The Household Physician
Sleep and the Inner Landscape,
An Interview about
Dreams and Tibetan Medicine with
the Tibetan Physician, Dr. Yeshe Dhonden
Canadian Doctor Discovers Possible Low Cost Cancer Cure
TO WESTERN EYES, Tibetan Buddhism is an exotic mix: part
part ritual, steps in a lifetime quest for enlightenment. Ancient texts lead
the way, some believe, to spiritual growth and physical healing.
Tibetan physicians rely on medicines developed thousands of years ago
- medicines said to heal diseases for which Western treatment can do
nothing. One of those diseases is stage four breast cancer, where cancer
cells have spread beyond the breast. In the West, a stage four diagnosis is
a virtual death sentence.
Could it be that Tibetan doctors already have the answers Western
researchers still seek?
American doctors who once dismissed Eastern philosophies are now
taking a new look at the world’s oldest medicines. This is the story of a
landmark medical study and a renowned researcher who broke ranks with
Western convention to ask a bold question: Could we do a better job fighting
stage four breast cancer if we explore combining modern technology in the
West with ancient healing arts from the East?
‘Many of these ancient Oriental medical practices are steeped in centuries
of tradition. So it’s hard to believe that none of it really is effective.’
- DR. DEBU TRIPATHY
Cancer researcher “Many of these ancient Oriental medical practices
are steeped in centuries of tradition. So it’s hard to believe that none of
it really is effective,” says Dr. Debu Tripathy, director of clinical trials
at the University of California in San Francisco and one of America’s
leading cancer researchers.
He’s intrigued by stories of remarkable improvement for cancer
patients using Tibetan medicine. Even some American patients - with stage
four breast cancer - who hadn’t responded to Western treatment, swear the
“After one year the tumor has not grown. I have not gone back on
chemotherapy and as far as I’m concerned, the Tibetan herbs are working very
well,” says Judy Ota.
• Learn more about the Tibetan herb study
• Excerpt from 'Health Through Balance'
• Excerpt from 'Healing from the Source'
• Tibetan Refugee Health Care Project
• Dr. Yeshi Dhonden web site
• Alternative Resources Unlimited
But are the stories wishful thinking or medical fact?
find out, Tripathy set up the first-ever Western scientific study using
Tibetan herbs to treat breast cancer. He asked one of the foremost Tibetan
physicians - a 73-year-old Buddhist monk, Dr. Yeshi Dhonden, for help. It
was a request from a huge research facility in California to a tiny clinic
halfway around the world.
This is about as far from an American medical center as you can get -
the town of Dharamsala in Northern India where Dr. Dhonden lives and
operates his clinic. In the U.S., he might be a curiosity of alternative
medicine, but here in Dharamsala, he is a revered figure, practicing healing
arts that date back some 2,600 years, sought after by growing numbers of
Westerners who travel halfway around the world just for a few minutes with
Dhonden has practiced Tibetan medicine for 40 years - 19 of them as
personal physician to the Dalai Lama. He’s lectured all over the world, but
never had this kind of chance to prove himself in the West.
He accepted Debu Tripathy’s invitation to treat a handful of American
breast cancer patients with nothing more than Tibetan herbs for a full year.
Dhonden says, “They will generally feel better, I would expect at the
very least that the cancer will be arrested. It will cease growing.”
Dhonden’s astonishing claims are as foreign to doctors in the U.S. as
his crimson robes and his daily prayers.
Nothing about Western sensibilities lends itself to comprehending the
mysteries of the East. So why would Dhonden take the chance to be
potentially discredited not only personally but in terms of the
effectiveness of Tibetan medicine?
“I think it’s impossible that careful, open-minded scientific
research into Tibetan medicine for breast cancer will indicate that it has
no efficacy at all,” he says.
The study won’t admit patients with early stage cancer, who potentially can
be cured by existing treatment. It’s only open to women with stage four
breast cancer, considered incurable by Western standards.
The study won’t admit patients with early stage cancer,
potentially can be cured by existing treatment. It’s only open to women with
stage four breast cancer - considered incurable by Western standards. Eleven
women sign up.
MEETING TERESA AND MARITA
Two of them allowed “Dateline” to follow along every step of the way
- to let us see exactly what happens no matter what the next 12 months might
bring. They are both patients and medical pioneers.
