"We're going to try to keep you going for a year." Such was the news Barbara Nord's oncologist delivered in August 2008. Cancer had so invaded Barbara's body — with three tumors in her brain — that doctors had given her only six to eight months to live, perhaps up to a year with aggressive radiation and chemotherapy treatment. At that point, Barbara, who had only just recovered from uterine and ovarian cancer, felt stripped of all hope of beating the disease.
"I was given no hope by anyone," says the 63-year-old mother of two. "They said there was nothing I could do about it. The best I could hope for was going out gracefully."
Now, almost a year later, Barbara is still here. And, most importantly, she has found hope. In March, Barbara became a research participant at the Bastyr Integrative Oncology Research Center (BIORC). With the help of three Bastyr University faculty physicians, Barbara has learned to manage her feelings of anxiety and panic and has found a measure of pain relief from her radiation therapy. She has also become more comfortable with both her body and the idea of confronting a disease many told her she would not recover from. Barbara, one of the first research participants to begin treatment at the Center after it opened in February 2009, has found a way to move forward.
"My goal when I came to BIORC was learn to manage my problems with my will and with my mind — and with some good advice," Barbara says. "And that's exactly what I'm getting."
Barbara discovered BIORC through what she calls a "stroke of luck." She wanted to pursue more than just conventional treatments for her cancer. A trained massage therapist, she was curious about what complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) options existed — and if they could offer some reason for optimism — but she wasn't sure where to turn. When the subject came up during a counseling session at the Seattle-area hospital where Barbara received treatment, the counselor mentioned Dr. Leanna Standish, PhD, ND, MS, LAc, FABNO, a Bastyr faculty member. In addition to being an experienced researcher, neuroscientist, acupuncturist, naturopathic doctor (ND) and one of only a handful of NDs in the state of Washington to be board certified in naturopathic oncology, Dr. Standish is the medical director of BIORC.
"After developing brain tumors, I decided I had to go see her," says Barbara, who was suffering from seizures and thoughts of the tumors growing in her head. "I just told Dr. Standish, 'I'm in trouble here.' I knew I needed to keep my mind well because I realized I was going crazy thinking about it. I had so many thoughts of fear and actually wanting to escape. She gave me some very good ideas with how to move forward."
Now, six months into her relationship with BIORC, Barbara has nothing but praise for the once-a-week treatments she's receiving from the Center. Dr. Standish provides Barbara with nutritional, lifestyle and supplement advice; Brad Lichtenstein, ND, provides mind-body counseling sessions and support; and Steve Given, DAOM, LAc, uses acupuncture to help her relax and manage her pain after radiation treatments.
"No one there said we're going to 'cure you of cancer,' " Barbara says. "But they're giving me reason to hope. I'm trying to buy time, and I'm hoping to have more quality. So I'm taking supplements. Acupuncture is extremely effective for me. It allows me to relax somewhat, and it does work for my pain. Dr. Lichtenstein has been the answer to my prayers for someone who I can speak to — someone who understands my situation and seems to know what I need when I need it."
"It's life changing for me. When I walked onto Bastyr's campus I had a lot of anxiety. But when I met with the physicians, I felt so nurtured. You just don't get that anywhere in this world."
While her cancer is in remission, Barbara is still fighting the effects of the disease. Recently, her brain began to swell after undergoing radiation therapy to kill the tumors. The swelling has caused intense head aches, affected both her speech and eyesight, and has forced her to consider hospice care. These recent events, however, haven't diminished her courage or dampened a renewed spirit of determination and optimism she found with the help of BIORC.
"I'm now more comfortable in my body, and I'm not so frightened," Barbara says.
"Sometimes when people get sick, they become a patient. It's their identity," says Barbara, who is determined not to play that role. "I am a traveler, gardener, masseuse, adventurer and adrenaline junkie, student, biker (for 30 years), yoga student, fisherwoman, diver, wife and mother of two."