a surgeon. Because CIS is also, as a turns out, carcinoma in situ is also pretty responsive to the immunotherapy that I ended up taking. So it was a double-edged sword. On the one hand it's very aggressive…
REHMOh, boy, do I…
BROWN…and it had progressed quite a ways down in -- from the bladder into the urethra. But on the other hand, it was responsive, generally, to immunotherapy.
HENNERRight. And -- but so he -- so then the new doctor, the urologist that I turned him onto was -- she said, okay, well, let's go through, you know, a round of BCG, which he outlines in the book as well. And it was six doses, six rounds, six weeks of BCG and then she'd go in and scope again.
HENNERBCG is -- oh, it's a very…
BROWNIt's a bacillus. It's a bovine tuberculosis solution.
HENNERIt's a liquid tuberculosis. So imagine a liquid tuberculosis where, I mean, it was our fifth-month anniversary and I'm watching him -- well, actually, it was, like, even later than that. But he -- they inject into the tip of -- well, you tell them.
BROWNWell, they squeeze it through a catheter into the bladder.
BROWNSo first you get the -- as a male, it's particularly unsettling.
REHMYeah, I would think so.
BROWNYou get a tube pushed up through your penis and then once it's into the bladder, then they squeeze this 30 milliliter solution.
REHMBut, you know, "60 Minutes" did a piece just last night on this various -- the various types of immunotherapy that are beginning to emerge.
HENNERRight. 'Cause this was 2003, you know.
BROWNYeah, I think…
HENNERI mean it's funny because we have people saying, oh, well, this is a -- I say, no, you -- this was a long time ago.
REHMNot back then.
HENNERHe's been in remission 12 and a half years.
BROWNWell, it turns out that this particular immunotherapy has been around for 40 years. And it's been shown to be…
BROWN…actually it responds, you know, many tumors respond to it. But the difference is is that the bladder is a contained organ. You're able to have the BCG lie directly on the tumors. And for that reason it seems to be more effective there than anywhere else. So…
HENNERYeah, he's lying down and it was like 15 minutes on his back, 15 on his side…
HENNER…15 on his front. It's like a rotisserie chicken, you know. I mean, he was like, 15, 15…
REHMIs that how you felt?
BROWNAbsolutely. I got well done doing that.
HENNERI'd kind of move around him.
BROWNExcept from the inside out, you know.
REHMOkay. But then we come upon another discovery. Tell us, Marilu.
BROWNWell, I think, you know, the story really was, is that I, you know, the doctor, Dr. Khalsa thought that, you know, considering I had this bladder cancer and I also had some skin tags that there might be something more going on. So he recommended I have a full-body scan. So I went into Cedar Sinai Hospital in Los Angeles and I had chest scan of the -- a CT scan of the chest and also ABCT, which is a scan of the heart.
BROWNAnd, you know, this is usual, you get on the table and you go in and out and they tell you to breathe and then they take scan. And then I got off the table and the technician said, okay, well, your doctor will call you in a few days and give you the results. I thought, okay. So I put my shirt on and I go out in the front and there's another doctor sitting there. And he goes, oh, so how did it come out? And I said, I don't know, the guy told me I'd find out in a few days.
BROWNHe says, oh, we can find out right now. What's your name? I said, okay, Brown. He says, okay, and what's your birthday. Okay. And he pulls up the scan and he goes, oh, this looks pretty good. Look at the heart, there's no plaque in the heart. Well, but wait a minute, what's this dark spot down here. He said what was the other scan you got. I said I got a CT scan of the chest. He pulls that up and he goes, oh, yeah, there's that dark spot again.
BROWNAnd he says, I'll tell you what, you better wait until the doctor comes, you know, calls you in a few days and talk to you about this. I thought, oh, my. And I was like -- by this time I knew about metastasis and cancer and I thought…
REHMAnd you were afraid it was bladder cancer.
HENNEROf course, in his lung.
REHM…metastasizing to the lungs.
HENNERSo he finds -- he…
BROWNSo then I go all the way back to my car, get in my car, realize I had forgot my cellphone, walk all the way back to that clinic, back to that office again, and there's that same doctor with my scans up, talking to somebody on the phone saying, oh, we gotta get this guy in to look at him really right away.
BROWNWhen he sees me, it clicks it off. And…
HENNERRight. And he calls me and I said I will be there. And we were living quite a distance from one another. We hadn't moved in together yet. And I just drove in two hours of traffic and my mantra was, please, just be lung cancer, please, just be lung cancer. I mean, that's how crazy you get.
