Dr Sarat Addanki (Ayurveda practitioner) is the Founder and Director of Ayurway, and an Ayurvedic Doctor from California College of Ayurveda. He did his Bachelor’s in Computer Science and Engineering from Osmania University and has an experience of 25 years as a software executive. Deeply distressed after losing his mother to breast cancer, he involved himself in Ayurveda and understood how it could benefit patients and help them overcome Pain. At Ayurway, Dr Addanki focuses on creating awareness about various natural healing processes through Ayurveda, Western Herbology, Panchakarma, Aroma Therapy, Mental Imagery, Music Therapy, etc. and bringing in a new perspective towards cancer prevention and cure. He also leads a social responsibility team at Ayurway to reach out to people by organizing various cancer prevention conferences and food distribution programs.
Could you share your journey as a cancer caregiver?
In 2014, my mom was diagnosed with Breast Cancer. At that time, I was an engineer, so I didn’t know much about cancer, but we followed the advice of our oncologist. She got the best treatment in allopathic medicines. As a caregiver, our focus was to make her feel most comfortable. We moved from California to India and were with my mother for almost a year, but she passed away in May 2015. When I look back, I realized that we made certain mistakes, which is why I decided to become a doctor to help people. Post her death, when I look back, I realized that Chemotherapy is essential, but certain factors should be considered, such as the amount of Chemotherapy we are giving, how frequently we are giving and how the person’s body is reacting to it. We need to have good clarity about when to stop. Because of continuous chemotherapy, my mother was not able to eat, drink or sleep. She was always feeling nauseous, Vomiting persistently, and all these side effects brought a negative impact on her willingness to live. Once the person’s desire to live comes down, hopelessness and helplessness creep in. At that point, rather than the patients controlling their life, they give control to the doctors. This was my first lesson from the whole saga. As a caregiver, we had done everything possible within our knowledge, whatever was possible and beyond. We did the best we could, but I realized that it was not enough for a cancer patient.
Toxicity of anti-cancer drugs compared to Ayurveda in cancer
Chemotherapy is required, but what is important is the whole concept of integrative oncology. Each one plays a vital role. I will divide it into four stages: 1- At the time of diagnosis 2- Pre-treatment 3- During the treatment 4- Post-treatment So, at the time of diagnosis, patients have the question, “why me?” So, who would answer all these? Oncologists are super busy all over the world; they don’t have the time. There should be an integrative oncology coach, holding the hand of patients as well as of caregivers and explaining to them that “it is okay to get diagnosed with cancer, we need to figure it out, these are various treatments available, and these are the pros and cons of each treatment, and these are all the supportive care which are available”. There should be someone to guide them in this way. We have to bring in some diet changes, some lifestyle changes and create a support group around the cancer patient and the caregivers at the time of diagnosis.
Various modalities or protocols available:
The first thing required is a spiritual counsellor to answer the “why me” question. Secondly, you also need to understand that Stress plays a massive role in the patients’ life. The extent of Stress or the suppression of emotions; we have to figure out the roles they are playing in their lives and find ways to reduce it. So, managing Stress and Anxiety plays a vital role. There are two kinds of Stress – Stress because of the diagnosis of the disease and Stress of something else, which eventually leads to cancer. We have to understand both, and we need a protocol to control this. In Ayurveda and through our Indian philosophy, there are many ways to control this. For example, what is Stress or anxiety? If somebody is stressed out, we see heavy breathing. In Ayurveda, we see that Pranavayu is the air which is going in, and Pranayama is the controlling of Pranavayu or controlling of your life. That is one way to manage the Stress. The second thing is, our senses are the calls that the heart gives us. To receive information, to send information to our brain and it can be positive, negative, healthy or unhealthy information. So, using the five senses, we again can bring back normalcy.
One of the senses is the sense of smell, which is very powerful, so we use that. For example – for anxiety, particular essential oils help control it. How it works is very simple; If you look at trees or plants, it needs to defend itself by staying right there; it can’t move away. That means God gave them the ability to produce something which can either kill insects or which can drive them away. When you take a flower or a bark or a leaf, extracting the essence of it, we are getting those properties in a way that we can use it. One of the essential oils is vetiver, and it’s a root that goes deep in the ground. What happens during Anxiety is, they feel light, they have hallucinations and nightmares.
