In desperation, a family with strong ‘old world’ roots brought to my office their beloved father, a humble Italian man who was diagnosed at Stanford hospital with late stage pancreatic cancer. He only spoke Italian and thus required one of his relatives to be present with the doctors and subsequently with me over the course of the following year of my weekly treatments with him. Needless to say, this was an inconvenience, but perhaps a small blessing in disguise — because it forced him to rely more on his faith rather than on intellect. 

He was given three months to live The Stanford doctors strongly recommended a bile duct resection as standard palliative care protocol for lessening pain.

After hearing about the operation the Stanford doctors wanted to perform on him, he politely responded in broken English, “Thank you but no thank you.” The next day his family, many of whom were former clients, brought him to me saying, "Our father was examined by several doctors at Stanford and was diagnosed with terminal pancreatic cancer with only three months to live. Is there anything you can do perhaps to at least make him more comfortable?” Adhering to the Traditional Chinese Medicine ideal of “Treat what you see,” -- and simplistically speaking, I could not see pancreatic cancer, furthermore realizing my limitations especially trying to cure pancreatic cancer -- I acceded, saying “OK let’s just forget that he has cancer.” Which, by the way, I proceeded to do over the subsequent two or three weeks when he’d come in for acupuncture treatments, dietary and herbal protocols.

Weekly treatments went on for a little more than a year. Initially I recommended a modest adjustment to his diet. The most challenging was to have him refrain from all alcoholic beverages. Following an old world tradition and favorite pastime for this humble man, each year he would carefully pick his own grapes from various farms and put up barrels of fine home made wine. From the mash, he distilled super high alcohol grappa. He was not a heavy drinker by any means, but the occasional glass of wine was part of the ‘good life’ for this native from a small village in Trieste.

I felt sorry for telling him that he couldn’t drink it any more. However he had implicit trust in me and followed all that I recommended perfectly. This didn’t stop him, however, from his continuing to make it. Instead of drinking it himself, he distributed his wine and grappa to all his family, friends and to me. I used much of the grappa for making herbal tinctures.

Based on a constitutional assessment, I went on the theory that he had a Liver imbalance and recommended my own Bupleurum Liver Cleanse pills and a tea of dandelion, burdock root, red clover, pau d’ arco, Oregon grape root — one cup three times a day. All of these herbs have anti-cancer properties but having once prescribed it and seeing that it was helping him with some minor discomfort he mentioned around the area of his liver, I continued to give him virtually the same tea with small exceptions for the entire year.

Because of the language barrier, our interactions were often awkward and stiff and required translation usually by his eldest son, who accompanied him.

Several times I was taken aback when he physically grabbed my arm before needling him and stared into my eyes saying “I troost you, I belieeve in you!” Seeing that no matter what minor discomfort he might have had was gone, again not remembering his diagnosed cancer, I suggested perhaps his visits could be spaced bi-weekly and eventually monthly. 

Not reminding me of his cancer, he and his family insisted on continuing to come weekly. I feel that regular acupuncture treatment is always beneficial and since they were paying my full fee, I agreed. Then something happened that has never happened to me before or since. He would come with envelopes stuffed with $100 bills. At first I refused, but he absolutely insisted and would sometimes hide it somewhere for me to find in the treatment room after he left. 

I told his son who was in the adjoining room about this and said I felt this was a gesture by a kind, simple man, but I didn’t feel right about taking the money and I offered the envelope with cash to him. He insisted and said that the entire family wanted me to keep the money and so I did. 

I eventually understood that this man saw me in the role reminiscent of the traditional village healer of his youth. Like Native American healers, the true healer never required a fee for their services but it was expected that people would give fees and gifts according to their means in exchange for healing. Healing in this sense was for mind, body and/or spirit and frequently involved herbs as well as talismans and other shamanistic modalities.

With no more obvious physical complaints, I continued to administer weekly acupuncture ‘tune-up’ treatments along with herbal pills and teas. Perhaps seeing me as some sort of oracle of healing, he tentatively began in hardly intelligible English asking me for help for various dissonances and conflicts through his rather large family. Once again, I was taken aback to discover that he was asking me to give him something he could take back to fix his family concerns and squabbles – and I realized he was asking me to make and give him talismans.

In retrospect, this guy was making me into his very own personal shaman, and even telling me how to do it. The power would come not only from me but more especially from his faith in me and sealed with the cash token gifts he was bestowing on me.