We first met 43-year-old Teresa Wilhelm in June of 1999. She’s a wife
and mother of a teenage girl, who had been living with cancer for four
years. It’s a battle that’s taught her to appreciate every day.
“Cancer is a gift to me. It just comes in a really ugly package,”
She’s had a mastectomy, cancer-fighting hormone treatments, radiation
and two rounds of chemotherapy so harsh she lost her hair for a year both
times. Her doctor believes it’s likely the chemo even damaged her heart, but
it certainly failed to conquer her cancer.
What scares her the most?
Wilhelm says, crying, “not watching my daughter graduate high school,
watching her get married. That frightens me.”
Her prognosis two years ago was less than five years’ survival.
“I have exhausted everything as far as Western medicine,” she says.
“For me basically what have I got to lose really? What do I have to lose?”
Like Teresa, Marita Brown has stage four breast cancer, diagnosed
four years ago.
During that time, she struggled through a bitter divorce and seven
months of chemotherapy that ravaged her body. She says she had no strength
to continue work as a school psychologist. The chemo shrank her tumors, but
the side effects were brutal.
“It was killing me. What good is a shrunken tumor as I think of it
with a body that’s lost its vitality and its will to live. I lost my will to
live,” says Brown.
Marita says the chemo also destroyed her fertility, a terrible
emotional blow. It was too much. When her doctors urged her to have a
mastectomy, she refused, believing that alternative therapies would help
without the horrible side effects.
“I’ve been dabbling in spiritual and metaphysical concepts for quite
a long time,” says Brown.
She believes the Eastern thought and medicine she’s embraced all her
life has kept her alive and functioning. For her, experimenting with Tibetan
herbs is a natural.
Isn’t it a leap of faith on her part?
“Yes and no,” says Brown. “No in that I already know it’s helped many
people in another part of the world and it has a long history of over 2,500
years, this type of treatment, and I trust that.”
For Dr. Tripathy, it is not about trust, just science. If the herbs
work, his scans and X-rays will confirm it.
What does he want to get out of this study?
“Well, we’re looking at many things. We’re looking at improving
quality of life,” says Tripathy.
He adds, “We would like to see something that lengthens life. We
would like to see something that has an anti-tumor response, something that
makes the cancer shrink.”
But is it possible that these women are too ill for anything to help
“Yes,” says Tripathy. “That is possible and that is something we have
to consider any time we look at a new drug.”
But Dr. Dhonden is sure he can get results. “I would expect on the
whole within a matter of a few weeks if you ask them they will find some
clear benefit,” he says.
Teresa and Marita are banking on it. For the next year, Dr. Dhonden
and his herbs will be all they have.
Teresa faces an awesome foe - cancer that has spread to 11 places in
her bones, including an often-painful tumor on her hip. She can actually
feel another tumor that grows on her chest. High blood pressure and constant
pain require daily medication.
What does she want out of this study?
“Time,” she says. “I am looking for time.”
Marita suffers from a growing tumor in her left breast, now the size
of a large lemon. Another tumor near her neck is golf ball size.
Her goal? “I would love to extend my days,” she says. “I would love
to be around for another 30 years. I have so many ideas of how I want to
spend the rest of my life.”
Both women are praying for time - but also hope the lessons of the
coming year will save others from this difficult disease.
For the doctor from the West, it’s a chance to open a lifesaving door
in cancer research.
For the doctor from the East, a critical test of everything he
believes. And for these two courageous women, it is a gripping battle, body
and soul, with their lives on the line.
It is a long and difficult journey to Dharamsala, India - the capital
of the exiled Tibetan nation. But the trip is eagerly made by the curious,
the faithful and by the very sick.
Many are cancer patients from all corners of the world, drawn here by
stories that Tibetan medicine can heal when nothing else has. Are the
stories myth or an amazing clue to a cancer cure? Back in the U.S., patients
Wilhelm and Brown are determined to find out.
Teresa and Marita will get much the same treatment for their cancers
as any of the thousands of patients who come to Dr. Dhonden’s clinic in
India each year. He won’t use any blood tests or high tech machines to
determine the extent of their illness. And when it’s time to prescribe
treatment, there will be no radiation or chemotherapy, no surgery, no
prescription drugs. In fact nothing that traditional Western medicine
considers a worthy weapon against cancer.
What they will get is based on centuries-old Tibetan theory: a belief
that three factors govern the body. The Tibetans call them “wind” - related
to the nervous system, and includes the heart; “bile,” which relates to the
liver and digestive system; and “phlegm,” that influences the organs of the
According to Tibetan teaching, when any of these factors are out of
balance, illness results.
