Patients battling cancer now have a new option in their arsenal, which may include multiple cups of green tea or a prescription for ginger supplements.
Lynn Troy, a naturopathic doctor, works one day a week treating cancer patients at Kalispell Regional Medical Center’s Northwest Oncology and Hematology office. She began there in January, joining a small population of integrated cancer care naturopaths employed by hospitals in Montana.
“It had a slow start, but now it’s really busy,” Troy said.
Billings Clinic also offers naturopathic services for its integrated cancer care program, but the idea has yet to catch on throughout most of the state.
“We’re the only people doing this in Western Montana,” Troy said.
She said that multiple major oncology hospitals in the United States – including Cancer Treatment Centers of America – employ naturopathic doctors to give patients the option of fully integrated care. This means taking care of the entire person – physically, mentally and spiritually.
Montana Association of Naturopathic Physicians President Sarah Lane said Troy’s addition to the KRMC cancer treatment plans is an unusual one in the Big Sky state, but she hopes the trend grows.
“It’s about the patient, it’s about the health care,” Lane said. “This step in the hospital, it’s a small step but it’s fabulous because changes only happen in small steps.”
Naturopathic treatments can complement traditional oncology, she said, something she has seen at her own practice in Missoula.
“Supportive treatment really, really helps the patient go through regular treatments for cancer,” Lane said.
The general idea behind naturopathic treatments is that when one part of the body is sick, the rest of the person is affected and should be considered in the healing process. Cancer treatments can be particularly brutal, Troy said, with chemotherapy and radiation wreaking havoc on a body.
Patients may start taking herbs or supplements based on suggestions or anecdotes from family, friends or the Internet, Troy said. But some of these supplements could actually counteract the chemotherapy, rendering it less effective, she added.
“Cancer patients use a lot more alternative medicine than your general public,” she added.
“They’re doing it without a lot of guidance,” she said. “The reason I’m here is to provide safe, integrated cancer care.”
A big part of her job is to assess the diet and nutrition of the patient, and to prescribe herbs and supplements to complement the array of traditional medicines they are already taking.
Troy said her prescriptions range within the botanical, herbal and homeopathic medicines, depending on what she is treating – whether it’s a side effect of current therapies or a general symptom.
This could mean suggesting supplemental melatonin, coenzyme-Q10 or five cups of green tea, she said, as well as various herbs. Her patients are motivated to make a change, Troy said, and their diet is a good place to start.
Northwest Oncology and Hematology manager Lynn Andenoro said most cancer treatments are passive. Learning how they can change their lifestyle to improve their health gives patients a sense of empowerment she said.
“This let’s them take control,” Andenoro said.
Adding a naturopathic angle to the cancer treatment options has worked for patients so far, Andenoro said, which, in turn, benefits the hospital.
“From a business perspective, I think it’s great,” Andenoro said. “This is what our patients are asking for.”
Troy’s methods are based in scientific research, Andenoro noted, which helps patients and colleagues understand the naturopathic perspective.
“She takes a very scientific approach; I think that’s why she works so well with the physicians at KRMC,” Andenoro said.
In a sense, Troy has been working with physicians and medical professionals her whole life. Raised in Butte by her father and her mother, a pathologist and a nurse respectively, Troy said many members of her family are drawn toward medicine.
But instead of pursuing a traditional medical degree, Troy said she was pulled toward botany. She earned a degree in forestry from the University of Montana, initially thinking she would go on to a career in anthro-botany.
The suggestion to go to school for naturopathy came from her parents, Troy said. In 2004, she earned her Doctorate in Naturopathic Medicine from Bastyr University in Seattle, one of four institutions in the country offering such qualifications.
“It’s actually the perfect fit for me,” Troy said, smiling. “I wondered if I would be a doctor and I wanted to study plants. Now I get to do both.”
Troy also runs a primary care practice in Columbia Falls, where she treats patients with an array of maladies. And while she generally uses naturopathic remedies, Troy said she works within specific parameters, and can prescribe antibiotics if necessary.
At the oncology and hematology practice, physician’s assistant Justine DeRousse said the eventual goal would be to see if all cancer patients could speak with Troy about complementary treatments. Not only would integrated care empower their patients, but it would also help with survivorship treatments, she said.
“We need to think of the patient in the whole spectrum of their life,” DeRousse said.
Andenoro noted that many patients at the practice she manages are long-term, giving them an opportunity to build a relationship and care plan complemented with Troy’s services.
“It’s a natural place for her to be located,” Andenoro said.
For more information on the Northwest Oncology and Hematology practice at KRMC, visit www.nwhc.org or call at 406-752-8900.
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