Wat Kampramong: An Alternative Option for Cancer Care
Sam Spicer – School of Oriental and African Studies Wei Tang - School of Oriental and African Studies Hans Andreas - School of Oriental and African Studies. Volunteers at the National Health Commission Office Thailand.
Holistic Treatment, something unfamiliar to the Western mind and culture. I must admit, I felt a bit out of my depth when I arrived at Wat Kampramong in the north eastern region, having just arrived in Thailand little over a month before. I knew it would be an interesting day after hearing the words “you must follow your instinct,” from doctor Siriroj Kittisarapong after announcing my limited Thai ability. Phrases such as that go hand in hand with what in my own eyes, is a very alternative option, namely, Wat Kampramong.
Wat Kampramong is created by a single monk, Bhaponpat and is a holistic treatment centre for cancer patients, mainly in their final stages as well as other stages of the disease. You might be surprised that this isn't a small temple tucked away in the forest, but a huge majestic temple all designed by monk Bhaponpat himself. It has a grand hall with a huge shrine surrounded by spacious walk ways on the outside of the building. Situated a few 100 metres away from the temple is a small hospital which is where some of the treatment comes together, the brewing of the special herbal teas. The treatment rooms looked basic but equipped to what seemed to be a more than reasonable standard. Close by are the patient's rooms and accommodation. We were fortunate enough to be invited inside one of the patients rooms along side his wife and found it to be a quite comfortable and relaxing place to stay.
So what about the treatment on offer? Well, its a combination of herbal teas, meditation and speaking with monk Bhaponpat on a daily basis. There are no aggressive western medicines here which raises an important question, what has brought the patients here? What has made them opt for this 'alternative' option? Do they seek to be cured or have they accepted that the end is looming close? Is it that they would prefer to pass away peacefully rather than go fighting? After all, it is quite common to hear relatives of the deceased in western culture to say with tearful words, “he died fighting up until the end,” which gives us a sense that all that could be done, was done. Reports from the patients themselves of the benefits that the holistic treatment has brought them just adds to the complexity of the question. I still do not have an answer for this question. However, Buddhism may have a role to play in their desire to come here as a peaceful passing is a chance to be reborn. I cannot be sure what the patients want from the holistic treatment, to be cured or to go in peace, but surely everyone wants to be cured? I suspect sometimes other factors may have affected the patients decision to choose this treatment – such as price, the side effects of western medicines and treatments etc.
We were able to meet with a couple of the patients from Wat Kampramong and much to my surprise, were greeted with smiling patients. Quite the opposite to what you might find on a cancer ward in the UK, especially for people in the latter stages of the disease. All of whom I met stated they had experienced a lot of benefit from the treatment offered at Wat Kampramong. Of particular note, a German man who had undergone intense chemotherapy in his own country had opted to come here after being informed that another session of chemotherapy could permanently damage him. His legs suffered from terrible swelling during the chemotherapy treatment but this had nearly all but gone after coming to Wat Kampramong. He was happy to be there, believed in the treatment and was hugely grateful to monk Bhaponpat.
I am a firm believer in nutrition and its benefit to our well being, thus I can understand that living the healthy life style of herbal teas and meditation would undoubtedly have a positive impact on anyone’s health. It’ s becoming more apparent with modern science the effect of eating healthy throughout your life and its ability to help prevent disease. However, when it’s a matter of curing someone in their final stages of cancer – I'm not so sure that I would choose holistic treatment. Perhaps it is my own culture's affect on me and what I am used to, but I am still sure that I would choose western treatment in the hope of curing the disease.
I still however walk away impressed with the achievements and work of Wat Kampramong and hope it continues to do what it is doing. From the people I met, it is evident that it is having a positive impact on their health which is what matters. It also offers a much more economical method of treatment for those not in good financial position. More importantly, I feel it offers the chance to pass away in peace if you should choose this route. What does the future hold for this type of treatment? The National Health Commission in Thailand is actively seeking to promote holistic treatment with traditional Thai medicine in order to create a full sense of health and well being in their country.