Watch the episode here
Cancer is a very sensitive topic. It doesn’t just take over bodies; it takes over relationships and whole lives. For today’s episode, Corinna Bellizzi sits down with Dr. Michael Garko, who shares his sudden and long battle with cancer, and how it forever changed his life and perspective. Tune in and hear the real story of what it means to suddenly get a deadly disease diagnosis, and the honest actions you can do about it.
Key takeaways from this episode:
- Cancer is fighting an opponent, even if you can't defeat it. Once you're a cancer patient, you're always a cancer patient.
- Prevention is one thing, preparation is a different matter. It's not just avoiding the moment, but going down the road and assume the worst.
- No matter how tough you think you are, cancer or some other pernicious disease will have a unique way making you realize we're all vulnerable.
- Be mindful, smart, and strategic on taking supplements.
- The team of doctors that you have is critical.
Guest social links:
How Cancer Saved My Life: What It Means To Receive A Deadly Disease Diagnosis And What You Can Do About It With Dr. Michael Garko
We are going to dive deep into the world of nutrition as we connect with a veteran from the world of health, wellness, and media as we get to know a longtime industry friend of mine, Dr. Michael Garko. As a credentialed nutritionist, he is empathetic, creative, open-minded, and optimistic. Dr. Garko hosted and produced a nationally syndicated, globally streamed health talk show for over fifteen years.
He has a science-based functional medicine nutrition practice called NutraLogic Health & Wellness and is a trusted advisor to several supplement companies. Dr. Garko lives his life mindfully, one day at a time, with purpose, passion, and gratitude. He does this in service to others. It's a perfect time for us to have this conversation as Thanksgiving is upon us and the holidays are here. Dr. Michael Garko, welcome to the show.
Thank you for the opportunity to be on your wonderful show. Many of my friends and colleagues have been on your show and have sung your praises. I feel privileged to be here.
It's a pure joy to host. I love digging into the information and being able to reconnect with thought leaders like you and help share our knowledge with a broader marketplace and people in general. That's what we are here to do. Thank you. I do have to start with a disclaimer. I imagine we will be diving deep into some conversations around health conditions as well.
Before we start this topic, I need to preface one thing. This episode is only for informational purposes. It's educational. The information that we share, both Dr. Garko and myself, is not intended to treat, diagnose or otherwise augment your personal situation. If you have a health condition that you need to seek service around, you should meet with a trusted health professional who can help you with your specific journey. I know we had to get that out of the way and follow the legal mumbo jumbo.
I did that every day too before my show.
It's important. You have to get through the disclaimer because the reality is that your health story wasn't always sugar plums and peaches.
It’s interesting how we live our life on a day-to-day basis. Many of us get up each day with the presumption that, “Today's pretty much going to be like yesterday,” assuming that it was relatively good. You don't expect any dramatic twists and turns within the bends and turns. Such is not the case. Probably everyone reading had some moment in life when all of a sudden, out of the blue, seemingly, something dramatic happened to them, both good and bad, relative to their health, wellness, and well-being or their life generally. This often happens. It happened to me. On October the 5th at 5:00, 2016 is when my life changed in a way that I never anticipated.
It's interesting how we live our life on a day-to-day basis, and we get up each day with the presumption many of us do.
To that point, you have always been what I would call a picture of health. In fact, the envy of many people near your age. You have been in this industry for a long time. You had a radio show for over fifteen years that was focused on health and nutrition. It's obvious you have been in this space a long time but you are also on the older age perspective.
I lean into my age. What you said about how I live my life, and I get up every day and say, “Live your life mindfully in the moment with purpose, passion, and gratitude, all in the better service of others.” That's why I wanted to come onto your show. This is in the better service of others, not for me but for anybody reading, and to share with them my experience in hopes that somehow it may illuminate, inform or otherwise make some difference. I've led a good life. By that, I mean, in terms of my health, I've taken care of myself. You don't go through what I have been through and be able to be on here with you.
Oftentimes too, in life, you may do the right things. Oftentimes, we do the right things with good intentions but bad things happen. On October the 5th at 5:00, 2016, I found myself sitting in front of an oncologist. How I got there was one day, I was doing my show. On my show, my own personal physician was on, Dr. Harris McIlwain, who has since passed away. He was a dear friend and colleague. When we got off the air, I asked him. I said, “Harris, I have a lymph node on the right side of my neck that's waxing and waning. I don't like it. It has been going on for several months.” He palpated it. He said, “We will do a CAT scan.” We did a CAT scan.
The study came back. We looked at it. I saw that on the right side of my neck, the lymph nodes were enlarged. They looked like golf balls. I was startled. He said to me, “Would you be willing to see a hematologist oncologist?” I said, “Yes.” He said to me, “I'm going to send you to see Matthew.” That sounded rather biblical. I said, “Matthew, who?” He said, “Dr. Matthew Fink.” He said, “He's young. He's only 42 but he got out of med school at 25. He has been doing this for a long time. You will find him to be at the top of his game. You will like him.” My appointment was at 4:00. It was late in the afternoon. There were hardly any cars in the parking lot.