WEST MEETS EAST
To discover what’s wrong, Dr. Dhonden, like all Tibetan physicians,
“listens” to the patient’s body with his fingers, feeling the pulse in both
wrists. In this way, he says he can actually monitor 12 different pulses
giving him information about every major internal organ such as the heart,
liver, and stomach.
Then he looks at a sample of the patient’s urine - whisking it in a
cup to observe the color, the sediment and bubbles.
Dhonden says, “The urine analysis looks very simple, in fact it’s
very complicated. There are nine different aspects of the urine that are
investigated and analyzed very, very carefully.”
Some patients also get a quick check of the eyes or tongue. That’s
all Dr. Dhonden needs to make his diagnosis. That’s where Tibetan medicine
parts even more dramatically with Western medicine. In the U.S., drugs are
mass-produced; the same drugs given to thousands of people. But Tibetan
herbs are formulated specifically for each individual patient, aimed at
restoring balance to the entire body rather than attacking the disease.
In India, Dr. Dhonden has his choice of hundreds of herbal formulas
to treat patients.
“Most of them are found along the Himalayas in Northern India,” he
says. “The herbs used in Tibetan medicine can be very potent indeed
especially in combination.”
But as Dr. Dhonden arrives from India to start his work there is a
huge setback. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has been examining the
herbs to be used in the study to make sure they won’t cause serious side
It is a long, tedious process and only 49 of the 1,200 herbs Dr.
Dhonden uses routinely have been approved. It is a process not required for
herbs sold in America. With the trial about to start, there’s no time or
funding to wait for more herbs to be okayed.
Dr. Dhonden reluctantly agrees to go ahead with just the 49 herbs,
the ingredients for his seven most common cancer formulas.
Summer - the groundbreaking study begins. Teresa and Marita are
ready. They know the rules: no treatment except the herbs. If they get
worse, guidelines require Dr. Tripathy to drop them from the study so they
can pursue other help.
But if the tumors shrink or just stop growing, it could be a critical
sign that the herbs are working. “If everybody has stability of their cancer
for say a year of therapy,” says Tripathy, “then I think that would be very
interesting, because we normally wouldn’t expect something that’s totally
inactive to keep everybody’s cancer from growing.”
REPUTATIONS ON THE LINE
Tibetan physicians believe certain foods upset the body’s balance. And most
patients, no matter what their ailment, are told not to drink coffee because
it’s considered a harsh substance that aggravates the blood.
Both doctors have put their reputations on the line for
But far more hangs in the balance for the patients. The time has come for
their first meeting with Dr. Dhonden.
Both women are excited, nervous, a bit in awe.
“I’ve never felt so humbled in my entire life,” says Wilhelm. “This
is medicine that’s over 2,000 years [old] but to me this is a practice
that’s one hour old.”
Dr. Dhonden’s English is limited, so a translator attends every
“Your particular cancer relates to the wind system, which is very
closely related to the nervous system,” he says.
Dr. Dhonden prescribes the herbs - then orders something else -
critical changes in her diet.
“Number 1 - tobacco of any sort is out. In addition to that, any kind
of food that is prepared in such a way that it becomes sour. And in terms of
meat, you should avoid chicken.”
On top of giving up poultry and sour foods like vinegar and pickles,
Dr. Dhonden tells all his cancer patients to cut down on sweets and avoid
alcohol. Tibetan physicians believe certain foods upset the body’s balance.
And most patients, no matter what their ailment, are told not to drink
coffee because it’s considered a harsh substance that aggravates the blood.
“I felt a very strong energy and when he took his hand off my wrists
the energy left,” says Wilhelm.
Teresa has been through all sorts of tests: blood tests, lab tests,
all sorts of machinery, and all sorts of doctors. Now somebody says they are
going to stir her urine, and take her pulse. Didn’t this at any point sound
a little out of this world?
Wilhelm says, “It wasn’t difficult for me, because I have exhausted
all Western medicine. I have no other options right now, so for me it was a
natural progression that... was very easy.”
It’s now Marita’s turn. Dr. Dhonden feels her pulse and then looks at
the urine sample. ”[T]he urine indicates there is no unusual sediment,” he
says. “There are no really bad characteristics, or indications of danger
The exam hardly lasts 10 minutes before Dr. Dhonden prescribes
Marita’s herbs - then encourages her to recite a Tibetan prayer - a
spiritual practice Tibetans believe helps the body to heal.
