A safe port in a storm

When a friend introduced Serena Gibson to a joint UBC – BC Cancer Agency initiative to help her assess complementary therapies, Gibson says it was like finding a safe port in a storm.

“Most of us with cancer want to do everything to maximize survival and lessen the horrible effects of chemo. And often, we’re just too tired and don’t have the energy to do the research. Cameo gives you guidelines to make evidence-based decisions in the face of so many options.”

Earlier this year, Gibson was diagnosed with colon cancer that had also metastasized in her liver. Her oncologist prescribed a platinum-based chemotherapy drug effective in targeting cancer cells in those parts of her body. But the downside was potential neuropathy—damage to nerve cells in the hands and feet.

Launched in 2008, the Complementary Medicine Education and Outcomes Research Program (cameo) provides evidence-based education and support for cancer patients and cancer health professionals. The initiative is led by UBC Nursing Assoc. Prof. Lynda Balneaves and is based at the BC Cancer Agency in Vancouver.

Gibson was accepted as one of 15 patients in cameo’s pilot program that provides individualized assessments. The one-on-one sessions take into account the patient’s health and medical conditions and the types of complementary therapies they have in mind. Gibson’s earlier Internet searches had pointed her to possible options that included modified citrus pectin, mistletoe and L-glutathione, a powerful antioxidant.

Taking up to a day to prepare, cameo’s report translated for Gibson data from monographs, literature searches and abstracts along with contraindications for her specific health and medical conditions. With that in hand, Gibson decided to go with L-glutathione.

“I found it reassuring to see the body of scientific evidence that it could protect against peripheral nerve damage.”

Currently, Gibson is receiving these supplements prior to each chemo treatment via intravenous injections from a naturopath. To date, the results have been reassuring, she says.

“I was worried that I’d end up like other patients who are in too much pain to walk easily or hold a tea cup, but I have full range of movement in my hands and feet.”