Never having done such a thing before and based on scant knowledge I learned from second- and third-hand sources, I retired to my herbal pharmacy, found a square piece of colored cloth, put a few pinches of herbs in it and tied into a small pouch to serve as a talisman. I blew on it and then went back to the treatment room, removed the needles from him and gave him the talisman, telling him to take it back and bury under a tree at midnight on the next full moon.

With all of this in mind I presented this man with my first talisman, which was to be one of three or four over the course of our time together. The upshot of it was, just as all my herbs and treatment worked, this one worked ‘like a charm’ as well. Each time all the challenging and conflicts in his family according to him would disappear.

Toward the close of the year during one of his regular visits his oldest son and daughter accompanied him saying that the Stanford doctors kept calling their house asking about their father and wanting him to come in. Essentially they wanted to know whether he was dead or not. As to whether they should bring him in or not, they asked my opinion. It was then that they reminded me that he was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. I eagerly told them, I could see no problem with his returning for a subsequent examination, in fact I was anxious for it to happen. The results, much to my astonishment, was that not a trace of cancer was found in this man’s body. 

He went on to live another 5 years and passed away from some age-related cause — still cancer-free. 

So what was the cause for healing in this case? Herbs? Faith? Placebo? 

Could this be part of the claimed results of some of the famed healers of the past, whose methods could never be demonstrated by anyone other than themselves? I’m talking about Hoxsey, maybe Ann Wigmore, Eli Jones, Gerson therapy, Mesmer, and Rasputin to name only a few.

Were the fees he paid and gifts he gave an outer token of empowerment?

Was there really anything so extraordinarily powerful in my herbal treatment protocol to explain a complete remission of diagnosed pancreatic cancer? In all honesty, I’ve seen and have personally done a lot more for others with cancer and have not achieved that kind of success.

Unless there was some inherent power in the talisman that I dumbly improvised, what was the determining factor for their working, at least according to this man’s estimation?

I could go on with the questions this case raises but it is enough to know that it wasn’t me or anything that I did that created such an apparently miraculous outcome (for which, by the way, the Stanford doctors had no comment).

I do know that I’ve followed Eli Jones, Hoxsey protocols, at one time put large numbers of patients on juices fasts and raw foods and can’t claim anything near the same kind of results these highly charismatic individuals who, consciously or not, used to bring about the successful reception and outcome of their methods of healing.

Even though this was indeed in the category of a remarkable, even miraculous remission of a deadly form of cancer, this individual really had no choice. It was either to be a miracle or death. A responsible healer should be informed and wise enough to know when it may be necessary to refer a client to conventional care. In this case, there was no other option, and remarkably enough it turned out better than expected; maybe when we find ourselves with an unsolvable problem the best choice is to just do what we can.

Dandelion root and burdock root are my two most commonly prescribed herbs when chronic conditions require anti-inflammatory, blood purifying alteratives for gentle detoxification. This includes conditions such as arthritis and cancer. I’ve studied literally hundreds of herbs from around the world, and considering cost, availability, palatability (no small matter, as people with chronic disease like cancer need to be able to take their herbs at least three times a day for months) – there are probably no two more simple and powerful anticancer herbs on the planet than dandelion and burdock.*

After prescribing both of these in strong dose clinically for years with great results (patients feel better, or experience slowing or even complete remission of some cancers), I learned that many professional British medical herbalists also use the same two-herb combination for conditions requiring blood, lymphatic and liver detoxification.

This does not mean that burdock, dandelion or any single herb is guaranteed to successfully treat all cancers. The same, in fact cannot be said for any conventional medical cancer treatment intervention. It simply means that these herbs are able to enhance organic physiological function optimizing the body’s ability to destroy cancer cells and prevent mutagenic proliferation.

dandelionDandelion (Taraxacum officinale)

I routinely prescribe dandelion root along with burdock root, pau d’arco, red clover, barberry root and perhaps some fennel seed for flavor for patients with serious diseases requiring detoxification which would include cancer and other inflammatory-based disease.

Ask any mother who drinks dandelion tea to increase breast milk and you will find that as a galactogogue, dandelion root has a particular affinity for women’s breasts making it useful for the prevention and treatment of breast cancer.

