Settling in to London – Cancer and the Internet
Up to the very end of my time overseas, before returning to London, the internet was an unknown. I used to spend my Saturdays in the university libraries, keeping up with relevant research. But much of my information came by way of books, magazines, lectures and, thanks to one enthusiastic nutritional biochemist (Dr Jeff Bland), by way of weekly audio tapes. I had one further advantage. For the last 12 or so years in Sydney, I had been fortunate enough to travel. I travelled twice per year to visit Aunt in Ireland. This was typically at Christmas-time and in the summer, and I made sure that each time I travelled to and fro across America. These trips were planned around conferences and visits to different colleagues, clinics, laboratories and other occasions of huge interest. In this way, I was able to keep up to date with the latest professional developments on many levels.
In the mid-1990’s, just as I was packing my bags to leave Sydney, a friend insisted he had to show me something. He had just ‘discovered’ the internet and proudly showed me how he had chosen his new car online. He assured me it was wonderful, but I could not see how I would find a use for this so-called ‘Internet’. In fact, I was quite certain that when it came time for me to buy a car in London, I would want to get into it, drive it and get the feel of it, not buy it through some strange new computer procedure.
At the start of my new life in London, I failed to recognise what the internet could do, and the huge benefit it could be to me both professionally and personally. Now, of course, like nearly everyone else, I take it for granted and even moan when I can’t get online, and that, sadly, is a regular occurrence on my Alpaca farm in Ireland!
Digital natives who grew up with the internet may fail to recognise some of its many benefits simply because they have never lived without it. The internet is now such a common fixture in our personal, professional and social lives that it is hard to imagine what life was like when we didn’t have it. In addition to being a wonderful source of information and communication, the internet has brought immense benefit to the acceptance and growth of Complementary and Alternative Medicine (CAM). There are organisations in existence that would like to suppress the natural therapies and make it difficult to publish papers in reputable mainline journals. These same organisations could make it difficult to publish books by deeming them too controversial, and much, much more. However, with the internet we have the chance to communicate with people and our rapidly growing ‘voice’ is much more difficult to suppress.
Once I embraced the internet, it was as if a whole new world was opening up. I could go online and research any topic I could think of, a treasure-trove of delights! One of the most important discoveries was just how much pure scientific, biochemical and physiological research is being done and published about alternative approaches to cancer.
One evening, I attended a ‘Roving Dining Club.’ I arrived late and found that I did not know any of the three people remaining. I apologised for being late and explained that I got caught up in what I was doing. “What were you doing?” asked one of the diners. “Oh, I was working on my latest book,” I explained. The conversation then led to the topic of my book and I knew I was in trouble.
The Dining Club members were generally professional people with backgrounds in business, politics, medicine, finance, and so on. No-one would have known what a Naturopath was back then, nearly 20 years ago, and I didn’t want to have to explain. I had tried to explain once and I was met with,
“Oh, you mean you’re are a homoeopath? The Queen has one of those!”
I had fallen into the habit of saying (very fast), “I’m a naturopath and I breed alpacas in Ireland”. It worked. Without fail then the conversation would turn, at least briefly, to alpacas which at the time had only recently been imported into the UK.
This time I was hung out to dry. It turned out that the three people present were all involved in medical oncology and it didn’t take long for them to launch an attack! It’s a wonder I could eat my meal without getting indigestion.
“How dare you practice unproven medicine!” was one of the many challenging comments thrown at me. No matter how much science I introduced into the discussion – and I did try, knowing full well that the amount of biochemistry I was offering was more than they would recall from their distant training. I did my best to explain what I did along with many positive case histories and examples.
I would like to think I gave as good as I got. Not only did I have many years of experience behind me at this point, I also shared the immense amount of science that lies behind the Metabolic Approach to cancer. Much of this came from my clinical experience along with ten years of University studies and a solid foundation in physiological biochemistry but this was all enhanced by the internet, and I had become immensely grateful for it. There is a wealth of science and research behind what we, as naturopaths and Nutritional Therapists do, whatever area of health and ill health we specialise in.
Finally, after about forty-five minutes of being attacked on three sides, as I prepared to leave, I concluded with,
“I stick by all I have said, and I can tell you one more thing. I practise everything I have ever advised my clients to do, I follow the dietary and lifestyle recommendations I make, and I take the supplements that I recommend to my clients. I do this because these strategies are both preventative and useful for support and recovery. And I can say with confidence that above all, I do no harm.”
In a moment of awkwardness, everyone got up and made moves to leave. One of the doctors surprised and impressed me with her honesty. She took time to say, “I will give you this, I specialise in childhood cancers, and if I got cancer as my patients have, I would not take my own medicine. I would know, it wouldn’t be worth it, and the pain would be too much. I would curl up in a corner and wait to die.”
In the years since there have been many similar comments by oncologists who would not take their own medicine or treatments and would not prescribe it for their close friends or family members. I, along with my colleagues (in what we might call ‘naturopathic oncology’ as they do in America) generally benefit from ‘walking our talk’ and embracing the protocols we prescribe for others – and all without doing any harm to ourselves.