Admittedly, I don't have a lot in common with Angelina Jolie, but I relate deeply to her recent writing in the New York Times about having her ovaries removed because she has a mutation on the BRCA gene, predisposing her to breast and ovarian cancer. Two years back she'd had her breasts removed for the same reason. I too carry that alteration in my genes and have had to make tough medical decisions based on that knowledge. I did have cancer, so my storyline's a bit different.
I also love that Ms. Jolie in her op-ed piece addressed patient choice. She wrote, "I have spoken to many doctors, surgeons and naturopaths. There are other options. Some women take birth control pills or rely on alternative medicines combined with frequent checks. There is more than one way to deal with any health issue. The most important thing is to learn about the options and choose what is right for you personally."
As a naturopathic physician (N.D.), for my own care, I had state-of-the-art conventional medical care with my M.D. providers, and exceptional care from N.D. providers, too. I have written about my experiences before with relationship to chemotherapy and radiation. Adding naturopathic modalities to cancer care makes good sense. Naturopathic physicians, when treating patients with cancer, use diet, exercise, nutritional supplements, botanical medicine, homeopathy, body-mind techniques and other natural, tested approaches. The idea is to support efficacy of conventional care, reduce side effects, address side effects that do arise, enhance quality of life and of course, when conventional care is completed, work to prevent further cancer.
What Ms. Jolie did not elaborate upon was the difficulty many patients have accessing naturopathic physicians in America. One reason for this is lack of licensure of naturopathic physicians. Currently, only 20 states and territories license N.D.s; many more states are currently in legislative efforts. I live in Massachusetts and practice in Connecticut where I am licensed. During my cancer treatment, I traveled to Vermont and New Hampshire and worked remotely with a naturopathic doctor in Colorado in order to access licensed naturopathic physicians' guidance during my own cancer treatment. But for many that access would be difficult indeed.
I am inspired and impressed that Ms. Jolie has shared so publicly her health care choices, which educate on the value of genetic testing and how it can help inform healthcare decisions. I hope our policy makers take time to understand the education, training, scope of practice, and the role naturopathic physicians can play in the current healthcare landscape. Many Americans want and need treatments that are effective AND cost effective, focus on prevention and lifestyle modifications and less expensive non-drug treatments that naturopathic doctors promote. I urge policy makers at the state level to sign on to and support legislation to license naturopathic doctors in their state, so that Americans in all fifty states have access to doctor level practitioners of natural medicine.
And... after further thought, I can say, there are a few other things I have in common with Angelina Jolie: I love my work, I am married to a dashing fellow, and I am the proud mother of wonderful children!