Wednesday, April 29, 2015

EXCLUSIVE: Is Country Music Superstar Tim McGraw Performing 'Secret' Concert Tonight on Coronado Beach?

Word today on the street, and the beach, is that country music megastar and actor Tim McGraw (left) will appear in concert tonight on Coronado Beach just outside the Hotel del Coronado. The stage is already built, and my sources tell me McGraw, who appeared and sang on Jimmy Kimmel Live last night in Hollywood, is performing, possibly at 9:00 p.m., possibly earlier.

But here's the rub, y'all: you and I are not invited. It's a private and supposedly secret performance held by one of the Hotel Del's clients, presumably a very rich one. This of course begs the question: Did this client really think word wouldn't get out about this show? In this age of social media, phone cameras and instant "news," how in the heck do you hold a secret function on a very popular beach on a crystal-clear San Diego day when temperatures are in the 80s? 

People walking by have already seen roadies unloading gear with McGraw's name on it. Do the math, folks. Coronado Beach tonight is gonna look a lot like The San Diego Zoo.  

This all puts the Hotel Del's PR and marketing folks, who I know well and who are very capable and ethical people, between a beach boulder and a hard place. Does the hotel upset its obviously wealthy client and go on the record with info about the show? Or does it not comment at all and appear as if it's not taking any responsibility for holding an event featuring one of America's most popular entertainers adjacent to a public beach?

Sara Harper, the Hotel Del's director of marketing, would neither confirm nor deny the McGraw appearance tonight. I got that confirmation from a local radio station and from Coronado locals who spoke with roadies unpacking McGraw's music equipment. But Harper did acknowledge that there is an event taking place this evening on the section of the beach that is owned by the hotel, and that the hotel's client is keeping the information about it strictly confidential.

"Our client is holding their private event on Hotel del Coronado property, not on the public beach area," she said. "We have held many events on Del Beach over the years similar to this and there have not been any issues. The City of Coronado is aware of the event as they oversee the public beach."

The Hotel Del would not detail which parts of the beach are private and public. But it looks like one big beautiful beach to me. And even if the stage and immediate area around it are on Hotel Del property, there's an enormous surrounding beach area still within eyeshot and earshot of the stage that is 100 percent public. 

In other words, fans of McGraw, a truly class act and loving husband and father of three daughters, will probably show up tonight on Coronado Beach in droves. Who can blame them? And if and when they do, should they not be given at least a general idea of where they can and can not hang their hats? I'm sure Tim will love it when he sees his real fans beyond the fences, ropes and cones.

I first found out about McGraw's appearance on Coronado Happenings, the largest social media site about Coronado on Facebook. The site has been talking about the McGraw rumors for a couple days. I made a few calls to confirm the appearance, then subsequently posted on the site and asked people to comment. 

It turned into a heated debate about who owns the beach. There are of course no dotted lines on the sand telling us where we can and can not go. But in the past, the hotel to its credit has been very good about letting folks traverse and enjoy the parts of the beach it owns.

None of this was meant to antagonize folks at the Hotel Del. It's a lovely hotel and beach and a favorite spot for me and my family, as I've noted in past stories. The folks who work there are cordial and professional. But perhaps the moneyed client who booked a music superstar to appear on a local beach should have realized that, these days, word travels fast about stuff like this.

Neither the hotel's client nor the best security force will be able to stop the potential stampede of country music fans when they make their way come hell or high water to Coronado tonight. 

Said Danielle Biggins McCurdy, "I'm sure the hotel will try to block off the walkway to detour people, but yes, the beach is public."

Added Coronado resident Bridget Dillen, "It's going to be crazy down there tonight, and I'm excited."

Friday, April 24, 2015

Dr. Oz, His Dinosaur Critics, and the Future of American Medicine

Oh, the hypocrisy. How sad and telling that Dr. Jack Fisher, a retired UC San Diego surgeon, would cite the first principle of bioethics, primum, non nocere (first, do no harm) in his arrogant and wrong-minded rant against his fellow surgeon, Mehmet Oz, better known to TV viewers simply as Dr. Oz. Fisher's smackdown was in a story this week in the UT-SanDiego newspaper about the growing controversy surrounding the popular TV host and physician. 

Although I am treated at UCSD and have some very caring and smart doctors, I've never met Jack Fisher. I can only assume that he is a kind and well-meaning man. But when it comes to matters of 21st-century healthcare, and giving patients in 2015 what they really want, Fisher is a dinosaur still roaming the earth.  