I got there and got out of my vehicle. I was walking across this barren parking lot. I happened to look up, and there was this giant sign that said, “Florida Cancer Institute and Research Center.” I'm walking into these doors and thinking, “What am I walking into?” I got in there. I went upstairs and waited for him. He walked in, and I was struck. He commands the room when he walks in. He talked to me for a long time, asking me all kinds of questions about my life and this and that. At one point, he said, “Dr. Garko, I need to examine you. Would you mind taking off your shirt?” I said, “Yes.”
I took off my shirt. I'm standing there, and he's looking at me. He had this smile on his face. I said, “What's the matter?” He said, “There's nothing wrong. I'm 42. You are 72. I wouldn't take my damn shirt off. What are you doing?” I made a joke. I'm a mere PhD trying to get along. Here I am telling the oncologist, I said, “You need to listen to my show.”
For those reading, Dr. Garko has what I would call an impressive physique. He always had biceps that I would say are the admiration of many, and he takes pride in his physical fitness. It's something that you spend time and effort on.
I have been that way since I was a boy. Out of instinct, I never knew I was going to end up where I did in my life. I always took care of myself and had an interest in food and nutrition. Instinctively, I don't know where that came from, probably my mom. He examined me. We sat down. We were a couple of feet apart. I looked at him. I have almost a photographic memory, and I can remember details. I asked him, “What's your hypothesis?”
He said, “You have lymphoma.” The minute he said that, I turned ice cold, and my hands began to tremble. My next question to him was, “Is that a death sentence?” He said, “No, it's not. I'm not sure what it is. Tonight, we will draw some blood. On Friday, we will do a PET scan. On Tuesday, I will put you in surgery, and we will remove one of the lymph nodes for biopsy.”
I recall driving home. How I got home, I don't know but I was in shock. That same evening, he already knew what he wanted to do. He said to me, “What I'm reporting to you is a word for word. What we are going to do is 32 hours of chemo and 28 hours of radiation.” He told me he wasn't sure but he was being cautious. He knew I had cancer.
He looked at me, and I will never forget it. With a look in his eye, he said, “We have not a moment to waste.” I said, “Why is that?” He said, “The distance from your neck to your brain is short.” I knew I was in trouble. I got home somehow. For the next several weeks, I was either in a doctor's office, a clinic or surgery. We ended up having to do three biopsies prior to my treatment with chemo and radiation.
The team at the time was Dr. Fink, the oncologist. I had a radiation oncologist. I had two surgeons, a general surgeon, and an ENT surgeon. We added another surgeon later. I was with the ENT surgeon. I was there, and he wanted to find the primary site in my throat. I didn't know you could stick a human hand down somebody's throat. He's trying to find this primary. He's scoping me. He said, “Dr. Garko, I can't find it. We are going to have to put you back in surgery. I will do the surgery this time. I will collect the biopsy.” I went back in. The results came back negative and said I didn't have cancer because there was no primary. It had disintegrated.
Long story short, I was ultimately diagnosed with squamous cell carcinoma of the cervical lymph nodes caused by HPV 16, stage 4. I asked three of my doctors independently of one another. I said, “When do you think I got infected with that virus?” They said, “Probably decades ago, maybe even as a boy. In high school, you could have kissed a girl, whatever. Who knows?” That site has disintegrated.
That virus lives in the oropharyngeal area of your throat back on the tonsil area. It had disintegrated. We knew I had cancer because it had metastasized to my neck. That virus hypothetically lived in my body for decades and then one day decided to express. In reflection now, I was under tremendous stress for about a year. My belief is that stress triggered the expression of that virus. That's my belief.
As many women reading this are likely aware, HPV is a precursor to many types of hormonal cancers that women experience. It’s one of the reasons that we now have a vaccine for HPV available to young girls and boys. The problem with boys is that you often don't have a physical representation of the general warts or the HPV. You don't know that you have it because you don't have any warts. They are flat. They don't express. They ultimately don't know unless they get tested. How many boys do you know that get tested for that? It's not even talked about among them. This could sit there latent for all those decades.
Your points are well taken, not only for young boys. Now, there's an epidemic of middle-aged men who are dying left and right from HPV 16 neck cancer, and Nobody is talking about it. That's one of the reasons why I'm on your show, to make your audience aware. Remember I said we did a PET scan? In the world of cancer, and I didn't know this, I learned it in the process. There are bends and turns all the time.
There are twists and turns within the bends and turns. Cancer is an unforgiving, unrelenting, undiscriminating pernicious disease that prowls and preys on the young and the old, and everybody in between. It is something. It has been on this planet for a long time. It's figured out how to portray itself in many ways.
As fate would have it, the bends, twists, and turns, the day of chemo and radiation to begin, we did a biopsy of my neck. I also went to see Dr. Fink for the PET scan results. I was sitting there with him and he said, “On a PET scan, if you have a lesion anywhere in your body, it lights up, literally.” I was looking at it and saw in my neck that it was lit up like a Christmas tree. He said to me, “Look over here.” I looked and said, “That's my lung.” He said, “Yes.” I saw a lesion. He said, “I don't know what that is. It's small. It's a wild card. We will deal with it later. We got to treat your neck.”
When he said that, I didn't appreciate the implications of that comment, “It's a wild card.” He said, “We are going to have to biopsy that.” Now I'm back in surgery again, the third time to biopsy that lesion on my lung. As fate would have it, on the day that I started chemo and radiation, you were nervous. I don't care who you are. I have been asked these many times in interviews, “Were you afraid?” I said, “Hell yes, I was afraid but I was not a coward. I did everything they asked me to do. Being afraid is not shameful but I know I wasn't a coward.” I walk in. The nurse says, “Dr. Fink wants to see you.” I went upstairs and he said, “I got some good news today, and I have some bad news. Twist and turns, bends and turns.”
