BILLINGS — When you receive a cancer diagnosis, your whole world gets flipped upside down. Navigating treatments isn’t easy, which is why doctors have developed additional options so patients can choose their own paths.
At Billings Clinic, the team is working to provide a more natural approach along with a more aggressive treatment.
For patients like Shanna Herrick, those natural options made a world of a difference.
"Medication, the chemo, the radiation, all the other things, those are all great," Herrick said on Wednesday. "But having some of the natural things to kind of help your body in a more natural way try to heal is important to me."
In 2020, Herrick received a diagnosis no one wants to hear.
"February of 2020 I had my (mammogram), it was clear. I came in six months later for the MRI, and that’s where they found the tumor,” Herrick said. “I was probably sort of shocked but not surprised. And I was like, all right! Let’s do it, let’s do the things, all the things."
Herrick watched her mom fight the same battle.
"My journey actually started in ’97 when my mom was diagnosed with breast cancer," Herrick said. "So I went through all the things with my mom and it wasn’t a surprise to me when I got the diagnosis."
Over the years with advancements in medicine and technology, treatment options have expanded.
“My mom being diagnosed in ’97, that was quite a while ago, and I don’t know that she had some of the same options that I did,” Herrick said. “I think it gives me a little bit more hope."
Dr. Roberta Bourgon is a naturopathic provider at Billings Clinic and helped Herrick find integrative treatments to aid her cancer journey. It's something she’s been assisting patients with for nearly two decades.
“When someone comes in with a breast cancer diagnosis, the goal that I have is for them to experience the least number of side effects from the treatment. To gain knowledge and to empower themselves to thrive through treatment and afterward," Bourgon told MTN News in a recent interview. "(Naturopaths are) looking more at prevention if possible, and the modalities that we use tend to be more kind of natural-based. So supplements, herbal medications, lifestyle changes, those types of things."
Bourgon says the treatment path works with other treatments and helps patients feel more in control of their journey.
"What the term integrative means, there’s complimentary medicine, there’s alternative medicine. Complimentary medicine would be something people do along with conventional medicine but they aren’t necessarily informing the whole team about what’s happening. Alternative would be choosing something that is completely the opposite of conventional or in lieu of conventional therapy," Bourgon said. "That is not something that I do. I feel that the best outcomes occur when we blend the best of evidence-based complementary medicine and conventional therapies. That’s when we see the best outcomes. That’s kind of what we at the clinic embrace, is more integrative therapies."
Those who choose an integrative treatment plan are more in control of their journey, according to Bourgon.
"Patients want the best outcomes, and if that means that they’re going to take an herb or a supplement, they want to do it. It's offering people so much choice and so many opportunities to optimize their wellness,” Bourgon said.
Herrick is now in remission, working to spread awareness of the treatment option.
“I guess they say I’m in remission because they can never really say you’re cancer-free," Herrick said. "But everything seems to be good. Two years out, I’m going to the oncologist every six months now instead of every three so that’s nice. And now I’m just getting my life back kind of."
Now Herrick can share her story with the hope of inspiring others.
“Interestingly enough, I was looking through my mom’s, she passed away four years ago, some of her things that she kept from her breast cancer journey. I noticed that two years after her diagnosis, she did an interview for The Missoulian sharing her story, and it’s two years after my diagnosis and I’m sharing my story with you guys. So I thought that was pretty neat,” Herrick said. “Just take it day by day. Because you’ll get to the end of the road, and one day you’ll say, ‘Oh my gosh, I’m a cancer survivor.’ The first time I said that, I was like kind of blown away and surprised. But one day you’ll get there."
To learn more about Billings Clinic's naturopathic and integrative medicine options, click here.