Expand Your Options for Getting Well

by Melodie on May 28, 2010

© Nick J. Webb

Post image for Expand Your Options for Getting Well

Ibecame a cancer coach and advocate partly because of my distress over an observation I’ve made repeatedly: Instead of healing, many people deteriorate from cancer while believing that the conventional medical treatments they’re undergoing are their only best hope for a cure. Sadly, they have not looked further than their oncologists’ recommendations to see that many powerful options to beat cancer exist beyond surgery, radiation and chemotherapy.

Am I knocking conventional treatments? No. But they are just one piece of the puzzle to overcoming cancer. I’m advocating using the most effective offerings of medical science and adding the best that other medical systems and practices can contribute. The result: a greater likelihood of regaining full health for the long term.

When a person begins having symptoms, she enters the conventional medical system. An MD or DO orders tests, performs biopsies, provides a diagnosis, and recommends a treatment course. For many patients, that’s where their search for answers ends. They have the tumors removed, undergo chemo or radiation, and may go into remission. But their bodies are weakened, and often the cancer returns. Even more potent chemo is now needed, or additional surgery, and the immune system is further weakened from the stress of fighting off ever more aggressive cancer cells.

I believe in most cases, it doesn’t have to work this way. The door is wide open to a broader, more effective approach to cancer care. And that’s where other medical practices come into the picture. However, a big reason that many people with cancer don’t seek out additional possibilities for medical and self-care is that they’re simply unaware of what those options are.

In this article, I will clarify some of the terms regarding options you are likely to encounter. Then when you hear a type of treatment described, you’ll have a better idea how it fits into the whole framework of health care and how you personally might benefit.

Conventional medicine is the dominant system in the United States and many developed nations. It’s also called western, allopathic or mainstream medicine, and is considered the sanctioned or accepted form in the western world. Its focus is on disease treatment using technology and pharmacology. If surgery, life support, strong drugs or emergency intervention are required, conventional medical practitioners have unparalleled expertise. It is interesting to observe that scientific research into non-standard treatments such as acupuncture is now pushing some formerly rejected approaches into the mainstream. But what is an accepted standard in one country may not be in another. In Germany, for example, widespread research into herbal therapy means that this approach is considered mainstream while in the United States it is not. Surgery, radiation and chemotherapy have been the staples of cancer care in conventional medicine, even as promising new treatments are being developed.

There has been disagreement in scientific communities about what constitutes alternative medicine. Some consider a treatment to be alternative if it doesn’t meet the “standard of care” in conventional medicine. That essentially lumps everything that isn’t mainstream medicine into one big group, not providing important distinctions. I believe the U.S. National Institutes for Health’s Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine uses a better definition: alternative medicine is any medical system, practice, or product that is not thought of as standard care and that is used in place of standard treatments. For example, if you reject your oncologist’s recommendation for chemotherapy and instead undergo an intensive nutritional treatment, you are receiving an alternative treatment. However, your nutritional protocol is not considered alternative treatment if you use it with the chemotherapy your doctor has recommended.

I often see people raise their eyebrows at the suggestion of “alternative” medicine, but the fact is we frequently practice it in everyday life. If I choose to put chamomile herbal cream on my daughter’s mosquito bites instead of cortisone ointment to quell the itch, I’ve used alternative medicine. If you drink ginger tea instead of taking Zofran for your chemo-induced nausea, you have used an alternative treatment. The controversy becomes more heated when a person’s survival is at issue and an untested alternative method is chosen over a proven conventional approach.

In contrast, complementary medicine involves using a non-standard treatment along with conventional therapy, as opposed to instead of a conventional treatment. If you have a massage therapist come to your hospital room to stimulate circulation and promote healing after surgery, the massage is a complementary therapy. Another example would be engaging in prayer, visualizing healing, taking vitamin supplements, or practicing deep breathing while using the drug Tamoxifen to keep breast cancer in remission.

It is becoming more common now to hear about integrative medicine but there is confusion about how it differs from complementary methods. Many consider them the same. But Andrew Weil, M.D., a leading proponent, says integrative medicine has a larger meaning and mission in that it “takes account of the whole person (body, mind, and spirit), including all aspects of lifestyle. It emphasizes the therapeutic relationship and makes use of all appropriate therapies, both conventional and alternative.” It is a cohesive system that favors natural, minimally-invasive methods while combining conventional and alternative medical treatments which have some scientific proof of efficacy. Functional medicine is an integrative approach to the treatment of cancer and other conditions, and is one I plan to write more about in another article.

Because they’re often confused with the previous approaches, I want to touch on natural and traditional medicine.

Natural medicine is the science and art of preventing, curing or alleviating ill health using treatment modalities in harmony with the laws of nature. Naturopathic medicine fits in this category, and its practitioners are naturopathic doctors (NDs) who undergo rigorous training in a comprehensive and eclectic range of therapies. They believe that the body has an innate ability to heal, and their focus is on using nontoxic treatment for common ailments and chronic degenerative diseases that have dietary or lifestyle causes. They may use homeopathy, nutritional counseling and other practices to address health problems.

Traditional medicine involves the handing down of ancient rites, customs and practices, and includes Chinese, ayurvedic, Tibetan and other indigenous systems. Traditional medicine relies heavily on centuries-long tradition and includes societal, cultural and spiritual beliefs. When subjected to the scientific rigors of conventional research, many traditional medical practices, like meditation, acupuncture and herbal medicine have been found to provide effective and powerful health benefits.

As with everything, an important caveat is “Buyer beware.” Just as you should not accept outright all that an oncologist tells you, neither should you be swayed by persuasive websites or friends who push their preferred form of treatment. Ask questions, inform yourself, and consider what each of these medical systems and practices may have to offer you in your journey toward a Whole Life.

Are there medical approaches or practices that you believe would benefit you? If so, how will you go about investigating these?

Liked it? Share it. Bookmark and Share

Related Posts

Leave a Comment

Previous post:

Next post: