Cultivating Health During Cancer Care:
A Perspective from Josh M.
“The changes I have made based on the Osher Center’s recommendations and resources impact my life daily. The approach I choose is not treatment focused; it is a way of life.”
I was referred to the Osher Center by my oncologist after being diagnosed with cancer almost two years ago. I have a rare, slow-growing cancer called “neuroendocrine pancreatic carcinoma,” which has metastasized to the liver.
When I had my first appointment with Donald Abrams, MD, I thought it would be interesting to see how my care would be dealt with through a non-Western approach. I went to listen and to see what this was all about. My oncologist had told me that even though I was going to an integrative oncology appointment, the word “cancer” might not be mentioned.
Integrative oncology is less about your disease and more about understanding your body. I learned about ways to create a place hostile to cancer; i.e., the weeds in your body that are growing and crowding out healthy cells, and at the same time create a place where the healthy cells in my immune system could flourish and do their best work. These are actionable steps to support what is going on in the conventional world, while making the body as strong as it can be.
Empowerment Through a Healthy Diet
Dr. Abrams will be the first to tell you-eat what your grandmother or great-grandmother ate. Just a few generations ago, the incidence of cancer was much lower. In communities that don’t rely as heavily on processed foods, the cancer rates are still at pre-WWII levels; they haven’t skyrocketed like they have here in the West.
For a lot of people, integrative oncology is difficult because it alters the way you do certain things, and diet is a big part of this. I began to look at food and other elements as fuel, either for the good cells or for the bad cells. You may need to give up certain things like red meat or sugar, and this can be tough for some. For me it all resonated, but with much more focus and understanding on how certain spices, herbs, and foods can actually help your immune system.
I was able to start doing something positive for my body and health. I started to add things to my diet, slowly at first. But then pretty quickly I was able to see what worked for me and what I was comfortable with. I ended up with a short list of supplements, mostly turmeric, medicinal mushrooms, omega 3, D3, and probiotics. I also incorporated weekly acupuncture, yoga, and massage into my routine.
It’s Not About the Diagnosis
Going to an integrative oncologist won’t change your diagnosis, but it will put your body in a better place to get healthy. I have been tumor-stable for nearly two years, and my oncologist is constantly wondering if the integrative oncology helps me stay that way. I had the longest period that didn’t require Western intervention in my oncologist’s experience. I went nearly 18 months before any standard therapy was used. Was it the integrative health? Perhaps.
What I think it has done is put me in a place where, now that I am having conventional oncology treatments, I’m responding better and recovering faster than expected. The integrative approach ensures that my body is at its peak and recovers more quickly from anything that gets to it-and hopefully makes sure the weeds take a longer time to grow back.
Having a support system is important. Talking with Dr. Abrams, I realized the importance of making sure you’re not holding onto a lot of stress or feeling isolated and alone. I am lucky to have a great support network. I also have my own blog where I talk with friends and family and keep them up to date with what is going on with me. Being able to freely converse really helps. Through my blog, a lot of people who hadn’t considered diet as so important have now changed their diets and the way they live their lives.
It’s a Long-Term Approach
There is a lot of talk about being at war or in battle with cancer. While the analogy works for many who are gearing up for a one-time or limited fight with cancer, the analogy does not work for those who need to treat cancer as a chronic disease. I cannot be cured of cancer (at least not in the foreseeable future), but that does not mean that I should live in a state of war with my body. That would be a stressful solution, and through integrative oncology I do not have to choose that path. I continue to learn how to work with my body, to be at peace with it, and to summon up energy for healing when I need it.
It is really important to recognize that this is not a cure for cancer. If you treat this as the only modality that you are going to use, you are in risky territory-that’s not what the Osher Center is about. You may have the notion that you’re giving up on conventional medicine, but you’re not. Integrative oncology works together with your cancer care. It puts your body and mind in the best shape it can be to respond well to conventional medicine and to recover from the toxicity that cancer treatment brings onto the body.
The changes I have made based on the Osher Center’s recommendations and resources impact my life daily. The integrative approach isn’t short term. It’s about the path. The path that this will lead you down will bring you to a healthier you. This healthier you is better equipped to deal with the cancer. The approach I choose is not treatment focused; it is a way of life.