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Lenny's Story: Cancer and the Quality of Life
David Eisenberg, MD

David Eisenberg is the director of the Center for Alternative Medicine Research and Education at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston. He is a conventionally trained doctor, receiving his M.D. from Harvard Medical School in 1981. During medical school he spent two years as an exchange student in the Far East exploring treatments used in traditional Chinese medicine. Eisenberg no longer sees private patients, devoting his time, instead, to discovering which complementary therapies are truly useful. It was through a mutual friend that Lenny Zakim discovered David Eisenberg.

"Let's start with the basics. People need, I think, to figure out what's going on conventionally. What is their diagnosis? What is the conventional recommendation? And have they maximized that? Lenny also wanted to look at other options, and I think that 's the next step. At what point are conventional options either exhausted or unacceptable? My job was to explore with him his thoughts. Which ones were really off-base and how he could integrate one or more of the alternative complementary therapies with conventional care. But not as an either/or, as both.

"Lenny had to prepare for a bone marrow transplant. So my focus with him was getting prepared. And in that conversation after diet and exercise and mental health issues--which are routine, these are not alternative--we talked about vitamins and supplements. Which ones are known to have any relevance to his particular problem and which ones may be dangerous. The role of a clinician in these circumstances is not to be a blatant advocate or skeptic, but to give the best advice they can for the individual patient as to what's a judicious integration. What makes sense out of this enormous black bag for any patient, from the conventional or alternative realm.

"In the absence of controlled scientific experiments, we don't know which complementary therapies are useful and which are useless; which are being pushed by a market with an insatiable desire to fix, to cure, to relieve, to live forever. A large generation of people, particularly my age, want it all, and won't accept failure, and won't accept disease or incapacitation or death. We need to figure out which are real and which are hyperbole and hype and charlatanism. That's the work I do and that colleagues around the country are doing. We're devoted to distinguishing useful from useless; for clarifying which work, which improve outcomes and which do not; which decrease costs, which increase costs. Then how do you measure those costs, and quality of life and satisfaction, or the bottom line.

"Our hospital is committed to developing that information, to developing integrated models of care. Not marginalized. Not in a little clinic in the corner far away. We need to demystify this and figure out, how do you build an integrated unit for people with cancer or chronic musculoskeletal pain, and give them advice and refer them to licensed practitioners. It in no way takes anything away from the gifts of science and medicine. They are not either/or. They have to be integrated.

"I'd love in every institution in this country for there to be at least one physician in every key department, whether it's oncology or orthopedics or cardiology, one M.D., one nurse specialist, who's comfortable in both domains, who's bilingual, who can say, 'Come, let's talk. Let's talk about both. Neither of them scares me. I can refer you either way.' We need that. That's the future of American health care, because the market is demanding it.

"People deserve responsible advice. I don't think anybody in their right mind wants to do something that puts them at risk for an interaction between their drug and their herb or vitamin. I don't think anybody wants to do anything that knowingly, knowledgeably, interacts with their physician's recommendations. They want people who can guide them on both levels of the terrain."

Program Description
Lenny Zakim
David Eisenberg, MD
Ken Anderson, MD
Michael Lerner, PhD
Peter Churchill, LMT
Help YourSelf
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Body & Soul is currently airing Monday-Friday at 7:00pm and 8:30pm on PBS YOU.

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