Looking beyond traditional medicine

Guest blogger, Audra Wilford, proud mom of CHOC Children’s patient, “SuperMax,” and founder of MaxLove Project – a community organization dedicated to helping childhood cancer families beat the odds – shares how her son has benefitted from CHOC’s integrative health services.

Max with Ruth McCarty, director of CHOC's Integrative Medicine Program
Max Wilford with Ruth McCarty, L.Ac.

A few years ago, our son Max was diagnosed with brain cancer. After a difficult brain surgery, where only a portion of the tumor could be removed, and almost a month in the hospital, we faced the biggest challenges of our lives. After the surgery, Max lost his ability to walk, talk and use the left side of his body. He was going to need an unknown amount of chemotherapy and radiation to try to shrink the tumor left in his brain. We knew we were going to need an all-hands-on-deck approach for fighting the cancer and for restoring Max to health.

What we didn’t realize at the time was how many hands we’d need – it takes a whole multi-disciplinary team. But what happens when we leave the hospital? Who helps with nagging side effects, lingering stress, optimal nutrition, strengthening exercises and healthy sleep?

For us, it started with one amazing CHOC practitioner: Ruth McCarty. Ruth is the country’s only traditional Chinese medicine specialist at a children’s hospital who is fully integrated into every medical team in the hospital. When we first met with her, she put us at ease immediately. As we told her about Max’s neuropathy, sleep problems, headaches, gut challenges, anxiety, balance problems, muscle pain, immune suppression, and so on, she smiled and told us not only what she could do with acupuncture and moxibustion – a Chinese medicine technique that involves the burning of mugwort, a small spongy herb, to facilitate healing – but also what we could do at home through massage and select supplementation.

Over the next few months we saw Ruth every week, twice per week during chemotherapy. Max’s strength, range of movement, mood, pain, gut challenges, headaches, and sleep improved every week. And on the rare week when we had to miss appointments with Ruth, we would notice symptoms returning.  During this time we also got to know Dr. Agnes Horvath, a CHOC oncologist who made the rounds in the outpatient infusion center. Dr. Horvath introduced us to bone broth and other healing foods that helped Max thrive through treatment. She encouraged us to think about nutrition as a key component of Max’s treatment. With her help, we continued to transform Max’s diet into what we came to call “fierce foods”: lots of whole foods, limited sugar and processed foods, and a ton of flavor. Max finished treatment in January 2013 and finished up kindergarten just a few months later.

By June 2013, Max’s tumor began growing again. By then, we had become immersed in the latest research on nutrition and cancer, and we wanted to try an intensive therapeutic diet for Max alongside whatever conventional therapies that our oncologist, Dr. Violet Shen, recommended. Dr. Shen took the time to research the diet and gave us her full support. She carefully guided us as we incorporated a therapeutic diet into Max’s treatment protocol.

Today, Max’s tumor continues to shrink and he’s a healthy, happy third grader. Each step of the way, CHOC has supported our family in incorporating the best and latest evidence-based medicine, whether it’s in acupuncture, massage therapy, stress control or diet. The doctors, nurses and therapists at CHOC understand that complementary and integrative medicine is about optimum quality of life, using the best of all therapeutic approaches to support each child and family to thrive in the face of tough odds.

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Celebrate National Cancer Survivors Day

In honor of National Cancer Survivors Day on June 7, check out this video where patients and staff at the Hyundai Cancer Institute at CHOC Children’s groove to Lady Antebellum’s “Compass” and show how they let their hearts be their compasses.

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World’s First “Infusionarium” Comes to CHOC Children’s

Any parent who’s ever tried to get the attention of a child engrossed in a video game or NEW20140915_0307movie can certainly appreciate the concept. Our new, multi-screen “Infusionarium” is an innovative video experience offering a welcome distraction for young patients undergoing treatments that often last for hours.

The CHOC Children’s Infusionarium is the first program of its kind to combine immersive video technology with life-saving infusion therapy, such as chemotherapy or IV antibiotics. Located inside The Dhont Family Foundation Outpatient Infusion Center (OPI) at CHOC Children’s, the jumbo screens and fabric-draped interior look more like a deluxe home theater than a hospital treatment room.