I said, “Okay, what's the good news?” He said, “That lesion on your lung is not a metastasis. It's lung cancer stage 1A.” I was crestfallen. I looked at him and said, “What do you think about that?” He said, “I'm happy for you.” He pulled out his phone. There was a text message. It was to the radiation oncologist. It said, “We saved Dr. Garko's life.” I said, “Why did you say that to him?”
He said, “If you, but for you being infected with that virus, God knows when. It brought you here. Nobody would've ever looked for that little lesion on your lung. It would've advanced, and you would've been dead in three years.” I looked at him and said, “Are you telling me I had to get cancer not to die from it?” He said, “That's an interesting way of putting it, but yes.” I wrote an essay entitled How Cancer Saved My Life.
To your point, that year of incredible stress that you were under ultimately changed your health. That's your belief. Many people can relate to that because when do health challenges start to erupt? For me, it came when I was working 70-plus hour weeks and doing so, burning the candle at both ends for a long time. I went on a juice fast because I wanted to reset everything.
It was a multi-day juice fast using simple things like lemon juice, a little bit of syrup from maple, maple syrup but with no additional ingredients, and some peppers to help cleanse like cayenne pepper. By the end of the third day, I was like, “I'm ready to start reintroducing food.” I was feeling a little gunked up. I felt a little disconnected from my stomach. That was the simplest way I could explain it. I started to reintroduce food. The first thing that I noticed was that I had a challenge swallowing.
I was like, “I know what this is.” I had a session with a reiki professional friend of mine about six months before where she had gone over my body, had stopped at the throat and said, “There's something going on here. I'm not sure what that is.” I remembered back to that moment. It wasn't that I couldn't swallow. It was that it took a lot of effort. It felt almost like things were getting stuck.
I went ahead and had my thyroid checked. It was at such a low-performance level that I was diagnosed with a hypothyroid condition for which I needed to start taking this medication. As somebody in the supplement field, I'm like, “What can I do to fix this? I don't want to take a drug for the rest of my life. Why would I want to do that?”
My doctor at the time looked at me kindly but also said, “This is something that is a little serious where your levels are now, you're feeling cold, and you're having difficulties swallowing. This isn't something to ignore. If you were to ignore it, you would end up back here. Worst case scenario, you end up in a coma.” I'm like, “She's trying to scare me into taking the drug every day.” She's looking at someone who's going to be non-compliant. I'm going to probably not take it.” Granted, it took me a while to get everything right. They prescribed Synthroid for me. I didn't react well to that. It made me feel like my heart was racing, and I would wake up in the middle of the night. I had to go to more of a bioidentical setup.
They give you NP Thyroid.
I'm on NP Thyroid. It's a mix of T3 and T4. I have been on that for about more than a decade now. I tried to go off it and addressing other things with my adrenals but my thyroid ultimately got burned out. It could be because I was maybe experimenting with too much iodine for a while.
You are saying things that I could comment on. Maybe sometime, if I can come back, we can talk about the notion of self-treating and whatnot. If I said it one time, I said it a million times in fifteen years on my show. I did more shows on stress than I have since. Stress is a killer. I came to understand what that meant. You are right. Stress is a killer. In your instance, it most likely was the stress that provoked your thyroid. How that happens? Who knows how? Doctors can't explain that. It's difficult.
Stress is a killer.
They think it's one part this, one part lifestyle, one part exposure to toxins, and one part perhaps I was experimenting with too much iodine and supplementation.
These are all stressors. I appreciate that narrative. You've led a good life. You didn't abuse yourself. You've done things properly in nutrition. How many times have people said to me, “How could you get sick?”
There’s almost shame around it. People are like, “You must have done something wrong to deserve cancer.” This is one of the challenges that I have seen friends who were diagnosed with cancer confront because it's almost as if people believe you did something to deserve it somehow, as if there's an element of karma to getting cancer.
I was a few steps away from monastic life. I didn't do drugs. I didn't go party. I'm an ex-musician, too. I did that my whole life. I've led a good life. I go to the gym five days a week, train, supplements. My diet is a good diet. Mediterranean diet, I have been eating that since I was a boy. I got sick. I had chemotherapy and radiation. These are toxic therapies. How many times have I been asked, “What did you do during therapy?” This is an important theme.
Maybe I can come back and talk about this sometime. “What supplements did you take? What did you do?” This and that. I said, “That night, I sat with my oncologist for the first time, and I was all in with him. My instinct said, ‘Believe him.’” I don't know what it was. I did the research. I'm a medical researcher by trade and practice, too. I went into the literature. I made the conscious decision to stop all supplementation, no augmentation at whatsoever. Why? It’s because I finally concluded that I wanted these toxic therapies to do their job, which was to kill the cancer cells and that virus.
That's hard. You might have thought, “What about vitamin C or some of the basics?”
It all seems counterintuitive, doesn't it? It's not. If you invite me back, I can share with you my take on all of that anti-cancer died and what to do during, before, and after. I stopped everything. I was encouraged to get a second opinion. My friends pulled some strings. I ended up in Florida at Moffitt Cancer Center, which is a big deal here in the Tampa Bay Area.
