Integrative medicine is treatment using a range of healing modalities. It’s distinct from “alternative” medicine which tends to reject mainstream approaches, especially the use of pharmaceutical drugs.
I’m not at all against pharmaceutical drugs where needed, useful and not harmful. I don’t subscribe to the idea of a “big pharma” conspiracy to just keep everyone sick. There’s plenty of money to be made in keeping people well.
Integrative medicine treats the whole person, recognizing that stress is dis-ease and that prevention is easier than reversing problems later.
My mainstream doctors are very interested in what I’m doing by way of diet, herbs and exercise. The oncologist wants to know how to recommend medical cannabadiol oil to other patients. The primary care doctor sends me back to my acupuncturist for advice on blood pressure remedies.
Along with mainstream medicine and the paleo lifestyle, I rely heavily on the acupuncture and herbal components of traditional Chinese medicine (TCM). I’m no expert but I know that for me, acupuncture and herbs have been essential during cancer treatment, and continuing indefinitely.
I should emphasize that I did not use acupuncture and herbs to eliminate cancer. Surgery and other treatment is needed for that. I used TCM to allow my body to heal during and after surgery, chemo and radiation and, now continually, to withstand side effects of the pharmaceutical drug I take and to keep my immune system balanced and happy.
I found a short helpful book on the subject, Henry McGrath’s Traditional Chinese Medicine Approaches to Cancer. It gives a good overview of what is a complex and very non-Western approach to healing and medicine.
TCM’s key concept is “qi” or “chi”, the energy that moves through all life and, specifically, through our own bodies in ways that can be detected by a skilled TCM doctor. I think of “chi” as that something that causes plants to upright themselves and turn toward the sun in their innate desire to be healthy. Each of us has chi flowing throughout our body. It can be become stagnant, too intense or deficient in certain ways. A TCM doctor uses techniques such as needles or massage or herbs to move energy so as to allow the body to return to a state of balance.
In the East bay, we have a collective of highly skilled and educated acupuncture doctors who have set up community-based clinics. Unlike the more upscale acupuncture offices where each patient is treated in a separate room, the community clinic model has patients reclining in one large room while the doctor treats everyone in sequence. The result is that treatments are done on a sliding scale of $20-$40, making acupuncture very affordable.
I had worked with acupuncture sporadically in the past for short term ailments. When I was diagnosed with cancer, I started immediately with treatments and herbs before surgery to prepare my body to heal from what was to come.
I enter a quiet room set up with lazy-boy type chairs that allow one to recline horizontally. An acupuncture doctor asks about my current health and symptoms, and checks for details revealed on my tongue and by feeling the pulses in both wrists. We talk about what conventional treatments I’m taking, whether I’m hot or cold, how my digestive system is doing. Then the doctor selects a few key points along meridians where energy flows to vital organs and places a sterile, disposable, long thin needle in each point. It doesn’t hurt. It’s energizing. I’ve done so much acupuncture that these days I can feel bolts of energy pulse down my limbs with each insertion, and I give that feedback to the doctor. He or she directs a heat lamp on certain areas and leaves me to rest for 30 minutes to an hour.
I use the treatment time for healing meditation. Everyone needs to find their own way in terms of meditation techniques. Mine has evolved over many years and I use colors for healing. I hover in an in-between state, not asleep, not unconscious, but absorbed in color and a full sensation of healing energy pulsing like waves through my body, thoughts and feelings. I use a healing affirmation. I also wish well to the other patients lying on chairs in the room.
At the end of treatment I am given a refill of Chinese herbal medicine which is mixed as a powder I drink twice a day at home in a cup of hot water.
Lest all this sound exotic, I am happy to report that the mainstream cancer doctors in this area highly recommend acupuncture for cancer patients. At the “chemo class” we were told that acupuncture is known to prevent peripheral neuropathy (numbness in the limbs) that many chemo patients suffer, sometimes years after treatment. (I had no neuropathy.)
My oncologist monitored my blood every three weeks during chemo as there’s a strong risk for anemia. She said my blood was remarkable. I asked if it was because I was eating spinach/chard/kale and meat daily, and she said: “No. I have lots of patients eating greens and red meat. This is because you’re taking Chinese herbal medicine.”
After chemo and radiation, when I then was put on the standard pharmaceutical drug used to prevent a cancer recurrence, we knew that the side effects would likely include hot flashes and joint pain and that TCM could help. I was not able to conquer the joint pain with acupuncture and Chinese herbs (though I’ve conquered it with cannabis oil; a whole other subject). What traditional Chinese medicine has done is to keep my hot flashes at bay. I know this is true because if I go off the herbs for a few days, I become overheated and unable to sleep.
I intend to continue biweekly acupuncture treatments and daily use of Chinese herbal medicine because these treatments are known to strengthen the immune system. Not just immunity for preventing colds and flu but deep immunity to allow the body to clear itself of cancer cells and withstand environmental pollution.
Most of the time when I go in for a treatment now, I am already feeling great, even fabulous. Medicine is not just for times of feeling off or ill. Medicine is also for continuing to feel fabulous.