By Barbara Pierce
Learning that one has cancer can be devastating, said Heidi S. Puc, founder and physician owner of Integrative Medicine of Central New York in Chittenango.
“Sometimes patients see me with a new diagnosis of cancer after they’ve seen their conventional oncologist. For most patients, the diagnosis is overwhelming. At my consultations, we sit down, go over their story and their records and we discuss their options.”
With more than 20 years’ experience in conventional medical hematology and oncology, merged with 10 years’ experience in integrative medicine and integrative oncology, Puc has a unique ability to serve patients in any stage of cancer.
“We see patients in all different stages of cancer,” she said. “Those who have been newly diagnosed with cancer, those undergoing treatment, those recovering, or those at risk of for developing cancer.”
Integrative medicine offers a different approach to care, integrating conventional and natural healing practices to empower patients in their own healing. Integrative medicine is care of the whole person. It focuses on the patient as a whole person, and not just their disease.
Recognizing the interwoven nature of mind, body, spirit and community, it addresses each of these aspects of the whole person throughout their healing.
Integrative medicine is not an alternative to conventional medicine; it integrates natural and conventional approaches and it is patient-centered care, following the patient’s lead.
Those who have been newly diagnosed with cancer see Puc to clarify the issues and the challenges they will face and to discuss treatment recommendations and options.
Some wish to merge more natural remedies with conventional. An integrative approach to cancer care may involve treatment with surgery, chemotherapy, radiation and other conventional tools, while supporting patients’ strength, stamina and quality of life with evidence-informed therapies to achieve optimal health and healing.
Many patients underestimate how dramatically cancer will affect them, both physically and emotionally. Symptoms like nausea and vomiting, sleep disturbances, dry mouth and neuropathy are common side effects of treatment for cancer. Many patients become malnourished, with deficiencies in nutrients and often severe weight loss; many experience fatigue.
Natural remedies are designed to address these side effects.
Some patients prefer to have no conventional treatments and desire to only be treated with natural remedies.
Natural remedies can help patients handle the disease better, improve their overall quality of life and can improve their odds of survival. Natural remedies can include oral or intravenous herbal or vitamin therapies.
Available therapies at IM of CNY include high dose IV vitamin C and mistletoe therapy (viscum album). For example, with mistletoe therapy, “We’re seeing very good results with this therapy,” said Puc. “It’s very exciting!”
Mistletoe extracts may stimulate the immune system to improve symptoms, reduce the side effects of cancer treatments and improve survival rates.
“At IM of CNY, we now have IV alpha-lipoic acid available, which can help chemotherapy induced neuropathy (numbness and tingling) as well as cognitive problems and it also can have an anti-cancer effect. Cognitive issues related to chemotherapy, called ‘chemo brain’, is a big issue for patients,” Puc added.
Chemo brain refers to a wide range of cognitive impairments, estimated to impact 80% of those being treated for cancer according to the University of Rochester. About a third continues to struggle long after treatment.
“We have neurofeedback available for dealing with the brain fog of cancer treatment. We have the ability to do neurofeedback in our office as well as in the patient’s home,” she explained. “This expands our ability to help people for whom distance is a problem. Conventional oncologists don’t always let people know this is available.”
For all patients who are struggling with cancer, Puc focuses on strengthening the patient’s “terrain,” the support structure and elements of the body that are dealing with the cancer, including the immune system, the detoxification system, organisms in the intestines, antioxidant and anti-inflammatory potential, and nutrient levels.
In addition, patients with cancer consult with Puc specifically for a medical marijuana certificate.
“Medical marijuana is very helpful,” she said. “It’s good that the state of New York has expanded its use. They’ve opened it up to the discretion of the doctor about which patients would benefit.”
Many patients come to see Puc because several of their family members have had cancer or they have been diagnosed with a known genetic risk. They come to her to learn how to minimize their risk of developing cancer.
Also, those who are cancer survivors and want to reduce risk for a recurrence of cancer or for the development of a new type of cancer come to see Puc to reduce their risks.