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The Attraction of CAM

Posted 11/17/2015

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  This is my first morning back at work after almost three weeks away. I am trying to sort through the messages and emails and piles of papers on my desk--and mostly trying to clear away the fog in my head. Although I slept well last night, I did awaken at 3 AM, and I know the fatigue will hit this afternoon. My first telephone call was to a woman who has been recently diagnosed with ovarian cancer and plans to start chemotherapy next week. She spoke at length re her long-standing belief that "if something like this happened, I would choose not to treat it", and her surprise that her choice is different. I reassured her that these feelings are not so unusual, and that we never know what we would do in a given situation unless we are actually faced with it. Most certainly, the CAM therapies can look awfully attractive when compared to the Slash, Burn, and Poison methods that we employ.

  Susan Gubar writes beautifully about this in her New York Times column: 

Living With Cancer: The Lure of Alternative Remedies

When I get tired of being told to juice carrots, I remember that the essayist Anatole Broyard took tap-dancing
lessons as he underwent treatment for prostate cancer. Sick people need all sorts of strategies, alongside medical ones, to deal with disease.
The members of my support group use meditation, acupuncture, herbal supplements, Yoga and massage to
supplement standard cancer care. Judging from a number of patient accounts, traditionally trained surgeons and oncologists do not know enough about biofeedback training, hypnosis, TENS machines, mindfulness techniques, guided  and other pain and stress management protocols that can be more effective than prescription drugs with their miserable side effects.
But alternative approaches that bypass conventional medicine are often marketed as panaceas. Like every cancer patient I know, I have been instructed on the curative powers of green tea, flax seeds, frankincense, blueberries, kale, ginger, mistletoe injections, vitamins C and B17, Reiki masters, shark cartilage, visualization, crystals, healing hands, curcumin and resveratrol, energy release exercises, vegan and macrobiotic and alkalizing diets, colonic body cleansing, coffee enemas, hemp oil and (lest I forget) carrots. Saying “thank you but no thank you” to well-meaning zealots gets old fast.
To my mind, though, directives on these remedies are far less distressing than the “heal-yourself-with-a-positive attitude” movement, which remains alive and well even though it dates back to the 1980s, long before I got my cancer.
 . While the popularity of Dr. O. Carl Simonton, Dr. Lawrence LeShan and Dr. Bernie Siegel peaked, friends
with breast cancer labored under the impression that the disease was their fault. As Christina Middlebrook lamented in her memoir, “New Age tyranny suggests that if I have cancer I must have ‘needed’ it in order to resolve some previous life issue that lies rotting beneath the surface of my life.”

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