I walk into the room, and I have all the heads of the department, nurses, and doctors. I said, “I'm not that important.” I sat down, and they examined me and this and that. They said, “We concur with Dr. Fink. We agree with his diagnosis and treatment plan.” There was an oncologist sitting right across from me. I looked at him and said, “This therapy is aggressive. I'm on the radio and TV every day, live for two hours a day. Am I going to be able to work?”
That was what was on my mind. I wanted to work. He said, “I had a practice in Manhattan. I had actors and actresses, movie stars, and radio and TV personalities such as you come to see me go through treatment. None was able to work. Not a one.” I went to work every day. I don't know how. I matched that all the time. I was on iHeart Media. It was filled with people. I would come in every day, and they said, “What are you doing here?” I said, “I’m going to work.”
The company for whom I worked owned a show were my former students said, “You don't have to go to work, Doc. Stay home.” I said, “Are you paying me?” They said, “Yes.” I said, “I'm going to work.” I went in every day and did the show. I made the conscious decision to share everything with the audience. They could see me because we were streaming that show across the planet. We were in 500 cities nationwide, coast to coast. We were around the world. People in Russia, South America, Europe, and everywhere watch the show every day. I shared everything with them. They could see what I looked like.
About halfway through, I got sick. I often wondered, “Why do cancer patients get so thin and frail?” I found out why. They can't eat. I developed what's called mucositis. The radiation and the chemo destroyed the mucosal lining of my mouth. The chemo destroyed the mucosal lining of my stomach. I can tell you that without being hyperbolic, the pain and suffering were cosmically humbling.
I've never known anything like it ever before or since. It was incredible. The only thing I could consume was ice chips. To drip water was painful. Here I had to go on air and talk. I did it. I don't know how I did it. I have been asked a million times, “How did you go to work?” I did. During the last week of therapy, I was sick. I promised I wouldn't drive because they had me on these pain medications.
My former students who owned the show and the company provided drivers for me. One of the owners would drive me here and there. I was treated like a prince. I often joke about that. I said, “That was a good thing because I didn't want to be treated like a king because they would behead the king. I wanted to be the favorite prince in the palace.” I was treated well. The last day of radiation, I heard the radiation oncologist tell the driver, “He's pretty sick. I don't think he's going to make it to work next week.” Wayne was right. I couldn't do it. That was the only week of work I had missed. It was on a Wednesday evening.
They took me in three times to be hydrated. This was a momentous moment in my life. I live alone. I wasn't married at the time, nor am I now. My daughter was away working. I was home alone. I was hungry. I was lying on the sofa, and I wanted to get up. I said, “If I can get up and maybe make some broth.” I tried to get up. I couldn't do it.
I rolled off the sofa onto the floor on my knees. I looked up and said, “Either take me or heal me.” I was ready to go. I often said to people, “You get to a place where you accept your fate.” I wasn't giving up but I wondered how much more I could endure. I said, “If you want to take me, I’m ok with that. If you want to heal me, let's get on with this, so I can go about helping others.”
I stayed home that week. I went back to work the following Monday. When we were done, Dr. Fink said, “You need to rest. We have to decide what to do about that lung.” Remember, I had lung cancer. That was in the back of my mind. The whole time they are treating me for my neck, I'm thinking about what's going on with my lung. I didn't smoke, by the way. I went home and did my research. What is the therapy for the lung? There were three options. Do nothing, CyberKnife, which is a form of targeted radiation or a lobectomy where they remove the upper lobe of that left lung. Your left lung has three lobes, upper, middle, and lower.
The upper lobe accounts for about 15% to 17% of respiration. I go in that day to see Dr. Fink. He said, “We are going to make a decision today.” I said, “Let me see what he's going to say to this.” Ironically, I said, “What do you think about CyberKnife?” He was looking down at his computer. He looked up at me and said, “I'm trying to save your life. We are not doing any CyberKnife.” That's the first time I heard him use profanity. I laughed. I said, “I know. It's the lobectomy in the long run.” We did it. He had a capable, wonderful surgeon here in Tampa, Dr. Summer. I went to see him, and he did the surgery on a Thursday. Friday morning, he walks in, bends and turns twists and turns.
I did it in an hour and a half. It takes three hours. He said, “You did great but.” I said, “But?” He said, “That lesion did shrink from the chemo. It penetrated your visceral flora. We don't know if any cells escaped. You are going to have to see Dr. Fink.” Thank God he did it robotically because they didn't have to cut me open. I would have been in the hospital for two weeks. I was in there for 3 or 4 days and walked out.
I went to see Dr. Fink the following week. He said, “We are going to do some adjuvant chemotherapy. We are going to do another eight hours of chemo. We are going to change the chemo drug from cisplatin to carboplatin. I'm worried about you losing your hearing. Your kidney is failing. I dosed you heavily. You will have less side effects. I'm also going to put Alymphta in the bag. I did it intravenously. You sit for four hours, and it drips in. Alymphta is a lung cancer drug.”
I talked to one of the nurses about Alymphta. She said, “Dr. Garko, Alymphta will kick your ass by itself.” He said, “You will have less side effects.” I made a joke. I have a dark sense of humor. I said, “Chemo light.” He said, “There's no such thing, Dr. Garko, as chemo light.” He was right. I got sick about halfway through. It took three months. I got sick again. I finished it. Now I sit before you and your audience.