As a matter of practice, unless a patient is declared terminal and given up on by oncologists, I make it a practice generally to not treat cancer patients unless they are under the direct supervision of an oncologist. So my treatments would be considered ‘complementary.’ This doesn’t prevent patients, on their own, from refusing conventional cancer therapy in favor of herbs. I have had a few clients who have experienced remission from pancreatic and liver cancer that have included dandelion root as part of their protocol.

It’s about time that this ubiquitous herb, the bane of gardeners, is researched. Researchers headed by biochemist Siyaram Pandey at the University of Windsor, Ontario, recently received a total grant of $217,000 to study the effective use of dandelion root extract for the treatment of cancer.

In fact, Pandey’s team has been studying dandelion root extract for nearly two years and has found it to be effective against drug-resistant type blood cancer cells known as chronic monocytic myeloid leukemia, causing them to go into apoptosis – that is, to commit suicide.

Pandey began to study dandelion root after he was approached by oncologist Dr. Caroline Hamm, whose interest was piqued when a number of cancer patients who had been drinking dandelion tea seemed to be getting better.

"To be honest I was very pessimistic," Pandey said. "She said it could be coincidental but it couldn’t hurt to see if there is anything."

With all kinds of wild ‘cure’ claims flying around the alternative health industry, I certainly respect Pandey’s initial skepticism regarding dandelion and cancer.

Hamm was convinced that the weed contains an active ingredient, but warned earlier this year that "it can harm as well as benefit."

We all know what healthy skepticism means but maintaining an open mind while remaining skeptical may be more difficult for some to practice than others. The fact is, our knowledge of herbs (and, for that matter, off-label drugs) comes about as a result of someone trying something (guided by faith or science) and finding that it is effective.

burdockBurdock (Arctium lappa)

Burdock has a long history of use both as a food with the highest level of antimutagenicity and as an herb for a wide range of conditions requiring blood, lymph and liver detoxification. In medieval Germany, Hildegard of Bingen used burdock to treat cancerous tumors. Its use for the treatment of cancer was widespread throughout Europe and China.

Burdock is another herb that warrants scientific research for its anticancer properties. Thus far there are no animal or human studies substantiating its value as an anticancer herb. There is, however, a considerable body of empirical and anecdotal evidence for its value in the treatment of cancer. In vitro studies of burdock have found it to have antineoplastic, antimutagenic and antitumor properties.

For instance it is one of the primary herbs in "Essiac" tea formula used by thousands of cancer patients around the world as an herbal treatment for cancer.  It was also one of the herbs in the famous Hoxsey anti-cancer tea formula.

One study conducted in Japan where researchers were screening pharmacologically active substances from extracts of crude drugs for the treatment of cancer found burdock to have ‘antiproliferative and apoptotic’ effects of the lignans from burdock on leukemic cells.

Inulin, a naturally occurring, indigestible and non-absorbable oligosaccharide found in abundance in burdock root has prebiotic and potential anticancer activity. This is based on the ability of inulin to stimulate the growth of beneficial bacteria in the colon, including bifidobacteria and lactobacilli. By so doing it protects against pathogens, toxins and carcinogens that cause inflammation and cancer. What this means is that burdock root enhances the value of probiotics.

Dandelion and Burdock as Food

Both dandelion leaves and root are food grade herbs. The leaves are used throughout the world as a steamed spring green. The root is dried, lightly toasted, and ground into a powder and can be brewed as an alternative to coffee. You can make your own roasted dandelion root tea by simply purchasing dried cut and sifted dandelion root and lightly toasting it in an open pan on the stove. The same can be done with burdock root.

A wonderful health beverage some might appreciate instead of coffee is a product called "Dandy Blend." I have no proprietary interest in this product except as a consumer who has used and recommended to others for years. The amount of roasted dandelion in Dandy Blend is probably not enough to treat cancer but it certainly helps in maintaining the blood and liver in a healthier state.

From an herbalist’s perspective these would constitute as pleasantly tasting "bitters." We need the bitter flavor in our diet for health and the major herb that most people get their ‘bitters’ from is coffee. It is good to include a number of possible mildly bitter but pleasant tasting foods such dandelion root and burdock root as an alternative.

It is eaten as a popular root vegetable called "gobo" by Japanese people and the fresh root is sometimes found in organic produce markets.

To enjoy burdock and dandelion together in a single treat, try Fentiman’s Dandelion and Burdock Root Soda naturally sweetened with pear juice.

