01/27/2014 12:13 pm ET | Updated Mar 29, 2014

Naturopathic Oncology

After a perfectly lovely New Year's Eve, I was lying in bed the next morning and found a lump in my breast, hard and large and not right. I had all the diagnostic work done in the following days, had to wait what seemed like an interminable amount of time. A few days later I learned that I have breast cancer.

I am lucky. I have a broad and exuberant circle of support and a loving family nearby. I have health insurance. I have social and professional connections, so was seen in second opinion at a top tier hospital in the northeast within days of my diagnosis. I will begin treatment soon.

I am also a naturopathic doctor (ND), and as soon as I knew I needed a biopsy, I knew I needed to be in touch with a naturopathic doctor who specializes in treating patients with cancer. The Oncology Association of Naturopathic Physicians, an affiliate of the American Association of Naturopathic Physicians, offers board certification in naturopathic oncology for NDs, has created a repository of reliable information related to naturopathic oncology, supports continuing education in this field and encourages ongoing research. The organization is also hard at work fostering integration of naturopathic oncology into our overall health care system.

There are ways to support the body and mind before, during and after treatment for cancer where naturopathic physicians excel. For instance, integrating naturopathic approaches in order to enhance efficacy of chemotherapy while reducing side effects, or using certain supplements that support apoptosis (natural cell death), or working with a cancer patient to help prevent recurrence, naturopathic doctors have the expertise to guide such complementary care. NDs work in integrative health care centers and in private practices across the country.

Personally, I love my conventional medical team and have perfect faith in their ability to help me through surgery, chemotherapy and, if I need it, radiation therapy. I also feel deeply supported and confident about the naturopathic doctors by my side, to see me through this challenging time, to keep my body and mind in the best possible shape and to help me address side effects and other symptoms that may arise. With expert knowledge and research to back it up, I will work with diet, supplementation, botanical medicine, body-mind approaches and exercise, all at the recommendation of my naturopathic doctor.

There is so much misinformation available, there are so many patients looking for solutions. Should you or a loved one need sound medical advice from the natural medicine perspective to augment and support your conventional care, consider finding a well-trained naturopathic physician in your area. A list of those NDs with extensive training in the area of complementary cancer treatment can be found here.

And just to be clear, these are not NDs who are treating cancer, per se; these are NDs treating patients who have cancer who are simultaneously undergoing conventional care. NDs attend four-year, post-graduate, in-residence, full-time medical school and are able to communicate effectively across medical specialties. NDs refer to and accept referrals from allied medical colleagues as well.

As my husband is fond of saying whenever we have an issue or problem or challenge, or even just a big project for work or around the house, borrowing here from the world of scuba diving, we need to plan the dive and dive the plan. I love this motto, because I'm a doer, and as long as I have a plan, I am good to go. I now have an excellent plan that includes both conventional and naturopathic approaches and I am ready to roll!

For practitioners interested in further training, the OncAnp annual continuing education seminar is planned for this February 14-16 in Phoenix, Arizona. See here for further information.

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