In an earlier version of the UT-SanDiego piece on Thursday, which was updated and substantially changed, Fisher admitted that he has virtually no knowledge of nutrition. He essentially dismissed natural supplements as having any legitimacy, and said he just watches his caloric intake and has a bike for exercise. Really, Jack? That's all you got for us in terms of how nutrition and exercise can help us and heal us? 

Fisher is one of a group of self-righteous, anachronistic physicians who are viciously attacking Oz when they should instead be looking in the mirror. He is clearly an avowed follower of The Grumpy Old-School American Doctor's Handbook, which says on Page One: "If it doesn't come from a pharmaceutical company, it has no merit and will probably kill you." 

This preposterously limited and cynical vision of healing, which is so 20th century, is sadly still preached in medical schools and doctors' offices. Most physicians, bless their hearts, have simply never been exposed to any other modes of thinking. They really can't be fully blamed. 
Med schools rely on pharma support, obviously, and vice versa. It's a deeply symbiotic relationship that often works for us, but can also work against us. 

Good drug companies doing heroic work

Let me say first for the record that while pharma-produced drugs are only one of many things that can help and heal us, they have of course saved and improved millions of lives, including mine. I am not anti-medicine or anti-pharma. On the contrary, I am very sympathetic with drug companies that are trying to do the right thing. 

And many of them are, against great odds. It is obscenely expensive and time-consuming to get a drug from the lab to your neighborhood pharmacy. It can cost as much as $1 billion and take a decade or even much longer. 

There are several drug and biotech companies that have new, less toxic and very exciting treatments for lymphoma, for example, either in the pipeline or recently approved. Some are working far below the radar. They include stellar companies such as Angelica Therapeutics, Genelux, Cellular Biomedicine Group, Spectrum, Innovent, and Casi Pharmaceutucals

Dr. Oz supports forward-thinking drug companies like these, as well. But as he points out regularly and rightly, patients want more than just the drug option. They want more choices. That isn't asking too much, is it? Thanks to an increasing patient demand, doctors in the new millennium are thankfully beginning to get the message. They're beginning to recognize the profound limitations in the American medical establishment. But it's a process. It won't happen overnight.

Patients want change. They've grown weary that what goes on in our doctor's office is still largely dictated by the Food and Drug Administration, which spends much of its time denouncing and destroying anything and everything it views as competition to the pharmaceutical industry. 

Stem Cell Therapy

That includes stem cell therapy, which has seen many remarkable breakthroughs in just the last few years. Traditional pharmaceutical companies are seriously threatened by stem cell therapy. As I have reported here, there have been many breakthroughs recently in the study of adult (non-embryonic) stem cells -- for cancer, repairing the heart and even the brain, and much more. 

But the national media has all but ignored them. Most news outlets still seem to prefer perpetuating the tired and false notion that all adult stem cell researchers are con men and all patients who enroll in adult stem cell clinical trials are fools. It's simply not the case. Not any more. 

Patients have a right to know this, but they are not hearing it from most of their doctors. And the media is not covering it adequately. Gee, could that be because traditional pharma spends literally billions in advertising?

Patients are also embracing natural supplements, which are a big reason why I'm alive today after being diagnosed with stage IV non-Hodgkin's lymphoma cancer 18 years ago and told I would be "lucky to live three years." I've survived three bouts with this freaking disease and am now in my fourth battle, with small lymph nodes in my abdomen that thankfully are not growing at present. This cancer is stubborn, but I'm more so.

Please don't misunderstand me. I am also very gratefully alive because of prescription drug treatments. I am deeply appreciative of the scientists and executives at these drug companies for making these treatments available to me and to others. 

And I have many very kind and intelligent doctors at UCSD, including a few that are even open to supplements and non-traditional treatments. 

But anyone who has the temerity to call himself a healer should embrace all things that can potentially help us heal, not just the very limited triumvirate of medicate, operate and irradiate. Times are changing.

Dr. Oz's poignant response to his critics

Mehmet Oz gets that. He knows that anything less is simply insufficient. “I don’t expect all of my colleagues to understand this marriage between conventional medicine and the broader definition of wellness that the show pursues,” Oz wrote Thursday for in a poignant and pointed response to his critics. “I expect and respect the criticism of colleagues who struggle with my approach and I try to improve the show accordingly.”