The opposite of that is grounding. So, when you use vetiver essential oil along with some more grounding oil and give a good massage, the person will get grounded. So, this is the sense of smell and also the sense of touch which works for the patients. When you are touching either yourself or somebody else, that sense of touch also gives us some kind of grounding. We recharge ourselves using massage in ayurvedic, which is called Abhyanga. We are also increasing our positive ego, that is self-love. It means our willingness to live will increase because we start loving our body, and this will cause our helplessness to come down. Like that, each body senses can bring some amount of therapeutic effect. So, these are the five senses, and at the top of it, when you add spiritual counselling, that’s when you also get that incubation aspect of it, and you will become much healthier. This is how we need to take care of a person at the time of diagnosis.
Before starting the treatment, we need to understand about Chemotherapy clearly, its protocol, side effects, and how to manage those side effects. For example- Let’s say a person has Diarrhoea because of Chemotherapy. We give them one more medicine. One of the things my mom used to say is that “I am already taking 25 pills; how can I take one more.” Her mouth was always full of sores, mucositis is what we call it, and we were giving one more pill to her. So, if we can somehow manage Diarrhoea using other methods, then there will be no need for extra medicine. There are various ways you can control diarrhoea, such as changing what you eat; maybe a little bit of Ginger to control Nausea or adding raw banana and cardamom.
There are two things- they can’t take more pills, and the second effect of the medicine given to reduce a side effect. The next thing that follows will be constipation. This is a vicious cycle, so we also need to figure out where the medicines are required and where we can avoid them. Therefore, while Chemotherapy is required, there are other things that we can avoid. That’s what I realized with my mom. Continuously dumping in 100 pills a day really brought her down to the extent that she thought living like this was useless. Once that thought comes to a person’s mind, nothing can stop them from leaving the body, and that’s when they give up. So, our focus should be on willingness to live, and we have to bring that will to live.
About Ayurveda in cancer:
One of the misconceptions everyone has is that these are just herbs, so there won’t be any side effects, but that’s not the truth. We have to be very careful what herbs are we giving, and at what time. We cannot be interfering with allopathic treatment to treat the effects of chemotherapy, because chemo is trying to kill the cells, and if you interfere, the patient will be at a loss. So, we have to be a little bit careful. From an ayurvedic perspective, during chemotherapy, our focus should be more on Shirodhara; it’s a body treatment to relax you from Stress and Anxiety. And Ayurveda also focuses heavily on a diet, which is extremely important during Chemotherapy.
You need to understand which of the doshas is affected (from the ayurvedic perspective we call it dosha). If at any time there is a transformation in the body, it’s because of heat, so you need that fire which is called “pitta.” Finally, everybody requires a structure, and that structure is given by “Kapha.” We try to understand the disease, i.e., cancer, which tissues or organs it is affecting, and which of the doshas are being grown out of balance (sometimes all will go out of balance). So, we prepare a diet that will enable these doshas to come under control. The diet plays a significant role, and that’s where Ayurveda in cancer play a significant role; one is the body therapies, and the other is nutrition and diet. If we identify any herbs which would not interfere, then those can be given to the patient, but the information we have is significantly less. So, we have to be very careful about the kind of herbs that we are giving.
Ayurveda as an alternative approach
From my personal experience, it should not be called alternative, but it should be integrative. Cancer is a very complex disease to fight out with one form of medicine, so nobody should underestimate other treatments. It should not be just about Ayurveda in cancer, everything should go hand in hand. There is no single treatment in medical science that can solve this problem unless it is stage one or two cancer. It has to be an integrative approach. We have to figure out which treatment can be applied at what stage. I have never seen one treatment completely solving the problem. It’s not like a headache, where just taking one pill will cure it. Rather than keeping it my medicines versus your medicines, it should be understood that what is best for the patient, is the priority. Sometimes there is no treatment; because if a person is at a palliative stage, where adding more drugs into the system may accelerate their death, then why even give it to them. We should provide them with peace of mind and sound sleep. Spiritually we can elevate things, and most important is that patient’s wellness should be our focus through integrative treatment.
