ROCKLAND, Maine — Dirk Vandersloot has treated a generation of midcoast residents with a homeopathic approach to medicine.
And now those same patients are returning the favor by offering their healing energy to the Rockport resident as he deals with a cancer diagnosis.
His journey has included a trip to the Philippines last month, where he visited sacred locations and met with a shaman healer.
“I felt healed by the whole experience,” Vandersloot said. “I understand the love of people. I’m very aware of difference between healing and cure. I don’t know how that happens or if it will for me. I feel I am healing.”
The physician detailed his life and journey with cancer in two public talks at the Rockland Public Library, the latest earlier this month.
Vandersloot graduated from Harvard University in Cambridge, Mass., where he focused on biology. He then graduated from the University of California, Los Angeles Medical School. He performed his internship and residency at Maine Medical Center in Portland, a year working in the emergency room at Central Maine Medical Center in Lewiston and then held a teaching position in family medicine at MMC.
He began a private practice in Newburyport, Mass., for the next eight or nine years, where he began incorporating holistic approaches to medicine.
He and his wife, Jean, looked to move to Maine and at the same time there was an advertisement for an opening as a homeopathic doctor at the Center for Health and Healing in Rockland. He came here nearly 20 years ago.
Vandersloot said when he first arrived he agreed to give a presentation on homeopathic medicine at the Camden Congregational Church on a cold, October evening. He expected few, if any, people would attend. Instead, there was a standing room only crowd.
He said the holistic approach to health care makes sense and his belief in it is rooted in his growing up during the 1960s when Eastern philosophies and new age approaches spread in the United States.
“It was a very inspiring time. The mind, body, spirit is all connected. It’s common sense,” he said.
Vandersloot has relied on both alternative and traditional medicine when his journey with cancer began last summer.
Last July, Vandersloot began experiencing what he thought were prostate symptoms. He tried herbs and other homeopathic approaches to deal with his symptoms but got no relief. He turned to what he termed allopathic medicine — mainstream medicine — to diagnose his health concern when he got no relief and his right flank began hurting.
He suspected that his remaining kidney was the source of the ailment. Vandersloot had a kidney removed when he was a teenager. Vandersloot said he had gained 15 pounds at a time when he was trying to lose weight for his daughter Julia’s upcoming wedding in October.
An ultrasound showed a shadow on his bladder. An obstruction in his urethra was also found and fluid had built up in his body. The shadow was determined to be a tumor and doctors at Eastern Maine Medical Center in Bangor inserted a tube and drained off 14-15 quarts of fluid.
Vandersloot said he was very grateful for allopathic medicine and praised the skill and efficiency of the doctors who treated him.
He was just beginning recovery from the procedure to drain the fluid when he received the diagnosis — he had an aggressive form of bladder cancer.
“It was obviously a shock. I knew the implications,” Vandersloot said.
He said his years of meditation helped him during this time.
“I could bring peace to myself. For me, that was a tremendous part in the healing process,” he said.
The next challenge came when his doctor recommended a scan to determine whether the cancer had spread. He said his insurance company would not cover the scan — which would cost $4,000. The insurance company also did not cover any outpatient treatment, including chemotherapy that would cost $3,000 per day for six sessions of three consecutive days each.
Vandersloot said at this point, another part of the healing began when the love of relatives and friends began pouring in to him.
“Over the years, I gave help. I didn’t need help. I hadn’t missed a day of work in 35-40 years,” he said.
He had the scan, which determined that the cancer had not spread. He agreed to the chemotherapy to give him more time and so that he could attend his daughter’s wedding.
He said he visited three different doctors to get their recommendations on what next to do. The response of the traditional medical community was to be aggressive, Vandersloot said. In his case, the recommendations were to remove his bladder, prostate and some lymph nodes.
Those procedures would would raised his three- to five-year survival rate from 10 percent to 50 percent, he said. But there was also a 60 percent chance of serious complications from the surgeries.
Vandersloot said he realized he needed to be whole minded and began seeking and receiving offers from many homeopathic practitioners in this area.
“I decided not to do surgery, not to do radiation but to completely embrace this different, more integrated approach to cancer care,” Vandersloot said.
He said conventional medicine tries to force a treatment to fit a diagnosis and that this force brings unwanted side effects.
The doctor said he had never taken supplements before but now is taking 24 in morning, 20 at noon and 25 at night. The mixture of supplement was organized by a biochemist in New Hampshire. He said the supplements were designed specifically for him.
He has been on the regimen for a couple months with no side effects, he said. The key is to receive low dosages of such treatments and allow the body’s natural immune system to respond.
Friends would also stop by and drop off organic greens and organic drinks.
Vandersloot also turned to the world of energy medicine. This involves meditation, visualizations, affirmations and prayer. Each day, the doctor uses these methods to provide positive energy to help with his healing.
He said he also has begun Qigong that involves the merging of posture, breathing techniques and mental focus.
Friends and relatives have given him sacred objects to meditate and pray with, such as a painting of Archangel Raphael, who is known as the angel of healing. His daughter Julia sent him a prayer card with el nino cristo — the Christ child.
The next part of his journey came last month when he took a trip to the Philippines.
“It was the full monty, a full experience in healers, sacred places, with a definition of grace,” Vandersloot said. “Anything is possible under this kind of grace.”
He first stayed at a spa known as a Sonya’s Garden outside of Manila.
He then met with Father Fernando Suarez, who was to hold a mass the following day. Father Juarez held a mass that day, however, at Sonya’s Garden.
“He put his hand on my head. I felt the healing of his unconditional love,” Vandersloot said.
The next day Father Suarez held a mass before 5,000 people and asked Vandersloot to speak.
Vandersloot next met with a shaman known as Magic Orly in Angeles City north of Manila.
Orly examined him and said he felt an obstruction that had been there for many years. Orlando also told him he felt he would get a second chance.
Vandersloot, his wife and Orly visited several sacred places north of Manila, including the Shrine of Our Lady of Manaoag.
Vandersloot said when he thought the time with Magic Orly was over, the healer got two live cobras and sacrificed them by cutting them open and extracting blood and bile from its gall bladder.
“He called it my new chemotherapy. I was very trusting and surrendered to it. I drank it with wine. It felt like good medicine,” Vandersloot said. “I felt healed by whole experience. I understand the love of people. I’m very aware of difference between healing and cure. I don’t know how that happens or if it will for me. I feel I am healing.
The talk held earlier this month by the doctor in Rockland was attended by a standing-room-only crowd, with many people vocalizing their love for the doctor.
Vandersloot said Friday all that effort appears to have been successful. He had another positron emission tomography, or PET, scan done and received the results this week which showed not only has the cancer not spread but there is no evidence of cancer in his bladder. He cautioned that PET scans are not the best device for finding cancer in the bladder but that he is elated by the news.
He said is relaying this good news to those who have helped him with their thoughts and prayers.