That was back in 2016. I sit here in the humblest way I can. I am grateful to be able to continue to work, help people and do what I was put here to do. If you think for a second, and I want to make this point, some may disagree with my description of what cancer is. I gave that to you a moment ago. I was in an interview or commented, “You beat cancer.” I stopped and said, “Stop. No, I didn't.”
They said, “You have been diagnosed as radiologically free of cancer.” I said, “It makes no difference. Fighting cancer is like a world title fight. You know the opponent is a killer. You've looked at all the videotape on the opponent, and there's no way you are going to be able to defeat this opponent but you got to get in a ring and fight for fifteen rounds. What are you going to do? You are going to fight. What you are hoping for at the end? You get to round fifteen, and Michael Buffer says, ‘It's a draw.’ What you hope for is the opponent doesn't ask for a rematch.”
Once you are a cancer patient, you are always a cancer patient. That's what I believe. I am a bit super superstitious as well. I have a great deal of respect for that disease. I know what it can do. I don't think I beat cancer. For whatever reason, I have been able to find a way to get to where I am with you at this moment, with you and your audience. I'm grateful that you asked me to come on to share this with the people reading this.
I wanted to dive a bit into what your post-cancer nutrition focus is now. What have you learned through the process? What have you changed? What have you adapted perhaps from what you did before? Do you feel like that is helping to protect you from the potential for a future resurgence of cancers?
Maybe I can come back onto your show. I have more articles on nutrition and cancer than I have since. I'm pretty familiar with the literature. My diet prior to cancer was a Mediterranean diet in a classic sense. Both my parents were immigrants. It was a multilingual home. 5 or 6 languages were spoken in the house. I grew up in America. I'm the first generation in this country but it was like living in Europe. It was a Mediterranean diet. I ate that my whole life. I didn't use drugs. I didn't smoke. I didn't abuse alcohol. I let a clean, good life. I still got sick. That is what's perplexing.
I was taking supplements. You say, “You did the right thing. How come you were not able?” That's what's humbling. To your question, I've continued on with my diet. There is so much misinformation and wrongheaded thinking about nutrition and cancer and what you do prior to, during, and after treatment. It's a mess. People are going on crazy diets, doing bizarre things, and self-treating.
I wanted to mention for a moment that I did have Dr. William Li on this show, who wrote a book called Eat to Beat Disease. One of the things that he focuses on is a wide, varied diet, mostly planned, similar to what Michael Poland would say. Ensuring that you are covering your bases, that you are eating a wide variety of foods and not just the same thing every day. The Mediterranean diet is already naturally higher in Omega-3s and lower in Omega-6s than the standard American diet. You are already checking that box. It does also tend to be healthier carbohydrates than those of the general American public. You are eating pastas and things along these lines as well.
I haven't eliminated grains but anytime I eat grain, it's whole grains, whether it's pasta or whatever. I eat meat. I eat mostly fish but small fish, sardines, and anchovies.
We can call those vegetarian fish.
I don't eat a lot of red meat. Do I like a steak from time to time? Yes, but my diet is primarily plant-based. It’s Mediterranean in nature. I drink wine with my dinner. I have a glass of wine. I don't abuse drugs. I don't smoke. I go to the gym five days a week and work out for 1 hour and a half, 2 hours a day. I've done that a long time. What I can share with your audience is this. Prevention is one thing. Preparation is a different matter. They are different. We can practice prevention but are you prepared for the moment when you will get sick? If you don't dive in an accident, you are going to dive into some disease process to some organ system or systems in your body. That's a fact.
We've seen that over the course of the last couple of years on overdrive with COVID. People whose immune systems weren't prepared for the ravages of something that could be a somewhat simple cold.
I will give you a simple analogy. You can prevent forest fires. Remember Smokey, the Bear. Are you prepared for that forest fire? Are you prepared to fight it? You can prevent it. Post-treatment, I have been trying to do prevention and more preparation. My doctors said to me that I was physically fit. I expended almost my entire inventory of health to fight that disease.
I was somewhat prepared, thank goodness. I could have been better prepared. You have to be prepared. You can practice prevention. I'm saying you shouldn't do that but it's preparation as well. What do I mean by that? Preparation means that you are looking not just for the moment but down the road and assume that you are going to get sick.
Do you have physical stamina? You have to prepare mentally as well. Do you have mental, psychic, and spiritual stamina? Do you have the wherewithal to deal with it? Have you prepared everything? The last thing you want to do when you are sick is to make sure you are taking care of your wills. I know that sounds trivial but you want that all taken care of.
That can be part of your self-care. I know it may sound a little crazy but you can take that moment and say, “I got this reminder in the mail about my 401(k) and making sure my beneficiaries on that document are right.” That can be one of your mindful moments. I'm taking care of my future. Take a little meditative moment after you've done it. Bring in some of these elements of calming and relaxing. I don't know if you want to call it meditation. It doesn't have to feel like you are sitting there with a singing bowl.
