About Our Guest- Dr. Nalini Chilkov – Treating Cancer with Chinese Medicine
Full Podcast Transcription
Diva Nagula 00:00
What is psychologically of great relief to cancer patients is when I say to them, okay, you’ve been through your treatment now. Now our conversation shifts from talking about disease to talking about health. Having a cancer diagnosis is a great opportunity and gateway in your life to really engage in self reflection and self inquiry. I encourage patients to reframe what is a very stressful diagnosis into something that is very transformative for them. Hello everyone and welcome to another episode of From Doctor to Patient. Today I have Dr. Nalini Chilkov joining me. She’s the creator of Outsmart Cancer System and founder of Integrative Cancer Answers, an online resource for patients and families whose lives have been touched by cancer. She’s the author of the bestseller book, 32 Ways to Outsmart Cancer, How to Create a Body Where Cancer Cannot Thrive. Dr. Chilkov is recognized as an expert in integrative cancer care, and immune enhancements worldwide. She will share some of the pearls of Chinese medicine that she has used for over 30 years with 1000s of patients who have faced a cancer diagnosis and shed light on how Chinese medicine fits into a comprehensive integrative Cancer Care Plan. Dr. Chilkov, so glad to have you on the show today. How are you?
Dr. Nalini Chilkov 03:15
Thank you for inviting me. I’m delighted to be here.
Diva Nagula 03:18
I’m so happy to have you on here. Obviously cancer care and cancer in general is very dear to me. As I was diagnosed with stage four non Hodgkins lymphoma six years ago, and I wish I’d have known you back then I would have sought you out. But fortunately, I’m in remission, you know, in five years now. And yeah, five years Exactly. And I just would like to get some information into for our listeners so that anyone who is interested or wanting to reach out or anyone who’s suffering from cancer, and has questions, it’d be just great to have this podcast available for them. So thank you. I really want to find out, you know how you, as a provider developed your niche into integrative cancer care?
Dr. Nalini Chilkov 04:07
Well, you know, there’s always a personal story behind a lot of our life choices that we didn’t necessarily plan for ourselves. But both of my parents suffered from cancer diagnoses in their 50s. And so I got really interested in cancer thinking that our family had a lot of genetic susceptibility. Because both my parents early in life and the good news is neither of them died of cancer. My mom died at 88, my dad at 90 of cardiovascular disease so people should really understand like yourself, that cancer is not necessarily a death sentence. And I think that a lot of people have that fear and and think of it that way, but it’s really a metabolic challenge and in some people It’s a chronic illness. And then some people, it’s completely resolvable as in your case. But really, what’s most important is to have a health model when you have cancer in your family or or as a personal diagnosis, because in oncology The model doesn’t even have health in the conversation in a cancer clinic. But what patients want is an outcome of health, nobody wants to be cancer free, they want to be healthy. And so to get your life back, and to feel that you have control over the trajectory of what’s going to happen to you is very important. So you really need a team, you need your disease experts, your oncology team, but you also need health experts on your team if you’re going to have health, while you go through challenging treatments, and in support of resilience and the capacity to cope with something most people are not really prepared for. And so I just got to see my parents go through that firsthand, and really took a deep dive into what does it take to go through that come out the other side and be able to feel fully recovered and not live with ongoing anxiety that you’re just waiting? Maybe I’ll have a recurrence. So we want to have the health model in Chinese medicine is one of those beautiful systems that I think is like the original preventive medicine model, really. And that has a beautiful balanced view of health and a very large toolbox.
Diva Nagula 06:37
Yeah, I love that. I really want to go deeply into Chinese medicine and what it offers. But I think just as a nice overview, would you be able to describe what the philosophy of Chinese medicine entails?
