One of the most important allies you can develop during your cancer treatment will be your medical oncologist, who will focus on your conventional treatment, using research to choose the most effective therapy. If you are interested in combining your conventional treatment with natural supportive therapies, it is best to have your oncologist collaborate with these other providers, such as a naturopathic doctor – that is truly integrative medicine. Many of our patients, however, tell us they are hesitant to speak with their oncologist about their choice to be an active participant in their health by seeking supportive care. So what are some best practices in bringing this up? Here are three key questions to ask your oncologist to help determine if the relationship is a good fit for you both:
1) Are you open to integrative and complementary practices with your treatment protocol?
If a holistic approach to your cancer treatment is important to you then you will want to partner with an oncologist who will support this decision. Many oncologists have no formal training in an integrative approach to cancer care and so may not be open to any therapies outside of conventional treatments. The key issue to address is if the oncologist would continue to provide your cancer care while you simultaneously see a trained Naturopathic Doctor.
2) What are the potential side effects of this treatment (short-term and long-term)?
You want an oncologist that is mindful about the long-term risks involved in the treatment protocols they are planning. If your oncologist only discusses short-term side effects (hair loss, nausea, weight loss) then the delicate balance of choosing life-saving treatment versus harms of treatment may not be considered with your future health in mind. It is important to not only survive the initial cancer but to be informed about future preventative care for recurrence or late term effects from treatment. Many natural supportive therapies aim to improve both short and long term effects of treatment.
3) Should I make any changes to my diet or lifestyle during or after treatment?
Again, many oncologists receive little training on the benefits of nutrition and lifestyle changes. Often times patients are told there is no value in these approaches. There is, however, a growing body of evidence that points to significant improvements to a patient’s quality of life with nutrition and lifestyle changes. You’ll want an oncologist that has some training or at least supports this approach as part of an important aspect to your cancer care.
Of course, there are other specific and individual questions and concerns you’ll want to ask your oncologist but these three key questions should help with making one of the most important decisions about what oncologist will work best for you. Ultimately, you want your healthcare team to support you in being empowered to take action on your health.
Author: Sonia Drouin, CCNM Integrative Cancer Centre intern