Before she leaves, she gets the same strict diet instructions Teresa
received. In particular, she is told not to drink coffee so the herbs can do
their jobs - routine orders that will later change the entire course of
It’s all so foreign - nothing of the exam or the treatment is like
anything Marita has ever seen before.
“These little silly looking pills that I have to bite into is my
total cancer treatment, nothing else,” she says. “I hope it effects the pain
first off, I’m tired of taking pain medication.”
It made us wonder: now that he’s seen both women who have stage four
breast cancer - nothing in Western medicine can cure them - does Dr. Dhonden
still believe he can help?
What is Wilhelm’s condition and prognosis?
“The cancer has spread a lot, so that’s going to make it slower to
treat effectively,” says Dr. Dhonden. “But I do expect to see improvement as
she continues to take the medication over the coming months.”
And what about Marita whose breast tumor is as big as a large lemon?
Dhonden says, “If she takes the medication as I have prescribed it
and if she follows the other advice, especially pertaining to her diet and
behavior, if she follows that, I think she will be healed.”
Is Dhonden not just talking about better quality of life or more
time, but also about the cancer being gone?
“No, I don’t quite mean a total cure,” he says. “In fact she will
have to take medication for the rest of her life.”
Is that a normal life span for Brown?
Dhonden says, “I do believe that she could live out a normal life
It’s an almost unbelievable prognosis, based only on her pulses and
urine sample. In fact, during the study Dr. Dhonden discovers a kidney
infection in another patient who was totally unaware of a problem.
Dr. Tripathy admits Dr. Dhonden’s methods baffle him, but he’s
impressed with the monk’s uncanny diagnostic abilities. “He has picked up
parts of a patient’s history or their clinical diagnosis that he would have
not known otherwise simply by looking at their tongue and examining their
pulse,” says Dr. Tripathy.
ARE THE HERBS WORKING?
But will Dr. Dhonden’s results be as skillful as his diagnoses? He’d
predicted Marita would feel much better in a few weeks.
But two months into the study, we check with her at her home in
Modesto, California. She says her tumor is bigger. The breast is continuing
to become disfigured and discolored and the lymph nodes are continuing to
And there’s another problem. Dr. Dhonden’s diet rules are much
tougher to follow than Marita had ever expected. “I love strong, strong
coffee,” she says. “Dr. Dhonden would like me to stop that. And I still
occasionally take a glass of wine which I should be stopping that. So I’d
like to say I am a perfect student, but I’m not.”
At the same time, two months into the therapy, we see Teresa. Dr.
Dhonden is reserved about her prognosis, but we found her with her family,
in Hemet, California, at the top of her game.
“I take the herbs four times a day and I’m feeling great,” she says.
“I have a lot of energy, well, in fact I’ve never felt better in my entire
Plus even more good news. Teresa’s high blood pressure is now normal
and the tumor on her chest wall feels smaller. “It’s the first time in two
years that it’s decreased in size,” she says. “Just a little but it’s
digressing rather than increasing so that’s pretty substantial. It’s good
news and I haven’t had good news in a long time, so that’s real positive for
But the real test - the one that counts most - is still two months
away, when Dr. Tripathy takes a look. Right now, neither woman knows the
greatest challenges yet in their long, exhausting fight for life are just
around the corner.
Four months have now passed since Teresa Wilhelm reached beyond
Western medicine to trust her health to Tibetan herbs. And as far as she’s
concerned, it’s a gamble that’s paying off.
“This is the first time in several years that I am seeing some
positive changes,” she says. “I don’t know if these herbs are going to
effect the length of my life, but I know I’m effecting the quality of my
Wilhelm believes that there’s actually been an emotional component, a
spiritual well-being component to these herbs - even her family has noticed
But does Teresa feel better just because it’s a new treatment or are
the herbs really working?
TIME FOR A CHECKUP
Dr. Dhonden arrives from India to give all the patients on the study,
including Marita and Teresa, their first checkups since starting the herbs.
Dhonden checks Teresa’s pulse. His face is impassive, giving Teresa
no clue about what her pulse reading tells him. There’s growing tension in
the room and his questions reveal he’s discovered something Teresa hasn’t
“Do you ever feel any shooting pains? Just kind of shooting pain that
comes and then vanishes?” asks Dhonden.
