Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Exclusive: Cancer Patient and Veteran of "The Forgotten War" Gets His Wish 60 Years Later

Robert Mountz in his Navy days during Korean War
Robert "Bob" Mountz, 85, a hardy, resilient and compassionate veteran of the Korean War, which many have rightly called "The Forgotten War," is battling stage IV lung cancer and has one simple wish: to revisit the ship at the center of his wartime memories.

Mountz, who served on the USS Midway as a corpsman caring for sick and wounded sailors from 1952 to 1954, has not seen the mighty aircraft carrier since he was honorably discharged 60 years ago. But thanks to two worthy charities, Mountz will get his wish and set foot on the legendary ship in San Diego next week.

Mountz, who was diagnosed with Stage 4 metastatic lung cancer last summer and started chemotherapy in July, was selected as a deserving wish recipient by Home Care Assistance, a Palo Alto-based home care company, and Wish of a Lifetime. Both companies are dedicated to celebrating the lives of older adults, including cancer patients and veterans, and giving voices and faces to an often-undervalued population.

Mountz, who's still going through chemo and lives in Hamilton, Ind., maintains an infectiously positive attitude and often talks fondly about his time on the Midway. Mountz can tell you that the ship served for an unprecedented 47 years and saw action in the Vietnam War and was the Persian Gulf flagship in Operation Desert Storm in 1991. The Midway is now resting majestically in the San Diego Harbor, where it's been transformed into a popular military museum

The USS Midway on the open sea -
According to Mountz's daughter Laura Miller, visiting the longest-serving Navy aircraft carrier of the 20th century would highlight a part of his life that is very important to him. When I asked him what it will be like to see the Navy ship again, Mountz said he expects to feel “some kind of euphoria.”

Mountz, his childhood friend Wilma Underwood and his daughters Deborah Mountz and Laura Miller will be received by a special welcoming party of museum staffers on board the Midway and get a private tour of the ship, including the sick bay where as a corpsman Mountz spent most of his time. The tour will be led appropriately by a fellow former corpsman.

Mountz, who worked on his grandfather's farm tending to cattle and crops from ages 15 through 21, joined the Navy in 1950 and was sent to the Great Lakes Naval Training Station at Waukegan, Ill., just before Christmas for boot camp.

"We didn't get any uniforms right away so we had to stand in line outside in our civilian clothes and it was 17 below zero," he recalled. "There were only two of us in a barracks that housed 240 people, as most waited to join after Christmas. So it was quite a cultural shock being home with mom and dad one day and the next sitting in a 240-man barracks with one other person that you did not know."

Robert Mountz recently on an Indiana farm
Mountz first saw the mighty Midway in September 1952 when he was assigned to the ship, which was in dry dock at Portsmouth, VA.

"At the time she was getting some refitting done and her bottom was being sand blasted and repainted," he said. "Imagine my amazement to see this huge ship out of the water. She stood 13 stories high, six decks below the water line and seven decks above. She is more than three football fields long and housed 3,000 plus personnel. She weighs 65 thousand tons and could maintain approximately 30 knots [37 mph]."

Mountz said the passageways were so intricate that the first few days he learned where he worked, slept and ate. "It was a week before I ventured topside and learned how to get from here to there," he says

At the end of his second cruise he was relieved by the F.D.R. (same-class carrier) and returned to Norfolk, VA, where he was discharged in October 1954 as a HM-3. He was honorably discharged with a Good Conduct Medal, a European Theatre Medal, and another that he has forgotten.

After discharge from the Navy he returned home to Indiana to begin civilian life. "For most of my working years I was a self-employed general contractor remodeling homes, adding room additions, and building new homes for sale," he said. "I completed my last project in September 2014 at age 85."

Mountz says he is "really excited" about boarding the Midway again after all these decades. "I look forward to getting down in the sickbay and seeing where my desk was. I’ve never been to San Diego before. I think I’ll really enjoy the area.”

