Did I Just Learn the Cure for Cancer?

Today was a rather uneventful day. I did contact a number of my patients and found out that most of them had been approved for the grants that I applied for last week. I have helped to raise almost  $6,000, bringing me more than half way to my goal of $10,000. The most significant event of the day was a lecture that I attended. The subject of the speech was nutritional intervention therapy. I hoped that by attending, I could learn some alternative tactics for helping patients battle cancer.

I immediately knew that it would be an interesting meeting because the speaker spent the first fifteen minutes prefacing the lecture by saying that his research is quite controversial. His research supposedly proved that all animal-based products were a major factor in the development and progression of cancer. In one of his tests, he exposed two groups of rats to large amount of a known cancer-causing carcinogen. He then fed one group a 5% protein diet and the other group a 20% protein diet for 100 weeks or about two years. The results are extremely conclusive; all of the rats in the 20% protein group died and none of the rats in the 5% protein group died. When examining the rats’ on a molecular level,  substantial evidence was shown within the first few days. While cancer cells were quickly developing in the doomed group, the other rats were becoming healthier and staying cancer-free. Years later, he tested humans that had different stages of a variety of cancers. His results were almost identical, the less animal-based proteins that were consumed, the better the patient’s outcome was.

This caused him to develop his idea for an unprocessed, whole-food, plant-based diet. To quote the speaker, “casein is the most significant carcinogen that we consume.” Casein makes up 80% of the protein in cow’s milk. This diet is supposed to prevent and/or cure not only cancer but a variety of diseases including both types of diabetes, and heart problems. Now with that being said, I believe that this is completely absurd. The results of his studies were too perfect to be true. Researchers seldom get that conclusive evidence for their thesis. I am not the only person who believes this either. Once I told Trish, she emailed the Penn oncology nutrition specialists and told them about this man’s research. She agreed that the results were most likely not true.

Despite what I and some of the other doctors believe, this raises a few very important questions. What if? What if he is right about everything that he researched? What if I just learned the remedy for some of the worst diseases afflicting humans today? This is obviously worth pondering. The benefits clearly outweigh the almost non-existent risks. In the future, I would like to try to only eating a whole-food, plant-based, not processed diet for a period of time. Who knows what benefits it could have for me and the worst thing that could possibly happen would be that I don’t like the diet and I switch back. That doesn’t seem too bad.


There Are People Here

Since I’ve written, my days have been packed tightly with religious sites, museums, debkah dancers, falafel, shwarma, lectures, refugee camps and that just skims the surface. Most all of these places and moments were moving, including and especially my first drink of Arab tea. 
All of these incredible experiences, however, did not give me the same connection with the conflict or the land as the people here who I ate olives with– not heard lectures from or toured with, but the people who leaned in to kiss me on both cheeks and sat down with me and told me about their lives.

Abi means father in Arabic. This is what I called my host-dad from Beit Sahour. After our dinner together in a fancy restaurant, Abi strutted right in, draped in old flannel pajamas and cozy slippers. In the house, he insisted we saw it as our own; he force fed us meals, called us his children, taught us silly games, and most importantly introduced us to WWE. He watched it every night for hours, our whole family did. He’d shout at the screen endearingly, “Habibi! Habibi!” or “My love! My love!” whenever a wrestler did something extraordinary. Abi’s quirky but entirely hospitable personality made him all the more adorable, when he sat legs crossed in the corner of the couch cheering at the screen. Every so often Abi would take out rolling papers and fancy tobacco and roll his own cigarettes, then go out to smoke one. In the middle of this action, he asked us to join him on his back porch; he needed to show us something. The four Westtown students and his children followed him out back, where he pointed to Jerusalem. “We have a lovely view of Jerusalem.” He said with a heavy accent. “We used to I mean, before the settlement.” He then directed our attention to the hills in between his home and the home of Jerusalemites. The hills were covered in a major settlement, one that did not keep good relations with the neighboring villages. He stuck his chest out in effort to adjust his pride. “How am I supposed to see this as my land when Israeli’s are growing increasingly near? This is an illegal settlement. You see that wall?” He took in a loaded deep breath. “That wall marks where our land starts. And they don’t even care.” He brought us back inside because of the cold night’s air. “I love the Jews. Jesus teaches us to love all people. And the Israeli’s are people who I love, when I work out there, I spend the night in my Jewish friend’s house. No problem. The problem is in the politics.” He went on to speak more about this, the politics of the situation. Just as I began to think I was figuring this whole thing out… I hade hope, but seeing Abi swell with sorrow made me lose it a little. His whole self got bigger with sadness and deflated with hopelessness. He was the first person who really touched me.

