The following is a transcript of Season 1, Episode 1 of The ND Will See You Now, a podcast by the Institute for Natural Medicine.
EDITOR’S NOTE: This transcript of the podcast interview has been edited for clarity. The opinions of the host and guests on this podcast are their own and do not represent INM. This podcast and its respective transcript and social media posts do not constitute medical advice; and, are not meant to diagnose, prevent, treat, or cure any conditions or diseases. This podcast and its respective content are for educational purposes only. Consult your doctor before implementing any changes to your care. If you would like to find a naturopathic doctor (ND), please see our Find an ND directory. To find a naturopathic doctor who specializes in cancer care, please visit OncANP, the Oncology Association of Naturopathic Physicians (OncANP).
Anna-Liza Badaloo (AL): Hi there, and welcome to the Institute for Natural Medicine’s podcast, The ND Will See You Now. In this podcast, we talk to naturopathic doctors across North America about their whole-person approach to health, what patients can expect, and why their work is so vital to patient health. I’m your host, Anna-Liza, and today, I am just delighted to speak with naturopathic doctor, Anna Bausum. Dr. Bausum has the distinction of being the very first naturopathic doctor (ND) to be hired at the prestigious Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia, and specifically at their Winship Cancer Institute. A big focus of her work is—you probably already guessed it—integrative cancer care. Thanks for joining us today, Dr. Bausum!
Dr. Anna Bausum, ND (AB): Thank you so much for having me and for everyone tuning in. Thank you for lending your ear eye to this interview as well.
AL: Integrative cancer care is a big topic and an important one. Let’s just dive right into it. So being a naturopathic doctor who focuses on integrative cancer care, you have noted that conventional oncology care may not address some important fundamentals needed for individuals to really thrive at all stages, not just the beginning but at all stages of cancer care. So, perhaps you can expand on that a little bit for us. What is the impact on cancer patients when these fundamentals are missed? And what does naturopathic medicine really have to offer cancer patients?
AB: Gladly, so I landed at Emory in this role and the area of naturopathic medicine and integrative oncology because all of my medical experiences and shadowing work up until the point when I chose this field left me seeing patients asking, ‘Hey Doc, what else can I do?’
Adding a supplement, a complementary therapy, or functional foods into the diet—or even just asking what are some of the ways to help reduce stress and augment a patient lifestyle to improve the quality of life—can help in the recovery from cancer-related surgery and perhaps from the long-lasting effects of chemotherapeutics. In their survivorship space, these therapies can help optimize how someone is feeling. But also, help optimize in boosting and bolstering their bodies to help reduce the risk of the cancer from coming back in the future.
So, this is an exciting opportunity here—not only in my role as an integrative oncology specialist here at Emory University’s Winship Cancer Institute but also in a brand-new Integrative Oncology and Survivorship Department — to bring this answer to ‘Hey Doc, what else can I do?’ to patients and provide them a space to ask it and get a confident, subject-matter expertise answer.
And it’s just a really exciting time for not only the department to come into the space but also to bring everything under one house to collaborate with other professional colleagues. Be they medical oncologists, radiation oncologists, or surgical oncologists, the research aspect that happens here so robustly, can prospectively look at some of these therapeutics in formalized research settings.
AL: Well, the way you paint it, this is very exciting indeed. That was a lot of varieties of oncologists that you just listed out.
AB: It takes a village, right?
AL: Yeah, we don’t think of an oncology village, do we? But I think that that is, in effect, exactly what’s happening at the Winship Cancer Institute. And before we talk a little bit more about the institute, I just wanted to pick up on something I had heard you mention previously. When we think about going to a naturopathic doctor as opposed to a conventional physician, one of the differences that sometimes patients are a little taken aback by is that in naturopathic medicine, there’s very much an aspect of the patients actively participating in their treatments. And I wonder if you have any comments on what you’re seeing; how are patients experiencing that active participation in the cancer space?
AB: Yes, I think first, to your point, it’s my vision with our Integrative Oncology and Survivorship Department to inspire every patient to become an active participant in their care and feel well. From the point of diagnosis, they’re considered a survivor through their treatment, and we continue to inspire that same participation in their healing and recovery. And the survivorship space really is where we help optimize things and support them and their healing — helping boost their body so the cancer doesn’t come back.