As for his stage IV lung cancer, which he is still bravely fighting, Mountz takes it in stride. "I must have smoked too many Pall Mall’s on the ship," he says.

Thursday, March 5, 2015

Croce's Park West in San Diego: The Coolest Place in Town

Two iconic restaurants indigenous to their respective cities -- Tavern on the Green in New York and Croce's Restaurant & Jazz Bar in San Diego -- recently closed their doors. But not to worry, both of these venerable eateries have been happily resurrected. Tavern on the Green has reinvented itself in the same lofty Central Park West locale at 66th Street with a shining $15 million upgrade by owner and filmmaker Jim Caiola. Croce's, too, has reopened. Well, sort of. It's not in the same spot and doesn't have exactly the same name. Croce's Restaurant & Jazz Bar, which was located in San Diego's historic Gaslamp District, is now Croce's Park West on Fifth Avenue in Bankers Hill, just west of Balboa Park. 

Tavern on the Green has a more open, accessible feel now and has regained its buzz and legendary status. Croce's Park West, too, has a touch of urbane Manhattan, as you can see from the black and white pic above. But it still wisely reflects the So-Cal casual/classy vibe that defines everything for which proprietor Ingrid Croce is known.

Croce's Park West owner Ingrid Croce keeping the customers satisfied
Ingrid is a remarkable woman, and a singular pioneer of downtown San Diego's restaurant and live music scene. Her move to nearby Bankers Hill is good news for people like me who loved the old Croce's but didn't dig the raucous Gaslamp, which has been taken over by eternally annoying and typically drunk twentysomething hipsters.

Located a few miles away from the chaos of the Gaslamp, Croce's Park West is my new favorite destination in San Diego to eat (lunch, brunch, dinner) and hear live music with family and friends. It's near perfection. Without question the coolest place in town. 

The menu is upscale but very American. Nothing too foo-foo here, but it's all about quality. The Charbroiled Prime New York Steak, for example, is one of the best steaks I've ever consumed outside my native Iowa. It's topped with gorgonzola and served with crispy brussels sprouts, Bordeaux sauce, and Park West Fries. The yummiest fries you'll ever taste, they're topped with smoked sea salt and are served with honey roasted garlic-lemon thyme aioli, agave whole grain mustard, and sriracha ketchup. I can't pronounce it, either, but trust me it's delish'.

Ingrid instinctively knows how to run a restaurant and make every customer feel right at home. She's a warm, intelligent, perceptive woman who happens to be a foodie without being pretentious. I never thought that was possible.

Dave Scott & the New Jazz Ensemble perform at Croce's Park West
While the food and atmosphere at Ingrid's new place are nonpareil, it's the music that still reigns. Croce's Park West pays perpetual homage to the melody makers (check out the music art on the wall). It's a place where musicians love to play because they know the owner respects them. 

My wife and I recently caught a lively set in Croce's Expatriate Room by Eve Selis, the remarkable Americana singer with whom I was honored to have sung on "Settling Down," a duet I wrote the day I proposed to my wife. Eve is a dynamo, a powerful but also sensitive musical force of nature and crowd pleaser who's among the best singers San Diego has ever produced. If there was any justice she would be a superstar. But she has a very devoted following.

Every musician I've seen at Croce's Park West looks happy to be there. Tonight the place features sax' master Rickey Woodard, who's played with Ray Charles, Frank Sinatra and Ella Fitzgerald, among other legends. Ingrid loves and respects musicians because she is one. She was in a folk duo with her late husband, Jim Croce, who of course went on to become a hugely popular solo singer-songwriter who tragically died in a plane crash in 1973 at the height of his fame.

Talent runs in the family. Twenty years after Jim sadly died, I co-wrote a profile of Ingrid and Jim's son, AJ Croce, for People magazine. It was among the first national stories on AJ, a gifted jazz and pop singer-songwriter who still makes fantastic records. AJ was a baby when his famous father died. But he is proud of his musical heritage. 