Dr. Nalini Chilkov 06:51
Well, Chinese medicine arises out of two Chinese philosophical traditions, it arises out of Taoism, which is really based on observing nature to understand ourselves and our lives and the universe. And it also arises out of Confucianism, which was later in Chinese history, and Confucianism was about, there’s a terminology called the upright man or the upright woman, which was about ethics. And so Chinese medicine combined these two philosophical views or lenses, and is very much about coming into harmony with nature coming into balance, the the core of Chinese medical philosophy is where’s the center? Where’s balance? In what way? Are you out of balance? And how do you come back to balance and so that’s philosophy, but also looking at things through the elements and the temperature and the texture of things. So it’s very, the all the metaphors of Chinese medicine are very familiar to us, because they’re about nature and life and things we know about. And so that’s one piece of it. But also Chinese medicine is about looking deeply within ourselves. And so every aspect of Chinese medicine looks at a couple of layers, there’s something we call the three treasures in Chinese medicine. So there’s the chi, word, and these are things we don’t have English words for. But chi is like the vitality of life, but what makes something alive as opposed to inert and, and so the difference between a piece of wood and a living tree for example, and so chi is the vitality, the vital energy of life, we look at that, we also look at the shen, which is translated as spirit, but it really means our psychological emotional, and the way that we meet ourselves in the world, with our emotions in our psyche. And then there’s the jing, which there’s not even a Western idea for but it it can be like the essence of life, and what makes us in relation to things larger than ourselves. And so we can also think of it in the way we think of genetic potential and how we have a great potential within us and we have to decide what we’re going to express. And so all of these things are looked at in Chinese medicine. And so every time that you have an accupunture treatment, and then needle goes in, it’s touching the chi, the shen and the jing all at once. And every time you take an herbal medicine, it’s touching all these parts. So it’s very truly holistic view. And there’s also a very beautiful philosophy about what’s the role of the doctor in Chinese medicine. And so they’re these ideas of the superior physician, mediocre physician, and the superior doctor is the doctor whose patients are well, and so that’s a very a beautiful model that doesn’t even exist in modern medicine, really. And our health model is a pathology model, a disease focused model. And really, what is psychologically of great relief to cancer patients is when I say to them, okay, you’ve been through your treatment now, now our conversation shifts from talking about disease, to talking about health. And so that sort of self concept of how you think of yourself, having been a cancer patient, now a cancer survivor, or thriver, however you think of yourself, but then it becomes it, the conversation should become about health, and how to live. And as you know, having a cancer diagnosis is a great opportunity and gateway in your life, to really engage in self reflection and self inquiry and look at your values and what’s really important to you. And so, I encourage patients to reframe what is a very stressful diagnosis into something that is very transformative for them.
Diva Nagula 11:01
Indeed, yes. And that’s, it comes to a question of how this differentiates from Western medicine, how we know it, and can we combine the two to enhance the benefits of both philosophies for the betterment of the patient?
Dr. Nalini Chilkov 11:17
Well, of course, because everyone is looking for meaning. And so that’s probably why we both went into health care also, because every day that we make a difference in someone’s life is a good day. And so my whole life’s mission, my professional mission is to prove that a collaborative model is better for the patient. But it’s better for the doctor too. Because if your patients do better, then that’s more rewarding. But it also means that you are getting to see people do well. And so my experience has been I’ve been in practice for over 35 years. And so I have a lot of relationships with oncologists now. And what is true is that the patients who receive support for their health, and have an integrative collaborative team do better. You don’t have to say anything, once the oncologist can see that patients that have support for their nutrition, support for their coping, have support for their immune system, have support for repairing tissue damaged by the treatments are going to do better, and they do better psychologically and spiritually as well.
Diva Nagula 12:29
I totally agree with you. I mean, that’s kind of what I was looking for when I was trying to seek treatment. And they didn’t really have a team approach. And my background is a physical medicine and rehabilitation. That’s my background. And when we work with patients who are coming to the rehab facility after undergoing a stroke, or some sort of debilitating disease processes, what we do is we have a team that employs the physician, the physical therapists, occupational therapists, speech therapists, psychologists, and nursing. And so it’s a team approach. And I’ve always ingrained that into everything that I do. And I really feel that Western medicine has that team approach. But having a team approach is so essential, because that one person has all the answers and has the wisdom that helps heal the person.
Dr. Nalini Chilkov 13:19
And now you need an acupuncturist on your team!
Diva Nagula 13:23
Yes, yes, that is true. That’s very true. Before we go into talking about acupuncture, which is which is really important, I wanted to understand what Traditional Chinese Medicine is, and how that differs from Modern Chinese Medicine.
Dr. Nalini Chilkov 13:39
Really important question, because Chinese medicine has a tradition of many thousands of years. And so there are very a lens that we look through from the traditional framework of Chinese medicine, that has nothing to do with modern science. And then there’s modern Chinese medicine, which is based on research. And so I like to combine the two because the traditional way of looking at a human being through the lens of Chinese medicine, is really useful to understand that person very deeply. And to make sure that we have a plan that is building health from the bottom up. And that’s a fundamental tenet of Chinese medicine. There’s what we call constitutional treatment in Chinese medicine, meaning, you know, where are the weak links in your system? If we shore those up, no matter what happens, no matter what’s on your plate, you’re going to do better. And so there are kind of two main foundations that we look at. One is called saving the earth, which is to fix the digestive system and the microbiome and to make sure people can digest their food and absorb it and have a healthy gut. That also is true in modern naturopathic medicine, that’s a big focus. But if you can’t benefit from good nutrition, it doesn’t matter what we give you orally. If your digestion isn’t, isn’t working, you don’t have good absorption and elimination. So that is fundamental, we always put that in the in the plan. And then there’s the save the water element or save the kidney school. And that really, is the way we think about stress resilience and the way that we meet life’s challenges. And so we look at both these aspects of the patient at the beginning to see what do we need to address there so that whatever else we need to do will be successful. So that’s really important. And so that’s more of a traditional view. But it’s really vital to the success of treatment, you know, and just as a framework, and then in modern Chinese medicine, we have the opportunity to understand when we use an acupuncture point, does it increase white blood cells? Does it decrease the stress hormone? Does it regulate the sleep cycle? Or when we use an herbal medicine, does it have an epigenetic effect and turn on a gene that’s a cancer suppressor gene. And so we have modern science to help us make our selection of acupuncture points and herbal medicines and food therapies, as well as the traditional view. And Chinese medicine is such a poetic, beautiful, elegant system. And so I often spend a lot of time telling people stories from nature and using nature metaphors, to help them understand where they are in their process and and how we’re going to proceed and, and people can understand that. So one of the fundamentals of working with cancer is to think about the cancer terrain. And that’s like the soil in a garden. If you change the soil, you change what grows there. And we want beautiful flowers and healthy fruits, we don’t want a bunch of weeds. And so we want to tend that garden and change the biosystem that ground that fundamental ground of physiology so that it can respond in a way that leads to resolution and healing.
