A Grateful Cancer Survivor tells how she fought leukemia, survived, and reached remission through a combination of chemotherapy, bone marrow transplant, acupuncture and further integrative medicine. Her powerful story of the successful integrative approach is very important. Cancer researchers, doctors, and patients will all benefit from understanding integrative medicine success stories in the battles against cancer.

In my intense battle with a very aggressive form of chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL), I believe acupuncture and naturopathy made a critical difference in helping me not only to survive, but to actually thrive as my good health has gradually returned to me.

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Like most cancer patients, my cancer diagnosis catapulted me into the high end of medical intervention: biopsies, scans, innumerable blood tests, and frightening meetings with world-caliber specialists. The consensus opinion was that I had a battle on my hands, and bombarding my disease with the most caustic of treatments was the best possible solution. Traditional medicine was now at war in my body, and I was clearly just along for the ride.

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For my first treatment round, I was part of a clinical trial that world-wide had shown tremendous promise in putting difficult forms of leukemia like mine into remission. Thirteen of us began this trial. At its end, I was the sole survivor.

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The side effects of the drugs I took were excruciating in the extreme. Months on the drugs left me with a devastated immune symptom, crippling joint pain that eventually made it impossible for me to sleep at night, and serious inflammation of my gastro- intestinal tract that prevented me from retaining much of what I ate. I was also repeatedly in and out of the hospital for fevers and infections. My body kept trying valiantly to fight back, but the toxicity of the drugs I was taking had seriously eroded my natural physical capacity for health and balance.
I finally understood that something had to change when my liver counts became dangerously elevated. Before this life-threatening complication, I had asked my doctors many times about what I could do to protect and strengthen my body from what I began calling “the bomb” they were dropping in me. It seemed only logical to me that, as my cancer was being destroyed and along with it, much of my immune system, my body also needed to be continually fortified to keep it strong, resilient, and ever ready to heal and repair.

Holistic Treatment Approach
My doctors’ only response to my requests for a more “holistic” treatment approach was that I had to let the drugs do their thing. World experts in my disease, they believed that alternative treatments could potentially be dangerous or interfere with the ability of the chemo to eradicate my cancer. Strengthening and repairing my system would have to wait for later. Remission was the ultimate goal that we were fighting for, and everything else was secondary, or meant to be endured, if it could possibly interfere with this critical outcome. I have since learned that a review of the medical literature that has studied the combined use of alternative therapies during chemotherapy shows that people who do both do better than those who do chemotherapy alone. (Journal of Orthomolecular Medicine Vol. 19, No. 4, 2004: pdf’s at www.orthomed.org)

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My declining physical condition, when coupled with the frightening fact that many of my fellow clinical trial members were doing so poorly, finally galvanized me to push past my conditioned fears about anything outside of traditional medicine. I found a caring, gifted acupuncturist, Aiyana Lent of Palo Alto’s East West Acupuncture Clinic, who is the very definition of a healer. At her recommendation, I began to see her twice a week. She was deeply concerned that my very battered body begin to know some comfort and healing in the midst of the drug storm that was battering it.

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While Aiyanna was treating me, she felt it was important that I also begin working with Damon Miller, MD, a board-certified radiologist whose extensive experience working with cancer patients motivated him to specialize in integrative medicine. Believing that the body has a deep capacity to heal itself, Dr. Miller used an innovative blend of Eastern and Western medical approaches to support my natural healing processes. Clinical nutrition and chemo-safe food-based supplements were among the natural, drugless approaches that he prescribed to complement how both acupuncture and traditional medicine worked with me.

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Within a couple of months, the differences in my overall condition were dramatic. My liver counts began to descend to more normal levels, and my blood counts began to rise. My white, immune boosting cells increased, as did my red cells, especially my platelets. My gastro-intestinal problems soothed so that I could begin to eat a little more than soup. My joint pain was also so reduced that I was able to return to sleeping in my bed rather than sitting up in a chair.

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As I continued to work with both my acupuncturist and Dr. Miller, I felt noticeably stronger and had much more energy as my fatigue level was greatly reduced. I also had no more admissions to the hospital for random infections. This I attribute to the overall strengthening impact which complementary medicine had on my immune system.

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Though this clinical trial did not put me into remission, my aggressive leukemia did not continue to grow during it. The trial clearly had some impact on my disease, but just what that impact was remained unclear. Of special interest to me as the only survivor of the trial, was the fact that I was also the only participant “brave” enough to reach beyond traditional medicine for alternative medicine’s healing touch. That it was life-saving for me, I have no doubt. The doctors, though, never expressed any interest in what was in the special mystery mix that let me survive when so many didn’t.

Experiencing Bone Marrow Transpant
I remained under my wonderful acupuncturist and integrative physician’s care as I continued with the grueling treatment regime. Because I was not in remission, the doctors decided that the most effective course of treatment for me was to have a bone marrow transplant, which had to be preceded by months of various kinds of increasingly devastating chemo.

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Through this horrendous period, acupuncture and my drugless supplements continued to sooth and stabilize my system, helping my body to bear the tremendous burden it was under. Though I did run a constant chemo-induced fever, I do believe that alternative medicine helped me to stay upright in the midst of the enormous physical battle that became life-threatening at many junctures. My nausea and joint pain were reduced to within a tolerable range, and my energy became enough that I was able to take daily walks.

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After my bone marrow transplant, both acupuncture and clinical nutrition were my mainstays through the grueling, and complicated recovery. When I had complications due to “graft-versus-host” disease, which is part of the post-transplant rejection battle, the support I received from complementary medicine again steadied my liver counts, strengthened my blood counts, and helped to boost, as it continues to do until this day, my overall energy and sense of well-being.

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Working together, alternative and traditional medicine achieved a complementary balance that eventually gave me the precious gift of remission. I am especially grateful to my holistic medicine for the hope it kept alive in me as I struggled to reach this point. By restoring my sense of control over some of my treatment plan, and so taking away from me the depression-inducing feeling that “there was nothing I could do,” complementary medicine kept me up, ready, and very peaceful in my daily fight for wholeness. Other than remission, I couldn’t ask for a better gift.

 

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One Response to Fighting Leukemia: A Survivor Tells Her Winning Story of Integrative Medicine

  1. Astrid says:

    Thank you so much for writing this blog post. I am currently day 86 post transplant, in remission from AML and in line to see a TCM Dr. who specializes in cancer/bmt patients. There is so little out there to help empower people who are on this rollercoaster, and sure enough, Western medicine makes me feel like nothing more than a lab rat. Quick to “fix” your symptoms, nothing there to help the suffering. Great read, and good healing thoughts.

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