*Dandelion and burdock root are not the only herbs I use. My own personal "Essiac-like" tea combination has these two herbs along with pau d’arco, Oregon grape, and red clover as the basic alterative tea I recommend to most cancer patients. Other than these an important component is the use of medicinal mushrooms and Chinese tonics such a reishi mushroom, coriolus and astragalus root.

pomegranateThe pomegranate (Punica granitum), highly touted these days as an antioxidant-rich superfruit, has an ancient metaphysical and culinary history. In fact, the image of the celebrated pomegranate was carved on the pillars of King Solomon's temple and was referenced several times in the Bible's Song of Songs of Solomon, as in the following verse:

Your cheek is like a half-pomegranate
Behind your veil.
(Song of Songs, 6:8)

The pomegranate has forever been likened to the shape of a woman's breast. An age-old herbal principle called the Doctrine of Signatures suggests that if an herb resembles a part of the body, it is likely a medicine for that part of the body. Perhaps this recent report published in the January 2010 issue of the American Association for Cancer Research journal Cancer Prevention Research lends some credence to this bit of herbal folklore. Researchers at City of Hope Hospital in Duarte, Calif., discovered a suppressive effect of compounds found in pomegranate on the proliferation of estrogen-responsive breast cancer cells. Earlier research showed that ellagic acid in pomegranates inhibits the enzyme known as aromatase that converts androgen to estrogen hormones which fuel a common type of breast cancer.

Similar anti-cancer ellagic acids are also found in other fruits such as raspberries and besides their use to inhibit breast cancer, it seems that they are also effective for prostate cancer.

It might be a bit too early to say exactly how much pomegranate should be consumed to help fight estrogen-responsive breast cancer, but we may be encouraged to find that more and more research shows that all long-feted pomegranate's recent grocery-store fame is more than just hype.

When someone is diagnosed with cancer, they of course seek the help of an oncologist. The oncologist, in turn, is bound to follow what is sometimes an antiquated standard of care incorporating surgery, chemotherapy or radiotherapy.

When facing a complicated and difficult disease such as cancer, it helps to know all your treatment options. In this blog, I'd like to discuss a few ways that you can incorporate complementary therapies including herbs, diet and acupuncture, into conventional cancer treatment for the best possible outcome.

Conventional Cancer Drugs

Unfortunately, many do not realize the corruption of medical oncology by a system which rewards doctors for being pharmacists -- that is, choosing drugs for cancer patients based on profits to the oncologist.

Patients should be wary of taking the drug "Decadron" which is a steroid several times stronger than cortisone. It is used to reduce the nausea accompanying chemotherapy. But Decadron is well known to kill lymphocytes which are vitally needed for the immune system.

On the other hand, for breast cancer as well as prostate cancer, one of the most effective drugs to come along is called Herceptin. Herceptin (chemical name: trastuzumab) has been found to be an effective treatment both before and after surgery for people with HER2-positive breast cancer. It has also been shown to reduce the risk of breast cancer recurrence after initial surgery.

One option that everyone who receives a cancer diagnosis should consider before undergoing conventional treatment is to send biopsied specimens of the cancer to Larry Weisenthal Cancer Group Lab located in Huntington Beach, Calif., to determine the most effective chemotherapeutic drug for that kind of cancer. The cutting edge of cancer therapy called "Functional Tumor Profiling" was developed by Dr. Larry Weisenthal, MD, PhD as a means of determining with more precision the best chemotherapeutic drug and dose to achieve optimum treatment outcomes. I recommend that you check the Weisenthal Cancer Group website at for further information.

Herbal Support for Fighting Cancer

We know of dozens of herbs with anticancer properties, but the problem is that alone, they are generally not strong enough to treat the disease with any measurable effect. In my practice I recommend a complementary approach to the treatment of cancer, combining conventional, herbal and nutritional approaches as a superior way to treat this difficult disease.

When your oncologist warns you against the use of herbs during chemotherapy or radiation therapy, tell him or her that s/he should get up to date and read Marcia Egles, MD's "Impact of antioxidant supplementation on chemotherapeutic efficacy: A systematic review of evidence from randomized controlled trials."

Reviewing numerous research data, it is clear that contrary to what many oncologists have learned or tell their patients, antioxidants, including most herbs and supplements, have shown no adverse reaction or incompatibility with chemotherapeutic drugs. In fact, an otherwise healthy host given chemotherapy or radiation therapy is usually better able to utilize the benefits of these powerful anti-cancer treatments.

