Saturday, October 23, 2010

What We Should Talk More About (CAM)

In thinking of the LIVESTRONG Challenge going on this weekend in Austin, I started to consider about all the ways the Lance Armstrong Foundation challenged me to take control of my fight with cancer, and create awareness of prevention and/or treatment of the disease. One of the biggest lessons that I've come away with is that cancer patients have the right to make their own choices about the way they handle their treatment.

Did you know that more than 70% of all cancer patients use complementary and alternative (CAM) medical therapies, according to a study in the journal Cancer?

I bet that leaves you scratching your head because I'm also betting that the two treatments you've heard about are radiation and chemotherapy. Well, think again. Patients (including me) learn about these other options as they search for a way to mitigate side-effects of traditional western medicine, and also find a way to heal themselves.

Yes, I'm going into that space nobody wants to talk about, except in hushed tones -- "uh yeah, I tried meditation and tai chi, and it worked...but don't tell anyone." WHY NOT? Why not let folks know that there are options?!? Why do we do this in our society?
Let me be clear. I firmly believe in the science of medicine, and as a survivor of multiple fights with cancer, I've done my share of radiation and chemo. But - I also believe in balance -- and that it's ok to integrate some other, uh, shall we say, "more unique" therapies into the mix.

Times are changing and those days of hushed voices are long gone (or should be). This ain't yo mama's healthcare anymore. Now, many medical centers DO have integrative health centers, like UCSD or Scripps -- and I applaud them loudly (maybe even with a wolf whistle or two to cheer them on). Last year, the American Cancer Society released its Complete Guide to Complementary and Alternative Cancer Therapies reference book listing hundreds of therapies and possible side effects. Ok, I admit, some of the therapies listed in there just don't look safe (uh, shark cartilage? gulp.), but they also tell you that. My own personal verdict is still out on the use of supplements --- I feel and have lots of research to back me up - that some supplements may interfere with the way your body breaks down chemo drugs...making them less effective (or worse, toxic).

However, most CAM patients aren't looking for cures -- they are looking for help with side-effects, reduce stress, boost their immune system and fight back against recurrences. And many therapies listed for that include exercise, prayer, meditation, tai chi, yoga, qi gong in the mind-body category which I think are all equally awesome. And yes, I integrated all of these into my own treatment plan...and still do to stay healthy.

Like I said, the LIVESTRONG Challenge got me thinking about my own battle with cancer today. I realized I've never taken the time to write a post about some of the things I did outside my western treatments, and I'm going to start changing that. No more hushed tones about prayer, meditation, mindfulness and yoga -- the stuff reduces stress folks...try it! I'm not advocating religion which is what some of you may think, but I am advocating slowing down and treating your body with kindness when its struggling to fight this disease.
My biggest advice however is that if you're considering any alternative medicine -- please (please!) -- talk to your medical doctor or oncologist about it first. As always, I believe in an integrative "team" approach is the best way to get healthy and prevent illness in the future.

P.S. Good luck to all the LIVESTRONG Challenge participants in Austin this weekend! You rock & CURES ROCK!


  1. Very good and interesting post, Julie. I hesitated to use any suppliments because as you said, they can interfere with the chemo mechanisms. But for me, listening to music I really enjoyed was a big part each day to coping with the side-effects of chemo on that day, and also just taking the time each day to notice something beautiful and happy. Hope you are well. Art

  2. Art - You are so right! Music therapy was a whole incredible healing part of my journey too! (and continues to be) Thanks for the comments! Hope you are well!


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