Annie Appleseed Project Aids in Cancer Treatment

Organization seeks to move alternative therapies into the mainstream through its website and conferences.

The spark that became the Annie Appleseed Project ( ignited with the diagnosis of a single cancer patient nearly 20 years ago.

Complications in her own treatment plan left Ann Fonfa with few conventional options; so she threw herself into researching a new paradigm for treating her disease, and wound up establishing a clearinghouse resource for doctors and patients interested in keeping up with developments in alternative cancer therapies.

In 1993, Fonfa was diagnosed with breast cancer. Unable to tolerate chemotherapy due to multiple chemical sensitivities, she began to explore other avenues for restoring her health. By 1999, that quest had evolved into a website for the Annie Appleseed Project, and in 2003 it became an all-volunteer, nonprofit organization.

The project’s objective is to provide information on complementary and alternative medicine (CAM), integrative therapy, and natural strategies to reduce risk. The unique aspect of this is that it focuses on advocating from the patient perspective.

In 1999, “I began using Chinese herbs under the direction of a NYC-based herbalist,” says Fonfa. “In less than 14 months, my five-year saga of breast cancer recurrences ended. Having already slowed the growth of the cancer cells, and never becoming metastatic—although diagnosed as stage IV in 1997—I felt convinced that there were many aspects that worked to control cancer.”

Fonfa considers the main issue in cancer treatment for both conventional doctors and those who use CAM to be a lack of protocol spelling out who needs what therapies. She maintains that when treatment is personalized, it is more effective for those with cancer.

“In the United States and other developed countries, it is the patient population that is most interested in pushing for acceptance of CAM,” she says. “In the developing world, natural therapies may be all a patient can access. Either way, there are helpful possibilities among the array of choices, and, in many cases, these therapies can complement conventional treatments.”

The role of the Annie Appleseed Project is to present available evidence to audiences who lack either the journal access or the large amount of time needed to sort through the volumes of research on their own. The project website has thousands of pages of information, ten thousand links, and is a resource for 90,000 visitors each month.

Annual Conference

The Annie Appleseed Project began presenting the Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Cancer Therapies conference in 2008. Attendees of the annual event are divided between cancer patients, advocates, and family members and practitioners of all kinds. Since 2010, the conference has also offered CEUs and CNEs.

Each year, speakers from all over the United States present on the cancer protocols they use in their clinical practice or the CAM research they are doing. Homeopaths, oncologists, Ayurvedic practitioners, acupuncturists, masseuses (including Lymphedema treatments), and nurses have all contributed their knowledge and experience to the conference. In some years, international speakers are also invited to present.

The goal of the conference is to provide the knowledge patients and practitioners need to help make more informed treatment decisions. To that end, each conference also includes a Patient Panel made up of people reporting on their own experiences using CAM. “The key concept is that some things work for some of the people, some of the time,” says Fonfa.

This year’s conference, using the theme “First Do No Harm” also includes a panel on insurance issues and detoxification, and for those who missed registering for the Florida event March 1 to 3, the organization is expanding to the West Coast in 2012. The first West Coast Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Cancer Therapies Conference will be held September 14 and 15, 2012, in San Francisco. Registration information is available on the organization’s web site.

A Support Organization

The nonprofit receives hundreds of emails each month and strives to leave no question unanswered. The project has a variety of medical experts to call on if needed, but most of the time, questioners can be directed to the appropriate information on the organization’s web site.

The project also provides speakers for patient and community groups around the United States and sometimes abroad, presenting evidence-based information. According to Fonfa, the organization spurs take leaps of faith in discussing new ways to use the therapies. “One main theme of the Annie Appleseed Project is the combination of healthy behaviors and modalities,” she says. Its five-point program relies on common sense as well as current evidence regarding healthy eating, physical movement, mind-body-spirit relaxation, detoxification, and supplements and herbs.

The Annie Appleseed Project supports full exploration of new ideas. “[I]t is easy to dismiss new ideas as having ‘no evidence,’” says Fonfa, “but often evidence can be gathered to prove a point.” She points to the example of a 2007 Journal of Clinical Oncology study examining healthy eating and physical activity among breast-cancer survivors. The results demonstrated the combination to be much better than either separately. “Conventional research all-too-often chooses to examine Eastern treatments from an incorrect or inappropriate perspective,” she points out. “One example is using sham acupuncture, while another is the [practice of examining] one Chinese herb at a time—or the active element—and completely ignoring the synergy of an entire herbal prescription.”

Fonfa predicts that it is only a matter of time until many so-called “alternative therapies” become acceptable to the mainstream. “Complementary treatments will always remain an addition to conventional methods.” She says. And the Annie Appleseed Project will be there to help move this concept forward.

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