“The past month I’ve been having a dull shooting pain under my right
arm,” she says.
Pain is sometimes a sign that cancer has spread. Is this what Dr.
Dhonden senses? It’s one of Teresa’s biggest fears. It’s a nervous wait as
he moves on to check her urine sample.
Wilhelm asks the translator, “Would you ask Dr. Dhonden how he feels
I’m doing from three months ago, to this month, if I have improved, or what
The translator responds, “Generally speaking you’re getting better.”
That’s Dr. Dhonden’s opinion based on Tibetan theory.
Tripathy looks at X-rays, but will the sophisticated, high-tech scans
lead him to the same conclusion? Teresa is clearly anxious to know what he
Tripathy says, “The main areas that we know have been involved, those
are all stable.”
It’s a victory, or at least a reprieve. The pain is likely just
inflammation or a tiny bone fracture. It isn’t linked to cancer growth. The
tumors are no worse.
Teresa heads home - for now relieved, cautiously optimistic, but
closer to her goal to see her grandchildren and her grandchildren’s children
For Marita Brown, it’s clear Dr. Dhonden will not have such good
news. She confesses she still drinks some coffee, beer and occasional wine,
even though Dr. Dhonden told her to stop. His exam confirms what Marita
already suspects. Her tumor is much worse. Then the shocker: because of
that, she is now off the study. Dr. Dhonden is not pleased.
He tells Brown, “You had the best prognosis and now you are off the
study and what undermined it was your coffee and the beer - that really,
really did it. It completely overwhelms and overshadows the efficacy of
Tibetan medicine, but if you continue to take alcohol of any sort, hard
liquor or beer, you continue to take coffee, then you are wasting your time,
and you’re wasting his time as well. It will not work.”
Brown says, “I figured well, one beer or one cup of coffee a day
can’t be that harmful.”
What does she think now? “I made a misjudgment out of my own fear
that I couldn’t handle what I’m going through without this crutch of
caffeine,” she says.
Dr. Tripathy confirms that Marita’s scans show the tumor has grown 36
percent in the four months she’s been on the herbs. Once the size of a
lemon, it is now the size of a grapefruit.
“Since we know that there is progression and you are coming off this
study you could still continue to take any alternative therapy off the study
available to you and that includes continuing to see Dr. Dhonden,” says
So at this point, Marita faces an unexpected and wrenching choice -
continue with the herbs or surrender to the aggressive Western treatments
she’s fought so hard to avoid.
“I’m not ready to give up my commitment to these herbs,” she says.
“Three months to me is just a drop in the bucket.”
Marita decides to stay with the herbs and forego any other treatment.
Despite her shock at being dropped from the study, there is a silver lining.
Dr. Dhonden can now treat her with any of his herbal formulas, not just the
seven the FDA allowed him for the clinical trial.
The translator for Dhonden tells Brown, “If you will see him on
Monday and take these medicines and keep your diet strict as he’s told you,
you will see benefit in three weeks. You’ll see clear benefits yourself.”
Brown says, “According to the Western way of assessing, according to
the Western lens and perspective, little changes do not throw me off because
I am looking at the long-term process. That’s the value in Eastern medicine
in my opinion.”
A TURN FOR THE WORSE
But Marita’s calm, almost detached, approach to her advancing cancer
doesn’t last. By Christmas time, Marita takes an even steeper turn for the
Despite Dr. Dhonden’s personally tailored herbal therapy, she says
she can barely hang on. Brown says, “I sleep a lot and have no energy and
many days it’s hard for me to even get up to eat.”
It is one of her darkest fears: a spiral into disability or death.
What if she couldn’t manage it this time? Dr. Dhonden repeatedly adjusts her
prescription but the pain just intensifies.
He said at the time that within two or three weeks she’d be feeling
much better, much better and be on the road to healing - did it happen that
She says it didn’t and it threw her into more fear and depression.
Marita had already been down; now she’s despondent. She clings to a close
circle of friends who pray for her healing.
Had she miscalculated in trusting the herbs? Was it time to give in
and at least try Western therapies, even if they only give her temporary
Hundreds of miles away Teresa Wilhelm, who’d been doing so well - is
alarmed. She too has suddenly taken a nosedive. “My hip was inflamed and it
hurt and I couldn’t bear weight on it,” she says.
