ACUPUNCTURE AND PANCREAS CANCER
by Norman C
At the end of July, 1997, I was diagnosed as having cancer of the islet cells of my pancreas. I was told that the cancer had spread to my liver and spleen and possibly to more organs and was inoperable and incurable. The only treatment that was possible was chemotherapy. I was fortunate in that the cancer that I have is relatively slow growing and can have periods of little or no growth. Since I was having few symptoms at the time, my oncologist recommended that we wait for a few weeks and repeat the CT Scan that was used for the original diagnosis. If there was no growth after that time, we could wait a while longer to begin treatment. Apparently, the chemotherapy could be worse than the cancer and by waiting I could still live a relatively normal life for a while longer.
While waiting, my wife and I began to learn as much as possible about my type of cancer and the possible treatments. The more that I learned, the more that I began to dread the time when I would start the chemotherapy treatments. Some of the drugs are pretty nasty. We also looked into alternative treatments. I was told that only about 40% of cancer patients respond to chemotherapy. If that was all that I could expect then I wanted to increase the odds by trying other alternatives. Most of the alternatives that we found were focused on repairing the immune system. We found some books by cancer survivors and they described various regimens which usually had the effect of helping out the immune system. They also described various forms of meditation and visualization which were an important part of their therapy. While we were beginning to change my diet and parts of my lifestyle, my son asked whether we had investigated acupuncture. We thought, “why not?” Upon the recommendation of a friend, I made an appointment with Dr. DaRen Chen.
On my first visit with Dr. Chen, we brought the diagnosis and x-ray films for him to see. He recommended starting acupuncture immediately, even though I would not be starting chemotherapy for a while. That would allow my body to gain strength and would make it easier to get through the chemotherapy. I started acupuncture treatments three times a week and began to take the Chinese herbs that Dr. Chen recommended. This was approximately six weeks before I eventually started chemotherapy. I started right off using the time during my treatment to meditate and to visualize the cancer going away. I would come out from the treatments feeling very relaxed and I believe that the acupuncture did work to get me ready for chemotherapy.
Eight weeks after my diagnosis of cancer and six weeks after starting acupuncture, I had another CT Scan. This one showed that there was continued growth in my cancer. I started chemotherapy the next Monday. Most people loose their hair after two weeks of the drugs that I was getting. I lasted about four weeks before I gave up and shaved my head. Most people become nauseous and miss work or change their daily routine because of the chemotherapy. I started a new job. While at the
oncologist’s office getting treatment I hear other cancer patients say how they can’t eat anything but donuts or sweets while they are getting treatment. I do have to be careful to avoid some foods that I now find unappetizing, but I have continued to eat well and have even gained weight. I see some cancer patients who can barely walk after their chemotherapy treatments but I continue to feel as strong as usual and can go back to work. What am I doing right? I suspect that it is a combination of things, an important part of which is the acupuncture. The acupuncture is keeping me from feeling weak and nauseous, providing the strength that I need to live a mostly normal life.
After starting chemotherapy, Dr. Chen had me cut back to only two treatments a week. I have now been taking chemotherapy for about six months and am getting acupuncture treatments once or twice a week. The latest CT Scan showed some reduction in the size of my cancer but I will be on chemotherapy indefinitely and plan to stay on acupuncture the whole time.
I had asked my oncologist his opinion about various food supplements and about acupuncture. He acknowledged that there was some evidence that there was value in acupuncture for reducing nausea and other side effects of chemotherapy, but stopped short of recommending it. He had no opinion of various supplements except that Chinese green tea also might be of value. He did caution against trying any of the off-shore miracle cures. Since then, the AMA has made a positive statement about the therapeutic effects of acupuncture for, among other things, relief from the effects of chemotherapy. I hope my insurance company is watching. --NC
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