Oz continued, "I have spent my entire career searching for ways to lessen the suffering of my patients. The best and safest paths have generally been the traditions of conventional medicine. They are tried and true, well funded, and fast. But there are other routes to healing that offer wisdom as well, so I have been willing to explore alternative routes to healing and share any wisdom that can be gathered."

Oz went on to say that as a surgeon, professor, author and TV host, he believes that "unconventional approaches appear to work in some people’s lives. They are often based on long-standing traditions from different cultures that visualize the healing process in very different ways from our Western traditions."

Pretty hard to argue against that if you are an intelligent, enlightened, open-minded person who is able and willing to think out of the box. Does Oz get it right with this approach every time? No. Can he be a bit overzealous when he champions various nutritional or holistic products? Sure. 

But he is on the right track. Some doctors, like Jack Fisher, think what Oz does is dangerous. They say he should just stop. I hope he doesn't. Our health and the future of American medicine are at stake.

And it's important to know that Oz's traditional medicine credentials are superior to most of his harshest critics. He has a medical degree and an MBA. He studied at Harvard, Penn and Wharton. He has published some 400 scientific articles and papers with his colleagues, and he teaches surgery at Columbia. 

Charlatans in holistic medicine

I know all too well that there are charlatans on the holistic medicine side. But Oz isn't one of them. He is a traditionally and highly trained doctor who is simply trying to give people a broader idea of what can help them feel better and live better than they will likely ever get from their doctor.

The fact that some on the holistic side are crooks and scumbags just puts a little more pressure on patients like you and me to do our homework and separate the good from the bad as best we can. Just like we already do with traditional doctors.

For any doctor to chastise Oz for taking money from companies that he talks about on his show is laughably hypocritical. Can anyone reading this tell me with a straight face that the deep and longstanding financial relationships between doctors/hospitals and drug companies isn't a much greater and more dangerous conflict of interest and threat to our health than Oz talking about natural and generally harmless products on his show? 

It's interesting to learn a a bit more about Oz's physician attackers. As Oz notes, and should note, his doctor enemies include people like Henry Miller, a pro-tobacco industry type who's aggressively fought here in California to block genetically modified  food labeling. That doesn't sound very pro-patient to me. 

Another Oz attacker, he points out, Gilbert Ross, was found guilty of 13 counts of Medicaid fraud and now runs the American Council on Science and Health, which has reportedly gotten funding from big tobacco and agribusiness companies. Another four of the ten doctors who wrote a letter trying to get Oz fired are also doctors with links to this very, shall we say, unhealthy organization.

I believe Oz believes the things he says and that for the most part he is fighting the good fight. Some of the products he talks about do advertise on his show, because they know he is sympathetic to what they are doing. I'm not offended. I suspect there are many things that Oz would not accept on the show.

God Bless the USA and the FDA

Every day on television we are bombarded with commercials touting pharma-produced drugs that have a list of disturbing side effects that is so long it makes us dizzy just listening. I'm glad they are forced to list these side effects. But it's shocking what we are willing to put into our bodies isn't it?

The FDA has OK'd all kinds of drugs that have been used to treat millions of people, even if they are unconscionably toxic and only give the patient a few months extra time, and even if they give the patient a horrible quality of life and a plethora of unthinkable side effects. For what it's worth, chemotherapy almost killed me, literally.

Yet these same drug companies that are making such toxic and ineffective drugs, along with the FDA and too many of our doctors, are so hell-fire concerned about natural supplements that they feel compelled to warn us every day to stay away from them -- even though the overwhelming majority of these supplements are benign or only have very mild side effects.

It is so transparent, folks. Granted, there are great individual doctors and terrific individual drug companies, but the American medical establishment as it exists is not really concerned with searching for and finding anything and everything that can possibly heal us and sharing that information with us. It is about drugs and surgery and dollars.

I support many drug companies in this country and have for years. But I am fed up with anyone or anything that prevents me from finding and using whatever I believe can help me get well. I've done all kinds of so-called alternative medicine treatments for my cancer since I was diagnosed. It is without question one of the reasons I am still alive. 

There are good prescription drugs out there that help people in all kinds of ways. I happily take a pharma-produced drug every day to prevent blood clots, which almost killed me in 2012 when multiple clots invaded both of my lungs. It works well for me. 

I also am alive today in part because I enrolled against my then-oncologist wishes in a clinical trial for an experimental radio-immunotherapy drug for lymphoma called Bexxar.

