Robert Webster was considering surrendering in a seven-year battle with cancer when his oncologist read his face, and suggested adding less traditional weapons to the arsenal.
So acupuncture, a healthier diet, a customized exercise plan and a team of holistic experts became part of the treatment plan, along with a new cancer drug. Within weeks, the Texas A&M University at Galveston researcher and doctoral student with stage 4 colon cancer had improved.
“All of a sudden, I’m feeling a little bit better every day, getting a little bit of feeling in legs and hands; I’m eating better, exercising, getting stronger,” recalled Webster, 57, known for his research on Sargassum seaweed.
Retired nurse Lona Dorman tells a similar story. She was coping with the side effects of chemotherapy for metastatic breast cancer when she joined the integrative oncology program coordinated by the University of Texas Medical Branch. The Galveston program is part of a national movement for cancer patients coupling the latest medical treatments with holistic treatment.
“It was a life-changing experience for me — a growth experience,” said Dorman in comments at an Osher Lifelong Living Institute meeting. “The big change in my life is that I am more active.”
Integrative oncology involves a team of experts overseeing:
Medical and surgical treatments;
Stress management therapies;
Diet and weight management;
Individualized fitness programs, including water exercise;
Evidence-based treatments for side effects of cancer treatment;
Appropriate counseling regarding supplements, herbs, and medications;
Multiple approaches to pain management including massage, acupuncture, physical therapy and mind-body approaches; and
Appropriate referrals to physical therapy and occupational therapy services.
“There is a common misunderstanding that a patient has to choose between traditional and nontraditional medicine,” said Dr. Maurice Willis, associate director of the UTMB Cancer Center Over Cancer Clinical Operations. “It is called integrative medicine because the team will work together in order to make the patient experience better.
“It gives patients the best of both worlds — well-trained physicians and other caregivers who treat that patient as a whole.”
Dr. Victor Sierpina, UTMB professor of integrative medicine, and Dr. Lyuba Levine, UTMB gynecologic oncologist and assistant professor, are teaching an OLLI class on the topic of integrative oncology Wednesday at the Galveston Island Community Center. The free lecture is targeted at cancer survivors, caregivers, family members and anyone interested in a healthier lifestyle and cancer prevention.
“Integrative oncology takes cancer care to a different level,” Levine said. “It is a healing-oriented approach that looks on the person as a whole (and not a cancer part within the person)….
“Our goal is to transition from survivor to thriver, and thriver to a winner.”
Sierpina quarterbacks several integrative therapy teams for Galveston patients. “It empowers them to realize they can take an active role in maintaining their health after cancer,” he said.
Webster, who is among Sierpina’s patients, started a gastrointestinal cancer support group a year ago, meeting the second Tuesday of each month on the UTMB campus. The support group is among several goals he has been able to tackle with more physical and mental vigor.
“With traditional cancer treatment, I just lay there and take it,” Webster said. “With the integrated approach, I’m able to get out there and I get to punish the cancer a little bit, do exercises, get a little bit more healthy ….
“The point is not to give up. I got close to that and I know how easy that can be sometimes,” he said. “But there’s so much more.
“We need to get things done and enjoy life. There’s so much cool stuff still out there to do.”