HENNERI knew it was cancer. I just wanted it to be lung cancer instead of metastasized bladder cancer.
HENNERBecause once it's metastasized bladder cancer it's now stage 4 and I've seen people being cured from stage 4 cancers with all kinds of very, you know, East and West, etcetera, modalities, procedures, etcetera. But I felt like this would -- this is -- this was going to be even harder than I thought. And that's the kind of headspace you get in with cancer. I mean, I would say the worst day is the first day, but that was definitely the worst day.
BROWNWell, the other thing is, if you've got a metastasis from the bladder to the lung, then you might also have one to the brain or to the liver.
REHMOf course, of course.
BROWNAnd so now you're really start checking. And stage 4 is definitely where you've crossed a threshold. So you don't want to get there.
REHMWell, let us tell people that they did go in with a needle from your back to that lower lobe and extracted that cancer.
HENNERThat was in November, that was later, but yeah.
BROWNYeah, that was, yeah, actually there's a kind of a mix there. What happened was, you know, I was in the midst of fighting the bladder cancer and I was in the midst of taking this immunotherapy.
HENNERGod, it's crazy.
BROWNAnd so I kind of had to compartmentalize that keep the lung cancer kind of over to the side. Again, we're talking about integrative doctors. And they said, okay, well, my pulmonologist said, well, this could be something else. It may not be cancer. We can't needle biopsy it because we don't know. If you get a negative you don't know if you got the tumor or not. So maybe the best thing is we just watch this while you fight the bladder cancer. And who could turn that down? Watch -- the waiting sounded pretty good at that point. So I said okay, well, fine. So we did…
HENNERAnd meanwhile he's been getting healthier and healthier and healthier. And just so that they know, the first round of BCG didn't work on the bladder cancer. And so everybody was then saying, maybe it is time to get it out.
BROWNYeah, so what happened was the normal six treatments of BCG, after that I waited a couple of weeks and then I had a cystoscopy. My urologist, my integrative urologist, my intuitive urologist went in there and came back and said oh, the BCG's having no effect. So this means it really is time to take out your bladder. So she was agreeing with the first surgeon…
BROWN…that this is an indicative, you've gotta take it out now. You've got an active cancer in your bladder and now we have this heart problem -- this lung problem.
REHMOr you can try one more BCG.
BROWNWell, she didn't actually offer that. We insisted on it because…
BROWN…we thought that my level had health had raised to the point my immune system was up to a point…
HENNERThe color was coming back to his hair. When we first got together he had a patch of -- he had a white chest hair and there was this huge patch of yellow that I said, oh, that's a liver dump. I knew that he was in trouble and that is body was compromised just 'cause I've studied this for so many years. And I could see that the -- his skin tone was changing, his eyes were changing, the hair on his head, on his chest, everything was changing. He was so much healthier. So…
BROWNWell, I think there's another part of that, Diane, which is that, you know, cancer is fed by a variety of things. Acidity in the body. Your body is naturally alkaline. If your body is acidic, that creates a good host for cancer-growing tumors. Likewise, if you're consuming a lot of sugar, if you're dehydrated, all of these different reasons…
HENNERDairy is another one.
BROWN…why you might be growing tumors. If you turn that around, and you quit being acidic and you quit consuming sugar, et cetera, then you're gonna become a more inhospitable host for the cancer.
HENNERAnd stress management, too.
REHMAll right. Here is a comment on our website from Cynthia, who says, "This is a great story, but I'm a little disheartened at the same time. I'm very interested in alternative treatment such as integrative medicine, but many of these practices do not participate in health insurance plans. The kind of medical care remains expensive, this kind, for most families." And that is true.
HENNERBut it's -- vegetables, first of all, cost a lot less than big chunks of meat.
HENNEROr chicken or cheese or things like that. So plant-based diet is always gonna help you. Exercise, stress management, there are other ways to do that. Skin brushing, you buy it once, it's $15. You know, there are so many things that you can do for yourself that his cancer actually cost less than if he had had the surgery and the chemo and the radiation that was recommended.
BROWNWell, I'd also like to say that, in fact, the immunotherapy and all of these things were covered by insurance. So, you know, it is standard procedure.
HENNERYeah, immunotherapy was.
REHMOkay. Let me take a call from Asheville, N.C. Angela, you're on the air.
ANGELAHello, Diane. It's just a pleasure to be able to take part in this conversation.