Then a horrible development - after being so active, teaching water
aerobics, riding horses - the old pain in her hip becomes almost unbearable
and forces her to use crutches. The fear is even worse. What if the cancer
is growing again? What if she can no longer take care of herself?
“Oh my God, what could happen to me?” she asks. “You know I’m
picturing all these things like I’m designing wheel chair ramps in my
It is the cruelest of moments for both women who’ve already endured
so much. The faith and hope that started them on Tibetan medicine is now
severely tested. But the study is only halfway finished. Every day they
wonder if they’ll survive the next six months. It is the scariest waiting
It’s the New Year, 2000. While many of her friends nurse the
hangovers of a new millennium, Teresa Wilhelm fights a fresh battle with an
old enemy - paralyzing pain.
“It could mean the tumor is getting bigger,” says Wilhelm. “It could
mean I overdid. It could mean a lot of things.”
But it certainly means Teresa is scared.
And miles away, Marita Brown is also gripped with fear. She can feel
her tumors growing. The question today is by how much?
Dr. Dhonden has given her new herb formulas - designed just for her -
over the past three months. Yet her pain is out of control. Most days,
depression locks her inside her house and keeps her in bed.
“From the Western perspective things are definitely getting worse,”
Increasingly, she relies on still other alternative therapies to
cope, even wearing a special vest to hold a heavy magnet over her breast
tumor, ”[W]hat they call medical-grade magnets and that helped with the
swelling, inflammation and pain more than anything,” she says.
Brown got on the study and the cancer grew. She went off the study
and got on the customized herbs and the cancer still grew. Was there a time
when she thought, “this just isn’t working? It doesn’t work?”
Brown says, “When I surrendered to the fear and despair and
depression, you bet I fell into self pity and why go on but it didn’t last
THE DOCTOR RETURNS
At the beginning of this study, Wilhelm was one of the most seriously ill,
her prognosis poor. But at the halfway mark, she’s still getting great
Now, six months into the year-long Tibetan Herb study
travels from India to examine Marita, Teresa and the rest of his patients.
On her way to the exam, Teresa says, “I came in here today thinking,
‘OK well I’m off the study.’” She believes her worsening pain means the
cancer has spread.
The exam begins with Dr. Dhonden.
She asks, “What is causing the numbness?”
Dhonden explains, through a translator, “It is indeed because there
has been some sort of pressure on the nerve.”
Teresa is surprised Dr. Dhonden senses no progression of her cancer.
Teresa says to Dhonden’s translator, “Tell him I thank him from the
bottom of my heart and bones.”
Once again the doctor from the East says Teresa is doing just fine.
But she knows the sensitive scans ordered by her Western doctor could reveal
even the tiniest trace of cancer.
Dr. Tripathy comes in to the exam room. The routine exam is anything
but routine for Teresa. It’s an agonizing delay before she can get the news
she so desperately wants to hear.
Dr. Tripathy gives her the news. “Well Theresa, the good news is,
based on everything I’m looking at, the scans and your exam, I think you are
essentially stable. There’s a tiny reduction in the little nodule on your
skin under your scar.”
At the beginning of this study, Wilhelm was one of the most seriously
ill, her prognosis poor. But at the halfway mark, she’s still getting great
Now it’s time for Marita’s exam. Even though Marita’s off the study
because her cancer has grown, both doctors’ still monitor her progress.
She is dreading the exam. But Dr. Dhonden finds no cause for alarm.
Through the translator, Marita hears the diagnosis.
“Based on Dr. Dhonden’s pulse analysis and urine diagnosis the
[tumor’s] gone actually down.”
The pain was so awful, she’d been sure something was terribly wrong.
But Dr. Dhonden believes it just means the herbs are hard at work.
Dhonden explains, “What you are experiencing is the confrontation or
the impact of the medication on breast, on the illness in the breast that
was like two wrestlers coming together.”
Dhonden says, “So take your medicine and he will see you in June.”
But because her tumor is still growing, Dr. Tripathy doesn’t want to
wait until June to start Marita on a Western treatment of hormones to fight
her cancer. It complicates his research. If she gets better he won’t know if
it was the herbs or the hormones or the combination that helped - but it
doesn’t matter. Right now, he’s focused on controlling the tumor however he
can. “I can’t guarantee it is going to help you,” he says, “but I think it
has a reasonably good chance of helping.”
Marita is unsure, fearful of more Western drugs and their side
effects. She wants to keep her faith in the herbs. “I feel I haven’t given
it enough time,” she says. “There is something deep in me saying, ‘there’s
something moving, there’s something changing. Be patient.’”
Here, halfway through the study, it seems the patients are spinning
their wheels. Dr. Tripathy is frustrated. “I’ve got mixed emotions about the
trial right now,” he says. “I would have liked to have seen some responses
by now. That would have made us all very enthusiastic.”
Still several patients like Teresa are - a significant achievement
with stage four breast cancer.
Eight months into the study Marita’s continuing pain and growing
tumors make even the the smallest choices sobering - testing her faith in
her treatment decisions. “Actually, I had to buy a car,” she says. “I had to
decide should I just get months to a year? Or should I be really bold and
buy a new one?”
Marita finally relents. She’ll try the hormone therapy Dr. Tripathy
believes could shrink her tumors. It’s a difficult decision.
“I was at my knees,” she says. “I was exhausted. I hadn’t lost hope
in the Tibetan herbs but my patience was wearing thin.”
Four months later, Dr. Dhonden makes the long trip from Dharamsala,
India, for his final visit with the women he has cared for throughout the
Dhonden examines Marita. After taking both the Western hormones and
Tibetan herbs, Marita is finally feeling a lot better.
The translator says, “He sees a lot of improvement. There is less
inflammation in the breast and the lymph nodes. But internally, the actual
size of the tumor would have to be checked with an X-ray.”
Dr. Tripathy’s exam supports those findings. In fact, for the first
time in a year, her scans show improvement - and it’s dramatic.
More than half the patients - six out of the original 11 - saw their cancer
spread on the herbs. But two patients remained stable - the cancers didn’t
grow at all. And one patient’s tumor actually shrank.
“The lymph node that I felt in the left side of the neck
is way down
and the breast mass is down,” he says. “The nodes in the sternum and the
abdomen are a little bit smaller as well too.”
In fact, her tumors have actually shrunk back to the size they were
when the study started.
If Brown hadn’t done the hormone therapy, would the results be as
good as they’ve been? “It’s very possible that the hormone therapy acted
synergistically with the Tibetan herbs,” she says.
Teresa has been faithful to the herbal regimen, and unlike Marita,
has remained on the study the whole year.
“There’s nothing anyone could say to me that would ruin my emotion or
mood,” she says. “I’m just feeling excited.”
Now she’ll find out just how well the Tibetan treatment has worked.
Tripathy asks, “Any new symptoms to report?”
Wilhelm laughs and replies, “I’m happier.”
Tripathy responds, “OK, good.”
He is ready with the results of Teresa’s scans. “As a clinician, my
interpretation of your clinical course is that you’ve been stable, which is
remarkable for a period of a year.”
Teresa is thrilled. Very few stage four cancer patients on Western
therapies live a year with no cancer growth.
“Oh you’re going to miss me,” Teresa says to Dr. Tripathy.
“You bet I am,” he says. “You’re one of our star patients.”
Teresa’s stability is just what Dr. Dhonden had predicted a year
before. With the study over, he upgrades her prescription with herbs he
couldn’t use during the clinical trial.
Teresa is eager to stay on what she calls her “Tibetan journey.” It
seems she might well get that extra time she’d prayed for 12 months earlier.
“I never felt better in my life,” she says.” In fact, I feel like
this study represents to me fertilizer and I feel like I’ve really grown
this past year. It’s been a journey of hope for me.”
It’s also report card time for the Tibetan study after a critical
year under a Western microscope. Had the herbs made the grade?
More than half the patients - six out of the original 11 - saw their
cancer spread on the herbs. But Teresa and one other patient remained stable
- the cancers didn’t grow at all. And best of all, another patient had
terrific results. Her tumor actually shrank. Dr. Tripathy says these results
with the medicine from the East aren’t much different from early studies on
what are now considered the most effective Western cancer drugs.
If Tripathy had to give a letter grade to this study so far, what
would it be?
“I’d probably give it a C,” he says. Good enough for the doctor to pursue a
larger clinical trial, using more of the herbs Dr. Dhonden routinely uses
Dr. Dhonden welcomes more testing of the full array of Tibetan herbs,
confident the East has answers for his Western colleagues.
“We’ve seen some good results, some promising results. I think that
is sufficient grounds for expanding the scope of this study,” Dhonden says.
But ultimately the truth about the herbs may well lie beyond study,
beyond the statistics.
And what does Wilhelm’s heart say? “My heart says that I wouldn’t be
the same person sitting here right now and it feels good,” she says. “It
feels really good. I’m looking towards the future now where as a year ago I
Both Marita and Teresa believe the herbs gave them something no other
treatment ever has - a better quality of life with no side effects, and the
joy of knowing they contributed to helping find a cure for other women.
For them, the year is a triumph. They are - in the truest sense of
the word - survivors.
If you would like to contact Dr. Yeshi Dhonden, you can
e-mail him at
DrYeshiDhonden@AlternativeResourcesUnlimited.org If you have more questions about Tibetan
medicine, send inquiries to DrYeshiDhonden@AlternativeResourcesUnlimited.org or contact:
Menla Tibetan Medical Institute
All mail: 101 W. 23 St. #158
NYC, NY 10011
2. Interesting Responses
from the Tib Med Newsgroup
[TibetMed] Re: Treatment of breast cancer
Fri, 30 Nov 2001 12:29:30 -0500
"Terry Halwes" <firstname.lastname@example.org>
My feelings are mixed. On the one hand, it's great to
medicine recognized as potentially valuable. On the other hand, the sort
of research that was done is not the kind of study I would be interested
in. The American drug companies and the FDA and the AMA doctors all
pretty much agree on the magic chemical bullet view of disease and
treatment, and traditional medicines are viewed as a good source of
ideas about what chemicals to try next.
What I'd like to see is a study of Tibetan physicians
as they consider appropriate, without interference from the FDA. Dr.
Dhonden was not allowed to use the medicines he would normally prefer
to prescribe, but had to select from a few dozen that had been approved
by the FDA for research purposes.
What we most need to preserve is not some particular medicines,
the understanding, the system, that led to the discovery of those
medicines and the methods for using them. The Dalai Lama has said
that the health of the billions of people in this world cannot depend on
rare Himalayan herbs that are already endangered. The Tibetan
physicians can help us find new herbal medicines that can be used
without negative side effects, but only if we help them to preserve their
entire medical system.
We don't know how to cure disease without causing severe
effects. They do. Grabbing a few new chemicals from their system, or
even a lot of new chemicals, will not help us find the way to make the
fundamental changes in our medical system that are needed to develop
the sort of gently powerful treatments that they have demonstrated. We
can't decide in advance which parts of their system can be dispensed
with. We have to help them preserve the entire system, and let them
help us begin understanding how it works.
Part of that effort of preserving Traditional Tibetan
naturally be evaluation studies that could show whether Tibetan
treatments are truly effective. Western scientists should be in charge of
the statistics, and Western doctors could be included to provide
diagnosis before and after treatment, so the results will make sense to
us, but the Tibetan physicians should be entirely in charge of how their
diagnosis and treatment is done.
It's an open question whether such research could be legally
done in this
Re: [TibetMed] Re: Treatment of breast cancer
Fri, 30 Nov 2001 18:29:44 -0800
"Arthur Hrin" <email@example.com>
Good comments and analysis. I too believe Tibetan medicine might just offer
some remarkable results, if appropriately tried and tested. Current test
models will never allow this. For me, I have a special interest in
Alzheimers and Dementia. There seems to be at least a partial solution in
Nepal and India. To that end we are developing a long term care facility in
Kathmandu, where Tibetan doctors and Ayurvedic doctors can use their
"proven" methods and where we can collect proper records and documentation
of the results. The say they have been treating this disease successfully
for hundreds of years using the methods written in the ancient texts. The
part missing is the record keeping and analysis.
If interested in our project, have a look at my website
below and follow the
links. If you have the time and interest, why not join us in this exciting
Arthur J. Hrin
Everest House Adult Family Homes
28009 118th Avenue SE
Kent, WA 98031
on the web: www.everesthouse.com
Canadian Doctor Discovers Possible Low Cost Cancer Cure
"Tibetan incense, medicinal powder, and Tibetan 'precious pills' are in
great demand here," said one police officer who asked not to be named.
"People believe that it can prevent the virus. And SARS hasn't spread to Tibet."
Radio Free Asia-May 7, 2003
Handbook of Traditional Tibetan Drugs: Their Nomenclature,Composition, Use and Dosage
" I believe the doctor of the future will be a teacher
as well as a physician.
His real job will be to teach people how to be healthy." Dr. D.C. Jarvis