Diva Nagula 17:40
One of those aspects of Chinese medicine is acupuncture. And so, could you briefly describe like, what acupuncture is and how it works, and specifically like how it can be utilized for people who are suffering from cancer.
Dr. Nalini Chilkov 18:45
So I do acupuncture on all of my patients during their cancer journey. And you know, at the beginning, acupuncture is useful for the anxiety that comes with the diagnosis and the stress of it all. But acupuncture is a beautiful and elegant technology. So it’s it’s based on the idea that we can impact the chi or vital life energy and that we can direct it and nourish it and balance it and so on the body there are pathways called meridians. These are energy pathways. And on those meridians, there are accupuncture your points that have distinct energetic and physiologic functions. So, for example, there are points for calming the spirit and nourishing the heart which is how we treat anxiety and sleep disorders. But for the cancer patient, we want to be able to help them to have normal digestion and elimination. We want to help them to sleep better we want to support robust immunity. Many cancer patients suffer from side effects such as a decrease in red and white blood cells. There are points that directly impact that. These are wonderful things because oncologist not too skillful at managing side effects. So by managing side effects, then the patient can complete their treatment successfully and also feel well, while they’re doing that acupuncture is it can actually treat anything you would go to your family physician for, or your internist, for. It’s a very broad and, and flexible kind of a therapy. So we’ll use it for say women go into menopause from having their ovaries removed, or their the chemotherapy suppresses their ovaries, and they start to have hot flashes, and mood changes, then we can use acupuncture for that. There’s actually some modern studies on head and neck cancer patients losing the ability to produce saliva from radiation to the head and neck, and there’s a point near the ear, that actually causes the saliva to be restored things that conventional medicine can’t do, or after a surgery if you’re unable to be discharged from the hospital because your bowels aren’t moving. And so there are points that can kick start your bowels, so that you can have normal elimination, you’ll get to go home from the hospital. And so there’s really all kinds of things. So if you think of any system of the body, then we can use acupuncture to support that. But during treatment, I do a really nourishing tonifying treatment on everyone to support all of the organs, and then whatever specific to that patient, if they’re having pain, or if they’re having sleep disruption, or having terrible diarrhea, or neuropathy, whatever is going on, and then afterwards, then we go back to building up those foundations of saving the earth and saving the kidney t so that you can come back into your life from a really strong place. And there are long term side effects that we have to deal with. And so one of the most common is cancer related fatigue, cancer treatment related fatigue 80% of all cancer patients complain of that, and after treatment 40% of cancer patients will complain of fatigue for up to 20 years after a successful treatment. So, there’s a physician at UCLA Dr. Patty Ganz who’s devoted her her research to studying cancer related fatigue. And so we can use acupuncture with these patients with interestingly enough, the main cause of that fatigue is ongoing inflammation. That’s main cause there are other reasons like low red blood cell counts that are long term effects of certain chemotherapy, but it’s this ongoing low level of chronic inflammation that causes this fatigue to persist. And we actually think that’s why COVID patients who have had cytokine storms, also have persistent fatigue is because inflammations still brewing. And so we can use acupuncture and Chinese herbs and dietary therapies to manage that and resolve that. So pretty much anything that comes up in the human experience in medicine, there is a way to approach it with Chinese medicine, acupuncture is a part of that. And really a larger part of Chinese medicine is herbal medicine and food therapies. And then Chinese medicine also includes some physical techniques called tuina, which is a kind of bodywork, and also, the martial arts like Tai Chi, Chi Gong are part of Chinese medicine. And so a Chinese trained doctor has to actually understand how to manage their own chi, right? And so you have to be a practitioner of Tai Chi or Qigong, meditation to actually become a Chinese doctor. So it’s a different kind of training.
Diva Nagula 24:05
Oh, absolutely, absolutely is and it’s fascinating how ancient this this system is, and how elaborate it is. And when you look and compare, it’s just got so much history compared to Western medicine, and it’s just so profound with all the different types of Mind-Body healing that it offers. And, you know, that’s that’s kind of where I feel Western medicine needs to take a shift so that we address not not the symptoms but the whole body and get to the root cause of the issue, which I feel that Chinese medicine really does well.
