By Harmala Gupta
Yes, there are alternatives to allopathy—in ayurveda, homeopathy, yoga, meditation and nature cure—that help you cope with cancer
The winter of 1998 was particularly hard one for me. Not only did I have the cold of Montreal to content with, but I also had a persistent pain in the back that made it difficult for me to concentrate on the task at hand, which was to complete my PhD. By spring, I had a nagging cough that did not seem to respond to any treatment. As summer approached, as did the time for my departure to China for a field trip, it was fairly clear to me that I was in trouble. I was breathless all the time; I had lost a quarter of my weight, and was finding it increasingly difficult to function. It was time to seek more specialized help.
An operation and several tests later, the verdict was in: I had Hodgkin’s lymphoma, a cancer of the lymphatic system, and the lymph nodes involved were in my chest.
A little more than a decade has passed since those fateful days. And while time has helped dim the intensity of those early anxious moments, there are occasions when I can still vividly recall the waves. Of panic, the immense mental and physical fatigue, and the unrelenting nausea the accompanied the chemotherapy and radiotherapy that were given tome for my cancer. Meeting with cancer survivors and sharing the trauma of my diagnosis with them has considerably reduced my emotional burden, yet I have often wondered whether I could not have made life easier for myself by using treatments other than allopathic.
It was, therefore, with some excitement that I began to review the record of a few of these other treatments, thanks to a Times Fellowship awarded to me last year.
Visits to practitioners of ayurveda, homeopathy, yoga, meditation and naturopathy, as well as the feed back received from those ho have used these therapies for their cancers, have convinced me that they have a complementary role to play in the treatment of cancer. The question of whether they can be used as viable alter natives to current allopathic treatments in an academic one, however, as almost 90 percent of those diagnosed with cancer turned to use the allopathic option first. It is only when treatments become too onerous, owing to the noxious side-effects and the mounting expenditure involved, that people turn to other remedies. There are also those who wish to prevent a recurrence or who have been told that there is nothing further available to them in terms of active treatment in the allopathic field.
Experiments conducted in laboratories in India and around the world have established the anti tumor and anti-toxic properties of several verbal preparations used by the ayurvedic and siddha systems for the treatment of cancer. They are also said to help boost the immune system.
Yet it is certainly a big jump from mice to men. There is a need for wide spread clinical trials to be conducted under joint supervision at cancer hospitals across the country to establish the efficacy of these preparations, based on internationally accepted methods of evaluation.
As of now, these trials are practically nonexistent, while the record-keeping of the practitioners of alternative the therapies treating cancer, barring few exceptions, is not adequate. In addition, these physicians speak only of their ‘successes’ and we are left to guess show many may not have benefited at all from their treatments. It has also been my experience that often claims of cure are based on short-term assessments of the physical and mental well-being of the patient ho has just undertaken aggressive allopathic treatment. What we may be witnessing, therefore, is simply the normalization of the system, rather than the beneficial effects of an alternative therapy.
The role of food substances and spices in preventing and treating concern is receiving increasing attention today and appears a promising field for further research. Turmeric (haldi), an essential ingredient of the Indian diet, is recommended as a cancer preventive and it appears that you can consume fairly large quantities of it without experiencing any deleterious effects. Auto-urine therapy is also seen as a cheap and effective way of building the body’s resistance and of combating cancer.
However, no sure guarantee can be given regarding the efficacy of a treatment for a particular cancer. Alternative therapies are based on the premise that each one of us is different, and what works for one may not necessarily work for the other.
The mind and spirit are being seen as playing a pivotal role in fighting cancer.
Those with cancer are being encouraged to think positive. There is also this theory that negative thoughts and emotions, or stress, make you susceptible to cancer.
Then there is the hypothesis of a typical cancer personality. In fact, Lydia Temoshok, a psychologist in San Francisco, has even coined the term Type C personality. According to Temoshok, cancer patients are likely to be uncomplaining, cooperative and resistant to expressing emotions, particularly anger and hostility. I feel that this is a very debatable area and can cause those affected by cancer a great deal of psychological damage. The importance of adopting a positive attitude towards dealing with a disease that is still considered synonymous with despair and death, cannot, however, be undermined.
