Doctors Chime in on Woman’s Holistic Approach to Cancer
(This is the second article of a two-part series. The first segment, titled "Overcoming the Cancer Odds: A Chester Woman's Holistic Journey to Health" appeared in the…
(This is the second article of a two-part series. The first segment, titled “Overcoming the Cancer Odds: A Chester Woman’s Holistic Journey to Health” appeared in the March 3 edition of the Geauga County Maple Leaf.)
After Chester Township resident Theresa DiNallo decided she was going to take the holistic route in treating her cancer, she had to take a step back from the University Hospitals doctors she initially worked with.
Dr. Jill Dietz, director of breast center operations at University Hospitals Case Medical Center and Associate Professor of Surgery at Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine, was one of the first doctors DiNallo worked with.
Dietz says it is uncommon for a patient to forgo all conventional treatment, though she is not permitted to comment on specific patients due to privacy laws.
She says it’s not unusual for patients to opt out of certain parts of treatment. For example, a patient may choose to have surgery, but refuse to get radiation.
“People do choose not to have radiation or chemotherapy for different reasons,” Dietz says. “Sometimes they have had a family member who had a bad experience with something and so they don’t want to do that.”
For those, like DiNallo, who claim western medicine “over-treats” cancer, Dietz does not entirely disagree.
“There’s a lot of women with early stage breast cancer that will not die of it (if left untreated),” Dietz says.
The problem lies in figuring out who will and won’t get worse, she says.
“The biggest problem we have is not being able to figure out which patients will go on to have invasive cancer so sometimes we are over-treating them,” Dietz says. “I think what’s going to happen in the future is we’ll get better at figuring out (who will and who won’t develop it).”
Dietz does not recommend an entirely holistic treatment. However, she says an increasing number of her patients are choosing to complement their conventional treatment with integrative care, a combination that in her opinion, has the best results.
“I personally think there’s a ton of information in literature to support (diet and lifestyle change),” she says. “Things like eating lots of fruits and vegetables, not drinking excess alcohol, getting enough sleep, is critically important to our patients. I don’t ever want to send the message that that’s not important. I think I’m not alone in that, if you look at where Seidman has chosen to put their resources.”
Dietz is referring to University Hospitals Connor Integrative Health Network, which UH describes as creating “a bridge between traditional medicine and healing.”
Services — many of which are covered by health insurance — include acupuncture, stress management and mindfulness programs and yoga therapy.
Dietz advises patients to look there first for complementary treatments, as it is often less costly due to insurance coverage.
Dr. Jame Abraham, director of the Breast Oncology Program at Taussig Cancer Institute and co-director of the Comprehensive Breast Cancer Program of Cleveland Clinic, agrees.
Abraham, who is also a professor at Cleveland Clinic Lerner College of Medicine, does not recommend a completely holistic treatment for breast cancer but says dietary supplements, exercise and things such as yoga and meditation can make a huge impact on a patient’s recovery.
“A recent (national) study shows that 70 percent of cancer patients seek complementary treatment,” Abraham says. “But that’s not abandoning a standard approach. I’m glad (DiNallo) is doing well and I respect her approach and what she wants to do. But I don’t recommend that. As doctors, we go by evidence based on science.
If it’s my sister or wife or mom with breast cancer, I would not recommend abandoning conventional treatment.”
Abraham says an increasing number of his patients are utilizing the Cleveland Clinic’s Center for Integrative and Lifestyle Medicine, which addresses the physical, lifestyle, emotional and spiritual needs of patients with services such as acupuncture, yoga, holistic psychotherapy, reiki and more.
More than 5,000 patients each year utilize the center, according to the Cleveland Clinic, whose website states: “As the body of evidence for alternative medicine grows, we remain at the forefront, providing the most updated education and practices to patients.”
The success of integrative cancer treatments are also recognized by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, whose website for the National Center of Complementary and Integrative Health states:
“A substantial amount of scientific evidence suggests that some mind and body approaches such as acupuncture and mindfulness-based stress reduction may help to manage symptoms of cancer and side effects of treatment.”
DiNallo says the increasing popularity of integrative care is just a small step in the right direction.
“It’s one step but a very small step,” she says. “I don’t feel the medical community provides and educates on holistic options. They did not provide me with anything close to that. Not one doctor said to me, ‘Let’s look at what you’re putting into your body.’ It’s just about a quick fix, what can we cut out or what pill can we give you.”
DiNallo hopes one day, alternative medicine, not just integrative care provided by hospital systems, will be covered by insurance.
Her treatment, including all work with Pesek, was not covered. She estimates for doctor visits, supplements, bloodwork, intravenous infusions and other monitoring, she paid approximately $5,000 out of pocket.
She considers it a small price to pay for her recovery and continued good health.
A New Role
Today, DiNallo and her family follow a vegan, all organic diet with supplements tailored to each of their needs.
She also incorporates Chinese medicine into her diet, using supplements and teas recommended by the owner of a holistic and alternative medicine store in Asia Plaza in Cleveland.
“I kind of came at it from all angles,” she says.
While DiNallo does not prescribe a specific cancer-fighting regimen for anyone, she has found herself in a role of support for those who are choosing to follow an alternative treatment path.
In January, she started a support group, The Cancer Resource Coalition, for those dealing with the disease.
The group, which meets once a month at 7 p.m. at the Mayfield Village Community Center, is open to anyone, whether they are receiving traditional cancer treatment or using alternative medicine.