ANGELAI was diagnosed with breast cancer two years ago. And I'm around age 70 at the time. And my surgeon got clean margins and, you know, sent me -- and he also indicated that the -- my cells were a fairly unaggressive cell. And sent me off to the oncologist to chat. And that chat was, yes, we do radiation and then we do hormone blocker therapy. And the hormone blocker therapy, by the way, does cause osteoporosis and severe depression, but we have other drugs to tackle that.
ANGELALike Michael, we left the office and contacted an integrative cancer specialist in Chicago. And he agreed with me that there's evidence, very scientific based evidence that shows that vigorous exercise, 45 minutes a day, reduces the risk of recurrence of breast cancer by 50 percent, which is more effective than the drug.
ANGELAI said I would not do radiation. Even the oncologist, the integrative oncologist was more -- wanted me to have the hormone blocker therapy. I said I will not. I will treat this with diet. I had studied macrobiotics so I felt that I could use diet and exercise.
REHMSo tell me how you are today.
ANGELAI am cancer free, two years, MRIs, sonograms and so on and cancer free.
REHMI am so glad for you and thank you for calling in. And you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." You all can see Marilu and her husband, Michael Brown. You can see how well he looks because we are video-streaming. You've got so much color to your face. And it looks really, really good.
BROWNWell, thank you, Diane.
REHMI want to take one more call here from -- I guess it's Cater, in Detroit, Mich. You're on the air.
CATERHi, good morning, Diane.
CATERI just, you know, I wanted to thank Marilu and Michael for sharing their story. I have a very similar story to share. I, too, was diagnosed with bladder cancer just about a year ago. And before the diagnosis I was being told that it is likely kidney stones. And -- that was causing the blood, that is. And then as time went on, one of the tumors ruptured, causing this massive bleeding. And, you know, parts of this tumor were coming out in my urine. And needless to say, it was very scary.
CATERSo by the time they finally made the diagnosis, I was in shock. And thank goodness for the Henry Ford Medical System here in Detroit. The doctor was able to calm me down and let me know that it was a very treatable cancer. And he went in and did the surgeries to remove the tumors. And now I'm also doing the BCG treatment.
CATERYou know, yeah, and thank God, you know, one year on, I'm no reoccurrence. And that's what I'm hoping for.
REHMI'm so glad for you. And I thank you for sharing that story. We've got one more caller from the University of Maryland. Bill, you're on the air.
BILLHi, Diane. Thank you for taking my call.
BILLI just want to make a point, a quick -- based on what I heard when I first turned on the radio. When you had these integrative specialists, they are excellent. I'm being classically trained as a surgeon at University of Maryland, but these integrative specialists are wonderful. However, all of these things that you're discussing, please stress to all of your listeners that they should be done under the supervision of a physician. So even exercise during all their treatment should be done under supervision of a physician. And that's my comment. Thank you.
REHMYou both agree.
BROWNIn fact, we say in the book that everything that I did was under the care of a physician. And, you know, obviously we had to shop around and find the right physicians for ourselves. And I think that's something else, when we talk about the affordability of this, it's generally not expensive to go and get a second opinion. And those kind of things, people have -- should take more control of their own medical treatment. They shouldn't just go to the first doctor and accept whatever that doctor says.
REHMAnd there's another element here, which I think is so important. Every patient needs an advocate.
HENNERAbsolutely. 'Cause the advocate can take notes.
HENNER'Cause the patient, they're in like the land where elephants die. You know what I mean?
HENNERLike some actors are on stage. That's what my acting teacher always said. You know what I mean? It's like the Rolodex in their head is like flipping, flipping, flipping. You need that. And there is a tsunami of health right now that you cannot stop. I've seen it since I'd started doing all of this in the '70s. People want better information, they want to be better informed, they want to be with an advocate, but also, they have to the know their bodies.
HENNERAnd don't just go on the internet and look at the first two pages. Those people have usually paid to be there. Find some of the more obscure sites to gather a lot of information and cross connect the information and find something that works for you.
REHMMarilu Henner and Michael Brown. The new book is titled, "Changing Normal: How I Helped My Husband Beat Cancer." It's already on the New York Times bestseller list, number one on Amazon.
HENNERThat's two weeks ago.
BROWNThank you, Diane.
REHMAnd thanks for being here.
HENNERThank you. It's always great to see you.
REHMI hope to see you again, doing our play, "Surviving Grace." And thanks for listening, all. I'm Diane Rehm.