That drug saved my life. But it was scrapped last year by GlaxoSmithKline because oncologists were not telling their patients about it and because Glaxo failed to market it effectively. Most cancer doctors did not have the special certification to use that radio-immunotherapy drug, so they just chose not to mention it to their patients, knowing that they would lose them as patients if they did. 

That was all about money, not about the efficacy of the drug or what was best for the patient. And the drug company did not do enough to relay this simple message to the national lymphoma patient community. 

GSK killed the drug, which worked better than any other drug for the most common type of lymphoma, the sixth most common type of cancer in the United States. It is a tragedy that this drug is gone. And oncologists and the drug company are to blame.

Why are so many potential treatments and cures never explored by drug companies and biotechs? It's real simple: You can't get a patent on something found in nature. 

For example, if there are anti-cancer properties in dandelions -- and yes, Traditional Chinese Medicine as well as some US studies suggest there are anti-inflammatory and other healing properties in dandelions -- a drug company won't waste its time researching that or doing clinical trials. No patent? No way.

Many things that we find in nature, even in our front yard, do have medicinal properties. But while many drugs are derived from plants, they have to be tailored in such a way that no one else can get a patent. If it isn't patentable, even a cure for cancer is of no interest to a drug company. It's not a conspiracy, folks, it's just Economics 101. 

Natural supplement companies, too, have no incentive to spend millions on clinical trials. So it doesn't get done, and we are left without knowing nearly what we could and should know about what can heal us.

Defending Monsanto is a deal-breaker, doc'

Meanwhile, back to Dr. Fisher, who also defended genetically modified foods in the UT-SanDiego piece. That is far more irresponsible than Dr. Oz's understandable skepticism about it or Oz's support of any natural supplement. 

Oz has never said that genetically modified food should be banned or condemned. He has simply said that it needs more study and that it needs to be labeled. He's right, of course. And many of the doctors who say he is wrong are making big bucks off of GM foods. 

Naturally, one of Oz's biggest critics is Monsanto, one of the the world's largest purveyors of genetically modified foods and one of the most despicable corporate citizens on the planet. Am I exaggerating? Nope.

Dr. Oz, I tip my hat to you. Any enemy of Monsanto is a friend of mine. Monsanto is responsible for Agent Orange, one of the most toxic herbicides in world history and one that has killed and sickened literally millions of American service men and women and Vietnamese civilians. Monsanto is also the makers of Roundup, the most popular weed killer on earth. It also happens to cause lymphoma cancer.

Corporate dregs like Monsanto are the ones that are organizing and paying for the studies that doctors like Fisher cite when pronouncing that Dr. Oz is a quack and that genetically modified food is completely safe. Monsanto has consistently fought against independent research of its GM crops, and does not provide independent scientists with seeds. 

The company sets very restrictive conditions that greatly limit anything resembling legitimate, objective, independent research. That is untenable. But many of Dr. Oz's critics are just wild about Monsanto.

The future of American medicine 

The future of American medicine is written on the wall, folks. Drug companies aren't going anywhere, nor should they. But the new model will force them to make better, less toxic, less expensive treatments that use the body's immune system to fight disease and do not leave the patient sicker from the drug than from the illness.  

The future of American medicine will look a like like what Dr. Oz is doing every day on his show. This is a highly educated man who has been trained in traditional medicine and taught at America's finest medical schools. He just happens to be a big believer in holistic and alternative ways to heal. 

It's what we now call alternative medicine, but before long it won't be "alternative" at all. Should natural supplements, too, be tested? Of course. It will be part of the new model. 

Dr. Oz is a living preview of what doctors will be like. He knows that the future of American medicine will answer to patient demands for doctors to do what he has already done: Get a clue about the entire machine called the human body and have a much deeper and better understanding of how nutrition, herbs and natural supplements power that machine.

The future of American medicine will not run from the fact that there are so many things beyond patented drugs, surgery and radiation that can help and even heal us. 

It will embrace it. 

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Baseball 2015: The San Diego Padres Will Make the Playoffs

Maybe A.J. Preller really is a mad genius. Preller, the preppy, indefatigable new general manager of the San Diego Padres, spends more time on his cell phone than my 15-year-old daughter. He never stops. I'm told he only gets a few hours of sleep each night. But there’s a method to his sleepless madness. Preller somehow managed to bring a boatload of talent this off-season to the hapless Padres, whose pitchers were great last year but whose offensive woes were too painful for this long-suffering Padre fan to rehash without having a nervous breakdown. A.J.'s work ethic since being named GM has been nothing short of otherworldly. It is borderline obsessive, maniacal, unbelievable. 

