Thursday, August 4, 2011

Alternative Medicine

Throughout my battle with cancer, people would often encourage me to seek alternative treatment. It was always very emotional and disturbing. I heard many stories (both good and bad) of people who declined traditional medicine in favor of natural treatments. It's a difficult choice. I chose the method of treatment that had the best track record for success, based on respectable research (I'm a data junkie). My cancer was advanced, very aggressive and fast-growing. I didn't have time to try other methods. One of my nurses wisely stated, "If we could cure cancer naturally, that's how we would be doing it."
No one wants to go through chemotherapy. No one would choose that unless they felt there was no other choice. I faced every treatment with dread and had to force myself to go. I wish I could better explain how it made me feel when people told me how horrible chemo is and how there are other, easier, more natural treatments. I know they meant well, trying to help and provide me with information. But when facing a decision that will determine whether you live or die, it is extremely hard to repeatedly hear that the decision you made was not the right one. And knowing that if you went with their recommendation, it could very well cost you your life.
Three different friends encouraged me to go see a local naturopath that specialized in cancer. I didn't want to. I didn't want to be faced with more data and more choices. I had made my choice, and it was a difficult one. But finally, a few days after that last horrible chemo injection, I made an appointment.
I liked how she introduced herself. She didn't consider herself "alternative" and required that I work with an oncologist. She also emphasized that she based her treatment recommendations on research and not anecdotal stories. Her goal was to help me get through the treatment and minimize my side effects, as well as help my body heal and prevent recurrence.
I immediately voiced my skepticism to her. If she was just going to tell me to eat healthy, fresh foods and exercise...well, I already did that and look where it got me.
She asked a ton of questions and did some tests. Then she put me on an extremely strict diet and recommended many expensive supplements. I was desperate to get healthy, and we had a big tax refund, so I decided to give it a shot. She prioritized treatments for me, since doing them all was prohibitively expensive.
I started feeling better almost immediately and continued her diet for months. It was hard. And it was expensive. So I slowly started cutting out some of the supplements and adding foods back into my diet. At first, there were only mild consequences. But after a few weeks, I felt terrible. I was sick and exhausted and depressed. I could barely get out of bed in the morning and didn't function well throughout the day. I started experiencing many of the common side-effects from the two cancer medications I am still taking. Up until that point, I hadn't experienced any.
It took me a bit to make the connection between the way I was feeling and my diet, but as soon as I did, I went back on the diet and started taking my supplements again. Within a week, I felt better. Now I stray a bit here and there, but I know exactly what it costs me, and I pay for it. I've become much more of a believer in natural medicine.
I'm very thankful that I have traditional doctors that respect my naturopathic doctor and are willing to work with her. And vice-versa. I can't emphasize enough to anyone going through cancer treatment, what a huge effect diet and adequate nutrition can have in minimizing the side-effects of cancer drugs and in repairing the body.
Sadly, the two things that effect me the worst are coffee and sugar.


  1. I always learn from and look forward to each of these posts. Your honest, fair, deep thoughts are a blessing to me.

  2. HI Steph,
    I know I haven't commented for a while. I do however check your blog often. I'm so glad to hear you are feeling much better. I too have wanted to check into alternative medicines for other reasons. I'm glad to hear what your thoughts are. I just need to find someone who will work with my traditional physicians. Hopefully I will find that person. Take care and love to you and yours!

    A and E