The second person that really touched me was a liberal hands-in-their-pockets type-of-guy named Joe. Joe is twenty-one years old, and a German/Swiss man who comes to Palestine frequently because he feels a connection with the people. Joe is crazy. He was the first person we have really gotten to hang out with. Truth be told, this gave him an advantage in becoming our friend. He had a great sense of humor and had all the girls laughing. But he also told us the truth about the little things we couldn’t get in lectures: what exactly we dipped our pita in, what the colors stand for in the flag and he told us his own stories about the brothers he has gained here. Whenever he spoke, every girl at the table leaned in with complete interest in catching every word. Our Westtown boys thought we were smitten with him, when truthfully we just felt more real and connected to his perspectives then to the usual lectures (which, don’t get me wrong, are completely fascinating.) What Joe told us didn’t shock us like a tidal wave, it slowly lured us in to this way of life and he gave us time to process it. Being able to relate to a “local” woke us up from the rhythm we had become used to.

Now, I’m in bustling Ramallah with my habibti, Dalia. I’ve met people my age and had really genuine conversations about their place in the conflict and my place too. It feels powerful to not know everyone’s names but know their stories from the second Intifada. The fact that we are all so willing to jump right into that conversation makes me feel the strength behind the hope. There is a purpose to why we are becoming friends. I have come to realize now more than ever, how I will not be able to un-live these experiences. They have begun to affect how I view my future, the media, my place in the conflict, my government’s responsibility in the conflict…. It’s heavy stuff. But what I’m getting at is that I’m carrying these two weeks and these people with me forever.


It is so incredibly disturbing to me that this kind of oppression is present in the world and is dictating so much of US Foreign Policy—why is the U.S. letting this happen? Check out the BDS movement and consider participating. Also, watch Occupation 101. So much more to say, so little words to say it in, so many languages to translate this message to…

Thinking about Death (not morbid)

(Despite the title, this entry is not very morbid; I promise.) Today was an unusually quiet day. Monday is the day where I am the only volunteer and on top of that, Trish had a number of meetings. I spent a majority of my time with two patients but saw six in total. One of the people who I only visited for a brief amount of time had just found out that his cancer was more serious than he had previously anticipated. As a result of learning that he was terminal, he was more anxious than he normally was (His doctor told me that he had a history of anxiety). Trish and I gave recommended him a few different types of counselors and some group therapy sessions. Later on, I saw a different patient and gave her a five wishes from. This form instructs the medical staff what to do if a patient is not able to make educated decisions for themselves. It gives certain trusted family members the power to make decisions about the patient’s future, for example whether or not doctors should try to resuscitate them when they die. This also deals with taking patients off of life support or “pulling the plug”.

This made me think about if I was in my patient’s situation. I am not sure how I would handle receiving the news that I had terminal cancer. I’m pretty sure that I would be anxious too and I would not want to fill out the five wishes form because it would make death seem more immediate, more real. Understanding what my patients are experiencing will be my most difficult task during my senior project by far. Almost every patient is in a similar situation. Every case of Gastrointestinal cancer is serious. There is no stage zero cancer. Even the most optimistic patient must occasionally wonder if at their next appointment, they will be told that the cancer has won. I need to always remember this when I am with patients. They are constantly battling for their lives and simultaneously trying to achieve a state of normalcy. To quote a patient that I saw today, “I just want to get to here (she moved her hand horizontally). I don’t care if it’s up here, down here or somewhere in the middle. I just want to plateau.” That is my job, my only job. To provide raise them money, get them respite vacations and to sit down and talk with them. I just want to get their minds off of cancer and illness and alleviate all of their other problems. I just want to get them “here”.