So, this active participation looks a little bit different for everyone. Across the board, I see patients needing not only encouragement but the information for adopting better lifestyle practices around stress management and sleep hygiene— kind of the milieu if you will. I like to describe cancer care as a garden, [with] weeds growing in a garden (the weeds being the cancer). You can pull them out root and stem—that’s surgery. You can burn them out —that’s your radiation. Or you can throw Roundup or some sort of weed killer on it—and that’s chemotherapy. Integrative, be it naturopathic oncology, looks at the quality of the soil, all this is happening in our treatment.
So, patients actively participate in better stress management techniques, adopt more evidence-informed styles of eating, and make the food on their plate work in their favor. Encouraging and providing even exercise classes so that patients have an opportunity to try Tai Chi, yoga, and other forms that engages them actively in feeling well. As well as this one-on-one consultation for saying, ‘Doc, is this supplement great for me?’, and making sure that we’re putting safety at the forefront of those recommendations in a very coordinated fashion. Prospectively we can see, ‘what are your labs?’ ‘What are your latest imaging findings?’ ‘ What are the medicines you’re being given either to take home or here in our infusion bay?’ and let that all work together. So, it’s an ‘and/together’ approach rather than an ‘either/or’, which is what I see patients sometimes think, right? When they say, ‘Hey, can I take this supplement?’, they’re afraid that the doctor will say, ‘No, what are you doing?’. Or, ‘If you take that you’re kind of on your own.’ It’s a way to inspire a whole new realm of empowerment and active participation for everyone who comes through the doors here at our Winship Cancer Institute.
AL: Empowerment is a very important word. And I’m glad that you mentioned that because certainly, many cancer patients do feel the opposite— disempowered at times. So, I think that’s what you’re describing here, and actually—why don’t we just get into our next question here about the Winship Cancer Institute. And I have to say, it’s a pretty big deal, being the first naturopathic doctor, not only at Emory University, in Atlanta, Georgia, as a whole, but at this Winship Cancer Institute. And you’ve given us a bit of a sense of what some of those benefits are—you have your colleagues, your oncology colleagues; they’re right there. It’s a lot easier to collaborate on patient care. It really takes what we generally call an integrative cancer care model and really makes it integrative plus because you’re literally, physically right there in the same building. So, perhaps you can expand on that for us a little bit. Why do you think that the Institute was so keen to have you aboard? And more importantly, what do you think this actually means for patients with cancer?
AB: Gladly. I think that this, in many ways, is the start of many years of conversations and planning in dreaming up how to improve patient care. Because no matter whether you’re working with cancer patients alone in the conventional or the integrative realm, or in other disease groups or diagnoses settings, we really see that patients need and deserve more than just the certain cells in their bodies treated in isolation. That there’s something to whole-person care—that when applied very intentionally, especially in the integrative oncology setting—it helps reduce treatment-related side effects. And, say this example, for instance, in helping reduce treatment-related side effects, we’re helping you not only feel better but get more of the medicine that we know is actively fighting the cancer aggressively, so that we get you to a stage of survivorship.
It’s a new way of integrating things, if you will, not only for integrative oncology but to bring cancer rehab, palliative and supportive care services, and these types of classes to the patient. I’ve even been piloting shared medical appointments where—over the course of 90 minutes—I can bring, say, women with breast cancer of a certain diagnosis or stage of treatment together, and educate them on all the tools in an integrative way. They can then apply these to their diagnosis, their lifestyle, and the way they’re eating, and demystify that process to help them address loneliness and build community in that setting as well—and make a hard thing a little bit better.
