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Integration among the different levels of a person involves what some people call mind-body-spirit. I think that is important. I don't know that we really understand what spirit is or what the mind is, but we certainly know that the inner state, the psyche, has enormous influence and control over the immune system. There are more and more data showing that downstream immunological down-regulation by chronic stress is a significant factor in our cancer epidemic (besides the effects of vitamin D deficiencies).
Distance healing. I'm very interested in the implications of what quantum physics calls macro entanglement – distance healing – for example, the ability of people with intention to promote the healing of a brain tumor in a patient located at a distance. That is the very exploratory edge of the research that I do, using functional magnetic resonance imaging of the brain.
So you're applying fMRI to distance healing?
Yes, our Bastyr/University of Washington research group is using fMRI technology to study changes in both normal brain and in tumors – changes induced by distant intention.
What about other types of cancers?
No, just that. That is a lifetime's work right there.
Psychotropics. Integrative means integrating East and West – and North and South. South America has some very interesting plant medicines. There's so much work to do to evaluate plants. Several important chemotherapy drugs have been developed from studying cytotoxic ability (direct cancer cell killing). Now we know that many plants and fungal natural products have potent anti-cancer immune-modulating activity. Another exploratory area in my cancer research focuses on psychoactive plant medicines from South America that are used in indigenous tribal ceremonies to produce transformation – transformations that are purported to heal people of serious diseases such as cancer.
Is that the ayahuasca work that you've done?
Yes, it is. My research has focused on learning and translating the ancient psychopharmacological wisdom of Amazonian tribal groups into a standardized botanical medicine suitable for clinical study in depression, anxiety disorders, and personal growth.
Perspectives on end-of-life care. I think the big unspoken elephant in the medical community right now is what happens, if anything, after we die. The biomedical model says that we die, our chemicals are broken down and recycled, and that's it – period. But Asian and Western thought are now integrating, and there are more people every year who believe that our bodies, our brains, are not the cause of consciousness but rather, magnificent organs to perceive and experience consciousness.
Periodically when I'm teaching, I ask who believes that. Twenty years ago, in a class of fifty, two people would raise their hands very tentatively – about 4% of them. Now it's 85%. So there has been a huge shift; it really is the Age of Aquarius. Just in my own lifetime, there's been a philosophical sea change. Most people walking around think that after they die some part of their self, their consciousness, their being persists. I think it's a hugely important medical question that to my mind has not been fully answered.
What is the link to medicine for you?
This has major implications for how we communicate with patients in end-of-life care. There are times (like yesterday) when I'm looking into the eyes of someone with stage 4 metastatic breast cancer, a woman with a six-month prognosis. There would be a huge difference in that interaction if we could look into someone's eyes with complete confidence that this life is just a phase, and that the "end of life" is not the end. Huge – it would mean that we would not be so anguished about dying. It could shift our whole emphasis on keeping our frail little bodies alive with chemotherapy and devices and tubing – and help us rethink the astounding amounts of money that we spend on our bodies in the last six weeks of life, which is one of the reasons that our health costs are going up. If we had a different view of what happens, if anything, after we die, it would significantly change medicine. But I think most doctors think that when you die, you die. Most patients, in my experience, do not.
Perhaps more doctors than would be known have these kinds of conversation in the elevator and in informal interviews. But to make that part and parcel of medicine would be a huge change – even if all we're doing is saying, "Dear patient, if your world view is that 'Everything that lives, lives always,' and you're wanting to let go of your life now, we will honor that and here are your options for end-of-life care."
That's right, I think it would be a really major change and it's happening now, at this point in global history. These ideas, which come from the East and from indigenous cultures, are now fully integrating into the very recent 350-year Western-European post-industrial-revolution culture. It's all coming together in this huge Hegelian clash and a synthesis is coming. In some sense, it's already here. I think that integrative medicine and certainly naturopathic oncology are keeping up with it conceptually, but it's going to take time for these perspectives to become integrated into standard oncology.
My vision is that science – biomedical research – has to take on these questions and resolve them one way or the other. This is a rational scientific question: what happens, if anything, to our consciousness after we die. It is not an open and shut case, given the findings from 21st century physics.
These perspectives started emerging in physics in the late 1800s. We try to teach our students conceptual nano physics. For example, this weekend I teach a course here at Bastyr University, open to anyone, called "The Physics and Biology of Consciousness," in which we examine these things and conceptualize the implications of non-locality and the way in which particle theory has influenced medicine. Right now we are in a phase in which standard medicine has not yet fully incorporated the findings of modern physics.
That goes beyond New Age – it's more like putting the pieces of the puzzle together.
Right, it's not New Age. When you read quantum mechanics, you begin asking yourself, "Well, if that's true at the micro level, how far up does it go?" It's rock-solid science. We're discovering things at the astronomical level and the quantum mechanical level, discoveries implying that what we currently know is probably a tiny fraction of what's actually going on. In a hundred years, our conception of "reality" is going to be very different, and what's true at the quantum level is going to be understood as having truth at every level. Mathematics and science now suggest that there are multiple universes and the laws in those universes are not the same.
Expanding the Dialogue
We are currently seeking a forum for information exchange among people in leading-edge integrative oncology and oncology research. We are especially interested in real data. One day I hope that we have a central database system for collecting and analyzing clinical, laboratory, and quality-of-life outcomes for people with cancer who are receiving integrative oncology care.
Leanna J. Standish, PhD, ND, MS, LAc, FABNO
Dr. Standish is Medical Director of the Bastyr Clinical Research Center and Clinical Research Professor at Bastyr's Research Institute. She is also Affiliate Research Professor at the University of Washington, School of Medicine, where she does her brain research, and Clinical Research Professor at the U.W. School of Public Health.
A founding board member of the Oncology Association of Naturopathic Physicians, Dr. Standish was board certified in naturopathic oncology in 2006. She has provided adjunctive naturopathic medical care to hundreds of cancer patients, and has worked collaboratively with Seattle area oncologists in providing integrated conventional/CAM care. In recognition of her expertise by the oncology community she was voted one of Seattle's Best Physicians in 2002, 2004, 2008, and 2010.
Dr. Standish has been a member of both NIH and Department of Defense study sections for scientific review of CAM research in cancer, an ad hoc member on NCI's Cancer Advisory Panel for CAM (1999), a member of NCCAM's Advisory Council (1999-2001), and is currently co-principle investigator for the NCCAM-funded Bastyr/University Oncomycology Research Center and the Bastyr/Fred Hutchinson breast cancer integrative oncology outcomes study that is funded by NCCAM and the Hecht Foundation.
Bastyr Integrative Oncology Research Center
14500 Juanita Drive NE, Kenmore, Washington 98028
Phone: 425-602-3311, Fax: 425-602-3420
The interviewer on this piece, Nancy Faass, MSW, MPH, is a writer in San Francisco who has worked on more than 40 books; she also provides articles, white papers, and writing for the Web via HealthWritersGroup.com.
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