Thinking Holistically About Cancer

29 06 2013

If you read my blog a lot you might have noticed quite a few of my recipes come from my good friend Meredith Hickson. Well today she has written a guest post that asks us all to think critically about current cancer treatment methods and the importance of healthy living:

Every year a website called Cancer Monthly (http://www.cancermonthly.com/) hosts a scholarship program designed to promote “out of the box” thinking around cancer treatment. They invite students to read about the life of a special cancer victim named James “Rhio” O’Connor and then discuss how his story has inspired them to think differently about treating and preventing cancer.

Rhio O’Connor was diagnosed with mesothelioma, a cancer of the protective sacks that surround internal organs. Mesothelioma is associated with exposure to asbestos (you can learn more about mesothelioma here: (http://www.survivingmesothelioma.com). Classic approaches like chemotherapy or radiation haven’t proven effective in its treatment. Rhio’s case was deemed untreatable, but he didn’t interpret his diagnosis as a death sentence. He worked with his doctors to develop his own, holistic treatment plan. He outlived his prognosis for many years by studying his body and his illness, and choosing natural pathways to healing.

As a medical student who believes deeply in holistic (or “whole person”) healthcare, Rhio O’Connor’s story resonates with me. His approach to battling cancer is an affirmation of my core belief about wellness: good health is a product of healthy living and emotional stability over time.

Rhio’s story is an excellent example of something we hear about frequently: people surviving a terminal illness by utilizing treatments beyond what Western medicine has to offer. The success of those patients may lie in the difference between Western medicine and the healing practices of other cultures. Non-Western medical traditions often view each person as a system and attempt to balance that system as gently as possible. Western medicine goes after the illness exclusively without worrying too much about what caused the illness or how toxic the cure may be.

When I hear that someone has been diagnosed with cancer, I imagine the hours of painful therapy, the stress placed on the patient’s family, the pile of medical bills—all of it undertaken without any real certainty of survival. If the day comes when I find myself walking out of an oncologist’s office with a bad prognosis, I wouldn’t immediately resort to the standard course of treatment. As a scientist, my first step would be to collect the data: what is the likelihood of my survival on this drug? If I do survive, what will be the long-term impact to my health? I would also want to speak with people currently undergoing that treatment and ask how the drug has altered their quality of life. Many common cancer therapies are extremely hard on both body and mind.

Whether or not I opted for a chemical or surgical treatment, I would make changes to my lifestyle to fortify my body. I would educate myself on how its normal functioning is weakened by my cancer and tailor my diet to counter its effects. The root cause of cancer is often poisoning (from radiation, toxin-laced foods, or dangerous substances like asbestos in our environment). With that in mind, I would attempt to manage my cancer by relocating to an environment low in pollutants.

Rhio O’Connor’s story is evidence that spiritual balance is vital. Many cancer patients struggle with depression. I wouldn’t wait for a depression diagnosis to start various forms of therapy: support groups, but also stress-relieving meditation, yoga, and massage. Although Western medicine continues to seek chemical “silver bullets”, the simple pathway from stress to illness is well documented.[i]

While many people have used diet, mind-body techniques, and natural medicines to beat cancer, these treatment options remain too expensive for many. This is because insurance providers look to Western doctors to determine what’s “effective,” and Western doctors rely on money from pharmaceutical companies to test the effectiveness of potential treatments. Pharmaceutical companies won’t fund testing of something they can’t make money from. Drugs and surgical instruments bring in huge profits for “Big Pharma”. Helping a cancer patient choose her diet more carefully does not. Neither do meditation or yoga classes.

Despite this vicious cycle, there actually has been a fair amount of research on the effectiveness of holistic cancer treatments. A good diet (leading to increased energy, a strong immune system, and a healthy weight) has been identified as a powerful tool for cancer patients.[ii] Studies from all over the world have concluded that cancer victims who do look to other medical traditions for help feel stronger and may survive longer.[iii],[iv],[v]

For me, however, the best medicine is always preventative medicine. What we really owe to the memory of both cancer survivors like Rhio O’Connor, and the victims who even the most state-of-the-art treatments could not save, is the promise of a cancer-free society. Holistic medicine, which outlines healthy lifestyles for disease prevention, is the key.