AL: Well, I think that’s perhaps the best way that you can say it, to make a hard thing a little bit better. And that’s quite intriguing, what you mentioned about the shared medical appointments. Certainly, for patients, we know it can be challenging to be seeing-a naturopathic physician plus a conventional doctor quite separately. So again, speaking to the true integration of what we’re talking about here, in the same appointment, is really quite something. And that actually leads us to our next question, which is a really important one. We know that there are some patients out there, maybe some listening to us today who have a cancer diagnosis, and who are seeing a conventional cancer doctor, or oncologist, and maybe they’re thinking about naturopathic medicine. Maybe they’ve heard that there may be some benefits. But we know a big concern is ‘what happens if a naturopathic oncology recommendation is made?’ And then the patient may be thinking, ‘Is that going to interfere though?’ They may have spent months, years, who knows—prior to this doing, chemotherapy, radiation, or – taking certain medications. So, what would you have to say, directly to those patients listening today thinking, ‘I’m thinking about naturopathic medicine, but I’m just too concerned that it’s going to actually interfere with those conventional treatments.’ What is your advice to them?
AB: My advice would be, first and foremost, to acknowledge that having safety concerns is valid. And that’s the reason I feel inspired and felt called to show up in this space to begin with. As with anything in medicine, whether you’re talking surgery, radiation, chemotherapy, in the cancer space, complementary therapies, such as acupuncture or massage, or the use of supplements—all of these things have their relative risks and benefits. And being able to show up in this coordinated collaborative way, helps me have their most up-to-date lists of medications, labs, and treatment recommendations so that we can really look at, what the pharmacokinetics are for avoiding any potential supplement interactions. And some of that sometimes means ‘You know what, this curcumin, while that might be great for some things, for your time during radiation, or given your certain chemo, let’s put that on the shelf.’ And there’ll be a time to come back to that—or to faithfully direct saying, ‘Yes, this is something that can benefit you. But given your two weeks on, one week off regimen, let’s dedicate two weeks for the chemo to do its thing in your body. And then the off week to really streamline the complementary integrative things you’re doing for yourself and make it all work better for you. Do it in a way that helps raise the tide of boats and really brings this ‘and together’ model into fruition, rather than ‘either/or’. God forbid a patient taking something or doing something for themselves that can have a benefit, but for their diagnosis and where they’re at and what they’re being given might negate the benefits. For instance, we really want to avoid high-dose antioxidants through radiation because radiation is meant to cause oxidative stress so that the cancer cells die … It gets muddy, right? So, to really say yes and no with confidence for everything that they’re doing.
AL: One final thing I want to ask you because this was really very intriguing. I really like your garden analogy. I think it’s a very good one when we’re looking at the different ways that we can deal with weeds and different eradication technology, shall we say, which is often what we’re looking at in a conventional cancer care situation. Are there any final comments that you’d like to make about how naturopathic medicine really nourishes the soil? I could go fairly far here with this analogy about microbes in the soil and microorganisms, but I’m just wondering if there are any other comments you’d like to make about really nourishing that soil, and how naturopathic medicine helps do that?
AB: Yeah, naturopathic medicine and integrative oncology, I think, show up in a really wonderful way, not just patients or patient populations. My role here in this new capacity as an integrative oncology specialist in this new department of Integrative Oncology and Survivorship gives fruit even to how to start to ask the question, ‘How do we show up better for patients?’ ‘How do we improve cancer care across the cancer care continuum?’ We’re still treating cells but helping people, too.
AB: Well, that is such a great line to leave it on. We’re still treating cells, but those cells make up people, and we’re helping people, too. Well, that brings us to the end of this interview. Thanks so much, Dr. Bausum; you’ve told us a lot about what naturopathic medicine actually has to offer cancer patients, and how it can be used safely alongside conventional cancer treatments, and congrats on this exciting new position. It’s really exciting!
AB: Thank you for having me. Thank you for all your well-thought-out and thought-provoking questions. And it was my pleasure being here and contributing.
AL: Well, thank you so much. Now, for those of you listening. You can find the transcripts and some links to learn more about the Winship Cancer Institute in the podcast notes. And we’ve also included a link to the Oncology Association of Naturopathic Physicians, colloquially known as the OncANP. They are a professional association of naturopathic physicians who offer supportive health care to people who have been diagnosed with cancer. So, Dr. Bausum again, thanks for joining us. All of you listening, thanks for joining us, too, and we’ll see you next time!