“Somos los Mismos”

Well, it’s officially been one week since I arrived in Barcelona for my senior project! It’s quite incredible to think that I’ve already spent seven days here, completely absorbed in Spanish culture.  How do I even begin to describe all the places I’ve visited, all the things I’ve seen, and all the connections I’ve made? Honestly, I could go on and on, so instead I will try to summarize my experience thus far.

To begin, I -as well as the Westtown group- have visited almost every corner of the city in Barcelona. I’ve learned about the city’s history, seen the cathedral, toured the museum of modern art, and explored a number of the city’s neighborhoods. Tomorrow, we are going to learn about the modern architecture of the city, including the work of Gaudi. Most importantly for me, I’ve witnessed the everyday life and culture of Barcelona. This past weekend, for example, my host’s mother took me out around the city and for lunch I got a taste of Spanish tapas, a classic Spanish dish. They were delicious!

While we were eating, my host mom and I began talking about the differences between the lifestyle of Spain and of the United States. As we noted these differences, we also discussed that, aside from the differences in language and culture, people from the United States are no different from people from Spain. “Somos los mismos” was what my host mom said. In English, this means “we are the same”. Certainly, I’ve heard this idea repeated over and over again in school, but for whatever reason this conversation has stuck with me. Perhaps for me to comprehend this idea it was necessary for me to go away, leaving my homeland entirely and living with a different family. Whatever the reason, my host mother couldn’t have phrased it better. Indeed, my comfort with my host family is a clear indication that, aside from our linguistic and cultural differences, we all share many things in common with one another.

On the days when I haven’t been touring Barcelona and other sites, I’ve been attending classes at AULA. I have to say, things are a bit different from what I expected. After all, when I first arrived, I thought I was going to be able to take art classes such as drawing or photography in school. Contrary to what I thought, there aren’t any art classes at AULA! Students that want to do art have to do it outside of school because there is simply no time in the day for these kinds of classes. As a result, the artistic part of my project will have to be limited to what I do outside of school. I’ve been taking photos with my digital camera, as shown in my last post. I haven’t had enough time to use my film camera yet, but I plan to bring it along for my next visit in the city.

On a final note, the students at AULA are quite kind. This past Friday, we all went out as a class to visit the ruins of Ampurias as well as the small town of Cadaqués. The more time I spend with these students, the more comfortable I’m becoming with speaking Spanish to them. Many people have commented that I speak Spanish really well which has been the quite the confidence booster! Overall, I’m going to miss my host family and the AULA students when we leave for Madrid this coming Monday.

That’s about all for now! I hope to post again soon.



We are currently waiting in the train station for our train to Toledo. The three days that we have just spent in Madrid have been so full that they seem to have blurred together into one. The past three days have been filled with lots of introductions: we have met so many beautiful and loving people. Before traveling to Spain I had begun exchanging emails with our church’s Madrid representative, Marina. Marina met us at the airport after our flight from Barcelona. She was wonderfully generous with her time, escorting us to our apartment and organizing a gathering on Saturday with other members of our church to welcome us to Madrid. Marina’s generosity and kindness was inspiring.

In Madrid we saw the Royal Palace and we also sat in on Sunday mass in La Cátedral de Almudena. Both structures were strikingly immense. As we toured the inside of the palace I was struck by the fact that human beings have an amazing ability to create beauty. I was also reminded, as we passed through a room dedicated to the conquest of the Americas, that human beings have a remarkable ability to destroy.

I have spoken a lot of Spanish in the past several days! I have learned, however, that the most important things can be communicated without words. Yesterday we ate lunch with Polina and Olga, both members of our church and both from Russia. Although Polina’s English was very good, that of her mother, Olga, was not. Despite a language barrier we were able to communicate and share with each other about our very different lives. One of the things which I came to appreciate about Polina and Olga was their ability to cope with their isolation. These women live in a city that is incredibly distinct and almost shockingly different from their home in St. Petersburg, Russia. Within Madrid they are surrounded by a different language and culture. While my mom and I are also surrounded by this different language and culture our stay is temporary. Mom and I are experiencing the sensation of being strangers in a strange land by choice. For two weeks we are out of our natural element and for two weeks the exciting sensation of being somewhere foreign is still fresh. Polina and Olga have been living in Spain not for two weeks but for two and a half years. For them the foreignness isn’t temporary: it’s their everyday reality.