Ingrid and Jim Croce
I was shocked when I heard that Ingrid was shutting the Gaslamp restaurant's doors. It was the result of a dispute with a landlord who simply had no clue how beloved Croce's is. The music of the basement club below was apparently driving Croce's customers away. And the landlord just didn't get it.

But the new place tops the old place. It's less hectic getting in and out of there, for one thing. It's in a not-so-rowdy neighborhood yet still in the heart of the city. It is above all else California cool, a great place to meet friends, entertain out-of-town visitors, or just chill and listen to the best live music in San Diego.

Ingrid has come so far. When she met Jim in the 1960s, she was a 16-year-old artist, gymnast and folk singer and Jim was a sophomore at Villanova. He asked her if she would sing with him, they became a duo and landed a record deal with Capitol Records. And yes, they fell deeply in love somewhere along the way.

When Ingrid learned she was going to have a baby, Jim wrote "Time in a Bottle," "You Don’t Mess Around with Jim," "Operator" and "Bad, Bad Leroy Brown." All four of these songs have of course become American pop classics, along with several more of Jim's compositions such as "I Got a Name" and "I'll Have to Say I Love You in a Song." It's preposterous that Jim Croce has not yet been inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

When Jim and Ingrid moved to San Diego in 1973, downtown was mostly inhabited by drug dealers and other lowlifes. But defiantly, Jim told her that they should open their own place on the corner of Fifth Avenue and F Street. Jim died just a week later. 

Ingrid, suddenly a widowed, single mom, eventually opened that restaurant and music club to honor her late husband. And the rest is San Diego history. Ingrid's success story continues. She and husband Jimmy Rock, my friend and fellow Iowa native, are in the new Croce's club most nights making sure everyone is having a good time. 

They've both worked very hard to become arguably San Diego's best known restaurateurs. And the new place continues to honor Jim Croce’s legacy. Croce's Park West is the ideal venue for good food and live music for grownups: Jazz. Soul. Pop. Country. Singer-songwriters. It's all there. And I'd keep writing about it here, but I don't have time: I'm heading down to Croce's right now with my wife for dinner and some music. See you there?

Sunday, March 1, 2015

Renowned Chinese-American Doctor Joins Global Effort to Heal Lymphoma Cancer Patients

Dr. Helen Hu
If there were more doctors like Helen Hu, the world would be a better and certainly healthier place. With her vast experience in both Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) and modern Western medicine, Hu represents the future of all medicine, which inevitably will embrace the best from both of these disparate but essential worlds.

Raised in a traditional family in Beijing, Hu came to America nearly 25 years ago with a dream of introducing Americans to TCM, which she's studied since since she was 12. Hu, whose medical practice is in San Diego, was taught by several TCM masters who inspired her and helped her establish a strong foundation. She also gained invaluable experience at an early age by treating local farmers and villagers in the rural countryside during China's Cultural Revolution that began in 1966.

After high school, Hu shifted gears and studied Western medicine at China's prestigious Hebei Medical School, where she was able to fuse her background in TCM with the principles of the modern world. Of course, that did nothing but greatly enhance her medical technique and her ability to help patients. Hu looks at the root cause of any health condition and brings the best of both Eastern and Western disciplines, and a large dose of compassion, to her patients. And yes, I am one of them. 

Hu is also an acclaimed author whose remarkable new book, Chinese Food Therapy Rx for Self Healing (Volume I) and Chinese Food Therapy Rx for Longevity and Beauty (Volume II), provides hundreds of recipes to promote well being and beauty based on thousands of years of wisdom. The book is unquestionably the most comprehensive and pioneering work I've read in terms of educating the public about natural healing with food, and coaching people to achieve the ultimate goal of longevity and a healthy mind, body and spirit. Yes, folks, listen to Dr. Hu: Food really can save your life and even fight and prevent cancer.

