Changing Integrative Cancer Care

by Michael Lerner, Commonweal President

We may or may not be able to change the course of a disease. But we can profoundly affect the human experience of the illness. We may or may not be able to change pain. But we can profoundly affect the human experience of suffering. And since what we experience is not the disease but the illness, and not the pain but the suffering, it actually makes a difference to become conversant with the deep healing arts.

Beyond Conventional Cancer Therapies (BCCT), our new integrative cancer care website, launched October 1, 2018. We have more than 80 therapy summaries. We have in-depth reports on breast and prostate cancer, about 40 pages each, referenced to the original journal articles. We are working on similar reports on ovarian, colon, lung, and brain cancer. We hope to have all of those up by our first anniversary.

We are attracting thousands of viewers from across the English-speaking world, including Great Britain, Canada, and Ireland. There is nothing like BCCT on the web. No other integrative cancer site is as intensely researched. And no other site makes as deep an effort to balance conventional and complementary therapies.

One of the deep lessons of this work is this: getting conventional therapies right is at least as important as getting complementary therapies right to achieve true integrative cancer care. And it is at least as difficult. Even the very best major cancer centers are, essentially, great medical machines—or bureaucracies—that try hard to give patients the best care they are able to give. They are constrained by many different pressures—reimbursement systems, the interests of physicians and other healthcare providers, the pharmaceutical industry, government regulations, and many others.

These vast medical machines cannot focus entirely on the best interests of the patient. And they surely cannot provide the kind of integrative care that patients and practitioners would like to see. To achieve anything like that, the patient is essentially on her own, with any wisdom that friends and counselors can contribute.

BCCT has set out with the modest goal of making a contribution to true integrative cancer care.

The therapy summaries are as objective as we know how to make them. So are the reports on breast and prostate cancer, with more to come. BCCT is not (yet) as user friendly as we would like. That’s because we started with a different goal—to provide the best resources on integrative cancer therapies we could provide. We follow the best science, clinical wisdom, and patient experiences we can find. To do that is inevitably to present the truth in all its complexity.

BCCT is not for everyone. It is for people who really want to understand the choices they face or the choices their patients face. We have no axe to grind for or against any therapy, conventional or complementary. No one pays us or influences the analyses and perspectives we have arrived at. I am astonished at what we have learned in the three years we have worked on BCCT.

Lucy Waletzky, Laura Pole, Nancy Hepp, and Ruth Hennig are my partners in BCCT. Join us. We welcome your insights and your contributions.

BCCT thanks Lucy Waletzky and Vicki and Roger Sant for their generous support.