— Toward the end of September, Dr. Carolyn Matthews went
hiking with her husband and close friends. She ate fresh,
nutritious food. She relaxed. Cellphone service was blessedly
spotty, so she took a reprieve from voice mail and email. She
was, in effect, a microcosm of the simple, straightforward,
sensible advice she extends to all her patients — oncology
and integrative medicine alike. It’s not meant to take the
place of traditional treatment; instead, it goes hand and
years ago," recalls Matthews, a Dallas gynecological
oncologist and director of the Integrative Medicine Program at
Baylor Charles A. Sammons Cancer Center at Dallas, "I saw
a breast-cancer patient who didn’t want to do surgery. She
didn’t want to do chemo. I told her it’s like your left
brain is totally allopathic; your right is integrative
medicine only. But you want to use your whole brain. Put them
performed the surgery and says the woman has done well.
don’t think it’s an either-or kind of thing. Integrative
medicine is bringing in healthy foundational habits that can
support you along your journey. Hopefully you won’t have to
do surgery or radiation therapy or chemo. But if you do,
having a healthy foundation makes it a little easier for
approach — an intricate swirl of professional training and
personal experience; of long-established treatments and the
gift of control — has endeared her to patients, garnered
brings a much broader set of tools to the table," says
Dr. C. Allen Stringer, chairman of the department of
obstetrics and gynecology at Baylor University Medical Center
at Dallas. "These are bad diseases we treat, so someone
who is well-versed and has a foot in each camp can offer the
best of both."
up on a farm in Virginia and rowing for her crew team at
Williams College in Massachusetts, Matthews has long
championed a healthy lifestyle. But three pivotal events
during her professional life sharpened her focus,
strengthening the connection between herself and her patients.
first was learning in 1995, when she was 36 weeks pregnant
with her son, Church, that she had thyroid cancer. Hearing the
same news she’d broken to countless patients, she says,
"You’re in shock. I didn’t fully understand that
until I had it myself."
second was her father’s diagnosis of renal cancer the next
year and his death three months later. Only then, she says,
did she understand how incredibly wrenching the cancer journey
is for families as well as for patients.
was linking the seizures Church began having at age 4 to a
gluten intolerance that she also was found to have. Not long
after she changed the family’s diet, he was able to stop
taking the medication.
made me realize how powerful diet was compared to the
pharmaceuticals he was taking," says Matthews, who earned
her doctor of medicine degree at Medical College of Virginia
and completed a fellowship in integrative medicine with Dr.
Andrew Weil at the University of Arizona.
just drove home that what you eat interacts with your genes.
You’ll never be able to change your genes. But we can change
the environment surrounding them, and that comes from how we
move through our daily life, how we nourish ourselves with
healthy foods, good thoughts, good sleep, good friends."
message is far from universally accepted. Matthews gets
frustrated that the "frenetic, frazzled" lifestyle
so many people live has become so ingrained. "It would be
nice to change the culture so it’s accepted to slow down, to
nourish ourselves physically with good food and emotionally
with deep friendships," she says.
tell her, "I’ve never met a vegetable I like," or
consider the one or two they eat in a day (she advocates eight
to 10) to be plenty. She goes into hospital rooms of some of
her cancer patients — often those whose body mass index is
several times what’s healthy — and sees Hot Tamale candies
by their bedside, sodas and snack cakes in the fridge.
get a sense some people will be receptive, and for others it’s
a totally foreign concept," says Matthews. "You do
what you can do and move on."
does acknowledge that there are no "hard and fast, no
randomized, placebo-controlled, double-blind" studies
proving that diet changes the outcome of disease. "There
are lots of theoretical reasons to think why it could do that,
and the fact we don’t have proof doesn’t mean it doesn’t,"
she says. "It only means we haven’t proved that."
everyone bases outcome on a study.
now and then I get patients with total aha! moments," she
says. "They get it. They feel so much better."
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Templeton of Carrollton, Texas, is one of them. She had
uterine cancer three years ago and was referred to Matthews by
a doctor at M.D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston. At every
appointment with Matthews, she says, "we’d delve a
little deeper into nutrition, into supplements."
57, has all but stopped her daily Diet Coke habit. She drinks
green tea instead of coffee. When she eats beef, it’s
grass-fed; fish is wild-caught.
was so observant. When she shook my hand, I said, ‘I’m
sorry, my hands are always cold.’ She said, ‘I wonder if
you have adrenal issues.’ Turns out my adrenal function was
thing she talked about multiple times," Templeton says.
" ‘Do you ever just relax?’ and ‘What brings you
joy? Do the things that bring you joy.’"
Lewis Hofland of Dallas began seeing Matthews in August 2011,
not long after having her cancerous thyroid removed.
was having fatigue, not feeling like myself," says
Hofland, 42, the executive director of the Crow Collection of
Asian Art. "I just felt rotten."
Matthews told her she, too, was a thyroid cancer survivor,
"I immediately felt aligned with someone who had been
there. We started talking about whole health, integrative
began taking a series of detoxification classes; each began
with Matthews — whose undergraduate degree is in English —
reading a poem or a piece of prose. Hofland lost 20 pounds.
She surpassed Matthews’ standard prescription for walking 30
minutes a day by walking 45, and began taking a photograph of
each sunrise she witnessed.
experience with Matthews, she says, "gave me the impetus
to work really hard at the Crow to build this as a wellness
museum. We teach tai chi, yoga."
also began seeing Matthews for acupuncture — a
certification, Matthews says, she doubts all her patients even
know about. (She’s also board-certified in hospice and
palliative medicine.) She recommends acupuncture to patients
for pain or anxiety or nausea. Or "to reduce the stress
of the whole journey."
such sessions, Matthews talks to her patients, melding
acupuncture with meditation. Focus, she tells them, on
breathing in joy. "Send that joy to every single cell in
your body." Focus exhalations, she says, "on letting
go of any tension, anxiety, worry, anger, anything you don’t
need right now."
doesn’t regularly meditate; given a choice between that and
exercise, her beloved tennis wins out.
dream day," Matthews says, "would be able to have
meditation in the morning and again in the evening. I think I
would be so solid if I did that."
she has inspired Hofland to hold a daily meditation for
employees in her Arts District building.
so intoxicating how much goodness she brings," Hofland
says. "I never anticipated that."
talks a lot about inflammation, about oxidative stress, about
chemicals that, as she says, "speak to your genes."
But she simplifies her message with these three ways to lead a
diet of mostly vegetables, fruits, nuts, seeds, berries, wild
fish, grass-fed beef, pasture-raised chicken.
daily movement as well as daily deep relaxation.
life. "Move your fun meter to seven every day."