Some practical advice:

• Include the best medical treatment.

• Research your options.

• Don’t worry if you can’t try every alternative therapy—it’s just not possible.

• Have a healthy skepticism about claimed “cures”—but don’t dismiss something just because the studies have not been done yet.

• Look for ways to strengthen your immune system.

• Trust your instincts about what is right for you.

• Do include work on your mental and emotional well-being. For some people, this is the most important part of their treatment.

An integrated approach to healing

Very few things in life are absolute. I have always disliked the all-or-nothing approach—only traditional or only alternative, and never the twain shall meet. In my medical practice, I have seen the benefit of both.
Having worked in trauma centers and emergency rooms, I can wholeheartedly agree with Dr. Andrew Weil, when he said, “If I’m involved in a serious auto accident, I want the ambulance to take me to the nearest high-tech trauma center. Mainstream medicine is definitely the way to go for serious injuries.” There are times when surgery, antibiotics, and modern medicine are lifesaving.

Dr. Weil continues, “But let’s say I developed chronic pain as a result of the accident. Beyond narcotics, mainstream medicine doesn’t have much to offer. But several complementary therapies can help. I might try chiropractic, acupuncture, yoga, massage, or visualization therapy.”

There are times when natural methods, such as homeopathy, acupuncture, and naturopathy, work better than anything else. I like to use the term complementary instead of alternative when talking about these therapies, since it implies these other healing arts are working together with conventional treatments.

A bewildering array of alternative treatments

Initially, as I delved into the choices in alternative cancer treatment, I found them to be absolutely bewildering. You cannot imagine the variety of choices out there until you have cancer. Suddenly, you see articles and books everywhere about this or that supposed cure for cancer. Friends send you articles and books. And once you order a supplement or vitamin or herb, you are put on a mailing list and find all kinds of material arriving in the mailbox.

A lot of it can seemed flaky or weird—or at best unsubstantiated. I especially disliked the ones that claimed that they “cure cancer.” I felt that I could dismiss them right away. Or could I? I read everything that came into my hands just in case there was something out there that might provide a clue to my best treatment.

What I found is probably what you would expect. Most of the evidence is anecdotal. There is very little proof and very little to go on—very few studies or other means of scientifically evaluating a therapy. This was very frustrating for the doctor in me.

Everyone seems to know someone who tried this or that herb or treatment and “it worked.” However, all that really means is that it worked for them, for their condition, at that time. It does not necessarily mean that it will work for me and for what I have. And what else were they doing at the same time that was also a part—and perhaps the real cause—of their healing?

The patient in me was willing to try almost anything, as long as there was a chance it might work. The doctor in me was more cautious. Fortunately, the minister in me often came to the rescue to integrate the two.

I started by reading widely and researching as much as possible on different treatments for cancer. (I think that I can now honestly say that I have heard of or read about almost every possible treatment method or modality for breast cancer.) I never dismissed anything out of hand until I had read about it and weighed it in my heart.

Eventually I made what I felt were heartfelt and centered decisions. Making these choices did not mean that I was fixed in my approach, but it did help me feel that I was developing my own treatment plan. If I needed to adjust it as I went along, that was fine too.

My choices

As I did the research, it became clear that I needed to go through with chemotherapy and radiation, as I did not want to leave my treatment solely to complementary therapies. I had seen too many friends and patients with cancer do poorly with complementary therapies alone.

I also wanted to boost my immune system to help me to fight the cancer and to reduce the potential side effects of the conventional therapies. I knew chemotherapy would be a big challenge to my body, and I felt as if I was in training for a marathon that would require intense preparation; I would need to dig deeply within myself and into my energy reserves.

I also wanted to get to the cause and core of the condition of cancer, if possible, and to remove the underlying causes so the cancer would not return.

Along the way, if I stumbled across the miracle cure, that would be all well and good. However, I was not about to put all my eggs in one basket.

The more I read, the more my feelings were confirmed that no single treatment or therapy would do the job for me. And since cancer is not just an illness affecting a single organ—it is a condition that affects the whole body, the whole organism—the approach I took would also need to address every area of my being. It would need to be holistic.

I included the following therapies in my treatment program:

These were the choices I made.

You may make different choices. You know yourself best and what will work for you.

I believe that people have an inner sense about what is right for them. As I did my research, I felt as if I was being led to what was right for me. Other patients have described the same phenomenon. When you are on the right track, there is a sense of rightness about what you are doing.


Excerpted from A Journey through Cancer, by Neroli Duffy