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Comprehensive Care for Cancer Patients

Dr. Michael Sharp—a long-time columnist in this publication—continues on a remarkable career of exploring and contributing to the health and healing of all of his patients.

Collaboration is a key concept for this healing team, left to right: Kathleen Williams, Integrative Health Coach; Kim Oliver, RN, BSN, MSN, Director of Infusion Services; Oncology Nutritionist Mark Mead, MSc.; Medical Director Michael Sharp, MD; and Nate Kelly, MPH, RD, LDN, Nutritionist and Clinic Director.

A medical product of Harvard University, he enjoyed a 25-year career on the faculty of the UNC School of Medicine, which altered course rather abruptly when he was diagnosed with cancer. The illness, which he obviously subdued, was the impetus for a long-term exploration of a variety of alternative practices such as Chinese and Functional Medicine, leading to a deeper understanding of the nature of cancer and the root cause of illness.

Holistic Cancer Care

Dr. Sharp treats a variety of patients in his Plum Spring Clinic (see box, below), and has now designed a comprehensive approach to holistic cancer care. In a conversation with Health&Healing, Dr. Sharp and his colleague, Mark Nathaniel Mead, MSc, explain “holistic cancer care” and their program for working with patients.

Health&Healing: Describe your program.

DR. SHARP: It’s helpful to begin by understanding that cancer is a complex, holistic disease—and both disease and its treatment have a profound impact on all aspects of one’s health. Our program recognizes that complexity and offers support to cancer patients before, during, and after conventional treatments. And our goal, simply put, is to see patients flourish and help increase the likelihood of their disease stabilizing or going into remission.

It’s also important to understand that our care complements the conventional treatments—such as chemotherapy or radiation—that patients are already receiving or have previously received. We aren’t a substitute for these treatments. Instead we offer treatments that support the patient—physically and mentally—throughout the treatment and recovery process.

Plum Spring Clinic:
Holistic Healing

“In our clinic,” says Dr. Sharp, “we engage our clients in two-to-six month programs of comprehensive care to address physical, nutritional, emotional, social, and spiritual aspects of healing.”

This comprehensive, holistic approach, he explains, “reflects what I have learned in my many years as a physician: that all things are connected and that the roots of illness cannot be discovered or healed in isolation.

“We treat people who are obese or overweight, and patients with chronic fatigue, fibromyalgia, autoimmune illness, digestive disorders, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, metabolic disease, depression, anxiety, attention and sleep disorders, hormonal disorders, and allergies—and, of course, cancer.

“Despite the specific disease label each patient brings, we understand that disease—and therefore healing—is complex, holistic. So, for each patient at Plum Spring Clinic, healing begins with an individualized program designed to support physiological, behavioral, and emotional changes necessary for enduring well-being.”

We offer a specific set of services for cancer patients, which are well-defined and created with the most up-to-date research. We adjust our strategies and solutions based on which stage—before, during, or after treatment—the patient is in so they have the best chance of success.
H&H: What support services do you offer?

M. N. MEAD: The therapies we offer are intended to address underlying factors that can be contributing to the progression of cancer as well as factors that reduce the effectiveness of treatments or impede recovery from treatments.

Nutritional support is a key component of what we do—including diet and nutrition counseling and nutritional therapies. For example, we utilize innovative non-toxic therapies, such as intravenous ascorbate therapy, as options for our patients. These can complement conventional treatments or be used during times when patients aren’t receiving conventional treatment.

DR. SHARP: Cancer is very stressful—physically and emotionally; so emotional support is another important component of our program. Through mindfulness-based approaches and other natural methods, we can help patients better cope with their cancer diagnosis—and their treatments. This may help reduce stress and anxiety while helping to minimize the risk or intensity of depression.

And a related issue is information. Information overload can be a major source of stress and it’s important to separate facts from fiction. We can help cancer patients sift through the mass of information about holistic cancer care on-line so they can understand the facts.

This is empowering; and an empowered patient is a driving force in improving their own health. Our philosophy of holistic cancer care is to support each patient in playing a pro-active role in their care. As they move forward through the course of their cancer treatment, we’ll provide the tools that will help them gain control of their life and meet the challenges they are likely to face. These tools can be useful immediately as well as before, during, and after treatment.

M. N. MEAD: And for patients who are at high risk of developing cancer due to genetics and other risk factors, we can provide them with information that they can use to reduce their risk. In addition to this, we can utilize effective therapies to help them minimize the likelihood of developing cancer.

H&H: What makes this program different?

DR. SHARP: In order to provide patients with the best experience possible, we think it’s essential to be transparent about the type of care we offer. This is important because not every patient is looking for the holistic approach that we utilize. There are important qualities that set us apart.

For example, we look at factors such as oxidative stress from a poor diet or smoking, chronic low-level inflammation, stress hormone imbalance, and immune system breakdown as parts of the terrain of cancer. These are factors that can drive disease forward, so by focusing on them, we’re able to help minimize chances of progression. In some situations, we may even be able to increase the likelihood of putting the disease in remission.

Also, for those who have had to stop using conventional cancer treatments due to side effects, our approach may be of help. Through the use of non-toxic therapies and nutritional support, we may be able to assist patients complete their treatments in a way that increases the likelihood that they’ll have a positive outcome. For those who are going through treatment when they seek our help, our solutions may help reduce the likelihood of treatment-related toxicities such as brain, immune system, and heart damage.

M. N. MEAD: Staying up to date on the integrative oncology research is a critically important part of our clinical program. Each component— nutritional therapies, dietary recommendations, coaching, stress reduction—draws from a research-based understanding of its efficacy in supporting cancer patients’ recovery and health.

