How My Cancer Care Combined Complementary and Conventional Treatments

October 10, 2019
Kate Sweitzer

To say that I was blindsided by my breast cancer diagnosis is an understatement. I was 38 and in the best shape of my life. Then I found a lump during a regular breast self-exam. After a 2-hour consultation, I was more than overwhelmed by the information given to me about my specific type of breast cancer: triple-negative invasive ductal carcinoma. The only “good” news I received that day was that this cancer responds well to chemotherapy. But my body and mind were protesting the idea of conventional cancer treatment.

I started reading about alternative therapies and talking to other people about them. Eventually, I found a naturopathic doctor focused on “natural medicine.” Treating my cancer with such therapies sounded way more attractive than chemotherapy and the radiation therapy that would follow. However, I became very discouraged when my research dove deeper. Alternative therapies aren’t proven to treat cancer and couldn’t replace the standard care recommended to me.share on twitter

I prayed for guidance, prayed that what I decided in the end about treatment would allow me to be there for my 3 children and my husband. I struggled with my decision for weeks, until my heart felt that combining some of the treatments I’d found with surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation therapy would be the option I’d brave.

First, I talked with my oncologist about my desire to use these complementary therapies. I felt very strongly about going this route and communicating my wishes to my oncologist. She was respectful of my position and willing to work with me, which gave me back a little of the sense of control and power that my diagnosis had first taken away. She gave me her approval to try specific therapies that wouldn’t interfere with the conventional treatment. Then, using that guidance, my naturopath and I decided on a plan we thought would best support my immune system and help me get through treatment. With this plan in hand, my oncologist coordinated a meeting with her pharmacist, who reviewed the list of complementary treatments and supplements. The pharmacist provided a thorough report on these treatments, which I then passed along to my oncologist.

After my lumpectomy in June 2018, I had to get ready for the next chapter in my treatment plan. After extensive research, the additional therapies I decided to combine with chemotherapy included intravenous high-dose vitamin C, as well as fasting for certain periods of time before, during, and after chemotherapy. Based on my own research and with approval from the naturopath and the oncologist, I began drinking an herbal tea and taking a dietary supplement.

Later, I added other selected supplements to try and tame nerve problems caused by the chemotherapy. I also had acupuncture, a complementary therapy that research shows can reduce certain other side effects I was experiencing, including nausea. During treatment, I had regular blood tests. I had to stop taking one of the supplements because my liver tests were abnormal. Throughout chemotherapy, I continued to closely coordinate all of my care, complementary and conventional, with my oncologist and my naturopath. This honest, open line of communication between my oncologist and my naturopath and my willingness to be flexible and tweak the complementary therapies as needed were very important to the treatment plan.

After 4 rounds of chemotherapy, I had a month break before I needed to start radiation therapy. During this time I had several ozone blood therapies as well as a few specific antioxidant injections combined with other dietary supplements in an effort to help my body get through the treatment. I received 19 treatments of radiation therapy, with the last 4 doses focusing directly on the area where the tumor was removed.

I paid for my complementary treatments myself. None of it was covered by insurance. Some therapies were very expensive.

June 21, 2019 marked 6 months after radiation therapy and almost 8 months after chemotherapy. Looking back at those months, I feel very confident in the decisions my team—including my naturopath and my conventional doctors—made to support me in my healing. Although alternative treatment couldn’t take the place of standard care, I was able to include complementary therapies by having ongoing conversations with my oncologist.

I’m currently doing very well and enjoying every moment of every day. I see my oncologist every 3 months for cancer checkups and my naturopath every 6 months to assess the supplements I take as well as my nutrition. I’m very thankful for the amazing staff at my cancer institute as well as my wonderful naturopath. I believe that being my own advocate and working together with my team has had a very positive influence on my treatment and healing.