A Clash

Yesterday morning we recieved news that a Palestinian man had been shot and killed at the Temple Mount and that there were other clashes at a check point not far away. The first thing we did on our first full day in Jerusalem was visit the Dome of the Rock, located in the center of Temple Mount. Religion meets religion on either side of a massive old stone wall, the Western Wall. On one side is the hub of Islam and on one side of the wall itself is a sacred prayer space for Jews. We have been fortunate to visit both despite the recent clash of cultures. It was interesting to visit the Western Wall after the shooting, having visited the Dome about four days prior to the shooting.

The image of this place is still so clear. The sky that day was so blue, just like the intircate mosaic tiling that enveloped the walls of the temple and the golden dome obsorbed the sun and warmed the sand-colored terrace surrounding it; this was a holiness I haven’t felt before in the simplicity of a meeting house. I remember seeing Israeli soldiers for the first time in this space–  a pack of green jackets and big guns. It seemed weird that they would occupy a place of prayer, but there are a lot of unsual things about this city. There guns, surprisingly didn’t trigger fear; perhaps, this is because we were walking past quickly or perhaps it was because, these soldiers are my age and their activity seemed more like hanging out with friends, playing their Ipod and people watching.

Hearing the news of the clash, I pictured the hundreds of Muslims leaving Mosque friday afternoon and the Jewish extremists who had come to take over Temple Mount. I pictured the stone throwing and rioting that took place in response to their actions and the tear gas and rubber bullets used to prevent further rioting. The violence seemed to contrast so deeply with the purpose and teachings of both religious spaces.

Five or six days now, since we visited Temple Mount and two days since the shooting, we visited the Western Wall. There were more than three times as many soldiers present as there were last time, and all looking more serious. Women and men are seperated for prayer. My girls and I covered are hair in scarfs and entered this sad and hopeful space. From a distance it looks like a wall people are merely touching or kissing and praying in front of. Coming closer, you see  there are hundreds of little rolled up prayers wedged in the crevices. After the recent clashes in the area, I wrote in hope that one day the people in this historical courtyard would not need their prayer to be accompanied by guns and soldiers. One day, the two people could pray together.

After the Western Wall, we went to an orginazation called Rabbis for Human Rights. Since I have allready gone into such details about other events I will keep this breif. Basically, I came out of this meeting and discussion very inspired and hopeful. They were against human rights violations not just against Palestinians but other areas in Israels flawed democracy. Key word: democracy. Arik emphasized this point, that he was lucky to be living in a democracy, there are many places in the world where we could have been arrested just for having the conversation we had. (on the other hand my host family argues Israel is not a democracy… but thats another story.) Arik said many things that stuck with me and here are the highlights:

-If schools on both sides continue to teach hate, there is no chance for a peace treaty
-Either the two countries will live here together or die here together
-Very basic Jewish teaching: people can change. Never discount the power of truth that is in our hearts.
-In a democracy, some are guilty, but ALL are responsible

I will share stories of my first host family tommorow.


Day Six

This morning we went to a Lutheran church service (given in English) at the Church of the Redeemer in Jerusalem’s old city. We walked through the old streets full of merchants selling their souvenirs. I’m trying to gauge prices for items I want to buy for people at home. We walked to a small lunch spot for falafel and some of the best humus I’ve had.

We then went to the office of Rabbis for Human Rights (RHR), a watch group established on the ideals of Judaism as the founders saw them. The founder that spoke to us was raised in Pennsylvania surrounded by the idea that Judaism is about universal compassion and justice. The Israeli declaration of independence calls for equality for all people, regardless of race, religion, gender, etc; the RHR tries to see where Israel has succeeded or has not yet succeeded on these grounds. The declaration implies to me that the State of Israel was founded around the Jewish people, not the Jewish religion. I just realized also that the 1/8th rule applied for Israeli citizenship (based on the 1/8th rule used by the Nazis) allows for a diversity of people, as not all those killed in the Holocaust were practicing Jews. But I digress. Back to Rabbis for Human Rights.

