One woman's natural therapy journey for cancer treatment

6:32 PM, Feb 13, 2012   |    comments
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Sherry Malin chose to not follow conventional treatments, but nutrition based treatment instead

One of the hardest decisions a cancer patient has to make is deciding which treatment is best.

Chemotherapy, radiation and surgery are considered standard treatments.

54 year-old, Sherry Malin, from Palm Harbor wanted to share her story with 10 News viewers to let others know some cancer patients are choosing not to follow conventional treatments.

She went against her doctor's wishes to try an alternative treatment in Mexico.

"I've always said I would not go for chemotherapy because I have seen too much of it."

A mammogram and biopsy in Tampa confirmed stage two breast cancer in her right breast last year. Sherry made the tough decision to go against her doctor's wishes to try what many conventional doctors consider to be controversial, nutrition based, experimental treatments offered at a hospital in Mexico.

She told 10 News Anchor Heather Van Nest it was not scary for her to go against what conventional doctors recommended because she saw too many people go through chemotherapy treatment. Her father, sister and brother all died before the age of 40. She also watched her husband's mother die.

Sherry decided she did not want to go through all of that and she says, if she didn't make it, she wanted to do it on her terms and be able to do what she could during that period of time.

She says cancer was a wake-up call to take better care of herself.

Her treatment plan includes taking dozens of vitamins each day, eating fresh foods and no longer sweating the small stuff.

"I learned to handle stress. Stress has a lot to do with it so nothing bothers me. You don't worry about things.Yes, so if things fall a part... oh well... life goes on I'm still alive."

Sherry found growing her own organic garden in her backyard and choosing to eat fresh foods everyday gave her some control back in her life.

Sherry shares her journey on her blog and says this is a personal decision. She says quality of life is most important to her.

The nutrition based therapy she had for 3 weeks in Mexico is not covered by insurance and her vitamins/supplements add to the monthly out-of-pocket costs.

Sherry follows up with her doctor here in Tampa. Dr. Peter Walton says he is amazed at how well she is doing considering she did not have surgery or chemotherapy. Her latest CT scan shows no cancer in her chest region.

However, because no long-term, double blind scientific studies confirm her treatment plan will work, doctors warn what works for one person, may not work for another.

Dr. Keith Block, is one of the country's leading integrative cancer treatment specialists. He has not treated Sherry but he offers this advice for cancer patients who would like to try alternative therapies.

Click here to see which foods Dr. Block suggests you avoid during chemotherapy

Nutrition is an important part of Dr. Block's treatment plans but he stressed, there is also a critical window when conventional treatments can cure early stage cancers.

Q.  What advice do you have for patients who have been advised to receive conventional treatments such as chemotherapy and radiation but don't want to go that route?  

A.  As a general rule, for a patient with advanced disease who's already been through several treatment regimens that have failed them, it makes perfect sense to consider experimental therapies or "reasonable" alternative options. But this is not the case for a patient diagnosed with an earlier stage disease.  To an early stage cancer patient, I would recommend an integrative approach to treatment; that is, a regimen that combines the best conventional treatment options with research-based complementary therapies.  This allows a patient to take advantage of proven therapies without running the risk of missing the critical window when these treatments could be curative. On the other hand, I do believe it is appropriate to consider a wider variety of treatment options with a patient who is facing advanced disease. However, even here I encourage and insist that my patients continue to be carefully monitored utilizing conventional diagnostics. This is important so that they do not lose time by continuing to pursue any treatment that is either not working or has stopped working.   

Q.  How can patients evaluate whether alternative treatments are legitimate or not?

A. At best, you can only analyze what is known and available to make a determination as to whether to consider the treatment or not. With any treatment option, a patient - along with their family/friend/medical support team - should research what is known about that specific treatment. The first question should always be "how safe is the therapy I am considering?"  

A treatment does not need as much proof of effectiveness if the approach has little to no risk, side effects or toxicity. Nonetheless, a second question should be "is there meaningful scientific data that demonstrates that the treatment actually works?" An additional aspect of this question is, "what level of research was performed to determine the effectiveness of the treatment?"  Obviously, a higher the level of evidence (i.e. clinical based) would be more reassuring than lower level evidence (i.e. laboratory based). Since few alternative treatments have high level evidence to demonstrate efficacy, one should carefully examine the rationale of any treatment option before initiating care.

Lastly, one should also consider the cost and convenience of a treatment, particularly when neither insurance nor Medicare is likely to cover any aspect of it.

 Q. The patient we profiled went to Angeles Hospital in Mexico to learn more about nutrition, vitamins and experimental treatments. What do you think about that?

A. While there are dietary and nutraceutical regimens that can play a major role in battling malignant disease, experimental treatments like heating blood or injecting one's own stem cells need more careful analysis before I could comfortably encourage patients to pursue these. The reason is that such interventions can have serious adverse consequences. Personally, I would need to know of several successful cases with well confirmed supportive medical records and preferably some published research studies as well as a logical mechanism providing a solid scientific rationale as to why such treatment should work.

That said, I am not opposed to evaluating such treatments and believe we need better ways to assess alternative therapies in general. I also do not believe that successful treatments only come from mainstream research institutions.

Q. What advice would you give to cancer patients who want to try nutrition/natural treatments? 

A. Be sure you have a highly trained integrative oncology practitioner on board to help determine the optimal nutritional and natural therapies. Ideally, these should be tailored to the patient's clinical, biochemical, molecular needs, and matched to any cancer drugs that are being prescribed.

Dr. Andrew Weil also has additional information on alternative treatments and cancer. 

Get a fresh perspective on health: Heather's Natural Health 

Heather Van Nest, 10 News

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