I used to think Alternative meant any kind of non-traditional medicine used to treat breast cancer or breast cancer symptoms. So when people made sweeping generalizations about the efficacy of Alternative therapies, or Western Doctors headed up hospital departments of non-Western therapies, I thought that implied approval included women who choose NO Western medicine at all.

That is not the case.

I, for one, am a HUGE proponent of complementary therapies: i.e. non-traditional therapies in SUPPORT of traditional medicine. During my own cancer treatment I tried things like yoga, frozen peas, turkey-tail mushrooms, acetyl L carnitine, amongst others. And while i’m not sure how effective all that was (except the yoga, that did lots of things for me beyond just making me feel like I impacted my own health, it kept my hips from hurting) but I sure felt more in control trying it all out.

Of course it took a lot of printing out stuff and bringing it in to my care team to make sure I wasn’t messing up my chemo.

Complementary: In addition to.

Alternative is a bit scarier. That means no traditional medicine. I browsed the breastcancer.org bulletin boards a lot reading about women who posted they were only going to treat themselves with various mushrooms, or with controlled fasting, or complete removal of sugar from their diet, or whatnot. And part of me felt a coward I wasn’t joining them. (although can you imagine me trying to fast? not likely to happen) But take a look at this somewhat unsettling study from Yale that started with “.. 281 patients with nonmetastatic breast, prostate, lung, or colorectal cancer who chose AM, administered as sole anticancer treatment among patients who did not receive conventional cancer treatment (CCT), defined as chemotherapy, radiotherapy, surgery, and/or hormone therapy. ”

Can you guess what happened? Yeah, they died at higher rates. Especially the breast cancer ones.

“Use of alternative medicine was found to be associated with 2.5 times higher risk of death compared to use of conventional cancer treatment in the study group overall. When analyzed by cancer type, breast cancer patients who chose alternative medicine were found to have the highest risk of death (5.7 times), followed by colorectal cancer (4.6 times) and lung cancer (2.2 times) patients. The authors conclude that, while rare, exclusive use of alternative medicine for curable cancer is associated with greater risk of death.”

From a breast cancer treatment survivor perspective, while intellectually I might understand a woman’s reason for not going traditional: a false sense of control over their body and disease, ingrained distrust in the medical establishment, quite rightful doubts about the efficacy of chemotherapy on many tumors….emotionally I can’t imagine any other path then throwing every single possible treatment at that damn cancer to make it go away.

Traditional AND Complementary.  Turkey tail mushrooms AND Adriamycin.