To begin, in order to give context to the beginning of this blog, I should give you a brief account of my recent history. Presumably, I will fill in more details in later posts as it appears appropriate. I am usually a pretty private person, so this is a big step and not one I take without major trepidation.
Breast cancer robbed me and my kids of my amazing wife, Liesl, in 2014. Of course, there is a mountain of pain, suffering, stress, endurance, deciding that I would live again, standing up, being crushed again, starting over, and so on that are connected with this painful tragedy. But, I cannot do it justice in this introduction and so I leave it at that for now.
During her final year and increasingly afterwards, I began changing my diet, removing processed foods and focusing on whole, unprocessed, unpackaged foods. For a couple of years, I was also vegan, Nutritarian to be precise. I also began exercising, a lot. At first, I ran, every morning, sometimes twice a day. I got pretty good and was feeling pretty good, but was unhappy with my body composition and wanted more. And then, I discovered CrossFit and fell in love. I was getting stronger and fitter. I could feel it and see it. I felt great! During this time, I was convinced to add meat back into my diet, but I still remained whole, unprocessed, unpackaged food for the most part.
During the summer of 2018, I felt great. I felt like I was in my 30's again, while chronologically I was nearing my mid-40's. I remember being on vacation in Cancun, jumping off cliffs into a cenote near Chichen Itza, thinking how amazing it was that I could do things like this again. In fact, I remember at one point during this vacation feeling down about being a widower and being alone, but thinking to myself, "well, at least I've figured out my health." That felt so good, so right. And, then, shortly after getting back from vacation, I injured my back.
Sadly, it started as a weightlifting injury. At this point, my mid-back had some sort of muscle problem that pulled funny on one of my vertabrate in a way that made it feel like my back was breaking (although it wasn't). This caused me a great deal of anxiety. I could no longer lie on my back or sit in many seats without great pain. Unfortunately, I took the advice that I found on the internet to wait 6 weeks to see if it resolved on its own. It didn't. I then went to my doctor who told me it was too soon and I should have waited 8 weeks. I have a lot to say about the low level of primary care (though not necessarily of the doctors who are partly victims of the system), but that would take me too far afield. So, I will make this brief.
Early the next year, as if things weren't bad enough already, I slipped on the black ice and truly, deeply hurt my lower back. I went from the top of a few stairs to the concrete sidewalk in front of my house. I didn't know what happened at first, but I started having a lot of lower back pain. Finally, a few months later, I got an x-ray and discovered that I had spondylolisthesis. My pars interarticularis of L5 broke off and the L5 vertebrate slipped forward a small amount relative to S1. And, because of the slippage, it was permanent. If they stabilized it enough to move it back into position and have the pars interarticularis heal, L5 and S1 would fuse. Luckily, it was only grade 1, which is the least bad version. But, it was psychologically devastating.
After doing a ton of research, I slowly started to turn things around with exercises that strengthened my core. It was a long, long process with little visible improvement from week to week, but over a year or so, I finally started to feel like I could do a lot of things again. I still had daily pain, but I was starting to feel optimistic about life again. Nevertheless, I was still nervous about anything that could hurt my back worse. This spring, I noticed a leak from my 1st level roof into my garage. Because of my back, I hired a guy to come look at it, then I hired him to come back and fix it. And, then the pandemic happened and everything came to a screeching halt. The guy never came and my roof continued to leak. So, finally, I decided I had to do it myself. I was very careful as I stepped out of my 2nd-floor window onto the 1st-floor roof and walked around to the window and began caulking where I thought he told me. Although I was doing my best to be careful, my mind became absorbed with the caulking and I forgot that the 1st-story roof ended under the window and I fell off the roof.
Fortunately, as far as I can tell, I didn't hurt my back any worse. Somehow, in the fall, I protected my back and fell on one hand and one foot. The other hand and foot kind of scraped off the roof as I fell and came down later. In any case, I landed on concrete and broke the 3 middle metatarsals of my left foot and my thumb. The thumb bones were separated and required a pin to be surgically inserted. I got the pins pulled out after a month or so and started physical therapy. It went really well and although it still hurts sometimes, I can do most everything with it now. It doesn't affect me too much. However, my middle finger, because of the inflammation, developed a cyst on the sheath surrounding the tendon that pulls the finger. Keeping this brief, the doctor told me it would never heal but that there was no urgency and I could wait as long as I liked before doing a surgery. I decided not to do the surgery but to be careful with it. Indeed, most of the time, I hardly even notice it. But, it is always there threatening to become worse at any time.