H&H: You have emphasized the importance of your team.

DR. SHARP: We have an exceptional team—compassionate and experienced—working together to meet the unique needs of each individual patient. We believe that each patient should be treated as an individual. This is why we don’t have treatment “packages” or uniform programs. Instead we draw on the background and training of each of our team members to create personalized treatment plans for each patient. And our team reflects the comprehensive nature of these programs—with expertise in coaching, nutrition, stress reduction, and functional medicine.

H&H: As a new patient, what would I expect from Plum Spring Clinic?

DR. SHARP: Step One is for us to learn about you. You will first meet with me so I can take a comprehensive history of your health. We encourage you to bring any information you can from outside of our clinic, to provide a more in-depth look at your journey and what facts you currently know about your health. This is a time to share as much information as you can.
Based on this initial meeting, I will propose a plan of treatment designed to address what I believe to be factors that may have contributed to the development of your cancer. For every plan I create, evidence is essential in determining the solutions a patient can benefit from—which makes the next step crucial.

M. N. MEAD: Step Two is advanced diagnostic testing. As a cancer patient, you might come to us with many exams and test information already done. However, we use some of the most advanced diagnostic tests available, many of which you may not have had. These are important because they can uncover issues that have had an impact on your well-being, such as toxin exposure, immune dysfunction, DNA damage, or chronic stress response. With so many small issues having a significant impact on your overall health, every diagnostic test we use is important.

DR. SHARP: In Step Three, we use the results from your individual testing combined with your medical history to create a personalized holistic treatment program. This will include nutritional counseling, a report from Mark Mead, our oncology nutritionist, supplement recommendations, health coaching, and stress resilience support.

The report from Mark, in particular, is important because it tells you which nutritional or innovative therapies could complement your conventional treatments—or be used as an interim measure if you’ve already completed treatment. Mark’s experience in addressing the biological terrain of cancer helps him design a strategic plan appropriate for each individual’s situation and health-related needs.

Although complex, we walk you through everything you need to know so you better understand why each and every solution is included in your treatment plan. With your program in place, the focus will be on optimizing your well-being and working towards healing. As a result, your program will be a long-term commitment that can last anywhere from a couple of weeks to many months in duration.

If this approach is in line with the type of care you would like to receive, we welcome the chance to work with you on your journey. Our goal is to help you see your cancer treatment—and your health—in a new light, and to look forward to what’s to come

Fighting to Increase Odds of Survival:
Cancer Care Therapies

“You could say,” notes Dr. Sharp, “that ‘fighting to increase the odds of survival’ is our fundamental mission at the clinic. The truth is that cancer treatments—such as chemotherapy or radiation—are just part of addressing the disease; and the treatments themselves can be debilitating and even deadly. Immune and digestive systems are compromised by both disease and treatment—impairing the body’s ability to regain health. In fact, it’s estimated that as much as 40 percent of cancer mortality can be attributed to malnutrition—the inability to absorb the nutrients necessary for healing.

Dr. Sharp and Kim Oliver share a light moment with a patient receiving an infusion treatment.

“In short,” says Dr. Sharp, “‘increasing the odds of survival’ means addressing the deficiencies that arise from the disease and its treatment. We do this through a coordinated, individualized program of therapies and counseling. We look at every avenue to find our patients the treatment plans that can help increase the odds of survival by restoring conditions in their physiology for healing so they can work towards better health every day.”

Therapies and services at Plum Spring include:

  • IV therapies, which can be used during and after conventional cancer treatment strategies to help eradicate the disease or eliminate residual disease following mainstream treatment. These non-toxic therapies support immune system functioning and other systems that have been compromised by both disease and treatment.
  • Nutritional IVs can compensate for compromised digestion and immune function following conventional treatments.  Certain nutrient infusions can play unique therapeutic roles in the context of holistic cancer care by supporting many aspects of healing and recovery as well as the anticancer immune defenses. 
  • Nutritional oncology consultation, with appropriate assessments, help individualize patient care for optimal functioning and treatment support.  Targeted nutritional support can also help patients better tolerate their mainstream treatments, enabling them to complete the full treatment cycle rather than having to stop prematurely due to adverse side effects. 
  • Trauma resolution and mindfulness practices of relaxation and self-compassion help patients reduce and transform the anxiety that comes with having cancer.
  • Health coaching assists patients in managing their healing program and developing and maintaining the wellness habits necessary for recovery and health.

Dr. Michael Sharp and Mark N. Mead:
A Healing Team

Notes Dr. Sharp: “Mark brings invaluable healing qualities to our work together. He has an impressive background in biology, science education, nutrition, and natural medicine. His career in nutritional and herbal healing began decades ago as a certified macrobiotic counselor.  Since that time he has worked at several clinics and on multiple projects that have informed his understanding of the biology of cancer and how the cancer terrain can be best addressed to support treatment and long-range remissions.

For Mark Nathaniel Mead, MSc, left, a nutritional oncology specialist, and Dr. Michael Sharp, the Clinic Medical Director, each patient offers opportunities to explore the multi-dimensional aspects of health and healing.

“He also comes to us with 15 years of experience as a research associate for the Block Center for Integrative Cancer Treatment in Illinois, and a decade of experience as a journal editor for Integrative Cancer Therapies.”

“My own diagnosis with cancer was a turning point in my life, personally and professionally,” notes Dr. Sharp. “It prompted me to take a look at the medicine that I practiced and taught, wondering if it was really the very best I could do when dealing with a condition as complex as cancer. My patients were the impetus for a sequence of studies in alternative practices. And it was through that deeper education in practices such as Chinese and functional medicine that I was able to answer many of the questions I had about the nature of cancer and the root cause of illness.”