Dr. Nalini Chilkov 24:37
Yeah, that’s just the framework is to to understand where the root is, and that doesn’t mean you don’t treat the branches where the symptoms are, but you understand that your job is to resolve the root cause.
Diva Nagula 24:51
And with acupuncture when it’s performed, is there any worry about having an impact or interaction with some of the chemotherapy or other types of treatments that cancer patients are receiving,
Dr. Nalini Chilkov 25:04
Acupuncture can be done throughout the treatment cycle, herbs have interactions because they have drug like effects so that’s more complex. But the only contraindication to occupy puncture is if someone has very, very low neutrophils, or very low white blood cells in there might be a risk of infection by breaking the barrier of the skin. But I have actually never seen that, you know, it’s really kind of amazing that I’ve been doing acupuncture for 35 years, I have never seen an infection at an insertion site of an acupuncture point. And so there’s something about putting the needle and that actually causes low risk, local response that that is protected.
Diva Nagula 25:54
And you were just mentioning about herbal medicine, and a lot of people have this, I don’t know this, this sense that herbal medicine, that’s Chinese medicine based has some contamination, and it’s not really true medicine, because it’s tainted somehow. I mean, can you address that, and then also talk about how herbal medicine is using what actually is herbal medicine. And when we talk about Chinese therapy.
Dr. Nalini Chilkov 26:19
Every person who purchases an herbal supplement should be an educated consumer. And it’s really important, what brands you buy. And so one of the things I like to do is really consider that part of my job is to educate patients, if they’re going to invest their money in herbal medicines and nutritional supplements is to understand which brands to buy and which to avoid. And there are issues with contaminants in herbal medicines that come from China. But Similarly, there are companies that go above and beyond to have a pure, safe, organic product. And so you just have to know which brands to buy. Or in the case of medicinal Chinese mushrooms, which are widely used to regulate immunity, manage inflammation, manage blood sugar, and have some anti tumor effects widely used in cancer things like reishi mushroom, turkey tail mushroom, these are important how they’re processed. And so you want to cold water, processed extract, and you want to use only high quality companies that check their raw ingredients for contaminants. And so you know, you can do that. And as China has understood what the western market demands, they you know, they have met that challenge. So historically, we used to get Chinese herbs contaminated with pesticides and herbicides, and even with Western drugs mixed into them. But that’s really less and less so as they want to have a market that will buy their products. So, but like anything, it’s similarly in nutritional supplements, it doesn’t matter what the brand is. So you know, you want to be educated as a consumer, which brands have the highest standards so that you have a pure uncontaminated product, that what’s on the label is actually in that bottle. And so, you know, that’s a learning curve, basically.
Diva Nagula 28:26
And along those lines, I’m sure the learning curve also includes which herbs to stay away from when we’re dealing with specific cancers and specific chemo therapies.
Dr. Nalini Chilkov 28:34
Yes, yes. So herbs are powerful herbs are very powerful. If we just step back and look at plant medicine and and a plant strong diet, then we’re talking about phytochemicals, plant chemicals, why are they so powerful? Two main reasons. One is, molecules from nature more readily bind to our receptors because we all evolved together, and so when you have something it’s not a synthetic molecule, but a molecule from nature, it more readily binds to receptors and on our cell walls, and then we get more strong signals and more reliable signals. And also molecules in nature are multitaskers that for example, curcumin, which is the main phytochemical in tumeric, influences over 100 different pathways, genes and receptors that influence cancer physiology. And there is no drug like that. And it’s safe to take curcumin for the rest of your life. There’s no drug like that if there was a drug we could say that about it will be a blockbuster drug. So nature’s design is really useful. So when you are a cancer patient, you want to be under the care of someone who understands drug-herb or drug-nutrient interactions, so that you are on a protocol that does not interfere with the plan your oncologist has for you, or will not put you at risk for a blood clot or excess bleeding around surgery or you know, you you want to have an educated clinician, who will also communicate with your oncology team, so that the oncologist doesn’t have to say you can’t take anything, right. And so I’ve cultivated relationships with oncologists and surgeons and radiologists, so that they understand that I am not going to mess up treatment plan for their patient. And the patient has faith and confidence that not only will there not be interference, but there actually are synergistic treatments. So we can again just refer to curcumin is synergistic with certain chemotherapy agents, or radio sensitizes makes radiation therapy more successful. And so the modern Chinese medicine is very sophisticated in that way. And there’s plenty of studies that have been done that we can make educated choices for our patients. So when I put a plan together, I think about what are the foundation nutrients that the patient needs under these unique