You can implement strategies to do some deep breathing and centering exercises. Step outside with bare feet and get your feet on the soil. Appreciate nature for a moment. Stand in the sun. These are all things that each of us can do to get back to balance. Too often, we get tied to our desks. I'm guilty of this, too. We get tied to the tasks. I'm guilty of this, too. We don't listen to that inner voice that's saying, “I need a minute. I'm overstressed.” Suddenly I'm snapping at my kids because they were nipping at my heels when I should have been better prepared for that moment because they are nipping at my heels. They are my children. They want my attention all the time.
There's another dimension to preparation. I was being interviewed. In fact, it was one of my producers. I was doing my own show. One of my producers, who I used to bring on air with me, was good. He was talented. He was interviewing me. It was spontaneous. Right after I had finished treatment, he asked me, “What was the most difficult thing that you experienced in the two years that you went through this?” I thought for a split second.
I said, “Being alone. My mother raised me to be gregarious and connected to the world but she also raised, taught, and gave me the skills to be alone. I know how to live alone. I don't need anybody to cook for me, bake for me or do anything. I can do it all myself. Being alone, I was alone.” I would not recommend that. Preparation is also part of having people in your life that can be there to help you.
When you are saying you feel isolated, you are more isolated. You feel more alone.
I'm a loner. My life is spent, everything I do, it's public like at this moment. Most of my time is spent alone. I write every day. I'm creating reels. I'm doing all sorts of things. I'm here by myself. My life is spent alone. I know lots of people but I don't have a cavalcade of friends.
Knocking on your door, checking on you each day, making sure you are doing okay.
I have some very close friends, a few. One of whom you had on your show, Stuart Tomc, who's probably my closest friend. I've had to learn to prepare by allowing people into my life and not to be damn independent.
I have a dear friend who said to me, “Why didn't you call me? I'm here to help.” It’s like, “I didn't want to trouble you.” I realized that I sound like my grandmother did.
Isn't that terrible?
It's like, “Are you kidding me? We are in a shared experience here. We are living this world together.” While some of the things that we individually go through may feel isolating, it doesn't mean we have to go it alone. This is one of the reasons from my podcasting journey that I've connected to many podcasters because it can be a solo enterprise. There's strength. Even being able to share that journey with someone else and saying, “I'm having trouble doing X, Y, and Z.” What are you doing to solve that?” To be able to share that knowledge and that experience. There's a book I wanted to clue you into. It's called Cycle of Lives. It's written by David Richman.
This book is about people's cancer journeys. This individual, his sister, had been diagnosed. He chose to ride his bicycle from the Pacific Northwest down to Los Angeles and across the country to catalog the stories of people confronting cancer. Sometimes it was that that person had passed. Their family members are left behind and trying to move on with their lives or pick up the pieces and these in-depth stories.
The thing that he heard again and again from telling these stories and then from confronting people on the road who even, in some cases, recognized him was that there was so much power in being able to connect with other people who automatically understood what they were confronting and going through. That's something that we all need to be more mindful of finding our communities.
Let's say you are a young woman and are trying to get pregnant. You are battling that, and it can feel like a fight. You are doing all the right things. You maybe waited a little bit too long to get pregnant. That's what you feel and think. I was a geriatric mom. I didn't have trouble conceiving but I empathize with people who had that trouble that I ended up being an egg donor for another couple who couldn't conceive. I understand.
I can empathize with it but I also don’t know what it's like to sit in that seat. Often when we confront these challenges, we need to remember that we don't have to be alone, even if we feel isolated. That then can impact our mental health and our ability to get through those difficult days. You tell that story of not being able to get up off the couch but having it be that in your face. The chemo is kicking your ass.
It is something. I was raised in Pittsburgh.
My father was a Polish immigrant. We were a poor, blue-collar family but I would've known we were poor. My mother and father were wonderful people. It was a rough neighborhood. I grew up a tough kid in a tough neighborhood. When you are in front of your mortality, all of a sudden, if you are at least half awake, there will be this sudden shift in what is important.
It's like immediate clarity.
It's unbelievable. The hierarchy of what's important. It all gets scrambled. What was at the bottom is now at the top sometimes. If you think you are a tough guy and this and that when you are dealing with whether it's cancer or some other hideous, pernicious, terrible disease, it has a unique way of making you realize that you have to appreciate our vulnerability. That's part of the preparation, too. To accept the idea that, in many ways, we are vulnerable. That's okay. You don't have to be a tabernacle of wisdom, strength, and fortitude all the time.
If you think you're a tough guy and you're dealing with cancer or some other hideous, pernicious, terrible disease, it has a unique way of making you realize that you just have to appreciate our vulnerability.
I laugh because tabernacle is not a word many people know. The reason I know it is because I spent time in Quebec, Canada. In that area, it has become a cuss word. The tabernacle is like an altar within a church ultimately.
I went to a Catholic school. I had a great education. The nuns were my best teachers. My point is that having people in your life that care about and love you is truly important. I have been a loner. I had to rethink my life. I said, “You can't continue to live this way. You have to make time, not only for others to help them but for others to be with you and maybe help you. How about that?”
That's a part of self-care, too. That can help you feel more valuable in your daily life and stressless. I'm also reminded of a conversation I had on this show with Dr. Joseph Maroon, who you also know.
I know Dr. Maroon. He's a good guy.