Eleven people attended the first meeting. The second meeting, held on a cold evening in February, drew sixteen people.
After warmly greeting everyone, DiNallo and her friend, David Young, who assists her with the group, show the film “World Without Cancer; The Story of Vitamin B17” by author, lecturer and filmmaker G. Edward Griffin. Griffin’s writings deal with conspiracy theories about the political and healthcare systems.
When the film ends, DiNallo offers the group samples of her homemade “Immune Tonic.”
The drink, made with garlic, habanero peppers, ginger, turmeric, horseradish root and onion, has been fermenting in apple cider vinegar for two weeks and just the recommended tablespoon a day packs a powerful punch to the taste buds. DiNallo warns those sampling to chase it with water.
Young, 51, of Chester Township, and a firefighter for the city of Lyndhurst, puts out a bowl of apricot seeds for tasting.
As was referenced in Griffin’s film, Young says throughout history, apricot seeds have been proven to fight cancer because they contain Vitamin B17, also known as Laetrile. It’s a concept that has long been debated.
Young credits the seeds with helping him in his fight against prostate cancer, with which he was diagnosed in March 2015 and is treating on his own.
After the sampling, DiNallo explains to the group she is there mainly for support and hopes the group will essentially lead itself, covering whatever topics people are interested in.
She and Young encourage everyone to move their chairs into a circle and share what brought them there.
The stories vary greatly.
One young woman is in remission from a cancerous brain tumor. Though she followed a conventional treatment, she wants to know more about prevention through nature.
Another says she cured herself of stage four breast cancer through a diet and lifestyle change similar to DiNallo’s and is there to offer support and share any information she can to help others.
A couple of women have had mastectomies. They feel regret and wish they had known more about alternative medicine when they were diagnosed with breast cancer.
They urge women to look into getting thermograms rather than mammograms. Thermograms, which are offered at various alternative medicine practices, detect heat and inflammation in the body, which some believe to be more accurate and less harmful than a mammogram.
Nick Brunner, 62, of Mentor, is using alternative medicine to treat his stage four non-Hodgkins lymphoma, with which he was diagnosed in 2013.
After obtaining opinions from two Cleveland hospitals, he received a third and different conventional treatment plan from Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston.
Forgoing that, he went through a treatment of Laetrile infusions in Mexico, which proved unsuccessful, before deciding to treat himself with a strict vegan diet and supplements.
Carefully monitoring his bloodwork taken by his primary care physician, he believes he is close to being cancer-free.
Sandy Pandy, 54, of Eastlake, is battling colon cancer, three years after overcoming uterine cancer. Pandy, whose parents died of cancer, is not quite ready to take the plunge into an entirely holistic treatment and is still undergoing chemotherapy.
“I think when you do (the entirely holistic) path, you have to be all in and I am not all in yet,” says Pandy, a former accountant. “I want to learn more and anything I can incorporate into my treatment will be beneficial. I want to see what else I can do. I think people need to know what’s out there. I would encourage people to check it all out and help yourself.”
Once the ice is broken, conversation flows freely among the group, with people tossing out questions and offering suggestions and advice. Before long, the 9 p.m. ending time has arrived.
Young polls the group to see if they would like him to bring a guest speaker next month and everyone agrees to it.
Young met DiNallo several years ago while coaching her daughter’s softball team. He was inspired by what she had done for herself and says she gave him the strength and courage to fight his own cancer holistically.
<t$>He says his oncologist with the Cleveland Clinic was not on board at first and wanted to do surgery and radiation but agreed to work with him to an extent by
taking his bloodwork.
“I always said I would look at all options,” Young says. “I told Theresa I didn’t know if I could do it but she told me I could. She’s been awesome. She’s made it her mission to help others. I changed everything in my life — my eating, stress level.”
Though his bloodwork shows a great improvement, Young is hesitant to declare himself cancer-free just yet.
When he made his decision to forgo conventional treatment, DiNallo warned him that he might face opposition from family, friends and doctors, which he says he did.
To help everyone understand what his treatment entailed and why he was doing certain things, Young wrote it up as a document and sent it to anyone who was curious.
“I had friends who said ‘I thought you were out of your freaking mind, but now I understand why you’re doing this or that,” he says.
Hope for the Future
DiNallo says her goal is to show people that there is an alternative to conventional treatment and that there are others out there who have chosen the same path.
In addition to her support group, she has a Facebook group called “Breast Cancer – Curing Through Nature” for those looking for support or resources. The group has more than 1,500 followers.
Whether they follow alternative or conventional medicine, DiNallo urges people to study their own test results and become informed about their health and the terminology used to explain it.
Had she done so, she believes she would have noticed a change coming on in her body, a warning that cancer was coming.
“If I had looked at my results from 2005 until now, I would have seen that my right breast tissue was becoming more dense,” DiNallo says. “That was a red flag. It’s also so important to get bloodwork. The common denominator for people with cancer is nutrient deficiency and an overload of toxicity.
“I’m not a doctor, so I’m not telling anyone what to do. This is what I did for me, based on my research. It was a very scary ride. But I’m very open. I’m very loud. We live in a time that allows us to share information at a touch. Now more than ever is a time to learn what we’ve not been told.”
For more information, or to join DiNallo’s support group, visit www.cancerresourcecoaliton.org or call her at 440-533-5571.