By Harmala Gupta June 1996 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 empha
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