According to the man who spoke to us, RHR was started during the first Intifada because the state of Israel seemed to be interested only in supporting the laws of the Shabbat and the dietary laws. The founders of RHR were interested in creating a Rabbinic presence to stand up on real issues. As he said today, true Zionism should be about creating not just a militarily strong nation, but a morally strong nation. RHR tries first to work within the democratic system of Israel’s parliament (which is arguably stronger than our own as a democracy) to affect change in policy, but is certainly not limited to that. They do fieldwork, go through courts and practice civil disobedience if need be. Talking about his work against Israeli home demolition of Palestinian houses, he said, “As a man sworn to uphold the Torah, there is no choice but to stand in front of the bulldozer.” Inspiring. He went on to say that we expect justice and mercy from God, but we are in no such place if we do not practice these tenants to the best of our abilities ourselves. He also said that the majority of both the Palestinian population and the Israeli population say that they want peace and a solution, but believe that the other side does not. This is clearly because there are limited images of each side to the other besides the extremists (the Shas and Hamas). Quick side story about this guy: he saw a young Palestinian man by the Separation wall being beaten by the IDF, and felt called as a Jew, Rabbi and Zionist to go to him and bear witness to the injustice. He walked through tear gas to the young man, who was strapped to a car’s windshield while being beaten, but was then grabbed by another soldier by the neck and head butted, being told “You’re under arrest! You’re under arrest!” He was then handcuffed and held on the hood of another car. Fortunately, the media was there and it became international news in journals including Newsweek. The young man was later reported to have said, “I was being beaten but then a tall man with a beard and Kippah told me not to be afraid.” Now that young man, wherever he is, knows that there are good Jews in the world. The Torah says something along the lines of, “if you change the life of one man, it’s like changing the world.”

Final quotation of the day: “In a democracy, some are guilty, but all are responsible.”-Rabbi Herschl

cat count: 7


Day Five

Left Ramat Hashofet this morning for Nazareth, where we first visited the church built on top of the ruins of Mary’s house. There were many mosaics up both inside and outside the church, all donated by different countries. They all appeared to be heavily influenced by each country’s traditional artistic styles, but each one for the most part depicted white Jesus and Mary. Japan’s mosaic, though, depicted Asian Jesus and Mary, and it took me a minute to realize that that was more geographically accurate than white Jesus and Mary. How has Christianity come to such a place that the Messiah is not even depicted as he really was? What else has been changed from the real guy? I won’t get into my personal views on religion here. Another thing I thought of was the religious significance of God having made Adam from dirt, while using a woman, Mary, to create Jesus…something about Sacred Feminine concept…

After that, we toured “Nazareth village,” the colonial Williamsburg of Nazareth. It was a working grape, olive and goat farm set to mimic Jesus’s setting. Appropriate, since his childhood home was a few minutes away. In fact, the wine he drank on Shabbat was probably from that farm, as it was built on the excavated remains of an actual farm found there.

On our way to Jerusalem, where we are again tonight, we stopped at a few churches around the Sea of Galilee, such as those built around the Beatitudes spot, the loaves & fishes spot, and the Jordan River Baptism area.

It was relaxing to get a day away from much mention of the conflict, but at the same time, it’s always in the back of our heads. There were clashes here in Jerusalem in the Old City, which we’re not far from, last night, as well as in Ramallah, where we’ll be in a few days (?). Because Friday is such a big day for Muslims, and the closeness of Al Aqsa to the Western Wall, these clashes are most common on Fridays. Looks like things have calmed down and we should be fine for the rest of our trip…probably.

(Seriously though mom, we’re fine.)

cat count for yesterday: 4

today: 3


Photos – Cadaqués and Barcelona

Here are some photos I’ve taken of our visits in Cadaqués and Barcelona. I’ve touched them up a bit and I’m sorry I don’t have more with people!! Thanks to my photo class, I’ve become more focused on taking pictures of my surroundings rather than of people I’m with. Anyway, I will see if I can put up some photos of me and the rest of the group sometime soon. Hope you enjoy!