But in a good way. 

Thanks to A.J. and the players he’s assembled, it’s fun to be a San Diego Padres fan again. The four-game series against the defending World Champion San Francisco Giants over the weekend at Petco Park in Downtown San Diego, which the Pods took three games to one, was electric. It was as exciting and satisfying as any regular-season series I’ve witnessed in my 30-plus years as a Friars loyalist.   

And here’s the nut graf: it's not just talent that Preller has collected here. What he has done, and I think deliberately, is pick players with good character but with undeniable chips on their shoulders and perhaps some unfair marks against them.  

The thing I like most about this Padre team is that it's not just a collection of hired guns & arms. These are guys that have something to prove but, too, are very easy to root for. Not sure it’s possible to call a bunch of players who've put up fat stats and played in All Star games underdogs. But this group is just that. Call them Superstar Underdogs.

We're seeing a fast but real bond forming here, on and off the field. And it’s also happily infected the players who were here last year and remain. This is a very tight-knit group. And that's dangerous in the best of ways. 

Leadership Wins Games 

There are some clear new leaders already emerging. Some of them, like starting pitcher James Shields, were expected to play that role. Shields, a likable old-school workhorse who arrived from Kansas City, where he led the Royals to an unlikely World Series appearance last fall, is a force of nature, a positive influence on everyone in the clubhouse, not just his fellow hurlers. 

The somewhat less likely team leader who has very much established himself as such by his aggressive and smart play is Derek Norris, a solid, scrappy catcher from the Oakland A’s who doesn't take any crap and rarely lets a ball get by him. He can hit, too, and run. He has wheels and is not afraid to use them, and that's a rarity for a catcher. And did I mention that he doesn’t take any crap?

Then there are the two new offensive studs: Justin Upton and Matt Kemp. So far, both of these heavy hitters have lived up to expectations between the lines and exceeded them off the diamond. 

Upton, the relatively quiet but intense left fielder who crushed his second home run last night in San Diego's convincing 5-1 win over the Arizona Diamondbacks, has a commanding presence but is personable and has exhibited a surprising dry sense of humor. 

Right fielder Kemp, the physically gifted superstar on this team and longtime former Los Angeles Dodger, is the prototype -- or whatever you want to call him. And he's the so-called Hollywood guy. But as we are quickly learning, that's a bum rap.

Don't be fooled by Kemp's stint in Hollyweird or the fact that he dated superstar singer Rihanna. Yeah, Kemp is flashy, but he also happens to be the hardest worker on this new offense. He desperately wants to win a world championship and is ready and willing to work his ass off for it and persuade his teammates to do the same.

The guy is 30 and is running the bases early this season like a rookie pinch runner. I mean, WTF?

In Sunday's comeback win against the Giants, Kemp stretched a double into a triple by slowing down just slightly as he rounded second, which gave the defense the impression that he wasn't going to keep running. Then he turned on the afterburners and made it to third ahead of the throw. The crowd went wild. It was too cool. 

In the game last night, Kemp did it again. Slowly rounding second, he turned it up several notches and beat the throw to third with a head-first slide for another triple. So much for him being Mr. Hollywood. The guy’s a gamer. A winner. Don’t stop pushing, Matt. But please stay healthy.

Kemp and the rest of the Padres made a very loud and joyful noise by winning three games in a row against the Giants in the opening home series. Sunday's finale, which the Padres won 6-4 after trailing 2-0, was immeasurably important for this franchise. It was far more significant than the previous night's 10-run, 20-hit blowout.  

Why? Because it showed that the previous night’s offensive explosion was not an aberration. It showed that this team, unlike Padre teams of recent history, has the offense and the heart to come back from a deficit. It showed that these guys aren't complacent and don't have any desire to settle a series at .500. They want to dominate and win as many games as they can, especially against division opponents. 

The 2015 Padres Will Make the Playoffs 

Yes, yes, it's very early. But this club showed me something over the weekend and again last night that makes me think – no, know -- that this team is a contender. San Diego has had dismal Aprils for as long as I can remember. This one is looking much different.