He wrote a book called Square One. It's a story that he has been sharing for a long time. It’s about balancing out so that each of these lines looks like the line of a square, where you have your work, your life, your spiritual, and your physical self. You end up with a square as opposed to a little tiny square and a flat line that is your work life so that you get these things in balance and can therefore hold up the roof of the house that you are building with these four pillars.
It's something that we need to revisit and think about, especially as we are heading into the holidays. Family is critical. Your health is the most vital asset in your daily life. Your body is what enables you to walk around, enjoy life, and get outside. Feeding it the nutrition it needs, and giving it the right spiritual balance, whether that be through meditation, spending time in nature or whatever it is that you divine to bring you that sense of connection and relaxation, is critical to your health. It can't be ignored. Often, it feels like that piece gets shoved into the corner because you have other things that are staring at you like a fire hose.
I said many times when I was on air that I would end a show every day. I would say, “Your health is your wealth, and your health is the wealth of those that care about and love you.” If you don't want to take care of yourself for yourself, take care of yourself because of the other people in your life.
It’s an expression of love. That's right.
If something should befall you, your loss is going to be their loss, too. The other guiding principle I have is, I believe this with every fiber of my physical, spiritual, and mental being that nutrition is the first and guiding principle of health that all roads eventually lead back to food and nutrition in one way or another, in some form or fashion. That's not a cliché. The people say, “The body can heal itself.” It's not going to heal itself out of the ether.
It needs something to do that with. It needs the building blocks and materials. What's interesting about the body is if you give it crappy building materials, that's what it will use to build your body to try to repair it like with a house. If you give it formidable, meaningful, and healthy food, it will do a better job for you. Eventually, it can't heal itself without that proper nutrition, whether it is in food and through dietary supplementation.
This leads me to say that with your company and the supplements and the products that it makes, this is a big industry. There are companies left and right all over the place. Most of them are marketing companies masquerading as supplement companies, and they sell crap. They do. Your products are quality products. When you buy a supplement, remember you are not buying a shirt, a suit or a pair of slacks. You are buying something to put in your body.
That has profound implications and consequences. Make damn sure that what you are eating is what you should be doing. The cells have a unique memory. They remember everything you did and didn't do. To the question that you asked me, supplementation is a critical part of what I do now as I did before but in a more strategic, targeted way. I'm selective about what supplements I use and why. Orlo, your omega products, and the products that you were kind to send me, we can talk about those some other time, are important.
There are a lot of companies out there making products left and right. People should be careful about that, though. Make sure that you are selecting a product that is not rancid, that was made with care and quality, and that the company is driven by ethics and values. That becomes important. I can't stress that enough. I consult with companies all day. It's part of my career. I enjoy doing it. I only affiliate with people and companies that are honest and do the right thing. I'm impressed. Until I had the occasion to call you, I didn't know much about Orlo.
We are relatively new in the marketplace.
I've learned more. I appreciate what you are doing there. I know you. You are a committed person. You don't do things casually or haphazardly. You are always all in on what you do. You don't affiliate with people that you don't suffer fools and unethical people very well.
I feel like that's one of the best compliments I have ever been given.
I've known you for a long time. When you told me you were working for them, I set about to find out who the company was. I can see why you are doing what you are doing. I'm not sounding like I'm trying to plug your company. I'm saying to people that dietary supplementation could be highly overrated. It is.
As I put it, it can be expensive excrement.
They take too many supplements. They take the wrong supplements. They are taking them with the wrong company. If you want to supplement, you have to be mindful, smart, and strategic. I want to thank you again.
Thank you so much for sharing all that. As we often say on this show, it's the tissue of the CSU. You have to absorb the nutrition to get into your tissue. Too often, we throw a bunch of Band-Aids on top of stuff. We eat the wrong things even when we are trying to do right. We stop at the Starbucks, drive in, and get whatever mochaccino latte.
I used to go to Starbucks but right behind me, I have a gourmet kitchen. Normally, I would do this from my studio but it's under construction behind me. I make espresso every morning. I make my own espresso. I'm crazy about the way I do with food but I enjoy caffeine. I have a question for you. I will interview you for one second. What do you think people consume in this country, whereby they get their most antioxidants?
It's going to be coffee or tea. One of those.
It's coffee. That is the most consumed product whereby people are getting antioxidants. Everybody is down on coffee and caffeine. I dig caffeine, and I like coffee.
I dig caffeine, too. I feel gifted because some nutritionists I know will say things like, “Coffee creates a lot of acidity in your system. It creates an environment that's friendly for disease.” I got the pass from a few doctors who I'm connected to that essentially said the benefits outweigh the concerns, especially when you start to consider mental health and the long-term potential for diseases like Alzheimer's or dementia. I have one representation of the APOE4 allele, which means I'm at an increased risk for the development of these long-term degenerative diseases of the brain. I take that seriously. I feel justified in my coffee. I drink it all day long until the evening, when I tend to transition to other things.
There's an institute here in Tampa where they study coffee and its ability to forestall dementia in its different forms, the Byrd Institute. They were on my show a few times. The world of food and nutrition is intriguing. It has always been with me but I got into it and got credentialed for the last several years of my life. Before that, I did a lot of other stuff, musician and whatnot. If I had to do it over again, I would've started earlier. To me, it's the game changer.
When I think about starting it over, I think about going to get either a medical license of some sort or become a registered dietician so that the things that I share with the world might come with a little bit more weight and press and things along those lines. The reality is that I'm here to share my information.
