Cancer is ruthless. It has no preferences, no bias, and no method. Cancer comes, and cancer takes. It takes the roots of human spirit and tears them to pieces. It takes happy families and burns black holes into their fabric. Worse of all, the only approved methods of treating cancer often bear side effects worse than the cancer itself. Cancer treatment, attacking both the good and the bad, can reduce patients to a fraction of their former self.
In the case of James "Rhio" O'Connor, with the diagnosis of mesothelioma, a rare cancer that attacks the lungs, heart, and stomach, he may as well have been handed a death sentence. One year to live, plugged into hospital walls and pumped with poison. The only other option was the unexplored pathway of alternative medicine, not approved by the FDA and therefore not covered by most major medical insurances. These alternative treatments include supplements, vitamins, minerals, healthy dieting, and spiritual medicine. While not scientifically proven, these alternatives often prove to greatly improve the quality of life of those battling cancer, and in the case of Connor, even extend the expected lifespan.
Alternative medicine can be incredibly effective in lengthening and improving the life of people dealing with cancer, however, those considering alternative medicine should not discount the effectiveness or proven validity of scientific medicinal technology. Patients should be provided with information on all available treatments, medicinal or alternative, and their subsequent side effects and benefits before making a decision alongside their doctor to choose a path that values both quality and length of life.
Alternative medicine is defined by the Oxford Dictionary as any range of medical therapies that are not regarded as orthodox by the medical profession. This can include herbal medicine, vitamins, minerals, vegetarian dieting, and spiritual medicine. Unregulated an unpredictable, these methods are not endorsed by the FDA. In the course of many cancer treatments, however, they often prove to be a godsend. They provide an alternate path from traditional "poisonous" medicines, and emphasize patient well being. The key factor that separates alternative medicine from chemotherapy and radiation is the fact that alternative methods place all of the focus on the quality of life of the patient. They seek to provide the patient with comfort and natural healing by easing the symptoms of the illness without causing side effects of their own. Aside from the biological impact, they place the control within the hands of the patient, allowing them to determine the course of their own recovery. This psychological perception provides these therapies with an absolute medical relevancy, as they give the patient a much higher sense of self esteem removing them from the medical hierarchy and placing them in control of their own path. Often, alternative medicine works well adjacently with traditional cancer treatment, complementing the positive factors of chemotherapy and radiation, while allowing for a certain degree of patient control and interaction.
Ideally, patients should be given the freedom to choose their own course of treatment, alternative or traditional, given that they have received all the available information on treatment possibilities. Medical professionals, when dealing with terminal illness, must consider the emotional difficulties encountered by these patients. When a patient infers that their doctor cares more about the price tag merited by a certain type of treatment, rather than their own quality of life, they are likely to disregard the opinion of the medical industry altogether, and take their health into their own hands. An effective pathway of treatment for terminal cancer is one that is both hopeful and realistic, aimed at elongated the patient's life without creating greater suffering, by valuing their wishes and quality of life. In this regard, alternative medicine can be crucial for those searching for some source of control within the biomedical paradigm, while trying to preserve their health.
With all of this taken into account, it is important not to discount the life saving modern medicine that has been brought forth in the past several decades. While it is estimated that it takes $400 million dollars to bring a new cancer drug into the market, these drugs are often invaluable to the lives of cancer patients. I myself witnessed the power of progression in oncology as I watch my uncle, diagnosed with an often deadly form of blood cancer, have his life saved by a combination of chemotherapy and stem cell transplants. This perfectly exemplifies the cruciality of weighing options and evaluating the individual patient situation before deciding upon a course of treatment. While alternative medicine may have given my uncle peace and comfort during his battle with leukemia, it ultimately would not have stopped the illness from spreading and killing him, as the various forms of traditional medicine was able to do. There is no right or wrong answer; The course of action ultimately depends on the patient's wishes, the progression of the disease, and the balance of quality of life and quantity of years.
Ultimately, the only person responsible for determining a course of treatment is the patient. It is up to the medical professionals entrusted with their care for ensuring that they have all the information possible to allow for successful treatment and ensuring that both their quality and length of life are as optimized as possible. Alternative medicine is highly effective by alleviating cancer symptoms, but should by no means discount the lifesaving medicinal technology discovered in recent years. While it is discouraging to many patients that alternative medicine is not approved and therefore not covered by insurance, this should not discourage them from advocating for their own health and asking dissenting questions, rather than become another number in the pocket of the biomedical paradigm that so many people blindly trust. Every patient is different. Every treatment is different. By evaluating every unique case and considering the complexities of patient well-being and lifestyle, as well as bringing the possibility of alternative forms of medicine into the discussion of cancer treatment, doctors can effectively determine a pathway of treatment that values both the patients quality of life, as well as the hope that they can still overcome the illness.