Insights on Palliative Care
When a person is battling between life and death, it’s a tough situation to leave everything to move to the next life. We might hide things from the patients, but their body will tell them, and they will be more aware of their situation than any doctor. So, it is essential to understand their situation, prepare them for the worst and at the same time telling them that you are alive today, let’s make the best use to today. Let’s make sure that you get to enjoy today, and let’s figure out how you can enjoy your life the most while you are sitting in a room. The second thing is you have to reduce the Anxiety. We can do spiritual counselling and body therapy. It can be Shirodhara; it can be a good massage using lavender oil, which can give them a good sleep. We can try taking them to Guided Imagery or visualization where they can control the threshold when Pain increases so that there would not be any need to take lots of medicines and painkillers.
We can also try to make them do some asanas, which can be very helpful for them. We should try to give them the feeling that they still have control over themselves, provide them with food which they like, which won’t further aggravate the problem. From an ayurvedic perspective, there are fantastic massages and gentle ways to give patients comfort without causing any damage to them. For example, marma therapy, which is pressing on marma points, can provide them relief from constipation or Diarrhoea. There are specific points in the body, such as hridaya, which is a point that can reduce Stress and Anxiety. And also, we slowly need to give them the message that it’s okay to travel to the next life. I read a book which I still read every time a person passes away, that is “The Tibetan Book Of Death.” Tibetan way of looking at death is very different. There they celebrate death. We have to figure out the various cultures and bring the best of it and give the patient some comfort. We have to give them dignity, as the day they feel they are dignified, they will take the exit very peacefully.
Could you enlighten us with the healing processes that you recommend
There is deep resentment in every person. What is the difference between anger and resentment? Anger is one shot, it comes and goes, and the damage is the fight or its response, but that’s the end. Whereas, resentment is replaying the anger thousands of times in the mind. Therefore, with visualization or guided imagery, we can sweep away the resentment. Visualization brings back the whole situation into perspective, what causes the resentment (it can be the person or the event), and figuring out how to make the person come out of it. We say forgive, but forgiving is difficult. If we find that this is the person who is the cause of resentment, we need to cut the cord between these two people for the resentment to go away.
There are three emotions: Negative, Positive, Healthy. Negative emotions are not good, and positive emotions are not practical, which leaves only healthy emotions. The belief system drives emotions. First of all, we need to find out the belief that is bringing out the emotions.
Give the patients a plan to replace the positive emotions with healthy ones and write things on paper, so that every time they go through or get the negative emotions, they can look at the paper and replace it with healthy emotions. These are some of the emotional aspects, and the other aspect is a belief around therapies. For example, if we talk about chemotherapy, the first thing we all say is its side effects. Suppose our going-in position is thinking about side effects, then how can our mind and body accept it. So, we take Guided Imagery and visualization to show that it is okay to take chemotherapy; the oncologist is trying to kill the cancer cells, but our good cells also get impacted. So, we need to teach Guided Imagery and visualization to our patients to help them to visualize the Chemotherapy and side effects slightly differently, how they are going to fight the cancer cells, how Chemotherapy is helping them to fight, etc.
If they create a picture of what is healthy inside their mind, I think we can face cancer and Chemotherapy in a much better manner. So, there should be a line of integrative coaches who focus on these things without interfering what oncologists are doing. They should be a handshake between the various medical sciences, but unfortunately, I don’t see this handshake happening in India.
A Healthy Lifestyle
The two things which cause all the problems are digestion and elimination. We keep getting confused between these two things. One is the ability to assimilate what we are eating, giving our body enough nutrition. These days, we are used to adding more pills to our body and giving them supplements. Supplements play a significant role, but if you have the ability to assimilate, then don’t go for supplements. Instead, go for organic food; it should be the first step. If your digestive tract cannot assimilate vitamins or minerals, only then go for supplements. Every science has a role in our life. Elimination- Don’t clog our system. There are three kinds of elimination, and we have to be extremely careful: 1- Stool 2- Urine 3- Lymphatic system, which we totally ignore. Our lymphatic system doesn’t have a pump like a heart. It moves the lymph and toxins at every cellular level, which gets collected. They need to go out, and is purely based on our body movement. That’s where the exercises come, and there is no exercise better than walking. From a diet perspective, I would say not to overload yourself with too many calories. We are at a stage where we intake an excessive amount of food and nutrition. So, we have to be very careful about whether we are taking more than what our body can burn. Then, we have to be extremely careful about inflammation. We should find out which food causes inflammation and which reduces inflammation. For example, cold-pressed cooking oil is much better than heated cooking oil. So, we have to keep control of inflammation and figure out the anti-inflammatory food items.