Patients who have been diagnosed with mesothelioma—an unusual cancer which is associated with asbestos exposure—have been particularly receptive to trying alternative and complementary therapies. One of the reasons for their willingness to look outside of conventional medicine for treatment is the fact that mesothelioma, generally an incurable cancer which is often diagnosed in advanced stages, usually renders traditional therapies ineffective. Other patients pursue an integrative approach, using holistic methods to ameliorate the side effects of chemotherapy and/or radiation.
Although mesothelioma is considered a fatal cancer, there is one man who has become something of a legend due to how long he has lived with the disease. Paul Kraus was diagnosed with the rare subtype peritoneal mesothelioma, which affects the lining of the abdominal cavity, in 1997. Now, thirteen years later, he is alive and well—against all odds, since fewer than 10 percent of all mesothelioma patients live more than two years after diagnosis. Kraus credits a radical lifestyle change, including an extremely healthful diet and a regimen of nutritional supplements, for his remarkable survival. He also meditated, visualized, received intravenous Vitamin C infusions, and underwent a treatment called ozone therapy, in which extra oxygen was added to his blood.
After embracing the idea that our bodies are equipped with powerful capabilities for self-healing, if we can only tap into and support them, Kraus began juicing—beet juice, carrot juice, and various green juices. He drank fresh juice several times a day, supplementing his diet with high-fiber, vegetarian and mostly raw foods. Additionally, he exercised and began taking vitamins, minerals, homeopathic remedies and amino acids. Although admitting that these changes were extremely difficult, Kraus also knew that they were necessary for his survival and his overall health. Today, he is in his mid-sixties and doing well. In order to help others who may be facing a similar diagnosis and who wish to heal their cancer using holistic methods, he has written a book entitled “Surviving Mesothelioma and Other Cancers: A Patient's Guide.”
In a 2005 interview, Kraus summed up his philosophy. “The mind-body connection is very important for healing. They are inextricably linked. If one has the wrong attitude one cannot be a survivor of mesothelioma or any form of cancer.”
Another odds-defying survival story is that of Marie Augustine, a Canadian woman who was diagnosed with malignant pleural mesothelioma three years ago. Augustine was given only six months to live, but she was determined to attend her 50th wedding anniversary, which was seven months away. Too weak to be a good candidate for either radiation or chemo, Augustine decided to look at alternatives. She worked with a practitioner of Traditional Chinese Medicine and tried other holistic treatments, with varying results. Then she stumbled upon pawpaw, a tree whose fruit and bark have been shown in laboratory tests to have potent anticancer effects. Pawpaw has been studied at Purdue University, and although there are as yet no published studies on its efficacy for mesothelioma patients, this is a treatment that bears watching.
Augustine calls her experience with pawpaw “miraculous.” Within a month of taking pawpaw capsules, she noticed a difference in her energy level and endurance. Once nearly bedridden, and unable to venture outside of her house, Augustine is now able to take walks around the neighborhood, to drive, and to attend community events.
The memoir “They Said Months, I Chose Years: A Mesothelioma Survivor's Story” chronicles the courageous fight of another mesothelioma survivor, James “Rhio” O'Connor against this deadly cancer. Diagnosed in 2001 with mesothelioma and given less than a year to live, O'Connor went on to survive for over seven years, astounding his family and the medical community. Like Kraus, O'Connor established for himself a nutritional regimen consisting of over 100 supplements per day and changed his eating habits. On his website, O'Connor quotes Hippocrates, whose belief in the practice of mind-body medicine is summed up by the expression, “Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food.”
The conviction that nutrition, supplements such as minerals, vitamins, enzymes, and amino acids can actually help a patient overcome something as serious as cancer is often seen as a radical one, but O'Connor did his research, and his book cites almost one hundred medical articles that support this view.
James “Rhio” O'Connor, whose oncologist encouraged him to take his wife on a cruise, then to return home and enter hospice care—in other words, to succumb to the mesothelioma and get ready to die—fought the traditional paradigm of treatment, and succeeded in his battle against cancer for over seven years. Yet he did not eschew traditional therapies, admitting that if chemotherapy could have effected a cure, he would have been the first to sign up. Indeed, it was probably the fact that his cancer was inoperable, due to the position of the tumor, that sent him to seek answers from alternative modalities in the first place.
O'Connor died on July 11, 2009, more than seven years later than anticipated, leaving behind a legacy that speaks to the success of integrative medicine, just as the lives of Marie Augustine and Paul Kraus continue to do.