Each patient chair is equipped with a laptop, headphones and wireless keyboard. Up to four patients, age 2 or older, may play at a time, together across four screens or individually. Patients may choose from an extensive menu of video options:

  • Watch popular movies
  • Play favorite Xbox video games
  • Skype with friends
  • Take “live” virtual tours, including the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory and Monterey Bay Aquarium
  • Surf the Internet, watch YouTube videos
  • Check email
  • Listen to music or podcasts using high-end, noise-canceling headphones

Parents may also use the Infusionarium to watch educational videos.

Therapy for Chemotherapy

The soothing space and mental distraction may help reduce the physical side effects of chemotherapy.

“One patient used to dread coming in for treatments due to intense bouts of nausea that required multiple medications,” said Leonard Sender, M.D. medical director of the Hyundai Cancer Institute at CHOC Children’s. “Today, when he undergoes treatment within the Infusionarium, he doesn’t even use anti-nausea medications.” Plans are underway to formally evaluate all possible patient benefits.

The Infusionarium was developed for CHOC by My Bridge 4 Life, a company that uses emerging technologies and digital media to create “immersive healing environments.” Founders Roger Holzberg and Allison Mills collaborated with Dr. Sender to launch a “pop-up” pilot Infusionarium at CHOC last summer. The results were so encouraging that CHOC moved forward with the new pod inside the OPI. Funding was made possible by proceeds from the Hyundai Hope on Wheels 5K Run/Walk.

Read more in The New York Times.

Learn more about the innovative programs taking place at the Hyundai Cancer Institute at CHOC Children’s.

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Bringing Together the Best Minds in Pediatric Cancer Care

CHOC Children’s is taking the concepts of second-opinion consultation and tumor board planning at least six steps further. The Virtual Pediatric Network (VPN) uses state-of-the-art video conferencing to allow pediatric cancer experts from six leading institutions to share best practices, research and expertise as if they were all in the same room.

“No one institution can be an expert in every cancer, but with the VPN, these hospitals can work together to bring the best care to patients wherever they may live,” said Dr. Leonard Sender, medical director, Hyundai Cancer Institute at CHOC.

Described as a “multidisciplinary second opinion,” the tumor board concept has become an important cancer-fighting resource at hospitals in recent years. Tumor board meetings typically involve staff from across medical, nursing, psychological and rehabilitative disciplines who evaluate, diagnose and plan treatment for individual patients.

In a similar fashion, the VPN is comprised of five medical centers and one research institute for genomic medicine: CHOC, Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital at Stanford, Kapi’olani Medical Center for Women & Children, Duke Children’s Hospital & Health Center, Rady Children’s Hospital-San Diego and the Translational Genomics Research Institute. With CHOC serving as the hub, all are connected through the CISCO TelePresence video conferencing system, a secure network made available by a grant from CISCO to the CHOC Children’s Foundation.

According to Dr. Sender, the TelePresence system offers the highest level of video conferencing technology available. Optimized for exceptional sound and picture quality, the system captures every expression, gesture and voice inflection, creating a collaborative environment that leads to deeper discussion, enhanced information sharing and improved decision making.

“The VPN is an opportunity to leverage technology to allow for greater collaboration and, hopefully, innovation between children’s hospitals and cancer programs,” Dr. Sender said. “This will lead to potentially better science and provide pediatric patients the greatest opportunities for survival and quality of life.”

The VPN has the potential to standardize and improve care for pediatric patients throughout the world, Dr. Sender added. CHOC and CISCO are already planning to expand the network to additional locations and specialties, including pediatric institutions in Australia and the United Kingdom.

Learn more about the Hyundai Cancer Institute at CHOC Children’s.

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CHOC, Lady Antebellum Partner to Raise Cancer Awareness

September is Childhood Cancer Awareness Month, but not a day goes by that CHOC Children’s doesn’t recognize the bravery, tenacity and valor shown by young oncology patients.

It turns out that CHOC oncology patients – and staff, too – are also talented dancers and lip-syncers. As proof, check out this video, in which patients and staff at the Hyundai Cancer Institute at CHOC Children’s groove to Lady Antebellum’s “Compass” and show how they let their hearts be their compasses.

This moving song and video will surely provide an apt theme song for fighting against childhood cancer this month and every month.