There is a need to assume personal responsibility for your healing, to make your body and soul work as a winning team. And this requires generous does of courage, a sense of adventure, faith and a strong will.
And these virtues are in no way lacking in Inderjit Kaur, a 38-year-old Delhi housewife who was diagnosed and operated upon for mesothelioma (a relatively rare cancer that affects the membrane lining of the chest or abdominal cavity). She has been under the Dehradun based Vaidya Balendu Prakash’s care for nine years, and has even given birth to a daughter (Harmeet, 8) in this period.
Says Kaur: ‘In May 1984, I had an unbearable pain in my chest and my entire body became deathly cold. Investigations led to a diagnosis of mesothelioma. I was told that the disease was in the final stage and the doctors at Jaslok Hospital in Bombay, as well as other doctors, gave me six months to live. After an operation they suggested chemotherapy, but I heard about Vaidya Balendu Prakash and decided to use his treatment instead…’
A poignant pause, and she adds: ‘Today I am perfectly healthy and have no complaints.’
Balendu Prakash is the son of the late Vaidya Chandra Prakash of Meerut who was credited with curing several cases of cancer, especially of leukemia. Vaidya Chandra Prakash learnt his craft from his guru, Maharajji, who used the ancient rasayana shastra of ayurveda to treat cancer. The remedies based on this specialty of ayurveda have traditionally promoted longevity. Besides herbs and metals, mercury and arsenic form the basic ingredients of rasayana preparations.
Gretel was a middle aged German woman who turned to Balendu Prakash after she had tried all the allopathic options for her multiple myeloma. She was exhausted and in great pain, and required frequent blood transfusions and a regular intake of morphine to keep her frail body going. Nine months after starting Balendu Prakash’s treatment, she was off blood transfusions and the morphine injections, and had also begun to drive, cycle and do her household chores.
This is what Gretel’s grateful daughter has to say about her mother’s last years: ‘Due to ayurvedic treatment, my mother lived two years longer than she would have without it. And, what is certainly more important, the quality of her life had improved enormously.’
Balendu Prakash’s treatment costs approximately Rs 2,000 per month. Since he also specifies certain dietary restrictions, including cooking food in desi ghee (clarified butter), this further escalates the cost. The advantage is that he does not lead you on and frankly tells you whether he can help you or not. He is also conscious of the fact that the active principles, correct dosage and optimum duration of treatment for he preparations he prescribes are yet to be scientifically validated. He is trying to achieve this and has started a research foundation.
There is mention of cancer, its origin and its treatment, in two ancient texts of ayurveda: The Charaka Samhita and the Susruta Samhita. Cancer was referred to as arbuda (a mound of flesh), a further development of a grandhi (a benign tumor).
Ayurvedic practitioners believe that cancer is caused by an imbalance in all three of the basic physiological principles, the tridoshas—vata, pitta and kapha. This imbalance is detected by feeling the pulse of the patient at the radial artery. While all three doshas are involved, one will predominate, and this will guide the physician in this diagnosis.
Treatment involves two steps. One, getting rid of accumulated waste byproduct and toxins through the panchakarmatherapy using herbal oil massages, heat treatments, enemas, external applications and the oral ingestion of herbal substances. The bala (vitality) of the cancer patient is then sought to be fortified and rejuvenated by the rasayana therapy, which uses herbal and mineral-based preparations, often containing mercury and arsenic.
The use of invasive techniques such as surgery and radiation is not ruled out in ayurveda, but the emphasis is on changing the patient’s lifestyle and way of thinking. Thus diet, rest, exercise, massage, visualization and spiritual instruction all form part of the treatment. The Divyajot Ayurvedic Research Foundation in India is using 65 herbal medicines to treat cancer patients. Under the tutelage of ayurvedic practitioner Ma Anantanandji, the Association is constructing a 100-bed hospital and research center near Ahmedabad. The emphasis will be on the total rehabilitation of the cancer patient.
Dr. Nandlal Tiwari of Jaipur is another ayurveda doctor who has made a reputation for himself as a cancer specialist. He claims to have perfected a herbal preparation, which he calls Carctol, and which he markets from his clinic. He is apparently deluged with requests for treatment from those who have tried the allopathic options without success and have nowhere else to turn. Yet Dr Tiwari’s instructions are firm and explicit: ‘Do not contact me before two months of taking my medicine. If there has been no perceptible improvement at the end of this period, give it up without even consulting me.’