Admittedly, after watching the first game against the Giants, which the Padres lost 1-0 in 12 innings, it was hard for me to keep the baseball demons out of my head. Like many Padre fans, I'm sure, I wondered to myself, "Will this be just like last year? Good pitching, but no hitting, in spite of all the new guys? Was there too much hype? Is A.J.Preller an agent of goodness or pure evil?" 

But Saturday's blowout, and the impressive offensive showings on Sunday and again on Tuesday, assuaged my fears. I'm all in.

The grand slam on Sunday by 37-year-old backup catcher Wil Nieves, which erased a two-run deficit and gave the Padres a lead they never vanquished, was off the charts. Watching that ball sail over the left field wall, I could barely contain myself. The crowd joined me. We all went absolutely nuts. 

It just felt symbolic. Meaningful. It felt as if that one homer meant that this team can and will win a lot of games this year. And yes, for the record, I sit in the stands, not the press box. I'm a fan and make no apologies.

Nieves' blast was arguably the biggest regular-season home run by a San Diego Padre since Steve Finley's game-ending salami back in April, 1998. I know that sounds like hyperbole. But think about it. Finley's slam was a huge boost to that legendary ’98 Padre team. It set the tone for a magical season that saw the Padres cruise to a National League West title, then beat Houston in the NL Division Series then Atlanta in the NL Championship Series.  

We won't dwell on what happened next against the New York Yankees. But hey, at least Tony Gwynn hit a homer in Yankee Stadium. 

I hope and expect that Nieves' homer is the first of many unsubtle, unambiguous statements by this team this season. Again, it’s early. But this team has the talent and the intangibles: clubhouse leadership, a wise and low-key player’s coach in Bud Black, a chip on its collective shoulders, something to prove, etc. 

It's a cliche' but this is a group of guys that seem to genuinely like each other and love coming to the ballpark. They know they’re good. They know what A.J. has done here. They don’t want to let the mad genius down. 

Camaraderie Isn't Something You Can Buy 

The 2015 Padres have the kind of energy, resolve and camaraderie that teams like the Dodgers simply lack, despite efforts by ownership up there to purchase it. Sure, L.A.’s loaded with high-priced stars. But generally speaking and with some exceptions, those players don’t enjoy a demonstrable sense of unity or focused desire to win at all costs. 

The Dodgers win a lot of games, but they choke on the big stage. They've not been to a World Series since 1988. It’s a drought that's lasted a decade longer than the Padres' dry spell, and the Dodgers have spent so many more millions trying to get back to the Promised Land. 

The Dodgers have a preposterous payroll. It’s the highest in Major League Baseball history at around $270 million. Are you kidding me? Meanwhile, the Padres’ payroll, even after the team's so-called spending spree this off-season, is just over a third of that at $109 million.

So unless you were born and raised in Chavez Ravine, you tell me which team is easier to root for: the overpaid, underachieving Dodgers or the underpaid, overachieving Padres?  

San Diego got off to an inauspicious start up at Dodger Stadium last week. The pitching was solid. But the offense was a case of "new players, same old lack of offense." The Dodgers took two of three. It was painful to watch. I was worried. But all that has changed in the last week. I can't wait for the teams' next showdown at Petco Park later this month.  

The opening home series against the Giants attracted the most fans for a four-game series in Petco Park history: some 170,000 showed up, and refreshingly unlike previous years, most were Padre fans. I was hoarse after that series. 

Each of the four games was exciting, for different reasons. The first two were pitching duels that ended with identical scores, 1-0. One was maddening (the one the Padres lost, of course). San Diego went 20 innings without a hit, then came back on Saturday and got 20 knocks.

Then the denouement: Sunday's comeback win, which included a sighting of that very rare beast: The Petco Grand Slam.   

Petco Park Is Your Friend 

Oh, yes, the enigmatic Petco Park. It's been a bit of an albatross for some. It has psyched out many a Padre player over the last decade. But I love the place. And clearly you can hit here if you don't let it get in your head that you can't.  

I wrote about the ballpark in Newsweek when Petco Park opened in 2004. No one had seen it yet, let alone hit in it. After I took the media tour, I was eager to see the Padres organization take advantage of this stunning new ballpark to attract great players. 

Despite the fact that it was clearly a pitcher's park and that I knew we probably weren't going to see too many homers, I believed that the future for the Padres was so bright you had to wear shades.

Then the darkness came. And when I say darkness, I mean the controversy surrounding then-owner John Moores. Everything kinda went downhill from there. The next regime tightened its purse strings and let future Hall-of-Famers like Adrian Gonzales walk. 

