ARLINGTON, VaStudies indicate that about half of cancer
patients are now using complementary and alternative therapies, a
finding that is motivating many medical oncologists to discuss such
therapies with their patients and make recommendations about their use.
One such physician is Jeremy R. Geffen, MD, a board-certified medical
oncologist and founder and executive director of the Geffen Cancer
Center and Research Institute, Vero Beach, Florida.
Dr. Geffen and other physicians spoke at the Second Comprehensive
Cancer Care Conference, co-sponsored by the University of Texas
Houston Medical School and the Center for Mind-Body Medicine, in
collaboration with the National Cancer Institute and National Center
for Complementary and Alternative Medicine.
Dr. Geffen described how, at age 19, he became interested in Eastern
philosophies. After medical school at New York University, he visited
India and Tibet to learn about Eastern medical and spiritual
traditions, and has since made numerous return trips to learn more.
In 1994, two years after completing fellowship training in hematology
and oncology at the University of California, San Francisco, he
established the Geffen Cancer Center to offer cancer patients the
best of both Western and Eastern traditions.
In his talk, Dr. Geffen emphasized strongly that the foundation of
modern cancer care isand should bemainstream,
conventional Western medicine. This forms the basis for the
evaluation and management of patients at the Geffen Cancer Center.
However, he believes these therapies are but the beginning of a
patients healing journey, because cancer often challenges
the mind, heart, and spirit as much as the body. Many Americans
have become dissatisfied with Western medicine, he explained,
because it focuses primarily on the disease, rather than on the
person with the disease.
Thus, in addition to state-of-the-art conventional cancer treatments,
Dr. Geffen offers his patients a Seven Level Program that
addresses the whole person. It provides education; psychosocial
support; advice about nutrition and alternative and complementary
therapies; mind-body healing techniques; and other elements of
When people are diagnosed with cancer, they usually feel
terrified and overwhelmed by the questions confronting them,
Dr. Geffen said, and these need to be answered in a clear and
coherent way. The first step in his Seven Level Program is
designed to do just that, by addressing patients questions and
concerns carefully and conscientiously, so they can feel
confident and secure enough in their medical care to allow deeper
levels of healing to begin, he said.
Level Two focuses on the importance of psychosocial support. Many
studies, Dr. Geffen pointed out, have shown that social isolation is
a risk factor for mortality from all dis-eases, including cancer. So
Dr. Geffen and his co-workers encourage patients to get involved with
support groups, church organizations, or other available programs.
In Level Three, patients are taught to view their bodies not as a
machine that simply needs to be fixed, but from the
Eastern medical perspective: as a garden that can be nourished and
supported in a wide variety of ways, especially during cancer
treatment. Here, patients explore the role of diet and nutrition
along with a host of complementary therapies, including massage,
yoga, relaxation, guided imagery, acupuncture, and Healing Touch,
among others. Patients are also encouraged to get regular exercise
along with plenty of fresh air and sunshine.
In Level Four, patients are ready to turn inward, with the help of
either support groups or private counseling, to defuse the difficult
emotions of fear, anger, guilt, rage, and heartbreak that their
cancer has provoked. This process is profoundly important,
Dr. Geffen said, particularly if patients are to truly heal
from their disease.
In Level Five of the program, patients are shown how the unconscious
thoughts, beliefs, and meanings that they attach to all the events in
their livesincluding cancercan deeply affect their
day-to-day experience. As an example, he described two male patients
at his cancer center, each with metastatic melanoma. The men had many
features in common, including disease stage, socioeconomic status,
and family support. Both were also receiving the same standard
chemotherapy. Despite these numerous similarities, one patient was
consistently angry and miserable while the other was mentally and
emotionally at peace.
The reason? The former realized that he unconsciously believed he had
gotten cancer because he was a sinner who deserved
to be punished. The latter acknowledged that he didnt
know why he had gotten cancer but believed it was making him a better
person and bringing him closer to his creator and family. Dr. Geffen
and his staff assisted the first patient in finding a better outlook
about his disease. While this did not change his ultimate
outcome, it profoundly transformed his experience of cancer, and that
of everyone around him, Dr. Geffen said.
Level Six asks patients to assess their lives and formulate a list of
realistic goals for the coming year. Such life assessments, Dr.
Geffen said, give patients a sense of control, focus, and
fulfillment, and can be very helpful during challenging times.
Patients with end-stage cancer are encouraged to explore ways by
which they can achieve a sense of completion and fulfillment in their
Finally, in Level Seven, patients are guided to a deeper level of
healing by acknowledging the nonphysical, spiritual dimension of all
of us, which Dr. Geffen calls the pure consciousness that
connects all beings. Each day, he said, patients should take
time to be still, to enter into prayer or meditation, or simply to
sit quietly in nature to connect with this deeper dimension of themselves.
Dr. Geffen has recently completed a book describing his comprehensive
approach to cancer care, to be published in February 2000 (The
Journey Through Cancer: An Oncologists Seven-Level Program for
Healing and Transforming the Whole Person, NY, Crown Publishers).
The Geffen Cancer Center also has a website at www.geffencenter.com.