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Sharks don't get

Sharks don't get


And other tales of lesbians at the forefront in the world of complementary and alternative cancer therapies.

Six months after she finished chemotherapy for breast cancer, lesbian architect Fe Myers got on her bike and rode 581 miles in a six-day Minneapolis-to-Chicago charity AIDS ride. Next she went to Peru and hiked four tough days on the Inca Trail. She entered her first bike race and first triathlon, and this year she took what her guide called the "risky route" climbing Kilimanjaro. What is the secret to such a healthy recovery?

"Well, I did tai chi and the Bernie Siegel positive thinking," says Myers, who lives in Lexington, Ky. "It all helps. But a big part of my recovery was taking the time to focus and think. That's when I came to an important realization. I used to work all the time and put off things I really liked to do until later. But I realized there may not be a later. So I do the things that are important to me now. I'm much less afraid. And I've gotten through five years cancer free."

A growing number of women believe that surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation are not enough to help them recover from cancer--and many of those are gay. "Lesbians have played a leading role in bringing holistic healing methods into the mainstream," says Kathleen DeBold, executive director of the Mautner Project in Washington, D.C. The trend is becoming a full-fledged movement. Search the Internet for "cancer complementary alternative medicine" and 250,000 hits come up, from the straightforward--yoga, meditation, macrobiotic diets--to the exotic--mistletoe injections, oxygen therapy, acid/alkaline balancing, even eliminating TVs and microwaves.

"Ninety-nine percent of the women I work with want to learn about every health option that's available to them, and I mean every option," says Linda Ellis, executive director of the Atlanta Lesbian Cancer Initiative. "Many are willing to try whatever might give them the extra strength they need to help them cope with cancer."

Recent surveys show that more than a fourth of all adults with cancer turn to "complementary and alternative medicine." And that number grows with the ease of finding information on the Internet. Ellis points to several scientific studies that show patients have greater recovery success and suffer less with chemotherapy if they seek help for the emotional, spiritual, and psychological issues that come with a potentially fatal disease--even if the remedy is just walking a couple of times a week.

The trouble is, many of these alternatives have not gone through the same rigorous scientific testing that conventional treatments have. As more patients demand additional help with their cancer, though, more clinical trials are being undertaken.

Here are a few that have been tested or are in the process of testing:

  • Antioxidants: They occur naturally in many foods, including fruit, vegetables, and meat. Some studies show they can slow cancer growth in a test tube, but the verdict is still out for humans.
  • Acupuncture: Needles are inserted into skin to stimulate the body's natural energy. A growing number of doctors think this is a particularly effective way to treat pain and nausea.
  • Megavitamins: A, C, and E are taken in large doses. Some tests show supplements can help boost a person's immune system.
  • Shark cartilage: Some people believe taking this as a dietary supplement slows tumor growth. Sharks don't get cancer. Clinical trials are underway.

Jean Ward believes meditation, another alternative supported by scientific studies, helped her get through breast cancer. As a mind-bodywork counselor and group facilitator with the Atlanta Lesbian Cancer Initiative, she tells women "there is no magic formula out there to keep you cancer free, but there is a magic formula within each of us. Use your cancer as a catalyst. Meditate. Find that quiet center and listen to your body. Our body has its own wisdom and healing mechanisms, if you just listen to it."

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