Dr. Brian Lawenda of Northwest Cancer Clinic is Tri-Cities first integrative oncologist
The day after Dale Johnson first tried acupuncture, he felt pretty good.
Then the day after that, he felt even better.
He’d been going through radiation treatment for prostate cancer at Northwest Cancer Clinic in Kennewick, and it was taking a toll.
It’s physically, mentally and emotionally exhausting, he said.
But the acupuncture seemed to give him a boost.
So much so that the 67-year-old retired nursing home administrator from Walla Walla spent more than six hours helping with a remodeling project.
“I overdid it with that,” he said with a laugh.
The next time, he took it easier — and he relished the acupuncture lift.
He’s done with radiation now, but he’s still returning regularly to the Kennewick cancer clinic for acupuncture therapy.
It’s unique that he’s able to seek that treatment there.
Dr. Brian Lawenda, the practice’s newest physician, is an integrative oncologist — the only one in all of Washington.
He’s Harvard-trained in radiation oncology, and also is a Stanford/UCLA-trained medical acupuncturist. Plus, he’s an expert in other complimentary therapies.
That means he provides radiation treatment to patients like Johnson, but also offers acupuncture, along with nutrition and exercise counseling and the like.
With integrative oncology, the idea is to not only treat cancer and optimize outcomes, but also reduce the risk of recurrence, make treatment more tolerable by minimizing side effects and symptoms, and empower patients, Lawenda said.
The practice has proven benefits, and he’s excited to bring it to the Tri-Cities, he said.
Others are excited too.
“I am so pleased that Dr. Lawenda has joined our team,” said Dr. Sheila Rege, a founder of Northwest Cancer Clinic.
“As we cure more patients with cancer, his skills of integrative oncology — which is a more holistic way of taking care of the entire patient — are becoming increasingly important. Already, patients are making separate appointments to talk to him about supplements and over-the-counter medications they are taking,” she said.
Lawenda grew up in Los Angeles. He was inclined toward science from a young age, building lasers and steam engines in the basement as a kid.
He studied biochemistry and cellular biology at the University of California at San Diego, while also taking a year in England to bone up on humanities.
To earn spending money in college, Lawenda worked as a resident assistant and built oceanographic equipment at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography.
Military service eventually called. Instead of walking in his graduation ceremony, Lawenda was taking part in Navy boot camp.
He served for 13 years, including through medical school at Temple University in Philadelphia and his residency training through Harvard.
During his residency, he became interested in integrative oncology.
He noticed many patients were taking complimentary therapies into their own hands, from supplements to acupuncture.
“There just really wasn’t a ton of data out there, and it was the beginning of this movement in integrative oncology that was part of the academic centers — like Memorial Sloan Kettering, MD Anderson, UC San Francisco, Harvard and a number of others,” he said. “They formed a society and I joined that society.”
At Harvard, part of his research was studying whether antioxidant vitamins hurt the effectiveness of radiation treatment. (His research found that they didn’t.)
“That kind of embarked my interest in a lot of these integrative therapies,” Lawenda said.
He eventually became trained in medical acupuncture, inspired by a Navy mentor who was an acupuncturist as well as a radiation oncologist.
Lawenda left the Navy at the rank of commander, joining 21st Century Oncology, which is the parent company of Northwest Cancer Clinic.
He worked for the company in Las Vegas for six years before making the move to the Tri-Cities in the spring.
This area has a need for integrative oncology, and the Tri-Cities is a good place to raise a family, Lawenda said.
His girlfriend, Jennifer Rodriquez, and her 13-year-old son are set to join him here soon.
Along with his work at Northwest Cancer Clinic, Lawenda also started IntegrativeOncology- Essentials, an education site for patients, families and caregivers, as well as the IOE Premium Course and Counseling Program. The web-based course provides evidence-informed information about complimentary therapies. The counseling program includes phone or Skype sessions with Lawenda.
Through IOE, he’s been able to help thousands around the world.
Lawenda seems to enjoy the academic aspect of medicine. He pores over studies and articles.
But, he also loves patient care. With integrative oncology, he said, he’s able to help the whole patient.
Like he has with Johnson.
The 67-year-old spoke glowingly of Lawenda and the difference Northwest Cancer Clinic has made for him.
“The holistic health — that was a blessing in disguise. I’m really impressed with that clinic,” Johnson said. “It’s been an incredible blessing to me.”
Lawenda is taking patients. To contact him, call 509-987-1800.
Find IntegrativeOncology-Essentials at integrative oncology-essentials.com.