Cancer treatments can leave a patient in intense pain, or cause nausea, fatigue, and loss of appetite. For people with low incomes or without health insurance, treatment to alleviate these side effects is often unaffordable. In Oakland, low-income women with cancer can turn to free, traditional medicine as an alternative.
Katherine Mills is one of these women. She visits the non-profit Charlotte Maxwell Complementary Clinic in downtown Oakland for cost-free, natural treatment to counteract the effects of the chemotherapy she receives at a local hospital. The clinic offers women an integrative approach to treatment that combines holistic medicine with western medicine.
Most of the women at Charlotte Maxwell are referred from county hospitals, says executive director, Krista Alderson. Once there, the women receive “one-on-one, hands-on care that is very stress reducing,” says Alderson. Among the services offered are 50-minute sessions with acupuncturists and massage therapists. That’s something that’s “unheard of at county facilities,” says Alderson.
The hands-on care is important. “Our clients report that after they are diagnosed with cancer, people stop touching them. They don’t get touched in a therapeutic way,” says Alderson. The Charlotte Maxwell Clinic also offers a free food pantry, exercise classes, Chinese herbal remedies, homeopathy, and therapeutic imagery.
Fifty-five-year-old Katherine Mills has been benefiting from these services ever since she was diagnosed with breast, ovarian and thyroid cancer. “I don’t know what I would do without them,” Mills confides. “Coming here is very, very supportive for me – the treatments they offer, the care, the love that they give us. It’s awesome.”
Like many of Charlotte Maxwell’s clients, Mills lost her job and, with it, her healthcare. “The women we serve have always been isolated by poverty and disease, coming from communities that lack resources that may be fragmented by poverty and crime,” says Alderson. Seventy-five percent of the women at the clinic are living at or below the federal poverty line and 65 percent of then have advanced cancers. That second statistic, Alderson explains, has “something to do with the fact that they don’t have access to care and that they lack resources.”
The clinic itself has experienced a lack of resources since the economic downturn. Most of its funding used to come from private foundations, but since the recession hit, Charlotte Maxwell has had to rely more on private donations.
The clinic has seen another trend since the recession – the number of new clients has doubled each year. Alderson says when government institutions fail, people turn to non-profits for support. “It is possible for our communities to take care of one another when other systems, government systems, are falling apart,” says Alderson.
Charlotte Maxwell opened in 1991 with just 10 clients. Now the clinic’s volunteers serve 750 women, including Katherine Mills. “I’m blessed to have Charlotte Maxwell in my life,” Mills confides. At the clinic, she says she finds a place of refuge.
This story originally aired on February 6, 2012.