stresses of having cancer and going through challenging treatments? How do we manage the side effects of those treatments to protect healthy tissue and function and keep that person well and have the least amount of side effects and then have a way to repair all that when they’re done with treatment? And then how can we make it easy for a cancer patient who doesn’t feel like eating or may feel nauseous to have adequate nutrition while they go through all of this, and so I’ve usually put a therapeutic shake in the plan too. But in Chinese medicine, there’s also food therapies, that there’s a tradition of medicinal soups and therapeutic foods. And so if you think about some of the common foods of Chinese diet, a lot of them are really powerful for cancer. So think of all the cabbage and broccoli, vegetables that are in Chinese meals, broccoli, and bean sprouts and Bokchoy and cabbage. And then of course, in the West, we eat kale a lot. And all of those cabbage family vegetables are full of phytochemicals called sulforaphane, which impact cancer physiology at every stage of cancer development. And so if you just include those foods in your diet every day, you’re giving yourself a diet that will signal the body to create an environment where cancer is not likely to thrive. So we want to create a body that’s not hospitable to the development or progression of cancer. Think about the onion and garlic family that’s very common in Chinese food. And also those are high sulfur containing vegetables, which help us to detoxify which helps us to produce glutathione, the body’s primary antioxidant. And then there are foods that are traditionally known for certain things like lotus root is a common root vegetable in Chinese medicine that’s good for the lungs. And so there are ways to think about food, both in a modern sense, what’s the phytochemical what is action, but also, are there foods that nourish particular organs. So if we want to nourish the kidneys, we think of things like black sesame seeds and red small beans like aduki beans, if we want to nourish the tea of the digestive tract, we think of yellow-orange foods like bagged yams and baked winter squash and make carrot cooked carrots, things like that. We can look at your spice shelf as a pharmacy. So something like ginger is excellent as an anti inflammatory. It also has this one spicy ginger oil in it which makes it an expectorant and also a digestive and manages inflammation or then you think about the great herbs of Chinese medicine like dancing, we can be put into a soup and make it into a medicinal soup. And so Chinese are so practical, they use everything, everything and so whether that’s food or exercise or spiritual practices or exercises, or acupuncture or herbs, there’s always a doorway into impacting your health in Chinese medicine and lifestyle.
Diva Nagula 34:33
It’s really interesting how you address food therapies because that’s not something typically you would speak to when you are seeing an acupuncturist or even for that matter a Western practitioner oncologist, they’re not going to talk to you about nutrition, and how you can utilize food, you know, for purposes of treatment, detoxification, and also in certain cases, prophylaxis and so some of the foods that you mentioned that were high in sulforaphane are so essential for us to be using on a regular basis just for preventative purposes. So, I’m so happy to hear about how you implement these strategies, you know, with acupuncture, herbs, and more importantly, in my opinion, food as medicine.
Dr. Nalini Chilkov 35:15
Well, you know, actually, traditional Chinese medicine always includes food therapies. So if you are going to an acupuncturist, who is trained in traditional Chinese medicine, they will talk to you about food and diet. If you go to an orthopedist who took a weekend acupuncture class, you’re not going to get that.
Diva Nagula 35:38
For Chinese medicine specifically – we’ve been talking about how it’s really good for cancer. But is it more or less it goes to the root of the problem, or does it really help with cancer because it helps boost immunity?
Dr. Nalini Chilkov 35:52
Well, cancer is incredibly complex. And that’s why it’s a challenge to treat. And so we need to understand the nature of the tumor cells that a person has. But we also need to understand this terrain, this bio system in which the cancer has been permitted to thrive. And so Chinese medicine looks at the Constitution, looks at the whole body and says, How do we create balance so that we have a less hospitable environment? So that’s one layer. But to directly answer your question, acupuncture doesn’t directly treat cancer, accupuncture modulates the physiology. And so having a robust immune system is a key. And there are, many traditions of boosting immunity, but zero in modern medicine, okay, zero. So that’s a hole in in modern medicine, and is so crucial to the success of cancer treatments and longevity. And so when cancer patient finishes their treatment successfully, hopefully, then their fear of recurrence lives with them, as you know. And so if you have something proactive that you can do to strengthen your system, then your anxiety goes way down as a cancer patient, because when you’re discharged from treatment you’re told, well, we hope you don’t get a recurrence and and there’s no plan for preventing that recurrence. And so that’s often the time when patients become very anxious the first time when you’re diagnosed, but then you have all this high contact with your care providers, and then it ends. And then what right, then what so then you want someone who you can work with who can evaluate you and follow you long term, ongoing. And so I monitor my patients for