I know many who use natural therapies such as Chinese herbs and supplements for cancer treatment in preference to chemotherapy, as they prefer “natural” methods to chemotherapy. Some use these therapies instead of traditional western medicine (alternative therapies); some use them in conjunction with western medicine (complimentary therapies).

While I support the decisions of those who choose alternative and complimentary therapies 100%, I personally went the route of western medicine; surgery and chemotherapy. I personally wanted to use therapies that had been tested in clinical trials to show benefit. The interesting thing to me sometimes, though, is that half of the chemotherapies in use today were derived from natural sources. They in essence are herbal therapies that have been refined, purified and tested in clinical trials.

As a nurse, I know many life-saving western medicines currently prescribed are originally from natural sources; aspirin, morphine, coumadin, quinidine and lanoxin, along with many of our antibiotics, are “natural” medications. I was treated with a chemotherapy drug derived from the Chinese Happy Tree, Irinotecan, a component of FOLFORI. Several other chemotherapies, including Vincristine, Taxol, and Vinblastine were developed from plant sources. Memorial Sloan Kettering has done clinical trials testing Chinese herbs for potential use in cancer treatment. The spice curcumin is being tested in clinical trials at MD Anderson. Western medicine is pursuing plant-based “herbal” therapies. The National Cancer Institute has a Drug Discovery Program that began collecting plants for use in cancer treatment in North America in 1955 and in 1987 expanded that search to the world’s rain forests.

Rain forests have long been called “nature’s pharmacy”, containing plants that for centuries have been used for medicinal purposes. Currently 25% of all Western pharmecueticals are derived from plant sources. Twenty-five percent of the active ingredients in today’s cancer-fighting drugs come from organisms found only in the rain forest. The National Cancer Institute has identified 3000 plants found to be active against cancer, and 70% of these are found in the rain forests. Yet only one percent of rain forest plants have been tested for medicinal use. A study of rain forest plants in 1990 in Samoa found that 86% of the plants used by healers in the rain forests there had biological activity in humans. I truly believe a cure for cancer may one day come from a natural source, very possibly from a rain forest plant.

Rain forests contain plants that over many centuries have developed chemicals to protect them from diseases and parasites, chemicals that have the potential to protect us also. But we may lose the chance to find more plant-based treatments for cancer, even a potential cure. Rain forests, which covered 16% of the earth 20 years ago, now only cover 6% of the earth. They may be gone forever in 50 years if they are not preserved.

I’ve become kind of passionate about preserving nature…in addition to personally enjoying time in wilderness settings, I also believe in the potential of nature to provide us with treatments and potential cures for many of our diseases, including cancer.

I have recently learned of and support the work of the PEW Charitable Trust in conjunction with Conservation International, The Nature Conservancy, Wildlife Conservation Society and The World Wildlife Fund in forming an Alliance for Global Conservation. Their website has a page devoted to information about Medicines from Nature.

You can support their efforts by signing this letter to President Obama if you are a survivor who has been treated with a drug derived from a natural source or are a healthcare worker (I did as I am both). You can also follow this link to Tell Your Representatives Co-Sponsor the Global Conservation Act. It would just take a minute of your time and might make a huge difference for all of us.