Enter Ron Fowler and his ownership group, who smarly hired Preller, the soft-spoken, benevolent insomniac who looks like a cross between a Princeton undergrad and an Encinitas surfer dude. 

Preller is the best and brightest thing to happen to the San Diego Padres since Larry Lucchino, the former GM in San Diego who is now CEO of the Boston Red Sox. Larry is another genius,as well as a persona hero and friend of mine.

Larry, who I profile in Hope Begins in the Dark, my book on cancer survivors, is largely responsible for Petco being built, and for the Red Sox' return to glory after so many disappointing decades. The guy is a gem.

And so is Preller, who with the support of the new ownership has mercifully decided to field a real winner in this town the way Larry did. What a difference a year makes. What a difference a new GM makes. 

I’ve said it before: San Diego is an underrated baseball town. San Diegans do love these Padres. But they haven’t had a whole to cheer about since the Moores era ended in scandal and the subsequent owners got miserly.

There's something special happening at Petco Park this season and it appears this is not a one-off. This team will be good for the long haul. And not only are the high-profile acquisitions (Kemp, Upton, Shields, Wil Myers, Craig Kimbrel) contributing, so are the guys who played here last year and are gladly still here (Tyson Ross, Andrew Cashner, Yangervis Solarte, Yonder Alonso, Wil Venable).

When all the rosin powder settles, I believe this team will be in the middle of the postseason mix. Yes, you can quote me. These guys are having fun out there, and that is what baseball is still all about. 

And these players have a city that is behind them and hungry to forget all the past Padre problems as well as all the current San Diego Chargers drama. Downtown San Diego is rocking. The Gaslamp District, the East Village, you name it. It has never been more alive. It’s the place to be right now. 

In other words, if you have trouble reaching me in my office anytime between now and early November, you know where to find me.

Thursday, April 2, 2015

Innovative New App For Cancer Patients Provides Glimpse Into the Future of Patient-Centric Medicine

When I was enduring chemotherapy for my stage IV non-Hodgkin's lymphoma, one of the greatest difficulties for me was dealing with the long spans between doctor visits. When you're fighting cancer, you can often feel lost in space. Like you've fallen into a Black Hole. At times I felt a million miles away from those who were trying to help me. 

It didn't help that my body reacted so badly to the cocktail of drugs I was taking. I had all kinds of side effects and could barely keep food down. I could only get out of bed on the good days. I knew the treatment was not going to be a picnic, but in the days following my first infusion I grew increasingly concerned that I did not have enough information about the meds, the pain, the low blood counts, fever, nausea, vomiting, etc.

And I know I'm not alone. As a patient advocate for the past 15 years, I've spoken with thousands of cancer patients who've lodged the same complaint. Virtually everyone who's had cancer knows that once you leave the hospital or doctor's office, the days when you have no direct line of communication with your physician and staff can be isolating and even frightening -- especially when you're dealing with a well-meaning but busy oncology office. 

But I've discovered a new patient-centric program that helps patients get the attention and service we need and deserve between treatments. I stumbled recently upon an innovative application designed specifically for cancer patients called iCancerHealthIt's a very cool and interactive platform that provides complementary modules that allow cancer patients to manage our situation even after we leave the hospital or doctor's office. It's all about meeting cancer patients' unmet needs, 24/7. And it helps the docs, too. 

Three-time cancer survivor Stacy Hobbs
A real-time mobile and web-based "app" that is free for all cancer patients and caregivers, iCancerHealth bridges the sometimes astronomically large gap between the clinic and the home. Stacy Hobbs (right), a registered nurse who spent five years in an oncology unit, was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2012 and is a three-time survivor. She was introduced to iCancerHealth when her oncologist invited her to review the app before the initial launch. 
She uses it every day. 

"I really love the app's pill box," she told me recently. "The reminders are great, especially for someone like me who has chemo brain. I also enjoy connecting with other survivors in the iCancerHealth community."

The app is the brainchild of Raj Agarwal, CEO of Medocity, the company behind iCancerHealth. A kind and intuitive man, Agarwal understands what cancer patients want, what we need, and what we lack. He gets it. "Living with cancer is hard enough," Agarwal said. "We're focused on improving the patient’s quality of care at home. Most healthcare providers just don't possess the tools, time and resources needed to transition care requirements to the patient’s home.”