years and years and years, because I have goals for what I want their physiology to be, so that both in the Chinese medical view of a certain kind of balance and harmony, but also we do blood tests to monitor the cancer terrain and look at biomarkers that are crucial to whether or not your body’s going to be hospitable to cancer or not or resistant to cancer. And so we use diet, lifestyle, herbal medicine, nutritional therapies, and accupuncture as a toolbox for all of that for health. So modulating immunity, managing inflammation, very important, but the things that also go into causing health, like being able to digest and absorb your food, being able to sleep restfully being able to be resilient in the face of stress. All of these things are part of having health. So some patients have never been interested in health until they get a cancer diagnosis. And then they have to learn that so you know, how we live has more impact on our health than anything in a bottle, even an herbal supplements. So Chinese medicine is very focused on how how do we live and what is our relationship to ourselves because sometimes that’s where the healing needs to happen. If you have a healthy relationship to yourself, you will make healthy choices. If you have wounds that cause you to be self destructive, then that’s where the healing is. And you have to learn how to take care of yourself or if you grew up in a family where nobody took care of themselves. Nobody exercise everybody ate junk food. You don’t know what it looks like to live a healthy lifestyle or how to cook healthy food. So we have a nutritionist in our practice, who teaches people how to eat the outsmart cancer diet, how to implement the outsmart cancer lifestyle, and how to have a plan for being monitored and managed and how do you engage in a health model that isn’t about only seeing the doctor when you’re sick. So Chinese medicine has a beautiful tradition of at least seeing your doctor once a season. So that if you’re tipping out of balance and you are at the early stages of developing some kind of a syndrome, then it’s caught early. So that’s the superior doctor keeping their patient healthy, you check in once a season, so you stay well. And that’s a big paradigm shift for patients because we are trained as patients to only seek care if something is wrong. But the only way to stay well, is to see your care provider on a regular basis so they can monitor you. And then the patient learns incredible self awareness about what to pay attention to what do their symptoms mean. That’s very empowering to people.
Diva Nagula 40:46
Absolutely. And for more clarification and an understanding of how this works, like, what would be the best route to take. So if a person has been diagnosed with cancer, and they’re seeing their oncologist, and they’re about to get started with their chemotherapy or radiation treatment, when would be the optimal time for a patient to come see traditional Chinese medicine specialists? And how long would you anticipate they be treated under the practitioner? And is it something that needs to be done, ongoing, even after the chemo, this continues?
Dr. Nalini Chilkov 41:25
I here’s how I think about the cancer journey, you know, there’s kind of different phases of it. D
And the needs are different in different phases. So when you’re first diagnosed, it’s very stressful, and you’re overwhelmed. And you have all this unfamiliar information you’re trying to sort through. And so I hope and wish, that’s when someone seeks care, and is thinking about how to build their team, right, and how they’re going to go through this. And then oncology is very disenfranchising, and disempowering to the patient. And all of a sudden, you’re told, okay, here’s your diagnosis. And next week, we’re going to start chemo and then we’ll do surgery. And then after that we’ll do some more chemo and after that is radiation, and then we’ll put you on hormonal therapy. And it’s so overwhelming. And so my first goal on the first visit is that the person walks out with less anxiety, they walked in and feel this more of a sense of agency and control over what’s happening and to understand that cancer is not an urgent care diagnosis. Cancer is a chronic illness. And cancer is a long term metabolic challenge. And there’s no hurry to start next week. And it’s important that the patient feel they have the right care provider. And I encourage patients to interview more than one oncologist it makes sure they have a doctor they feel comfortable with and listens to them, and honors their values and their wishes for themselves. You also just need time for your psyche to catch up to what just been told to you with your diagnosis and what’s before you. You need time to organize your life and your kids and your business so that you can relax and go through your treatment without worrying about all of that being in chaos. And so I encourage patients to just slow down the process and tell their oncologists are not ready to start yet. And to understand that when you have a team as the patient, you’re the head of the team, nobody can do a therapy, or a treatment or procedure on you unless you give them permission. But oncologists make you feel like if you don’t do what they say when they say you will die. And that is not true. That is not true. And so that as part of my initial conversation with patients is to slow it down, make sure the decision is yours. And psychologically that’s very, very important.
Diva Nagula 43:47
Yeah, empowering the patient to make the decision is such a huge therapeutic in itself. It’s so important to have your own power and retain it when you make choices and decisions and not let the cancer dictate or have the oncologist.
