When a doctor is diagnosed with cancer, you can bet he will try to find the best possible treatments for the disease. Dr. Tim McCall has long added yoga and Ayurvedic medicine to his standard medical toolkit. So when he was diagnosed with neck cancer and couldn’t schedule the first allopathic (Western medicine) treatment right away, he found it natural to visit his friends in India. How did he mix allopathic and Ayurvedic medicine to treat oropharyngeal squamous cell cancer that had spread to his lymph nodes?
Dr. McCall spent a month in India before he began chemoradiation in the US. The Ayurvedic treatments he got there were not intended to cure his neck cancer. For that, he would rely largely on his oncologist’s recommendations. Instead, he turned to Ayurveda to strengthen and balance his system before he started a potentially grueling cancer treatment in the US.
Many people don’t realize that they have a say in the cancer treatment they get. Dr. McCall had done research on the treatment of the neck cancer he had. It was caused by HPV (human papillomavirus) rather than by environmental insults like tobacco or alcohol. He negotiated with the radiation oncologist regarding the exact extent of radiation.
He took several steps to mix allopathic and Ayurvedic medicine to treat his neck cancer. Among other things, he found that an over-the-counter turmeric cream from India was helpful in counteracting the effects of radiation on his skin. In addition, yoga helped him maintain his energy throughout the treatment. Acupuncture was also helpful.
Another approach that Dr. McCall found useful was intermittent fasting. Fasting before his chemo infusions helped reduce the nausea that is usually associated with this treatment. He also used an informal type of hyperthermia–soaking in a hot tub to help heat up the lymph nodes affected by the cancer. While cancer cells are known to be sensitive to heat, this was not part of a clinical trial. Consequently, we don't know whether it made a difference for his treatment.
Conventional medicine in comparison to holistic medicine is similar, he found, to conventional agriculture compared to organic gardening. Rather than choose one or the other, however, we might all benefit from considering how to mix allopathic and Ayurvedic or other therapies when faced with a health crisis.
Timothy McCall, MD, is a board-certified internist, Yoga Journal's Medical Editor since 2002 and the bestselling author of Yoga as Medicine and Examining Your Doctor: A Patient's Guide to Avoiding Harmful Medical Care. His latest book is Saving My Neck: A Doctor's East/West Journey Through Cancer. He teaches yoga therapy seminars in the US and around the world.