Obliteride! Accelerating Cures for Cancers

A couple weeks ago, I rode in the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center’s “Obliteride,” a bike ride to raise money for research to accelerate cures for cancers. Among the many reasons I participated in this ride was the knowledge that Fred Hutch is developing treatments that aren’t as risky and debilitating as the ones most commonly in use today.

My own mom, Marilyn Levin, died in her 40s of colon cancer after suffering through a year of chemotherapy and radiation treatment. I have personally experienced the devastation and heartbreak that cancer can create, and I’ve seen it and gone through it with other families many more times through my work. But now my wife, Lesley, works at Fred Hutch. Since she started working there, and coming home from work with stories of what they are doing at “The Hutch,” I see so much reason to believe that cures really are on the horizon. Better treatment options may be just around the corner, finally within reach. Fred Hutch scientists are at the forefront of cancer research, and it’s an exciting, hopeful time in this field. For many years now, the best hope for the most serious kinds of cancer has been chemotherapy and radiation treatments that are so debilitating that many patients eventually elect, literally, to die rather than to continue treatment My hope – and I now believe it’s a reasonable one – is that we may soon see the day when the way we currently think of cancer treatment will become only a painful memory.

Unfortunately, that time is not quite here yet. Fortunately, as an acupuncturist, I’ve been able to help many cancer patients minimize the side effects that chemotherapy and radiation often cause. Acupuncture is extremely helpful for this, and anyone undergoing these treatments should be encouraged to incorporate acupuncture into their treatment regimen. It’s an invaluable support.

There is also plenty of reason to believe that acupuncture and Chinese herbal therapy are likely to keep a cancer patient alive longer and increase the likelihood of many cancers going into remission. My personal experience has been very encouraging. More often than not, cancer patients that I’ve treated have lived longer, and done better than their doctors expected them too. And the work of Jeffrey Yuen and Li Pei Wen and many other acupuncturists specializing in oncology strongly suggests this is no fluke.

But other benefits of acupuncture for cancer patients are indisputable. First on the list, it’s well established that acupuncture relieves the nausea and other digestive disturbances brought on by chemotherapy. This benefit is so well established that almost all health insurance companies will now pay for acupuncture if it’s used for this purpose.

Secondly, acupuncture’s effectiveness for pain relief is well-known. As pain can be among the worst features of many cancers, acupuncture can be a valuable aid. Similarly, anxiety and depression often accompany cancer, not because the disease or the treatment cause these things directly, but because having this very serious illness is among the most stressful experiences one is likely to have in life. Acupuncture, and in some cases, herbs, can be an immeasurable aid for relieving stress and anxiety. The result of this calming effect can be not only a lessening of discomfort, but may be improved outcomes from treatment as well.

The unfortunate truth about chemotherapy and radiation is that they damage a lot of healthy tissue as well as the cancer cells they are targeting. This is preferable to allowing cancer to spread unchecked, but it causes a lot of unpleasant, unintended results, too. Consequently, in addition to the nausea and digestive disturbances, there may be profound fatigue, weakness, mental fog, aching muscles, neuropathy, and a host of other side effects. Acupuncture can relieve all of these. These therapies save lives, but they are toxic. Acupuncture is a great adjunct to cancer treatment, because it is not only able to relieve many of the symptoms of toxicity, but also aids in the rebuilding of the damaged tissue.

It is probably not likely that acupuncture, or even Chinese herbal medicine, will ever be the gold standard of cancer treatment. The best hope for cancer cures is probably Western Medicine’s research, and institutions like Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center. At this point, however, Western and Chinese Medicine work together well – Western Medicine attacking the cancer, and Chinese Medicine helping the patient survive the onslaught more comfortably, without the added complications and side effects of pharmaceutical drugs. Someday, I hope there won’t be the need for so much assistance in these ways from acupuncturists like me.

In the last six years, Fred Hutch’s “Obliteride” has raised over $14 million to fund research and development of new cancer treatments. It was the most fun I’ve had doing something really, really important with my time in the last few years, and you can bet I’ll be riding again next year. To learn more about it, go to obliteride.org. You can also make a donation at that site, or at fredhutch.org.