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Monday, September 27, 2010

An Oasis of Hope
A Mexican-born Christian doctor movingly shares about his life and ‘calling’ to help people battling cancer

By Michael Ireland
Chief Correspondent, ASSIST News Service

IRVINE, CA (ANS) -- Mexican-born Dr. Francisco Contreras, a committed Christian, serves as director, president and chairman of the Oasis of Hope Health Group, and this dedicated doctor oversees the treatment of 400 cancer patients annually.

Dr. Francisco Contreras’ exceptional work as a physician,

Francisco Contreras, MD, President and Chairman of Oasis of Hope Hospital
(Oasis of Hope Hospital Photo).

clinical researcher and health educator has given him a profound understanding of his patient’s medical needs. The message he shares with his patients and with the rest of the world is a message of hope.

Dr. Contreras has authored 12 books and lectures regularly at universities and conferences throughout the United States, Mexico, Central and South America, Europe, and Asia.

In November of 2009, Oasis of Hope opened its first treatment center in the United States -- Oasis of Hope California, located in Irvine, California, and it was there that Dan Wooding recently went to interview Dr. Contreras for his Front Page Radio program that is broadcast on KWVE 107.9 FM ( in Southern California.

Wooding began by asking Dr. Contreras about his early life in Mexico and also about his father, the late Dr. Ernesto Contreras, Sr., who in 1963, opened the Oasis of Hope Hospital in the border town of Tijuana, and initiated what would become a healing tradition known as the Total Care. (Oasis of Hope has since treated more than 100,000 patients from 55 countries.)

“I was born actually in Mexico City and when I was about three four years old my father, who was a surgical oncologist from the army, was moved to Tijuana and he was at that time the only pathologist in the region in Tijuana and San Diego, so he was the only pathologist for both sides of the border,” he said.

Contreras said he was raised in a very medical environment because his father began his work privately actually at the house tha was their home.

"We would host patients in our house, and my mother would take care of them and everybody pitched in to my dad's work, and then of course it grew and grew into a very nice hospital.

"My father believed very strongly that the reason why oncology was failing even at that time it was obvious that oncology or the treatment of cancer was a failure was due to the fact that oncologists were just taking care of the tumors and were not really taking care of the patient. My father believed that it was very important to provide the patients not only with physical resources medications and diet and so forth but that we should also be providing the patients with emotional and spiritual support."

Contreras said his father and mother were very devout Christians, so they implemented Bible studies for the patients. His father noticed that the patients that had spiritual fortitude fared much better against a disease like cancer than not.

"So he was actually one that coined the term holistic in the fifties. Now everybody's talking about holistic medicine. But we were ostracized for many years for doing that."

Having been born into the medical world and loving it since very early in his life at about twelve years old, Contreras wanted to be a surgeon himself, attending pre-med studies in the United States, medical school in Mexico, and five years of surgical oncological surgical training in Vienna, Austria.

"By the time I finished my studies, I came back and worked with my father shoulder-to-shoulder for many years before he went to be with the Lord. It was an enormous opportunity to spend so much time with a great man. My father was a great man. I think the reason why I live such a happy life is because from the beginning I knew that I was not going to be able to fill his shoes so I never tried!"

Contrereas said that he come from a third generation Christian family, which in Mexico is extremely rare.

He explained that ninety-seven percent of the population of Mexico is Catholic and by the age of twelve he made a personal decision to accept Jesus Christ as his Savior and because of that he "has been just incredibly blessed to have walked with the Lord for so many years."

Contreras said that becoming a Christian changed his life in a very interesting way to the point that he says he has "an extremely boring testimony!"

"Because from the teachings of my parents and my commitment to the Lord it just saved me from doing stupid things and allowed me to grow into the Lord in my practice of medicine without any distractions. So I give thanks to God on a daily basis for that, and I just want to serve the Lord. I have five children and I want all of them be involved in God's work."

Wooding asked how the hospital, called Oasis of Hope, got its name?

"It was a patient that actually gave that name to my father. The hospital was called at that time The Good Samaritan because my father loved that story, and he himself was actually a very good Samaritan. But a patient told him that he was sent home to die -- they gave me no hope whatsoever -- and came to the hospital and it was an 'oasis of hope' for him. We all loved it, and so it was a surname for a while. It was known as the Good Samaritan and Oasis of Hope. My father and the board decided that was just a wonderful name and changed it to the Oasis of Hope."

Contreras sad that in general, cancer patients start looking for alternatives once they have been given no more hope.

"We are sold on traditional medicine in such a big way that when you are first diagnosed you think that that's going to resolve your problem. And unfortunately the war against cancer that has been waged since the seventies, nineteen-seventy-two to be precise by President Nixon, has unfortunately been a failure, and so my father began way before that war was declared by working on God's design -- how our body works -- and how, instead of fighting the tumor provide resources for our patients to heal themselves. That's what really separates us from the rest of the oncological centers around the world."

What are the differences between a normal cancer hospital, what sort of treatment would patients receive there, and how is Oasis of Hope different?