Lymphoma On The Rise In China
Hu's vast knowledge of China's healthcare system and its people, as well as her awareness of modern advances in cancer treatment, will be of great value to me as we begin the next phase of my professional life: to inform and inspire lymphoma patients and their families in China and then, subsequently, worldwide. It's a profound and rather daunting mission, but it's something for which I believe I am qualified. For the past 15 years I've been a global lymphoma patient advocate. I've spoken to and informed and hopefully inspired thousands of cancer patients and their families, including people in China and around the world.

I can tell you with certainty that the Chinese people are hungry for more knowledge when it comes to diseases such as cancer. I can also tell you that, from what I have seen, healthcare professionals in China, including oncologists, are just as eager to get this information to the Chinese people. As I mentioned on this news blog recently, the incidence of lymphoma, the type of cancer I've battled for the last 18 years, is increasing by more than six percent each year in China. The person who has shared this information with the media is Dr. Zhu Jun, director of the Beijing Cancer Hospital's lymphoma department. 

But this information still isn't widely known among the Chinese people, who are very familiar with certain types of cancer including lung cancer, but not so much with lymphoma (Hodgkin's and non-Hodgkin's). Jun told the South China Morning Post that knowledge of lymphoma even among many doctors in China is minimal. And I just want to change that. And apparently so do China's leading doctors.

A recent epidemiology survey concluded that lymphoma is now the ninth most common cancer among Chinese males on the mainland. That's still not quite as high as the United States, where lymphoma is the seventh most common cancer in males and females. But it is increasing rapidly, and that's cause for concern. 

Much of the future lymphoma research in China will and should revolve around lymphoma. Researchers are seeing an especially significant and alarming increase in the disease among China's young people in urban areas. Lymphoma experts in China attribute that largely to environmental pollution. And that's not a surprise. As I reported for Newsweek, China's air remains dangerously polluted, especially in Beijing and other major cities.

The Project's First Phase
A cancer diagnosis is overwhelming and frightening. But it can also be challenging in a positive way and even enlightening and uplifting, especially if you are aware of all your treatment options. A cancer diagnosis certainly makes you appreciate the precious gift that is your life and the loving family and friends who we should never take for granted.

My goal is to spread this simple but vital message of hope and knowledge globally. The project begins by sharing information with the Chinese people via the existing healthcare operations and organizations in China, as well as exporting China's vast knowledge of both TCM and modern medicine to the rest of the world.

Our hope is that this project simply facilitates a new conversation in China about lymphoma.

The first phase will include the distribution of translated editions of both of my books, Hope Begins in the Dark and Snowman on the Pitcher's Mound, in China. The "Hope" book, which chronicles the lives of 40 lymphoma survivors, will be updated to include the life stories of lymphoma survivors in China.

The project is also in the process of building and designing smartphone APPS for China's cancer patients and their families that will 

The project will also include the distribution of information to lymphoma patients in China and their families telling them about the disease and about currently available as well as forthcoming treatments, both from the pharmaceutical side and the TCM side.

The project is working with China government officials, several of the top cancer hospitals in China and the U.S., internationally known oncologists and lymphoma researchers, pharmaceutical and biotech companies in China and the U.S., healthcare and environmental companies, and highly-regarded nonprofit organizations. 

The latter include the Confucius Institute at San Diego State University and the Asian Heritage Society, an educational and philanthropic nonprofit organization based in San Diego

Helen Hu's Work to Merge East and West
My partnership with Dr. Hu and others will ideally lead to positive outcomes for patients in China and around the world. I just want to help people who are suffering and have a desire to learn more about their options and about ways of coping when you receive a cancer diagnosis.

The other simple but powerful message I want to send is that it is imperative moving forward that we embrace all sides of medicine, from what is currently looked upon in some circles as "traditional" to what is currently looked upon in some circles as "alternative." Whatever works is what I want in my regimen. I've beaten back stage IV cancer three times in the last two decades with this philosophy.

