Mark Hume, Globe and Mail: Doctors at a centre in B.C. are involving cancer patients with their own healing in a holistic approach, with surprising results.
When Dennis Thulin was diagnosed with prostate cancer in 1999, he wanted to play an active role in searching for a way to get healthy again.
In the hope of avoiding the invasive, traditional treatments of surgery or radiation therapy, he changed his diet, began to exercise more, had his mercury fillings removed, started to relieve stress through meditation and fasted to detoxify his body.
The attitude of his doctors, he said recalling the frustration he felt then, was that “everything I was doing was a waste of time.”
But he thought differently, and when he learned about the Centre for Integrated Healing — where doctors seek to combine traditional medicine with alternative approaches that empower patients — Mr. Thulin went to investigate.
“I was euphoric,” he said of his feelings after he visited the clinic for the first time and learned the philosophy of the team that runs the only centre of its kind in North America.
“It’s a wonderful place with a wonderful attitude,” said Mr. Thulin, who is on a treatment program at the centre, where he now works as a volunteer.
“It’s a whole different attitude. It’s not just a doctor saying do this, this and this,” said Mr. Thulin. “There’s so much support and love in that place. That’s what blows people away. It’s not like a typical cancer clinic.”
Founded by Dr. Roger Rogers and Dr. Hal Gunn, the centre stresses that emotional and spiritual healing is as important as physical healing.
Dr. Gunn said that before the centre was established, he went on a tour of cancer facilities in the United States, where he found clinics were offering one aspect or another of complementary care. Some clinics focused on diet, others keyed on stress reduction, or meditation. He and Dr. Rogers, who in 2001 was awarded the Order of British Columbia for his work on cancer care, wanted a fully integrated facility that offered a broad spectrum of treatment.
Patients begin with 12 hours of seminars and workshops that cover “complementary cancer care and healing, meditation, healthful nutrition, visualization, group sharing, decision-making, vitamins and supplements.”
Dr. Gunn believes that the centre is where health care is headed in the future.
“There’s more and more interest in this approach,” he said yesterday. “I think that what has happened in conventional medicine is that we’ve been focused in the 20th century on treating the end result of the disease with chemotherapy and radiation and surgery. And those treatments have certainly been helpful in many circumstances but those treatments . . . don’t address the cause of the disease.”
Linking prevention and treatment, the mind and the body, the Centre for Integrated Healing has accomplished some amazing results.
One patient, Joanne, had inoperable lung cancer but, after treatment at the centre, a recent MRI scan of her lung “showed only residual fibrosis at the site of the original tumour.”
Another patient, Jerry, had multiple myeloma and was given two years to live. The centre’s program led him back to health and more than a decade later “his blood test results are now almost within the normal range.” He has recently qualified for life insurance.
“Why some people are able to recover from incurable cancer is still a very interesting mystery,” said Dr. Gunn. “But there’s so much about the immune system and the relationship between the mind and the spirit and the immune system that we don’t understand. I think it’s important to embrace that mystery and be open to it.”
Dr. Gunn says that 25 years ago, heart disease was seen as an irreversible condition. Now doctors stress the importance of a holistic approach to address the underlying causes.
“I believe we will come to understand cancer in the same way — as a reversible disease,” said Dr. Gunn.
While the hard science isn’t in yet, the Centre for Integrated Healing has taken a leap of faith that the relationship between the mind and the body is a key to helping cancer patients recover.
Mr. Thulin, who is still battling cancer, agrees.
“Complementary medicine doesn’t mean a cure for cancer — but neither does traditional medicine,” said Mr. Thulin. “What the centre is showing is that they work well together.”