"To begin with, when you're diagnosed with cancer the philosophy is to attack the tumor. We attack the tumors as oncologists very fiercely and we have basically three major treatments. Surgery, if we can remove it, that's actually the best way to treat cancer and the least aggressive. Then we have the possibility of burning the tumor with radiation therapy, which again is a localized therapy. But since most of the patients come to oncologists with advanced cancers the most used therapy is chemo therapy which is very devastating. It may destroy the tumor, but a lot of patients die because of the therapy. So in the sixties my father said he would use the least aggressive therapy possible, but instead of fighting the tumor, helping the patient."

Contreras explained that diet, exercise, and rest play a major role.

"In the sixties we didn't know what we know about molecular biology today. So it was just logical that providing the best diet would be good for the patient. Now we know specifically which nutrients will interfere with the function of a malignant cell, and we can stop the production of proteins that are necessary for a tumor to grow by providing nutrients in very specific amounts in very specific times. Also at the NCI (National Cancer Institute) they have found that very high dosages of vitamin C work almost the same as chemotherapy without the side effects. So we provide those types of therapies to our patients. But the beauty at the Oasis of Hope both in Mexico and in Irvine is that we have all of the therapies available, because cancer is a very respectable foe. You cannot diminish it, so we must have available for our patients everything under the sun. The difference is how we apply it. When we give chemotherapy for instance we prepare our patients in such a way that our patients have very little side effects and very good results. So for instance in cancer of the breast stage four our results are three to four times better than at the Sloan Kettering. In cancer of the lung they're almost twenty times better. We have amazing results: Why? because we are exploiting in the very positive sense of the word God's design. We're not putting it aside and thinking that we can do something because we look at how God designed us and we accommodate our therapies for that design to work better."

Wooding wanted to know what is the philosophy behind this approach and how has Jesus, the great healer influenced the work that is being done at Oasis of Hope?

The physician-patient healing partnership is a very important part of the work at Oasis
(Oasis of Hope Hospital Photo)

"For us, we understand one point -- that even if we cure a patient that patient is going to die. So the most important aspect of our therapy is to provide to our patients the person of Jesus Christ so that they know that they will spend eternity in Heaven. That's our mission. If we can then provide them with more life, we can negotiate for them more life, that would be wonderful, and we go for that. But our main objective is that they understand for sure that they will have 'a ticket to Heaven,' and that ticket is Jesus Christ. And when a patient has that assurance, the perspective of life and death changes dramatically. The fear, the stress, almost always goes away. We've had many patients come to the conclusion when they have this spiritual fortitude that cancer is the best thing that ever happened to them, because without that, they wouldn't have come to that realization that God and Jesus is our Savior."

Contreras went on to explain that the hospital staff begins every day with a prayer service.

"We have bible studies with our patients, we have laughing sessions with our patients that have music, and the music is usually Christian music. So we help them understand that spiritual fortitude is the best thing that can happen to them and it's been proven scientifically that the immune systems of persons that have a commitment with God their immune system is better, they fare better, they live longer. So there are many benefits to that; the major benefit is that you know for sure you're going to spend eternity in Heaven."

What would Contreras like to say to someone who has just heard the news they've got cancer?

"Two things: the first is that cancer is not a death sentence. There is a tremendous amount of hope, there are ways that we can help patients to live with cancer for a long time; not all of our patients are cured, but they can live for a long time with cancer, and second, there are ways to beat cancer to get rid of cancer. If I may say a third one is that cancer can open doors -- cancer can bring so many people to the Lord if you accept Jesus Christ and you accept that God can use this very terrible situation for good. It's all a matter of perspective.

Contreras is involved in work where he sees a lot of tragedy, and yet in many ways seems such a joyful person. "What's the key to that?" Wooding asked.

"Well, I live my life as if it was going to be the last day. Every day I want to enjoy it. God has given me so many things that I do want to enjoy it and I want to transmit that to my patients, and I agree with you it is a very stressful job and very draining because you see a lot of suffering. But people do not need to suffer spiritually. That's why there's a big difference between happiness and joy. The Bible tells us about joy. Happiness depends on circumstances, joy doesn't. If you have the joy of the Lord, only the devil can take that away so do not allow the devil to steal your joy."

More information on Oasis Of Hope either in Irvine or in Tijuana is available on the website . In the United States, you may call: 1-888-500-HOPE.

You can listen to Dan Wooding's interview with Dr. Contreras on the ASSIST News website at:

ANS would like to thank Robin Frost for transcribing this interview.

** Michael Ireland, Chief Correspondent of ANS, is an international British freelance journalist who was formerly a reporter with a London (United Kingdom) newspaper and has been a frequent contributor to UCB Europe, a British Christian radio station. While in the UK, Michael traveled to Canada and the United States, Albania,Yugoslavia, Holland, Germany,and Czechoslovakia. He has reported for ANS from Jamaica, Mexico, Nicaragua, Israel, Jordan, China,and Russia. Michael's volunteer involvement with ASSIST News Service is a sponsored ministry department -- 'Michael Ireland Media Missionary' (MIMM) -- of A.C.T. International of P.O.Box 1649, Brentwood, TN 37024-1649,at: Artists in Christian Testimony (A.C.T.) International where you can donate online to support his stated mission of 'Truth Through Christian Journalism.' If you have a news or feature story idea for Michael, please contact him at: ANS Chief Reporter

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