Oasis of Hope: Integrative Cancer Care

By Stephen T. Sinatra, M.D., F.A.C.C., F.A.C.N., C.N.S., C.B.T.

In 1963, Dr. Ernesto Contreras, Sr. opened up a revolutionary cancer care facility – called Oasis of Hope – in Tijuana, Mexico where patients could receive holistic treatment which encompassed the best conventional and alternative methods. Recognizing that cancer treatment is about more than tumor destruction, Contreras started providing spiritual and emotional therapies in addition to physical treatments. Contreras Sr. believed in battling cancer from every possible angle: attacking the tumor while stimulating the immune system, protecting normal tissues from damage, and addressing causal factors in order to improve quality of life for every patient. His guiding philosophies while finding the most effective treatments with the least amount of side effects were “do no harm” and “love your patient as you love yourself.”

Ernesto’s son, Dr. Francisco Contreras, carries on his father’s legacy as a pioneer in mind, body and spirit medicine; he is both a cancer specialist and Medical Director of the Oasis of Hope Hospital in Tijuana. “When people need to battle cancer, it’s an emotional, spiritual, and physical fight,” says Contreras, “there is a big difference between being a cancer victim and a cancer victor.” That difference lies in healing the whole person, rather than just his or her tumor. By focusing solely on the tumor, oncologists can, and often do, unintentionally compromise the quality of a person’s life. “Most cancer docs wouldn’t treat themselves with chemo,” he says. Aggressive integrative treatment at Oasis of Hope includes emotional and spiritual counseling, with an emphasis on cultivating a positive outlook through comprehensive and compassionate care.

Integrative Cancer Care

The physical protocol for Oasis patients includes cytotoxic chemotherapy or, alternately, high-dose intravenous vitamin C, as well as various additional interventions including oxidative preconditioning therapy, redox regulatory therapy, cell signal transduction modulatory therapy, metronomic chemotherapy, cancer-retarding anti-inflammatory therapies, and optimal diet and exercise. The idea is to create an umbrella of protection for healthy cells and minimize, if not avoid, unpleasant side effects. The emotional and spiritual components of treatment include patient care management, counseling, pastoral care, specialized support groups, social services, and education through lectures, nutrition classes, and Q&A sessions. With “love your patient as yourself” in mind, Contreras says the Oasis protocol reflects how he would treat cancer in his dear mother, or even himself.

Oasis accepts and treats patients with advanced stage cancer, including those diagnosed with stage IV cancer which has spread to other parts of the body. Many of these patients have heard from other oncologists that “nothing more can be done.” Contreras believes that something always can be done, even if it is just extending life for a few months and bettering its quality during that time. This may involve employing treatments designed to make chemotherapy more effective on tumors and less traumatic on the patient, or alternatives to chemotherapy designed to shrink tumors or slow down tumor growth while boosting the body’s immune system response. Spiritual and emotional counseling, of course, is always an integral part of treatment at any cancer stage.

“We are with you every step,” says Contreras. “We give you the most advanced clinical and creative strategies available – resources to really live out your life, however long, to the fullest.”

In addition to his work at the Tijuana Oasis center, Contreras also visits patients weekly at the Oasis of Hope Center in Irvine, CA which opened in late 2009. Dr. Leigh Erin Connealy, a leading integrative U.S. physician, has teamed up with Contreras and Board Certified Oncologist, Dr. Warren Fong at the California Oasis center to provide patients with the best “total care” possible. Whileexplaining the center’s holistic approach, Connealy said “cancer is not a disease of a body part, it is a disease of the body.” She believes that cancer treatment is about putting “the body back into balance by addressing the patient’s human condition… mentally, emotionally, psychologically, spiritually… every facet, because there is no other way… this is the same for every disease.”