Dr. Nalini Chilkov 44:01
That’s right, it’s really important. So that’s the first phase of the journey is all that decision making and adjusting to your new reality. The second phase of the journey is being in treatment. And that’s often when people come in is when they’re having side effects. So during that phase, you know we have a plan for health that starts at the beginning and goes all the way through. But then whatever’s on our plate. So if you’re having surgery or chemo or radiation or immunotherapy, we we have plans to manage the side effects of those things and help you do well and get the very best results. Then the next phase is recovering from your treatments and dealing with short term and long term side effects of cancer and cancer treatments. A lot of people suffer cognitive changes in their memory and their information processing and sorting decision making. And so along with a fatigue those are common complaints that people have long term that we can deal with. And you know, the digestive tract and the microbiome has generally been knocked down by many treatments. So we want to build that back up. And then there’s the category of patients in remission, who are going to live long and live well and and hopefully have a really long time before they have a recurrence or not have a recurrence at all. And so how do you do that there’s no plan for that in oncology. And then there’s another population of patients who are patients who live with cancer as a chronic illness, that’s the patient who is diagnosed at stage three, or for a patient who’s a more advanced patient who may not be cancer free, but they may not be ill either. And so there’s being managed, and so that you frame that as if you had diabetes. Or as if you had high blood pressure, you have cancer as a chronic illness, you have to manage, it’s not going to kill you, or it’ll kill you when you’re 90. And so my parents are an example of patients who recovered from their cancer did not have recurrences, and died of cardiovascular disease, but a very large population of patients, for example, breast cancer patients live a long time. And if you’re diagnosed, it’s a more advanced stage three or four, you may not be cured of your cancer, but it might not actually kill you, or it might be 20 or 30 years from now that that happens. And so there’s not a framework for that in oncology for patients to say, okay, I can manage this, I can get on with my life. And this is something I need to understand how to live with. And so your question is, when to come in is, is hopefully at the beginning, but the first time you think about it, I put together a team that includes health support. And then in my view, and this is the view Chinese medicine, once you have a relationship with a care provider, who knows you deeply understand you, well, you stay with that person for the rest of your life, to stay healthy. So if you’re in a health model, your ongoing long term relationship, if you’re in a disease model, when the symptoms go away, you stop seeking care, but that’s not health. And so for a cancer patient, especially with the fear of recurrence, there’s a high motivation to engage a very high motivation.
And then there’s another population of patients who are patients who live with cancer as a chronic illness, that’s the patient who is diagnosed at stage three, or for a patient who’s a more advanced patient who may not be cancer free, but they may not be ill either. And so there’s being managed, and so that you frame that as if you had diabetes. Or as if you had high blood pressure, you have cancer as a chronic illness, you have to manage, it’s not going to kill you, or it’ll kill you when you’re 90. And so my parents are an example of patients who recovered from their cancer did not have recurrences, and died of cardiovascular disease, but a very large population of patients, for example, breast cancer patients live a long time. And if you’re diagnosed, it’s a more advanced stage three or four, you may not be cured of your cancer, but it might not actually kill you, or it might be 20 or 30 years from now that that happens. And so there’s not a framework for that in oncology for patients to say, okay, I can manage this, I can get on with my life. And this is something I need to understand how to live with. And so your question is, when to come in is, is hopefully at the beginning, but the first time you think about it, I put together a team that includes health support. And then in my view, and this is the view Chinese medicine, once you have a relationship with a care provider, who knows you deeply understand you, well, you stay with that person for the rest of your life, to stay healthy. So if you’re in a health model, your ongoing long term relationship, if you’re in a disease model, when the symptoms go away, you stop seeking care, but that’s not health. And so for a cancer patient, especially with the fear of recurrence, there’s a high motivation to engage a very high motivation.
Diva Nagula 47:18
That’s so true. And, you know, it’s, it’s being proactive about your health, I think is really important in the way our healthcare system or I call it, the sick care system works is you just go in when you are feeling ill and you get your symptoms addressed. And but the root cause is still lingering, and unfortunately, the symptoms will persist or will modulate into some sort of other process that’s disease oriented. And it’s unfortunate. And I think that we need to have a system where we’re teaching people at a very young age, how to eat how to take care of themselves, mindfulness practices, and be more empowered, you know, in a sense of being able to dictate their health and understanding their bodies enough so that they can feed their bodies the right way, when diseases happen, instead of just arbitrarily stuffing fast foods into their stomachs. And it’s understanding this whole issue of how healthcare really plays an important role in our lives, not only on a minute by minute basis, daily basis, but it’s not something that we just turn off and turn on, when we feeling symptoms, it’s being proactive on a regular basis is how I feel we can combat disease.
