A tribute to oncologist Dr C.P. Mathew

Dr Mathew, the senior-most practising oncologist in India, died at the age of 92

dr-cp-mathew-credit-cherian-ashram-holisitic-centre Dr C P Mathew | Cherian Ashram Holistic Centre

The senior-most practising oncologist in India, Dr C.P. Mathew, who relentlessly served cancer patients all his life, died at the age of 92, on October 20. 

As a professor of oncology at the Trivandrum, Calicut and Kottayam Medical Colleges, he was the first to introduce brachytherapy involving insertion of radioactive implants into cancerous tissue, as well as use combined radiation therapy and chemotherapy to successfully to battle cancer. 

After retirement he became better known as a pioneer in Integrative Medicine, for he combined Siddha, Ayurvedic and other traditional remedies with modern medicine to the considerable benefit of end-stage cancer patients. To thousands of grateful patients and his students, he was Mathew Sir.

The turning point in his life came in 1983 when he learnt that a terminally ill cancer patient who had been sent home to die not only survived but thrived with a Siddha medicine given by a 'lada vaidyan', a wandering quack to modern eyes. The oncologist immediately went all the way to the patient's home, and when he found the man was hale and hearty, Mathew Sir was determined to meet the wandering 'vaidyan' who had cured him.

A month or so later, a phone call around midnight informed him that the 'vaidyan' had been located. Mathew Sir drove at 2am to meet the 'vaidyan', who was, however, tight-lipped. He would only say that he dispensed a Siddha medicine. The oncologist humbly volunteered to be his disciple and learn medicine at his feet.

Quickly taking leave from the medical college and wearing a simple sanyasin's robe, Mathew Sir accompanied his newfound guru on his travels, often on foot. He witnessed the guru healing people along way with the Siddha medicine. Mathew Sir realised that, even though the guru knew nothing about any medical system, the medicine he dispensed was effective. He eventually returned with a sample of the medicine, which learned Siddha physicians identified as 'Nava Paashaanam', a mix used by the ancient Siddha master Boganathar to make the idol in the famed Muruga temple in Palani, Tamil Nadu.

Mathew Sir plunged into a study of the Siddha system of medicine. The arsenic and mercury in the Nava Paashaanam reminded him of his undergraduate days at the Madras Medical College, where arsenic and mercury preparations were regularly used to treat patients. In fact, arsenic was the only cure for syphilis then; the company May and Baker used to dispense arsenic preparations till 1960.

Having mastered Siddha and Ayurveda through self-study he combined traditional remedies with modern medicine in end-stage cancer patients. He was astounded by the positive results. One of the first cases was a patient terminally ill with bladder cancer. With integrative medical management, he went on to live for another 16 years.

Long before the department of AYUSH came into existence, Mathew Sir set up a practical AYUSH centre at the humble Cheriyan Ashram in Kerala. He combined the best of traditional and alternative systems of medicine with modern medicine and many cancer patients declared terminally ill by leading cancer centres, who sought his help, lived on with such integrative medical management. Apparently, using the integrated medicine approach, he could also cure diseases such as idiopathic thrombocytic purpura and myelodysplastic syndrome, which had no cures then, in modern medicine.

The integrative medicine approach that Mathew Sir advocated for the past three decades has now been taken up by many famed medical schools in the west. The Covid-19 pandemic has underlined the need for an integrative approach. Traditional remedies, as reported in peer reviewed journals and AYUSH department studies, have proved very useful during the pandemic. Sadly, the blind votaries of modern medicine chose to ignore his successes. If media reports are to be believed, in a throwback to medieval Europe, an ignorant modern medical association even threatened to revoke his medical license because he promoted traditional remedies.

Nevertheless, from 1983 to 1992, Mathew Sir and his team of junior doctors from various streams, including modern medicine, documented more than 3,900 cases of terminally ill cancer patients who survived on integrative medicine, after failed treatments at renowned cancer centres. In oncology, five-year survival is a landmark; many end-stage cancer patients, whom oncologists had given up on, beat the five-year survival mark after accepting the integrative medical solutions. On finding that modern medical academia refused even to look at his reports, leave alone accept his suggestions, Mathew Sir took to educating the public at large through the digital media and alternative medicine platforms.

He also learnt meditation, which is mandatory in traditional Siddha training. Siddha physicians have to master not only the physical body but also the subtle mental realms and beyond. In fact they use trans-dimensional knowledge accessible through deep meditation. That human beings exist in multiple subtle dimensions in space and time, in parallel, while in the physical, and that our essence is 'timeless' and immortal, is a basic tenet of the Siddha system. Even today, there are Siddha physicians who choose to go into 'jeeva samadhi' and guide other Siddha physicians from the subtle dimension.

If this seems like file-not-found, let me mention modern medical men who have reached similar conclusions. Endocrinologist Deepak Chopra, equally proficient in physics and metaphysics, has demystified for the common man the lofty concepts of quantum mechanics and explained how they are in sync with ancient Indian metaphysical ideas.

Top organ transplant physician and pluripotential stem cell researcher Robert Lanza has spoken of pluripotential unitary consciousness that underlies all existence in spacetime. Citing quantum biology, he says life extends far beyond the physical; that we exist simultaneously in various dimensions; that death is but a comma; that multiple universes exist in an ever present, omnipotent, supreme intelligence that is consciousness; that the physical is a product of consciousness rather than the other way around.

At a less rarified level, over 50 years of meticulously documented research on re-incarnation by Ian Stevenson and his successors at the department of perceptual studies of the University of Virginia has established, beyond reasonable doubt, that there is life before this life and life after this life.

Millennia ago, Indian seekers had concluded the same and formulated eternal laws of dharma applicable to all of humanity. As one young friend pointed out, to call these laws 'Hindu' would be equivalent to terming Newton's law of gravity as 'Christian'. Mathew Sir realised through meditation that unitary consciousness appears as many in space-time, and therefore thy neighbour and thyself are the same. His last rites, performed together by his son and his student, were in accordance with the sanatana dharma.

Sadly, Dr C.P. Mathew passed on unsung by his modern medical peers. He fearlessly took the road less travelled. Generations to come will remember him as the Father of Integrative Medicine; and as a modern medical titan who lived far ahead of his times.