The foot did not need surgery, but I had to stay off it for about 3 months. The bones of my foot finally healed and I started physical therapy, but developed Morton's neuroma. And, then my other foot started developing Morton's neuroma, I guess from overusing it during this time? I got Cortisone injections in my left. Each time, he had to inject two spots without anything more than a making my foot cold with a spray. The pain the first time was nearly more than I could bear and the second time, I actually screamed it hurt so bad. But, my left foot did finally calm down. My right foot still acts up, but I am able to walk a mile at a time again, finally, though not more. Both feet are still affected, although it has been almost a year since the fall. When will this end?
I started my exercises again during this recovery, slowly ramping up. Finally, at the end of the summer, I was beginning to feel optimistic again. I had to be very careful with my feet, so between my back and my feet, I was severely limited in what I could do, but I was making progress again and that felt good. Then, I was helping to move a heavy piece of furniture. I was being extremely careful, or so I thought, and indeed, I didn't hurt my back or my feet. But, I got a small hernia just above my navel. Are you kidding me?! So, now the only exercise I am doing is low-level stationary bike and walking. Sigh. I have surgery coming up two days before Christmas and am planning to get that fixed.
But, I was also experiencing other abdominal pain and the CT image showed an enlarged prostate. What? This time, I couldn't chalk it up to an injury that could have happened to anyone. It was just old age, pure and simple. No amount of psychological gymnastics could escape the awful reality. I had been telling myself that all the other injuries could have happened to anyone, even young people. And, they can. But, the frequency and the ease of getting injury, the slow painful recoveries and finally the enlarged prostate all came crashing down on me. In addition to having an unfortunate string of accidents, I am just plain getting old and my body is not recovering as well as it used. I just have to accept it.
But, wait a minute, do I have to accept it? During this entire 2 year period, people have been shrugging their shoulders and telling me, I'm getting old. That's part of life, they tell me, and they laugh at my stupidity. Duh, they all think, I have to slow down and I have to accept that this is just part of life. But is it? For millennia, or more, people have been contemplating the absolute crap that we call old age. Weak muscles, brittle bones, painful joints, low energy, and in our modern age, cancer, dementia, diabetes, heart disease, hypertension, ... and many more disabilities and diseases are par for the course in old age. Is that really ok? Is it really acceptable? Do we just have to grin and bear it?
For millennia, the answer has been yes. Many have sought the fountain of youth in various forms, but of course, found nothing and had to resign themselves to the deterioration and decrepitude of aging. Their ideas were fanciful at worst and based on faulty "scientific" ideas at best. Nobody knew why we aged. They didn't know the root causes and they had no way of attacking the root causes. So, any attempt was doomed from the beginning. However, and this is very important, we do not now live in such a helpless era.
In parallel with this previous story, about 10 years ago, I picked up the book "Ending Aging" by Aubrey de Grey. In this book, Dr. de Grey outlined the 7 pillars of aging, the 7 fundamental sources that caused aging. Each pillar, he claimed, was a form of molecular and cellular damage that takes place over our lifetimes. In the beginning, the amount of damage is small and our bodies have evolved to deal effectively with it. However, in later life, the damage accumulates to the level that our bodies cannot deal effectively with it and we begin to decay. Since we had already had children by this point, and we often had been killed by a predator or fighting or disease, etc., evolution couldn't be bothered to find ways to fix this damage that does not significantly impact us until we are old.
In this book, he thoroughly describes each pillar and, furthermore, he outlines a realistic plan for dealing with each form of damage. Our metabolism, which both gives us life and also creates the damage, is excruciatingly complex, so we cannot hope to effectively meddle with our metabolism without undesirable consequences in the immediate future. However, he points out, that is not necessary. We do not need to understand the minute technical details of our car in order to maintain it. We simply change the oil regularly, fill the tires, make other minor repairs and occasionally repair parts that are worn out. He calls this the engineering approach. We should consider each form of damage and find "regenerative therapies that remove, repair, replace, or render harmless the cellular and molecular damage that has accumulated in our tissues with time."
Dr. de Grey developed these ideas around the turn of the millennium and since then, although our understanding of them has deepened, nobody has found any major flaws in his reasoning. Indeed, greater and greater numbers of people, including academics, investors, and politicians as well as many of the rest of us, have begun flocking to his cause. They have begun to realize that, not only is this possible, not only are we nearing the tipping point, but its timely arrival depends on our collective efforts. Whether it happens sooner, and relieves the suffering of aging around the world, or later and many more people must suffer needlessly, including ourselves and our loved ones as well as others around the world, depends on how much effort and attention we give this movement.
