MANILA, Philippines (UPDATED) – If cancer seems to be a dirty word, chemotherapy is a little dirtier for some who've experienced it. It’s a long, unwieldy word that feels uncomfortable in the mouth, leaving an aftertaste of anxiety, fear, and nausea.
It exists because for some, it gives you time. If you’re fortunate, it gives you your life back. In return for the resurrection, you have to endure cycles of discomfort – if not outright hell on earth. To hear cancer patients tell it, chemotherapy is a potent drug cocktail that might as well be poison. It’s a cloud of nausea, bone pain, and insomnia that makes it all the more easy to identify yourself as a sick person, trying to outlive cancer.
When the doctor told Rosan Gepit that at the very best, chemotherapy would only give her a couple of years, she decided it wasn’t going to be for her. The constant pain she lived with was enough – to add the fatigue of chemotherapy to the mix would just be cruel.
Cancer happens when the body starts to grow new cells uncontrollably, forming tumors that at their worst interfere with how your body works and destroy the healthy cells you have. To look at Rosan, you wouldn’t even have to have the slightest idea of what cancer means to know all of this.
At 45, she was diagnosed by her oncologist with mandibular cancer that had metastasized to the vertebra.* She had aneurysmal bone cysts and had 6 lumps visible on her body: on her jaw, her neck, her back, her side body, her throat, and even on her head. The lumps were like icebergs, going deep into her body and eating away at the bones they touched. A scan of her skull showed that a crater had formed at the top, the bones sinking down to make room for the abnormal growth that seemed like a parasite.
After showing her that same scan, her doctor said she had only 2-3 months to live. It was July of 2014. More than a year later, Rosan is still around, feeling better, when technically her doctor said, she wouldn’t be. Rosan and her husband owe it to the 10 glasses of juice she drinks a day.
Gerson therapy versus chemotherapy
The 10 glasses of fresh-pressed juice Rosan drinks a day is just a part of the healing regimen the Gerson Therapy recommends. Other things on the prescription list: 3 full, organic, plant-based meals a day, fresh fruit and vegetables for snacks, and at the most, 5 coffee enemas a day. The therapy recommends juices made from organic romaine, green apple and bell peppers.
Developed in the 1930s by Dr Max Gerson, the aim of the therapy is to bring the body’s ability to heal itself to maximum capacity by undoing the toxicity and nutritional deficiency that actually cause most degenerative diseases.
The great amounts of enzymes, minerals, and nutrients from the raw plants and fruits strengthen the fighting power of the body’s immune system. The coffee enemas assist the liver in eliminating toxins that have been in the body for years – the liver being a detoxifying organ that, in a cancer patient, is bound to be compromised. With this, the body is able to flush out debilitating toxins.
How do simple fruits and veggies even begin to compare with chemotherapy? A marked difference is that they heal without hurting you – this is according to the oncologist who told Rosan that foregoing chemotherapy was a good decision, Dr Omar Arabia.
Arabia’s clinic on Katipunan’s Xavierville Avenue, the Paracelsus Integrative Medical Clinic, is right next to a vegetarian restaurant that he runs as another means to support his patients through their clean living journey. And it truly is living.
On the day of his interview with Rappler at Blissful Belly, Arabia was being approached left and right by survivors who’ve been keeping their cancer under control for 5 years, 7 years, and so on. Their joy at seeing him and their glow of health were as good indicators as any of his 30+ years of pioneering experience in integrative oncology, and the fact that he’s studied with a little less than a hundred teachers.
To a lifelong student like him, helping people heal is actually an act of education. Whether the people who come to him have cancer, or any other kind of chronic disease, all of them have one thing in common – he says they’re “ignorant about how to take care of themselves.”
He described integrative medicine as a choice to be informed. “You have a choice to reinvestigate the logic behind your sickness.” For Arabia, the Gerson Therapy and its holistic attention to the individual makes sense because it forces us to confront how our sickness was caused by what we did to ourselves physically, and what we do to ourselves emotionally.
Think back to the last time you ate lechon, dinuguan, a stick of barbecue, or a whole plate of sisig. Then go further and return to the last time you chose not to express a certain emotion, just because it was easier to ignore it than to deal with it.
When Arabia invites you to think of these things, it isn’t an attack on our vibrant food culture or on your personality. It’s an invitation to reexamine your own individual choices every day. 99% of the cases he sees are caused by taking the standard Filipino diet of meat a bit too far. He said diet and stress “sets you up for the genesis of a disease. We may be overfed, but we are malnourished… At the cellular level, you’re already being poisoned.”
Eating clean and healthy works because it allows the body’s healing power to “express itself.” Arabia added, “Medicines suppress symptoms, but they don’t address symptoms.” To reverse the toxicity of the body could take years, and to reverse the mind’s bad habits could take longer. The “integrative” in Paracelsus Integrative Medical Clinic comes in the way of meditation, yoga, and counseling, starting with your first consultation with Arabia – the mind being just as important as the body.
A typical program with Arabia includes diet, inner emotional work, plant-based medicines, and homeopathic IV if needed – all centered on the idea that what can really heal you is a change in your attitude toward your life.
Clinic of last resort
Before Arabia’s interview started, he apologized for being late – his consultation with a stage 4 cancer patient ran a bit long because of the patient’s critical condition. The first thing he said was, “I wish everyone to be healthy.”
He described his clinic as a center for the chronically sick. Jokingly he added, “It’s a clinic of last resort.”
Every day he sees immuno-compromised people suffering from cancer, heart disease, diabetes, chronic hypertension, among others. Most often they’re already deep into their sickness, what Arabia calls “stage 10”.
Because integrative medicine is not as popular as lining up at a hospital and waiting for medical bills, his patients usually come to him after they’ve tried everything, or worse, they’re waiting to die. Arabia observed that what really brings patients to him is pain.
“Pain is the language they understand.” Without the experience of pain, many might not even bother to take a look at what their food really does to them, not to mention the daily stress they go through.
But if very sick people can outlive and control their cancer, think of what a clean, green diet can do for someone who’s starting point is one of health? Arabia emphasized prevention, and “continuous gratitude.”
For Rosan who went to Arabia's clinic, her progress to restoring her healthy appetite and no longer needing a tube in her throat to eat as the traditional medical doctors initially recommended is a big leap forward.
From being unable to speak because of the lump in her jaw impeding her speech, she’s now as “madaldal” (talkative) as ever. Her husband Joselito who used to bathe and carry her said the diet didn’t just bring health to their lives as a family, it also brought hope.
People who come to Arabia’s clinic may start out skeptical and unfamiliar with integrative medicine. But he said, “Skepticism turns into hope.”
Arabia said Paracelsus Clinic has about 50 patients under its registry of long-term survivors, living from 6 to 30 years. – Rappler.com
*Editor's Note: In an earlier version of this story, the author merely mentioned "aneurysmal bone cysts". The doctor of Rosan clarified that she was actually diagnosed with mandibular cancer.
Dindin Reyes is a yoga instructor, teaching Vinyasa and Hatha classes. She graduated from a 200-hour RYT Vinyasa teacher training at White Space Mind and Body Wellness. As an instructor, she is passionate about teaching beginners and helping them find what yoga is for them. Dindin also writes about yoga, social enterprises and volunteering in the Philippines on thelargeworld.wordpress.com.