Holistic practitioners will tell you that where you live is part of how you live. There is a growing body of research indicating that environmental toxins contribute to the incidence of many cancers, including those that afflict children.[vi],[vii] One of the best ways to protect you and your family from cancer is to be aware of your environment: how clean is the air, the water? What manufacturers are active in your area and how do they dispose of their wastes?

If you do live in a relatively toxin-free environment, the next step is to take a hard look at your diet. There are established links between diet-related conditions like obesity and diabetes and an increased risk of developing certain cancers.[viii],[ix] So good, balanced nutrition is crucial. Choosing foods high in cancer-fighting antioxidants may also help. Antioxidants have become a fad with health-conscious people, but they are nonetheless very powerful. These substances, found naturally in many plant foods, break down toxins that might otherwise poison your cells and lead to cancer. To help you include as many sustainable antioxidants in your diet as possible, there’s a little chart at the end of this post that shows which high-antioxidant foods are available in which seasons.

Diet alone can’t prevent conditions like obesity that place you at higher risk for cancer. Choose forms of exercise that not only help you maintain a health weight but also reduce stress. Your body and immune system are in their best fighting shape when you are strong and relaxed.

A final thought: cancer may not be catching, but it is a social illness. It attacks individuals but everyone feels its repercussions. As diseases like HIV have taught us, the best way to defeat a social illness is by banding together as society. We should be inspired by figures like Rhio O’Connor to fight back: explore any treatment options open to us, refuse to let big industries drive choices about our health, and work together towards a higher quality of life that will reduce the risk to future generations. More than any drug, those are the components of a lasting cure for cancer.

Seasonal Antioxidants


[i] Uchino, B. N., Smith, T. W., Holt-Lunstad, J., Campo, R. & Reblin, M. (2007). Stress and illness. In Cacioppo, J. T., Tassinary, L. G. and Bernston, G. G. (Eds), Handbook of Psychophysiology, 3rd ed. (608-632). New York, NY: Cambridge University Press.

[ii] Brown, J. K., Byers, T., Doyle, C., Courneya, K. S., Demark‐Wahnefried, W., Kushi, L. H., … & Sawyer, K. A. (2003). Nutrition and physical activity during and after cancer treatment: an American Cancer Society guide for informed choices. CA: A Cancer Journal for Clinicians53(5), 268-291.

[iii] Downer, S. M., Cody, M. M., McCulskey, P., Wilson, P. D., Arnott, S. J., … & Slevin, M. L. (1994). Pursuit and practice of complementary therapies by cancer patiens receiving conventional treatment. BMJ, 309(6947), 86-89.

[iv] Boon, H., Stewart, M., Kennard, M. A., Gray, R., Sawka, C., Brown, J. B., … & Haines-Kamka, T. (2000). Use of complementary/alternative medicine by breast cancer survivors in Ontario: prevalence and perceptions. Journal of Clinical Oncology18(13), 2515-2521.

[v] Molassiotis, A., Fernadez-Ortega, P., Pud, D., Ozden, G., Scott, J. A., Panteli, V., … & Patiraki, E. (2005). Use of complementary and alternative medicine in cancer patients: a European survey. Annals of Oncology16(4), 655-663.

[vi] Toppari, J., Larsen, J. C., Christiansen, P., Giwercman, A., Grandjean, P., Guillette Jr, L. J., … & Skakkebæk, N. E. (1996). Male reproductive health and environmental xenoestrogens. Environmental Health Perspectives, 104(Suppl 4), 741.

[vii] Landrigan, P. J., Schechter, C. B., Lipton, J. M., Fahs, M. C., & Schwartz, J. (2002). Environmental pollutants and disease in American children: estimates of morbidity, mortality, and costs for lead poisoning, asthma, cancer, and developmental disabilities. Environmental Health Perspectives110(7), 721.