Agarwal, who holds an MBA in Finance from NYU’s Stern School of Business and BS in Electrical Engineering, has spent the last 20 years in the healthcare industry. Part of that time was spent in the oncology and patient-care side, and part of it was spent on the pharmaceutical side. Agarwal is that rare bird: a smart businessman who is still deeply concerned about people who are suffering. He never lost touch with the hearts and minds of cancer patients during his many years working with pharma and oncology. He has in fact deepened his connection to us. 

Agarwal has a keen understanding that the future of cancer care will be patient-focused. There will be more personalized medicines and more specific, tailored treatments and care for individual patients. His new app is a glimpse into that future. It's something that Agarwal and his team have spent a lot of time perfecting. And it's still evolving to meet patients' needs.

Medocity CEO and iCancerHealth creator Raj Agarwal
Agarwal is adamant that it's what happens between doctor visits that really determines our health outcomes. It seems like a no-brainer, but this is not a concept that is widely understood or embraced. As someone who's spent the last 18 years preaching the gospel of "being your own best advocate," I can say with relative certainty that Agarwal's app will improve patient outcomes. And it certainly isn't anti-doctor. It actually makes the oncologist's job easier. 

"During the last two decades I've seen everyone focusing their efforts on physicians or hospitals," Agarwal said. "There's no support or care when the patient leaves the clinic. My idea was simple: 'Why don't we put patients at the center of care?' The patient is the one who is suffering, so you build it around that. Then you turn around the equation and it becomes more effective. That is the premise, which leads to the development of care for patients at home, which improves their outcomes."

The platform includes a Health Tracker, which monitors treatment progress, Medication Management to ensure compliance, My Diary, which includes a scrapbook of videos, images and voice entries, Social Community to exchange ideas and experiences, Education, with access to respected information resources, Nutrition to track daily meal and fluid intake, and more. Comprehensive reports can be emailed or printed for the next doctor visit. The lines of communication are far more open and immediate with iCancerHealth than with what patients are used to seeing. 

My hope is that this app, and others in the future, will eventually embrace supplements, herbs, and other natural products that can help a cancer patient fight his or her disease. This, too, is a significant part of the future of medicine and will be a part of every patient's arsenal in the near future. You're just going to have to trust me on this, folks. It is already happening. Patients are demanding it, and doctors are beginning to understand the obvious fact that it isn't just pharma-patented drugs that can heal us.

Another positive that the iCancerHealth app provides is that it avoids unnecessary costs in the system. "People who do not effectively manage symptoms end up in ER or they stop taking their meds because the side effects are not addressed or they forget," Agarwal said. "This program fills those gaps. You can detect early what is happening and allow for more proactive interaction. It can lead to less cost, it's good for patients and for the system, and as a country we can put more dollars into more productive care and research."

Some hospitals already allow patients to communicate with doctors and health care staffers, with programs such as MyChart at my cancer hospital, UCSD Moores Cancer Center. But iCancerHealth
takes this to a more efficient and much deeper level. Agarwal sees this model only getting more refined to the point where this type of virtual care will bring everything together in one platform and allow intelligence to naturally flow to one model from another model.

For example, when you seek information on nausea, that information goes to the nutrition side, which will include a recipe' related to nausea to help you know what you can and should eat. You also are connected to the social side where you can see blogs about nausea. "There will be even more customization as we progress along our development path," Agarwal pledged, "as we fine-tune the experience for patients."

Agarwal of course can't discuss in too much detail just how many hospitals are embracing the concept. But he did say the company is in discussions with many of the nation's top cancer clinics. I hope my hospital, which is indeed a fine hospital, recognizes the value of iCancerHealth. And above all else, Aragwal constantly seeks feedback from cancer patients. 

"We are speaking to patient advocacy groups, and to many organizations and cancer patients, to see how we can keep improving and just so we can receive more valuable information from the patient's perspective," Agarwal said. "The goal is to be a dynamic service, to constantly improve."

And cancer patients are embracing Agarwal's concept. JoAnn Smith, who was diagnosed with breast cancer in May 2009 and had a mastectomy and endured chemo and radiation, was cancer-free for six years. But she is now dealing with a recurrence in the same area where the breast was removed. She just recently started using the iCancerHealth app.

"It's very helpful keeping things straight with your meds, what you're eating, how your feeling, etc," Smith said. "While we are getting treated sometimes we don't realize if we have taken our meds, eaten, or even when are emotions are out of order. I have been using the app for about two weeks and find it very helpful."