The dietary restrictions Dr Tiwari imposes, besides prohibiting the consumption of onion, garlic, tea and coffee, also extend to food that started out sour (for example, mango) or is likely to become sour in the course of time (yogurt). This is a downside of many of these treatments, for not only are the dietary guidelines severely restrictive, but they also seem to deprive people of the kind of food that they can easily digest. The patients are also expected to swallow medicinal substances that are usually bitter and difficult to keep down.
Trilochan Singh Batra is retired government official who was diagnosed with prostate cancer towards the end of his service. Though he was operated upon, there was no visible improvement as the cancer had already spread to the bones and he spent his days in pain with fever, sweats and no appetite. In desperation, he turned to Dr. Tiwari. He began to feel better within a fortnight, and now, five years later, he is free of the disease and is leading an active life.
Says an appreciative Batra: ‘Allopathic doctors did not suggest any further treatment and had turned me away. I am indebted to Dr. Tiwari for giving me a new life.’
Unfortunately, the treatment did not promise a cancer-free existence for Seema, a 36-year old housewife who was diagnosed with carcinoma of the left breast in July 1993. She was advised surgery, but when she consulted Dr. Tiwari at Jaipur, he suggested that she take Carctol instead. Seema took the medicine for two-and-a-half years and observed all the dietary precautions, but to no avail. After a year, the cancer had spread to the lymph nodes under the arm and she had to go in for surgery and chemotherapy.
Observes her husband: ‘Carctol is no doubt a good medicine to help build internal resistance. While on it, my wife’s health remained excellent, but it can’t remove cancer. But I am sure it can help prolong the lives of patients who are in the last stage of the disease.’
Helping prolong the lives of many a cancer patient is the homeopath doctor, D. Sundara Rao. His clinic in Bangalore is crowded with patients—in fact, the octogenarian doctor finds he barely has enough time to eat and catch up on his sleep.
Rajalaksmi, 70, came to Dr. Sundara Rao to be relieved of the intense pain in her pelvis and lower abdomen caused by the cancer in her bladder. When last heard from, her pain, though still there, was recurrent—not continuous. It was her son, who is an allopathic doctor, who brought her to Dr. Sundara Rao for treatment. He observes: ‘Speaking form my experience as a general practitioner, Dr Sundara Rao’s treatment is effective, but I doubt whether it can cure you a hundred per cent. The aim of my mother’s present treatment is to make her remaining life with cancer as comfortable and painless as possible.’
According to homeopathy, there are three miasms (a miasm is a susceptibility acquired or inherited by the constitution of an individual): Syphilis, sycosis and psora. And there are the four classic temperaments: Choleric, sanguine, melancholic and phlegmatic. The approach to homeopathic treatment is not only to treat the local symptoms, but to set the vital energy in order, keeping in mind the individual characteristics of the patient, including his family history and temperament.
Homeopaths also believe that their medicines help treat cancer as they stimulate the defense mechanism of the body.
Dr R.P. Patel was diagnosed with spindle cell fibrosarcoma in 1960. He searched the world over for a cure for his cancer. He even tried the Iscador Therapy (using an indictable preparation made from mistletoe extract) and some familiar homeopathic medicines at the Lucas Clinic in Switzerland. Today the Kottayam-based homeopath treats diseases not easily amenable to conventional treatment such as cancer and asthma, and claims to have a 50 per cent success rate in treating cancer. Dr Patel strongly believes that the person’s will to live is crucial for recovery.
Dr Hari Krishna, a homeopath resident in Agra, has a superstitious belief that the patient he sees do not get well. He therefore treats them from a distance, with medicines that are administered for two weeks at a time.
Dr Hari Krishna’s record, however, like that of other practitioners, is a mixed one. I met the enthusiastic wife of a 54-year old man who had been diagnosed and treated for cancer of the esophagus at the Safdarjang Hospital in Delhi. He had a tube fitted inside his throat to facilitate swallowing, but did not respond tot he allopathic treatments, which left him feeling weak. Two months after taking Dr Krishna’s medicine, his appetite had revived; he had gained 8 kg in weight and was back at work.