[viii] Calle, E. E., & Thun, M. J. (2004). Obesity and cancer. Oncogene23(38), 6365-6378.

[ix] Giovannucci, E., Harlan, D. M., Archer, M. C., Bergenstal, R. M., Gapstur, S. M., Habel, L. A., … & Yee, D. (2010). Diabetes and cancer: a consensus report. CA: A Cancer Journal for Clinicians60(4), 207-221.

[1] Uchino, B. N., Smith, T. W., Holt-Lunstad, J., Campo, R. & Reblin, M. (2007). Stress and illness. In Cacioppo, J. T., Tassinary, L. G. and Bernston, G. G. (Eds), Handbook of Psychophysiology, 3rd ed. (608-632). New York, NY: Cambridge University Press.

[1] Brown, J. K., Byers, T., Doyle, C., Courneya, K. S., Demark‐Wahnefried, W., Kushi, L. H., … & Sawyer, K. A. (2003). Nutrition and physical activity during and after cancer treatment: an American Cancer Society guide for informed choices. CA: A Cancer Journal for Clinicians53(5), 268-291.

[1] Downer, S. M., Cody, M. M., McCulskey, P., Wilson, P. D., Arnott, S. J., … & Slevin, M. L. (1994). Pursuit and practice of complementary therapies by cancer patiens receiving conventional treatment. BMJ, 309(6947), 86-89.

[1] Boon, H., Stewart, M., Kennard, M. A., Gray, R., Sawka, C., Brown, J. B., … & Haines-Kamka, T. (2000). Use of complementary/alternative medicine by breast cancer survivors in Ontario: prevalence and perceptions. Journal of Clinical Oncology18(13), 2515-2521.

[1] Molassiotis, A., Fernadez-Ortega, P., Pud, D., Ozden, G., Scott, J. A., Panteli, V., … & Patiraki, E. (2005). Use of complementary and alternative medicine in cancer patients: a European survey. Annals of Oncology16(4), 655-663.

[1] Toppari, J., Larsen, J. C., Christiansen, P., Giwercman, A., Grandjean, P., Guillette Jr, L. J., … & Skakkebæk, N. E. (1996). Male reproductive health and environmental xenoestrogens. Environmental Health Perspectives, 104(Suppl 4), 741.

[1] Landrigan, P. J., Schechter, C. B., Lipton, J. M., Fahs, M. C., & Schwartz, J. (2002). Environmental pollutants and disease in American children: estimates of morbidity, mortality, and costs for lead poisoning, asthma, cancer, and developmental disabilities. Environmental Health Perspectives110(7), 721.

[1] Calle, E. E., & Thun, M. J. (2004). Obesity and cancer. Oncogene23(38), 6365-6378.

[1] Giovannucci, E., Harlan, D. M., Archer, M. C., Bergenstal, R. M., Gapstur, S. M., Habel, L. A., … & Yee, D. (2010). Diabetes and cancer: a consensus report. CA: A Cancer Journal for Clinicians60(4), 207-221.

Advertisements

Actions

Information

3 responses

30 06 2013
darsword

Reblogged this on Darswords and commented:
I follow a gluten free/vegan diet using only coconut oil as oil of choice. Not soy-free. I have lost weight and got off the diabetes meds!

4 07 2013
symbolonfamily

Reblogged this on S Y M B O L O N and commented:
Doctors cannot prescribe food as a cure for illness. Eating good foods and staying away from bad ones doesn’t have the power to turn a disease off like magic. Medicine doesn’t have that power either. Bodies need to be strong in order to tolerate medications and fight disease!

15 09 2013
dreaminitvegan

The mind is an amazing thing. I’ve seen my husbands aunt give up once the doctors told her she had no chance when she was diagnosed with lung cancer. She didn’t even try to help herself. Having the mind set first to win the battle and then to figure out what our body needs nourishment wise, finding the way to be intune with what our body truly needs to win the fight. Good article.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s




%d bloggers like this: