A Wild and Precious Conference

A recap of the 9th annual OncANP conference

By Jacob Schor, ND, FABNO

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More than 200 naturopathic doctors attended the 9th annual conference of the Oncology Association of Naturopathic Physicians (OncANP) in Scottsdale, Arizona, held February 28–March 1, 2020. OncANP is the largest naturopathic specialty group in North America, and indeed, the conference was attended by naturopathic doctors and naturopathic students from all the training programs in the United States and Canada.

OncANP is the largest specialty group of naturopathic physicians, yet it isn’t the oldest. The Homeopathic Academy of Naturopathic Physicians (HANP), founded in 1982 (3 years before the American Association of Naturopathic Physicians [AANP]), gets that honor. HANP was the first group to offer testing and certification to naturopathic physicians and to grant board certification in their specialty.

OncANP was founded in 2004 and offered its first board certification in 2006.

As usual the conference organizers squeezed in as many continuing-education (CE) hours as possible. They relented only to allow the vendors, who sponsored meals, to present short lectures related to their business endeavors. While these might not have counted for CE, they were also interesting presentations.

Lise Alschuler, ND, FABNO, past president of both the AANP and OncANP, opened the conference by reciting from the poet Mary Oliver:

“Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?”

Dr Alschuler framed Oliver’s exuberant question into a parallel question of what we planned to do at “this OncANP conference” and then answered her question for us:

“It is because you are a visionary hero. Visionary heroes willingly sacrifice the ease sticking to routine and the comfort of ignorance so that you may follow an ideal, serve a mission, and, quite simply, change the world.”

She turned a long weekend of CE hours into a heroic quest for knowledge, a mission to serve humanity.

“You know that you have chosen to be here because you want to reignite your enthusiasm and augment your wisdom in your healing work. This is one way that you are transforming the world into a better place. You are actually part of a movement that seeks to restore health to the world one patient at a time. You are, simply by virtue of the work that you do, a Visionary Hero.”

I can’t remember ever having a conference start off with such enthusiasm and feeling such a deep moral obligation to focus my attention when speakers got boring.

Following this explosive start, Gurdev Parmar, ND, FABNO, and Tina Kaczor, ND, FABNO, teamed up to present the first lecture, titled: “Always & Never: The Essential Rules in Oncology Practice.” Having recently completed writing the Textbook of Naturopathic Oncology, these 2 doctors reviewed some of the particulars that practitioners should not forget about when working with cancer patients. These ranged from what not to say to the patients’ treating medical oncologists to some of the complications—both common and rare—that may occur in these patients.

You are actually part of a movement that seeks to restore health to the world one patient at a time. You are, simply by virtue of the work that you do, a Visionary Hero.

Both Jen Green, ND, FABNO, and Michael Traub, ND, DHANP, FABNO, spoke about Immunotherapy in 2 distinctly separate lectures. Dr Green focused on naturopathic elements that increase immune activity, while Dr Traub focused on adjunctive strategies to use with the new immunotherapy-targeted drugs.

Sharon Gurm, BSc, ND, FABNO, of Vancouver, British Columbia, lectured on the use of photodynamic therapy and then presented several case histories with excellent results. Later in the conference the vendor that manufactures the laser equipment that Dr. Gurm uses presented additional cases, all guaranteed to impress.

The highlight of the conference for this writer was Michelle Holmes, PhD, from the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health at Harvard Medical School. Dr Holmes is perhaps best known for her research on aspirin and recurrence risk in breast cancer. She was an early advocate for repurposing drugs to treat cancer, and her famous paper “Hiding in Plain View” was a game changer for some of us. Dr Holmes is one of many researchers OncANP has brought to conferences over the years—noted scientists whose work informs what we do and whom many of us have longed to meet in person.

Ehab Mohammed, ND, presented a detailed case history of a single patient with hepatocellular cancer who responded well to a regimen of mistletoe and intravenous vitamin C.

Our longtime friend Donald Abrams, MD, a medical oncologist from San Francisco, provided a deep dive into the dietary recommendations put out by the American Institute for Cancer Research (AICR), examining how these recommendations have changed in recent years based on ongoing research.

Dr Alschuler got behind the podium again after Dr Abrams had finished and reminded the attendees that she is more than poetic; she presented a detailed review of naturopathic strategies to consider in patients with glioblastoma.

Dan Rubin, ND, FABNO, followed Dr Alschuler and led a panel of medical oncologists in a discussion of how they interact with naturopathic doctors in their practices and how we might make those intersections work more smoothly.

Paul Saunders, PhD, ND, DAHNP, gave a lunch lecture on behalf of one of the vendors, recapping his experience in using a combination herbal product derived from a trio of botanicals from the Middle East.

Dr Saunders was followed by Jean Seely, MD, a medical radiologist (and sister of Dugald Seely, ND, MSc). She lectured on the current data on the benefit of mammograms for breast-cancer screening.

Ian Bier, ND, PhD, LAc, FABNO, presented next on the evidence supporting early palliative and hospice care, along with giving his yearly reminder that when reading the literature, we should not assume progression-free survival predicts overall survival, as it does not.

I followed Dr Bier and spoke about how a profession that once took pride in the name “Drugless Practitioner” might incorporate repurposed drugs into clinical practice.

Sunday started with Kalyan Gaddam, ND, speaking about naturopathic physical medicine, followed by Eric Marsden, ND, reviewing clinical algorithms in supportive care. Dr Melina Roberts’s lecture focused on treating the tumor microenvironment.

Paul Reilly, ND, LAc, FABNO, reminisced for a bit at the start of his lecture, showing us slides from lectures he’s given over the past 30 years as a way to illustrate how much naturopathic oncology has changed these last decades. Eventually he moved into this year’s topic, which was how to incorporate the new information coming from the field of “precision medicine” into our clinical practices.

For the 9th time, the conference finished with a 90-minute research review, conducted by Drs Alschuler and Kaczor, of new studies relevant to the practice of naturopathic oncology. That we always save the very best for last is tradition now, as annoying as it is to have to race to the airport the moment that the final speakers finish, to catch one’s flight home. Smarter people might stay one more night in the hotel.

Dr Alschuler promised at the start of this conference that:

“… you will learn, you will connect, you will inspire and be inspired, you will renew. And these feelings will pump vitality into your life, into your work, into your dreams, into your plans. … The hero that you are to your patients, to your family, to your friends, to your colleagues, and to yourselves will be both more wild and more precious.”

She was right; once again OncANP’s conference delivered the goods.

Addendum: Proofreading the draft of this article a few days after writing it—the day after the World Health Organization declared a coronavirus pandemic and when travel and public gatherings are being sharply curtailed—I find myself thinking again about this conference. By the time we post this article online, conferences like this may have become a thing of the past, at least for the near future. In hindsight this may have been our last and best conference.

About the Author

Jacob Schor ND, FABNO, is a graduate of National College of Naturopathic Medicine, Portland, Oregon, and recently retired from his practice in Denver, Colorado. He served as president to the Colorado Association of Naturopathic Physicians and is a past member of the board of directors of the Oncology Association of Naturopathic Physicians and American Association of Naturopathic Physicians. He is recognized as a fellow by the American Board of Naturopathic Oncology. He serves on the editorial board for the International Journal of Naturopathic Medicine, Naturopathic Doctor News and Review (NDNR), and Integrative Medicine: A Clinician's Journal. In 2008, he was awarded the Vis Award by the American Association of Naturopathic Physicians. His writing appears regularly in NDNR, the Townsend Letter, and Natural Medicine Journal, where he is the Abstracts & Commentary editor.