Dr. Nalini Chilkov 48:37
Absolutely. And this is really about core values, do you value health or do you not? Because if you do, you will live in a way that’s congruent with that. For someone who has always been healthy, when they lose their health, sometimes that’s the moment where that becomes obvious to you take anyone you’re young, you also take for granted your health. And as you understand, you’re more fragile and vulnerable. And so, health is a lifestyle health is a value system. It’s a it’s a way of life. And so often a cancer diagnosis is an opportunity to begin to understand that and to understand that you as the patient have control over whether or not you’re healthy. The doctor doesn’t do very much about that, and conventional medicine. And so if you as the patient want health, you want to be under the care of a clinician who has a health model for you, that can teach you how to build your health and I say to patients, okay, we’re going to build you a new body. Now we’re going to rebuild your brain, we’re going to rebuild your digestive function. And so that takes time though. So the other thing that Chinese medicine is beautiful about is to help to understand the rhythm of nature, because that’s the rhythm at which healing occurs that is durable. We are trained as patients Western medicine to think of a symptom changes all as well. But you know, the minute you stopped with our suppressive drug you’re on it all comes back. So it was a mirage that you were well, and so real health, transforming structure, transforming function, addressing root causes, changing your body, rebuilding the lining of your gut, or the cell membranes in your brain, that takes time. And so Chinese medicines is very much about the rhythm of nature, which is why we have patients come in once a season, at a minimum, when they’re undergoing treatment, I have people come in once a week for acupuncture. And then we’ll continue that after they’re done with treatment. And then as they get stronger, we’ll go every other week, and then once a month, and then once a season. That’s how it sort of goes. And then we want to keep them stable, something comes up, I teach them come in when your symptoms are whispering at you not shouting at you. So they learned to intervene early. And so Chinese medicine is also a medicine of early intervention, we pay attention to more subtle changes and intervene at that time. So we give you an example in cancer with the oncologist understand something’s happening, but they won’t act because they’re in oncology, oncologists only treat what I call macro disease. You know, if you have a high tumor marker, if you have a mass, they’ll treat you. But let’s say you’ve completed treatment, and then there’s signs of microscopic disease arising, the oncologist will not treat you at that time, they will wait until you have a mass. And so tumor, that’s three millimeters, the size of the head of a pin has a billion cells in it, a billion cancer cells, that’s when you should treat. And so Chinese medicine and naturopathic medicine have the toolbox for that. So, there are new technologies like looking at circulating tumor cells or looking at cell free tumor DNA, which are the microscopic markers of cancer activity. And oncologists do not treat if those are present. But you can be treated in modern Chinese medicine and modern naturopathic medicine, with the toolbox of herbal medicine and nutritional therapies used in pharmacologic therapeutic ways you can treat at that stage and that’s when you should be treated.
Diva Nagula 52:23
Exactly, precisely. And the question that I had for you was, how can we find out about a
licensed acupuncturist herbalist? What’s the best way to research this on the internet?
Dr. Nalini Chilkov 52:37
Every state has its own licensing board for occupation and doctors of Chinese medicine. So in your state, you should be able to find a listing of licensed clinicians, but that doesn’t always lead you to the best doctor. I have found that if you have established natural food store in your community, quite often the staff there knows the best clinicians in your community. And so you want to get a known referral ideally. And so I often suggest that, some physicians have nutritionists in their practice, and people who are health oriented tend to know the other clinicians that are health oriented in their community. But then as a cancer patient, you also want to inquire, do you work with cancer patients, you know, I’ve experienced with that, that’s best case scenario. But you know, there aren’t enough clinicians who are trained in this kind of cancer treatment. And so even just a good experienced acupuncturist can support your immunity and help you with side effects during your treatment. And someone who is a seasoned clinician, and has a good reputation in your community, you can be cared for by that person. I also feel very strongly that, any clinician like yourself or myself in our training, we didn’t study oncology. And if you didn’t specialize in oncology, you don’t know very much about the needs of cancer survivors, either and their unique physiology and this well of their treatments. And so I feel it’s very important to train clinicians, who are, frontline primary care clinicians to understand the needs of this huge population of people in the United States, one in two people will be diagnosed with some type of cancer in their lifetime. And so, and two thirds of those people will live for 10 years or more after their diagnosis. So there’s this giant population of people with concerns about cancer risk and cancer survival that have no one caring for them. So I have two resources. One is for patients and families. I have a website with a ton of free information. It’s called integrativecanceranswers.com. And for the listeners of your podcast, we actually have a gift and I’ve created a a handout for them on how acupuncture can benefit cancer patients. And that the end of that I also have all the herbs and supplements that I recommend for each stage of the cancer journey. So that’s a gift to your listeners. And the link for that is integrativecanceranswers.com/drnagula, and you can put that link up for your your listeners. So that’s a free gift. So you can have a deeper understanding about how acupuncture can benefit you as a cancer patient and have access to the same recommendations I make in my clinic. And then I also developed an online professional training program for frontline clinicians want to learn how to provide this kind of care and, and that’s at www.aiiore.com, The American Institute of Integrative Oncology. And so for clinicians who want to learn my outsmart cancer system, I’ve trained hundreds of doctors to do this. And, and then the patient can learn the outsmart cancer system by going to my integrative cancer answer website or reading my book “32 Ways to Outsmart Cancer: How to create a body where cancer cannot thrive” and you can get started that way.
Diva Nagula 56:15
Wonderful. This was fascinating. And thank you so much for the gift that you’re providing for what you do. And then the link that you provided for the listeners and myself it’s just fascinating. And I know for a fact that this is going to help so many people know whether people are in the current stage of treatment, or prophylaxis or even trying to maintain their remission status. So thank you so much for being on the show and taking time out of your busy schedule. And I look forward to hopefully meeting you one day in person.
Dr. Nalini Chilkov 56:45
Yes. Well, hopefully we’ll meet it integrative oncology conference when we get to go to them again.
Diva Nagula 56:51 Exactly.
Dr. Nalini Chilkov 56:52 I look forward to it.
Diva Nagula 56:53 Thank you so much.