Adding to the mound of confusion with which a cancer patient must contend is the considerable amount of misinformation about both conventional and alternative cancer treatments widely available on the Internet and elsewhere. One such misunderstanding floating around in the alternative cancer community is that by somehow supercharging the immune system, cancer can be affected or even cured. According to oncologist Dr. Dwight McKee (see below for more on Dr. McKee), cancer in itself is an immune system suppressor and seems to be activated by surgery. McKee also says that some radiotherapy or chemotherapy actually injures the cancer cells and in consequence turns on the immune system against cancer.

Diet and Other Therapies for the Treatment of Cancer

What about the various approaches of treating cancer with raw foods, juices, macrobiotic diet and daily enemas? I have employed these methods and still do to a limited extent when it seems applicable. I have also investigated several other centers who have used this approach. For some there is considerable benefit. But the problem is that such a program requires extraordinary discipline that most of us do not have and not all who try these methods experience cancer remissions. What I have seen with most people who try them is some limited and selective success. In general, I regard this as a "starve the cancer by starving the patient" approach. Unfortunately, as soon as the patient with some apparent success attempts to resume a more normal, even comparatively clean, healthy diet, the cancer returns. Such an approach should never be undertaken if someone is already nutritionally deficient.

After many years of treating patients with cancer, I don't think that meat or eggs, which are primary proteins, are necessarily contraindicated for cancer patients. In advanced stages, cancer patients develop cachexia, acute physical wasting which eventually leads to their demise. Part of the aberration of cancer is a voracious need for protein in order for cancer cells to rapidly grow and multiply. That is why I recommend as much as possible, that the main protein source for cancer patients should be from beans and fish (especially sardines, which have the least amount of oceanic pollution and heavy metals with the maximum amount of anticancer and anti-inflammatory omega-3 fatty acids).

While certain herbs already mentioned are fantastic for the immune system, fermented foods in the form of fermented vegetables, miso soup and others are among the most important foods that should be consumed for a well-functioning immune system.

Finally, many may find it very useful to learn that based on my personal clinical experience, I have found that patients undergoing chemotherapy and suffering the common nausea and generally sick feeling a couple of days after treatment will experience almost immediate recovery and energy if they have a vitamin B12 shot injected into the well known acupuncture point on the outside of the tibia below the knee known as Stomach 36 (zu san li). This is probably the most important single acupuncture point on the body. It has many uses but especially to increase energy and aid digestion.

Teaming Up: Combining Conventional and Complementary Therapies for the Treatment of Cancer

Recently I had the pleasure to meet an oncologist living in my community named Dr. Dwight McKee, MD. He received his MD degree in 1975 and practiced complementary medicine with an emphasis in nutritional and body/mind medicine before re-entering training in 1988 to complete a three-year residency in internal medicine. This was followed by three years of sub-specialty training in hematology and oncology and two years of immunology research at the Scripps Research Institute in La Jolla.

Dr. McKee, who presently resides and works in Aptos, Calif., (a suburb of Santa Cruz) does not currently practice oncology but serves as a consultant for cancer patients and oncologists who are seeking optimum care for their particular cancer. Dr. McKee can be personally contacted for consultation at 760-598-1700.

My own work with cancer patients is in a complementary role integrating dietary, herbal and nutritional supplements to optimize health and wellness ideally while they are under the primary care of their oncologist. After meeting Dr. McKee and seeing that he is a colleague in my community, I will be conferring with him and enlisting his valuable assistance in helping patients to achieve the best clinical result from conventional cancer treatments. I will also help direct and guide them to ask important questions of their oncologist such as their ordering the cell culture test mentioned above to determine what chemotherapeutic drug to which their particular cancer would best respond.

I describe my approach to cancer treatment in my book Healing Cancer with Herbs (Lotus Press, 2003). Individuals seeking my services can contact my clinic at (831) 429-8066. Be forewarned that the first question I will ask is if you are under the care of an oncologist, and if you are not, why. I am not licensed to serve as a primary provider for the treatment of cancer but I assure you there is much I can offer as a secondary provider, giving guidance and improving overall health.

Never forget that an otherwise healthy patient always does better undergoing conventional cancer therapies than an already unhealthy one, in part because oncologists are well trained in treating cancer but not in maintaining wellness and health. In contrast, herbalists and nutritionists are well trained in the latter so this becomes the point where the two disciplines favorably interact.

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