“Does acupuncture work?”
“Well, that’s a very loaded question,” said Dr. Jun Mao.
If there was anybody to ask, it’s him. Dr. Mao is a seasoned physician, raised in Beijing, educated at the University of Illinois, and a licensed practitioner of acupuncture. His research and clinical practices focus on incorporating Complementary and Alternative Medicine (CAM) modalities into conventional medical solutions. If you’re confused about what that means, know that I was too. That’s why I asked him so many questions about it.
Essentially, if you get sick and see Dr. Mao in his Family Medicine practice, he’ll prescribe some drugs to you, but probably also tell you how to change up your lifestyle so that you feel like a healthy person. According to Dr. Mao, feeling healthy is a big part of being healthy. (He calls this the “mind-body effect” and strongly believes that it is not a chimera.) He won’t give you the half-hearted list of standard doctor advice (“Egg yolks have cholesterol and jogging is a good idea; take these pills and sign here.”) He will give you a list of options like acupuncture, yoga, mindfulness and stress relief practices, different plant-based diet options, and other stuff that would make your grandfather roll his eyes.
But it all works. Aye, there’s the rub. It works. Dr. Mao spends a lot of time proving scientifically that we should remain open to CAM practices, because they are excellent ways to relieve some of the bugbears that follow patients through their cancer battles: hormonal issues, stress, lack of fitness, weight fluctuations, and, most importantly, pain. Every oncologist will tell you pain is a massive problem in cancer care. Patients have it, patients don’t report it, it’s worse than we think, our treatments cause it, and so on. But not every oncologist is bringing in solutions. Guess what? Acupuncture relieves pain. Yoga encourages circulation. Strength and mental serenity are good for the patient. And this stuff is not expensive. Chemo got you down? Eat your veggies and stretch your legs. Feel better? Thought so. I’ll tell Pfizer they can back off on that new drug that costs millions.
The fact of the matter is that we all have an inkling that CAM practices probably are truly good for the human body. We just don’t really throw ourselves behind them because we have a hard time believing that they’ll be very efficacious against something as vicious as cancer. That’s probably because we forget that cancer is a normal, organic phenomenon. That sounds crazy, but it’s also true. If you have cancer, it’s because your cells started attacking you. To me, CAM sounds like fighting fire with fire. Organic problem, organic solution.
Of course, that’s me oversimplifying. If you get cancer, go for the robotic surgery with intra-operative photons and post-op IMRT and hormonal therapy and whatever else gets thrown your way. But if you’re lucky enough to have access to those weapons, they’ll weigh you down. Everything has a downside. So people like Dr. Mao have really good solutions for how to keep you healthy enough to push through the difficult trials ahead. And I think anyone would be smart to keep an open mind.