Dr. Krishna’s medicine did not prove so effective in the case of Deepak, an athletic 15-year old who had osteogenic sarcoma, a cancer of the bone. Disillusioned with the doctor’s cure, his parents decided to revert to allopathic treatment, but by then the cancer had spread.
Helping cancer patients cope with the side effects of allopathic treatment is Dr H.R. Nagendra, director of the Vivekanand Yoga Kendra in Bangalore. In collaboration with the Kidwai Memorial Institute of Oncology in Bangalore, Dr Nagendra has successfully tested the hypothesis that the patients who are taught yoga’s relaxation and deep breathing techniques are able to gain control over fear and anxiety, leading to a better quality of life. Those who wish to retreat to a place of quiet can stay at Prashanti Kuteeram, near Bangalore, and learn yoga and meditation from Dr Nagendra and his team.
At this retreat I met a 43-year old man who had traveled far and wide in search of a cancer preventive. He had had Hodgkin’s lymphoma and wanted to ward off recurrence. Of all the therapies he had tried, he finally settled on a mix of yoga and ayurvedic tonics to stimulate the immune system. Prashanti Kuteeram was his place of annual pilgrimage.
Hatha yoga prescribes the regular use of certain cleansing techniques, known as kriyas, for the elimination of accumulated toxic waste matter in the body. In addition, some techniques such as pranayama and yoga nidra help cancer patients cope with the unpleasant side effects of therapy such as nausea and vomiting, while significantly reducing the level of pain and anxiety.
Budh Prakash, a railway officer diagnosed with multiple myeloma, has used yoga to telling effect. Enthuses Prakash: ‘Yoga improves the quality of life enormously and it has helped me in getting rid of anti-hypertension drugs. Yoga has also helped me get over my sleep disorders and it has improved my mental faculties.’
The husband and wife team of Dr Nand Kishore and Dr Savita Sharma is committed to propagating the cause of nature cure or naturopathy. The Sharmas have started their own Natural Cancer Care Foundation in Delhi and recommend a diet of primarily uncooked foods. According to them, animal products (including milk), sugar, salt, tea, coffee, tobacco, alcohol, refined cereals, cooked and fried foods, chemicals and medicines are all cancer promoters. They argue that these substances are highly acidic and, in order to stay healthy, 80 per cent of the food we eat should be alkaline.
Naturopaths feel that a system that does not respect the inherent cleansing and healing efforts of nature, and instead seeks to suppress local symptoms, can lead, over time, to cancer.
The Sharmas also hold camps all over the country and claim that many cancer patients, who have attended these camps, as also their center, have been cured. I know of one person who was cure of her first cancer and experienced a great boost to her energy levels and overall health, but then fell prey to another cancer. My general impression is that people have benefited from the diet the Sharmas prescribe, but find it difficult to sustain it once the initial urgency wears off. I was unable to find a case of complete cure from cancer based solely on their diet.
Delhi based S. Swaminathan, a naturopath who offers free consultations, observes that chronic disease is an outcome of the way we eat, live and think. There ware a number of people with cancer who testify to the beneficial effects to a diet based on the consumption of the juices of fresh and raw fruits and vegetables, and of wheat grass.
Pritam Lal Chanana, deputy manager, corporate engineering, Bharat Heavy Electricals Ltd (BHEL), was diagnosed with cancer of the testes in 1982. He found it almost impossible to tolerate the radiation treatments given to him after his operation. The cancer recurred in the liver a few months later. It was then that Chanana decided to use alternative therapies and turned to Tibetan medicine and naturopathy. In July 1987, he was declared free of his cancer.
Not surprisingly, Chanana, 54, is a great supporter of naturopathy, especially of wheat grass therapy. His rationale: ‘All diseases are nothing but deposits of toxins in the body and their crimination ensures a state of well-being and health.’ And this state, in turn, often leads to recovery.
Recovery is a word that holds so much hope for cancer patients as they, along with their family, struggle to come to terms with what is, literally, a matter of life and death. I found that recovery from cancer is not just physical—it involves regaining your self-esteem and sense of purpose as well. Alternative therapies, besides working at the level of the immune system, also help revive hope when all seems lost. They help to establish control over your life—in fact, you feel like getting well again. For, while allopathy may be the first line of defense, it is by no means the last.
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