Dr. Kirsten West Joins Riordan Clinic’s Integrative Oncology Team
By: Melody Spurney
A difficult experience watching family members struggle with cancer inspired what would become a professional passion for Dr. Kirsten West.
The naturopathic physician specializes in integrative oncology and is the newest addition to the Riordan Clinic’s cancer care team. Dr. West brings with her a set of credentials that make her one of the most unique cancer care providers in the country. She will begin practicing with the Riordan Clinic on July 11.
Dr. West’s experience with cancer began with her grandparents, all but one of whom died from the disease. When in college at the University of Colorado she helped her mother care for her grandmother from New Hampshire who stayed with the family in Colorado while undergoing traditional treatment for small cell lung cancer.
“I did my very best to take care of her with my mom when she was going through all of her chemo and radiation. Despite all we were told to do, she lost her battle quickly,” she said.
Dr. West knew she wanted to go into medicine after college, but it was her experience shadowing psychiatrists, additional medical professionals and working as a hospital trained phlebotomist – as well as influence from her mother — that guided her toward naturopathic medicine rather than a traditional medical school path.
“I realized that I was spending more time with the patient during a routine blood draw than many doctors had time to spend in traditional follow-ups. I knew then I wanted to make a larger difference in the lives of those who seek/need care,” she said.
After earning her bachelor’s degree in psychology from the University of Colorado in Boulder, Dr. West considered traditional medical school but changed her mind after shadowing a naturopathic doctor in Denver who specialized in integrative oncology. She realized that his approach to patient care could have improved her grandmother’s experience with her treatment, quality, and length of life.
“I went to meet him and shadow. I realized all I could have done to help her and yet I had no idea these approaches to care were available and could have made such a difference in not only her life but in the lives of those afflicted by cancer,” she said.
Dr. West said that in an integrative oncology approach to cancer treatment, practitioners take a “whole-person” approach to treatment encompassing aspects such as metabolic, immune, inflammatory, endocrine, environmental, stress, and psychosocial factors.
Dr. West earned a degree as a Doctor of Naturopathic Medicine from Southwest College of Naturopathic Medicine in Tempe, Arizona. Halfway through medical school she decided to focus on integrative oncology and was a resident at Cancer Treatment Centers of America in Philadelphia.
“It’s a coveted residency. It was difficult to get,” she said.
Although she was asked to stay in Philadelphia when she completed her residency, Dr. West decided to return to Colorado where she worked in a clinic alongside a medical oncologist.
“It was one of the best experiences that I’ve ever had,” she said. “Talk about true integrative oncology.”
In addition to her residency and naturopathy degree, Dr. West also has a master’s in Oriental medicine and acupuncture, a Fellowship on the American Board of Naturopathic Oncology (FABNO), and has earned a Metabolic Approach to Cancer certificate from the Metabolic Terrain Institute of Health (MATC certified). One of only 120 naturopaths in the United States who have FABNO, the addition of the metabolic terrain certificate and her license in acupuncture enable her to give her patients a truly one-of-a-kind experience.
Dr. West describes the concept of terrain simply. “It’s the body — the soil, the terrain,” she said.
She said that traditional oncology focuses on targeting cancer cells, which she said is important. However, she said terrain treatment addresses what is going on around the cells and the person as a whole. She compares it to growing plants and adapting soil for desired outcomes.
“If you don’t change the soil around which a plant is growing, you’re not going to make a change,” she said. “If a weed starts to grow, we’ve got to change the soil that made it hospitable for growth.”
Dr. West said that terrain-based approach works not only with all types of cancer but with a host of other conditions as well. Integrative oncology and terrain-based cancer care includes a variety of approaches including relationship building between the provider and patient, extensive lab work personalized to the patient, diet, exercise, supplements, and other clinic-based treatments such as mistletoe and high-dose vitamin C.
She said that learning a traditional approach to cancer at the Cancer Treatment Centers of America, having the fortune to learn alongside medical and naturopathic oncologists (some of the best in their field) and later working with terrain treatment leader Dr. Nasha Winters in Durango, Colorado, helped give her a well-rounded perspective on cancer care.
“I feel so blessed with the experiences that I’ve had because I’ve been able to put this big picture together and really treat a patient as a whole,” she said.
Dr. West said the relationships she builds with her patients are key to their treatment plans. She said creating a mutual trust and a friendship is necessary to the interactive approach. She wants her patients to know that she is a co-learner as well.
“I’m here to support them,” she said. “They should be at the center of their care. And we should all be supporting their decisions and how they’re doing. I think we lose that in the traditional model.”
As for her patients, she wants to know their treatment goals – whether it is remission or to simply feel better during therapy or something else.
“Their vision and their goals ultimately set up our treatment plan and ultimately it structures what we are able to do,” she said. “I will always practice with the intent to make them well.”
Dr. West said that one of her memorable success stories is that of a young mother who had stage 4 colon cancer and was given a year or two to live by a medical oncologist. She said her treatment plan included supplements and a variety of treatments, including a hyperthermia treatment in Canada. The lesions shrank enough to make her a candidate for surgery. Today, she is cancer free.
Dr. West said one of the rewarding things about integrative oncology is knowing how to build a road map for patients and the variety of care. She said traditional treatments can be so fragmented that patients can get lost in the process.
She maintains long-term relationships with her patients as labs are monitored on a regular basis and said regular check-ins are valuable.
“I feel like my consults, especially with those who are in remission, it’s almost like a therapy consult,” she said. “I feel like I’m their champion.”
At the Riordan Clinic
Dr. West will be seeing patients virtually from her home in suburban Denver. When patients need lab work or in-person care, she will collaborate with the Riordan Clinic’s other three integrative oncology providers, Dr. Ron Hunninghake in Wichita and Dr. Stacy Dunn and Laura Vasquez in Overland Park. With the addition of Dr. West, all four of the Riordan Clinic’s cancer providers are certified in the Metabolic Approach to Cancer by the Metabolic Terrain Institute of Health.
She said that the virtual patient experience will be the same as any other doctor consult, she just won’t be able to perform a physical exam.
“It’s incredible how closely you can form relationships virtually,” she said.
Dr. West said that her initial knowledge of the Riordan Clinic came from one of her mother’s best friends who lived in Kansas and received treatment at the clinic. She said that she had long been interested in the clinic, and maintaining her home in Colorado while practicing with the clinic was too good to pass up.
“The thing that I love the most about the Riordan Clinic is that it is such a collaboration. It is such a team,” she said. “They really want to make inroads into integrative oncology, and I think that we need that passion to really drive this thing forward. When there’s enough like-minded people who are on the same path and have the same vision, that’s when you really make a change.”
Family and Outdoor Fun
Dr. West and her husband, Adam Markert, have a 2-year-old son, Luca, and are expecting a daughter in September. The family lives in Castle Rock, Colo., and loves being outside and enjoying the mountains. When not working with patients, Dr. West also enjoys reading, yoga and physical activity, and time with friends.
She said a fun fact about her activities is that they are never group sports.
“I am the most uncoordinated person you will ever meet,” she said. “Every activity that I do is a singular person sport so nobody has to rely on me to make a goal or catch a ball. In turn, I am the best advocate of those who will catch that ball and make that goal.”