I've heard good things about your show. My colleague said the one I told you at the beginning of our conversation told me that you do a good job. The show is well-received, and it's popular. I encourage me to call you to connect. I wanted the opportunity to share in my own humble way. I want to say one thing, though, the last thing I want to share with you.
The real heroes are the children who get cancer. I have a former student of mine who’s a therapist now. He's married. He has a couple of kids. It turns out that they were passed on some genes, 2SNPs. Both children have cancer. My story is a comic book compared to that. These are innocents. Cancer is an unforgiving, unrelenting, undiscriminating, pernicious disease that pros and prays on the young and the old and everybody in between. You walk into these cancer clinics and institutes for children. It's heartbreaking.
I've gone to the Lucile Packard close to Stanford. We didn't share this earlier but I became a marathon runner. I’m raising funds for the team and training. I raised over $20,000 running marathons to support research for leukemia and lymphoma. Even the home I ended up buying was occupied by somebody who had lymphoma and had to move closer to a treatment center.
When they put it up for sale, that went in my letter to them saying, “I understand how hard a time this is. I'm willing to pay the ask. I hope you will consider our offer.” It's amazing how many people are affected by leukemias and lymphomas. Thankfully, there are more treatments for those cancers than many others. We make progress every day. Hopefully, those children that you reference are going to come out of this without lifetime challenges.
You hope for the best. I've said this a number of times, everybody should be given a chance to sit in a chemo room. I would even say maybe even for one day for the entire day. I sat in a chemo room every day, every Monday for four hours, for months and months. I saw terrible things. One day I was in there. It was a big chemo room, and there were maybe 50, 75 or 100 people in there. It was full that day. I was looking around in a bad way. I walked out of there. As I got into my car, I said, “I'm grateful.”
I saw people dying. I knew they were dying. They were in front of me. I was watching this. As sick as I was, I was grateful. One last thought, the team that you have, is important. Make no mistake about it. If you get sick with cancer, that team of doctors is critical. It can make all the difference in the world. I remember one day, I was with Dr. Fink. I had to go in to see him for a regular appointment. I was sick. He knew it.
He knew I was concerned. People say, “Were you afraid?” Yes, I was afraid, but I was not a coward. Finally, I came to accept it. “If you are going to die, you are going to die.” He could tell that I was struggling. We went through the labs and this and that. We were walking out. We were walking down the hall. He put his arm around me and whispered in my ear, “Not to worry. I'm going to save your life.”
That doctor saved my life. He is an amazing person to me. He's not just a physician. I said, “How do you do this every day? You are watching death and dying.” He said, “If I can help one person, I can continue to do this.” When he did that, his empathy and humanity made a difference. It gave me hope. There are many things I could share with you about that experience but that was such a profound moment when he put his arm around me like that.
It's in moments like that that doctors are in the right profession.
Truth be told too. There are some doctors. I don't know what they are doing in this profession. Most of my friends who are doctors and physicians, and the ones I've encountered were good, sensitive, empathetic, and caring people. That makes a difference. The team you have makes a difference. Remember what I said. It truly does. You can have a bad team, and you will have a difficult time.
I want to say this before we get ready to close. I consider you a champion for nutrition and health. I'm pleased to have had the opportunity to bring you on this show. I invite you back to talk more about the post-cancer nutrition.
We can talk about diet nutrition and cancer and try to deal with some of the myths, misconceptions, and dangerous things that people are doing. My motto is to show me the data. I would love to come back and do that with you anytime.
We will plan for that. Thank you for sharing your story. I know that this will touch people, especially those who have had to confront these issues in the past or who are presently confronting them. There's power in having a real down to brass tacks conversation about the challenges you face. Thank you so much for that.
Thank you again from the bottom of my heart for giving me the opportunity. I want to extend to you and the people reading this, happy Thanksgiving. I hope you celebrate it with your family and in the embrace of grace and gratitude.
Thank you so much.
If you have questions about what we covered or topics you would like to see featured on this show in the future, please send me an email note directly to Hello@OrloNutrition.com or you can always contact us via social channels, @OrloNutrition. For all of our readers, I also want to remind you that you have the opportunity to receive an extra 10% off any of your orders if you use a coupon code NWC10 at checkout. That is for first-time orders only but stay tuned for also future offers. You can join our email mailing list as well to be apprised of future show offerings. As we close this show, I hope that you will raise a cup with me as I say my closing words, “Here's to your health.”
Dr. William Li – Past Episode
Stuart Tomc – Past Episode
Dr. Joseph Maroon – Past Episode
@OrloNutrition at Instagram
About Dr. Michael Garko
Dr. Garko is a results-proven professional. As a credentialed nutritionist, he is empathetic, creative, open-minded and optimistic. He possesses a multifaceted skill set with advanced skills and expertise in human nutrition, human communication, media (TV & radio), education/teaching, along with additional skills and expertise in social influence and persuasion, consumer behavior, marketing, scientific research and retail sales and management. Dr. Garko hosted and produced a nationally syndicated, globally streamed health talk show for over 15 years. He has a science-based, functional medicine nutrition practice called NutriLogic Health & Wellness. He also consults with major dietary supplement companies. Dr. Garko lives his life mindfully, in the moment one day at a time with purpose, passion and gratitude all in the better service of others.