Connealy is also Medical Director of the Center for New Medicine (CFNM), a state-of-the-art, full-service integrative medical clinic where patients receive treatment for a wide variety of illnesses. Through a partnership withthe CFNM, The California Oasis center offers patients access to a wide range of complementary therapies, including hyperbaric oxygen, Vitamin C IV’s, and advanced medical technology. The California Oasis of Hope clinic also provides a healing foods program, lifestyle recommendations, nutritional supplements, education, emotional and spiritual support, and other complementary therapies as well as conventional therapies like chemotherapy.

Connealy’s holistic approach is grounded in her belief that illness, including cancer, is a multifactoral condition. Connealy asks many patients, “why do you think you have cancer?” She says every one of them can tell you why – it is usually an emotional or psychological conflict, and/or environmental factor. In addition to exploring the emotional and spiritual side of things, she mentions that getting enough sleep and maintaining hormonal balance, especially a high enough DHEA level, are crucial for healing. “Sleep is the elixir of health, no matter what your condition is,” she says.

Proper nutrition is also important: “everything you put in your mouth,” says Connealy, “should be from nature,” i.e., it should have “living energy.” Connealy also attributes cancer, and other disease states, to an imbalance of viral, bacterial, fungal or parasitic infections. Lastly, she acknowledges that today’s toxic load is has contributed to the viciousness of today’s cancer: “1 in 2 people have cancer today,” she says, “and 1 in 4 will die from it.” In addition to emotional pollutants, there are now approximately 83,000 environmental toxins that endanger our health. Connealy sees detoxification as paramount for all disease treatment. Addressing these foundational elements with cancer patients is imperative. Most oncologists, Connealy says, just “recommend chemo, surgery, or radiation. They don’t tell people how to eat or to think.”

“If you change your diet,” says Connealy “your risk of cancer decreases immensely.” At Oasis of Hope, patients eat a predominantly organic, low-sugar, vegetarian diet (red meat is linked to cancer development). Supplementation with coenzyme Q10 and fish oil, for example, is also part of the program. Specific nutrients like curcumin, zinc, milk thistle and cox-2 inhibitory agents may also be used to block tumor growth in a process is called signaling transduction. Other means of lowering tumor activity or preventing it altogether include exercising for at least 30 minutes per day, and cultivating “emotional and spiritual fortitude.”

Contreras will tell you that “the real cancer is the cancerous thoughts. If you believe that [cancer] will kill you, it will…when people need to battle cancer, it’s an emotional, physical, spiritual fight.” At the Oasis of Hope centers, doctors Contreras and Connealy do everything they can to instill faith, hope and love back into patients’ lives to bring about “abundant living.”

Which Oasis of Hope Center Should I or a Loved One Go To?

While each center offers paralleled philosophies and quality of care, it also has its advantages. The California Oasis of Hope center offers domestic solutions for cancer patients who do not wish to seek treatment in Mexico. Insurance companies will also cover the conventional treatments, like chemotherapy, provided at the California center. The Mexico center, on the other hand, provides completely legal, non-toxic, and effective alternative treatments that are currently not permissible in the U.S. For example, patients in the Mexico center may receive IV vitamin C treatment in dosages sufficient against tumors. While patients at the Mexico Oasis center are housed on the premises, California Oasis center patients stay, for the time being, at nearby hotels. Both centers provide exceptional, organically grown food as well as nutritional classes so that patients can adopt similar eating habits at home.

No matter who provides diagnosis and treatment, Dr. Connealy advocates that any patient should question whether a particular doctor is really good for him or her. “Are you connected with that practitioner?” she says. “Is that doctor your partner in your health?” If you suggest an alternative and the doctor says, “‘I’m open to this… I’d love to read more, to help you,’ that’s the person.”

In 2010, Dr. Sinatra interviewed Doctors Francisco Contreras and Leigh Erin Connealy about their medical philosophies and the Oasis of Care centers in Mexico and California. The information above is based on, and excerpted from, that discussion.

©2010 HeartMD Institute. All rights reserved.

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