There is so, so much more to say about this and so many questions, doubts, and fears we might have about such an undoing of the effects of aging, but this blog post is already becoming much longer than I planned, so I will save it for many more posts in the future. Suffice it to say, I was blown away. I saw life through a new lens. However, at this time, I was a postdoctoral researcher with very little money and very little I felt I could contribute, not to mention that I was passionate about my own subject, theoretical particle physics. So, I put it on the back burner and watched it from time to time. When Amazon began their "Smile" campaign, I also linked my smile Amazon account to the SENS Research Foundation, and made my infrequent purchases with smile.amazon.com.
When my wife passed, I switched my smile Amazon account to the American Cancer Society for a year or two, but as time progressed, I cam back to the deeper understanding of SENS (Strategies for Engineered Negligible Senescence). As a nation, we have been spending gigantic amounts of money on cancer, gigantic amounts of money on Alzheimers and large amounts of money on each individual disease of old age. But, consider that before we had a unified understanding of infectious diseases, we ineffectively attacked each infection disease in a strangely unique way. After we understood the common causes, namely bacteria and viruses, we began to understand that there was a common effective way to attack these. This revolution began with hygiene and was later joined by antibiotics and vaccines. With this attack on the common root causes, infectious diseases plummeted and our lifespans nearly doubled.
The same is true of the disabilities and diseases of aging. In the past, we have been treating each of the myriad of problems in a unique, non-unified way. Unfortunately, even if we succeed in curing cancer, something else will pop up to take its place. The same is true of Alzheimer's and each of the other diseases of old age. However, if we recognize all these disabilities and diseases of aging as clustered around the one driving disease of aging itself, we begin to realize that what we really need to do is attack aging. If we succeed in curing aging, all of the long list of disabilities and diseases of aging will fall with it, just as all the infectious diseases dropped precipitously as higher levels of hygiene, antibiotics and vaccines were utilized.
Aging is not just "natural", a state separate from the diseases associated with it, it is the core disease, the master disease that creates all the other satellite diseases. The majority of cancers, dementia, sarcopenia, osteoporosis, ... are caused by the central disease of aging. If we attack aging itself, as a "side effect", we cure all these other diseases in one fatal swoop. But, can it really be that easy? Well, yes and no. It really is the central, master disease, that is true. On the other hand, it isn't easy to cure aging, as we well know from millennia of futile attempts to overcome it. However, just as human flight was impossible for millennia, no matter the ill-fated attempts, everything changed at the moment in history when everything came together and the Wright brothers made their maiden voyages. We had reached the tipping point for human flight. Similarly, we are now also nearing the tipping point for ending aging and the rate at which we reach it depends on us, our attitudes and our efforts.
As my body has continued to decline, despite my best efforts to keep it young and healthy, I have turned greater and greater attention back to the SENS philosophy. Why should I accept that my knees hurt? Why is it ok that my back hurts and its mechanical properties are permanently diminished? Why should I accept that my prostate grows unacceptably large? Why should my recovery from injury decline? Why is it ok that I lose muscle and bone mass? And, why should I accept that dementia, cancer, heart disease, and other diseases are lurking around the corner no matter how carefully and conscientiously I live my life? All the answers people give me are hollow, tools to comfort us in the face of the inevitable. But, they do not comfort me. I reject these ideas and I choose to fight!
I will spend the rest of what energy I am fortunate to have fighting aging and other world problems and pursue the course which appears to me to do the most good. I hope you will join me. It may not come in time for us. I fully recognize that. But, is this any reason not to contribute all our energy to this cause? There is suffering all around the world, coming from a large variety of sources. However, the greatest source of suffering in the world comes from the disabilities, decrepitude and diseases of aging. Therefore, defeating aging also defeats a very large fraction of the worldwide suffering. And, also, even if it does not come in time for us, we can hasten the day it comes for our children and their children, and again, just as importantly, for people around the world.
Of course, there are a great many concerns with ending aging and many people have thought hard about them. We may take them up from time to time in future posts. I will also discuss finance, sustainable energy and other issues from time to time. But, since this post is already much, much longer than I originally planned, I will end here for now. I sincerely appreciate that you took the time to read this post and I wish you all the best in your search for life, health, security, service and happiness!