Many doctors in America still turn their noses up at anything holistic or not drug-based. Many absurdly dismiss any and all herbs and supplements because they are not monitored by the FDA. But those days are changing. American doctors like Hu and, to some degree, my doctors at the University of California San diego -- some of them, anyway -- thankfully embrace both sides of this divide. And more will, soon. The writing is on the wall. 

While practicing Western medicine in China for nearly a decade, Hu became chairman of the Department of Cardiology at Hebei Hospital, as well as the president of the Hebei Young Physicians’ Association. After arriving in the States in 1991, she began conducting clinical research on Cancer and other autoimmune diseases, and also become involved in a variety of clinical trials that were published in several renowned academic journals. 

In 1997 she passed the USMLE (United States Medical License Exams) and subsequently began to formally study the practice of Chinese medicine. Hu graduated with a degree in Oriental Medicine (OMD) at South Baylo University and became a licensed acupuncturist and herbalist on both the National and State of California Boards of Acupuncture and Herbology.

In ancient times, Hu says, people lived closer to nature, in more integrated communities. Over thousands of years, through observation and by surviving many diseases and natural disasters, they "discovered how various foods promoted longevity and well being. Many of these longevity-promoting foods and herbs have been recorded in the history of Chinese medicine. Since food and herbs come from the same source, the principle of healing power in the herbs applies to the whole nature of food."

New Cancer Treatments and Studies in China
Hu's goal is to "educate and guide her readers to choose the right foods and treatments from TCM and Western medicine." That's our goal, too. It is significant that despite the lack of awareness of lymphoma among many of China's people and even many of its doctors, China has recently established a number of interesting partnerships with United States drug companies to fight lymphoma, and other cancers, with new, less toxic drugs as well as with aspects of TCM:

ChinaBioToday reports that Cellular Biomedicine Group (CBMG), a joint China-US cell therapy company, has acquired a cancer immunotherapy technology from the Chinese PLA General Hospital in Beijing. This will lead to further development in China of this therapy, which has shown great promise in early trials for Hodgkin's lymphoma as well as acute lymphoblastic leukemia and advanced lung cancer. 

* The Beijing Cancer Hospital I mentioned above, which is one of the largest cancer research and treatment centers in China, is establishing partnerships with such prestigious American cancer institutions as MD Anderson Cancer Center and Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center.

* Innovent, one of China's largest biotechs, is studying eight antibody products, including one for non-Hodgkin's lymphoma. 

* Casi Pharmaceuticals, a US-based bio-pharmaceutical company, is focused on meeting the unmet needs of cancer patients in China with several treatments, including Zevalin, a very effective radio-immunotherapy treatment for non-Hodgkin's lymphoma. As I reported here recently, Casi has announced that it is bringing Zevalin to China. 

* And as China Economic Net recently reported, two Chinese scientists, Wang Zhenyi and Chen Zhu, won a top U.S. award recently by the U.S. National Foundation for Cancer Research for creating a remarkable new treatment that combines Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) with Western medicine. The new therapy increased the five-year survival rate of patients with acute promyelocytic leukemia (APL) from 25 percent to 95 percent. In clinical trials, the Chinese researchers showed that arsenic trioxide, which has been used in TCM regimens for more than 2,000 years, is effective against APL. The treatment is now a standard for APL treatment around the world, China Economic Net reported, and "has turned one of the most fatal diseases into a highly curable one."

These and other studies show that China is becoming a real player in the global treatment of cancer, both with TCM and with modern Western-style medicine. The country clearly has one foot firmly planted now in the world of modern healthcare. But the other foot remains ensconced in its ancient healing traditions. And that's a good thing. 

We can learn a lot from China's ancient healing methods, and its modern medical ventures. And China and its 1.3 billion people can of course learn much from us. That is the future of medicine. Working together with some of the oldest and newest ways of healing. Many more people will be saved.