With immense gratitude to the Sari Center in West Palm Beach, Florida for adding to the descriptions of a myriad of integrative therapies for cancer treatment …
Acupuncture is an effective form of medical treatment that has evolved into a complete holistic health care system. Practitioners of acupuncture and Chinese medicine use this non-invasive treatment method to help people become well and stay well. This integrative cancer treatment involves the insertion of hair-thin sterile needles into the skin at specific locations called acupoints.
The regular use of acupuncture for cancer patients has been known to relieve chronic pain, fatigue, nausea, and other side effects related to treatment and disease. Acupuncture treats the whole person, not just the disease. The practice of acupuncture promotes natural healing by enhancing your immunity and physical and emotional health.
Acupuncture practitioners take a holistic approach to cancer care. Your symptoms be considered as well as your lifestyle, emotional state, and overall health. Your whole being is taken into consideration while you work together to improve your symptoms and manage your side effects. One key to the success of acupuncture treatment is its profound impact on helping the body to relax in order to ultimately overcome other symptoms such as depression, anxiety, tension and stress.
Acupuncture is extremely safe. It is an all-natural, drug-free therapy, yielding no side effects except feelings of relaxation and well-being. As acupuncture begins to reduce symptoms, a patient can learn to cope with and manage the pain and other disease-related ailments more effectively.
Art therapy is a fairly new field in medicine. Yet art – whether viewing it or creating it – has long been known to have healing effects. For people living with cancer, this therapy may be helpful in many ways. In addition to providing a relaxing escape against the backdrop of treatment anxiety and fear for the future, painting or drawing may help you understand the myriad of emotions that can go along with a diagnosis of cancer. Emotions that are often difficult to express in words.
Creating art has been shown to help with physical and emotional well-being. Other benefits for people with cancer may include:
During Chemotherapy – One study on the use of art therapy during chemotherapy found that it was helpful in 3 primary ways. First, it was thought to be a relaxing and creative outlet. Second, participants felt that it gave them an opportunity to feel listened to. And third, it provided an avenue to express emotions and search for meaning in their lives.
Benefits During Radiation Therapy – Another study looked at the role of art in women who were going through radiation therapy for breast cancer. Those who participated had improvements in total health, total quality of life, physical health and psychological health. Positive benefits were seen in body image, coping with systemic (whole body) side effects of treatment, and in “future perspectives” – something that I will take the liberty of redefining as “hope.”
Social Support – In some cases, art therapy has provided the opportunity for social support for people who are not actively part of a cancer support group.
Improved Mental Health – Several studies have found that creating art lessens the symptoms of anxiety and depression that can accompany a diagnosis of cancer. Of even greater note, is that this benefit may last for a long time. One study of art therapy in breast cancer patients found that the sessions resulted in significant long-term improvement in symptoms of depression and anxiety.
Improved Quality of Life – Through developing a new form of self-expression, painting was found to have positive effects on personal growth, coping, and social interaction for people living with cancer.
Hospitalization Benefits – Research has shown that art therapy may reduce the need for pain medications, increase compliance (that is the willingness to use drugs that can help with cancer) with medication, and decrease the length of hospital stays.
End-of-Life Benefits – One study of terminal cancer patients in Taiwan evaluated the effect of art appreciation and hands-on painting. The researchers found that creating art was helpful in bringing these patients to express their feelings about terminal cancer. In addition, 70 percent described the experience as relaxing, and 53 percent of the people claimed to feel better physically after their artistic experience.
A licensed, trained and highly experienced oncology counselor addresses the comprehensive issues and unique challenges that arise for each cancer patient and/or significant other. Many healing centers offer patients and family members free confidential counseling services for every individual affected by cancer. These services exist specifically to help patients and their family members understand, accept, and cope with their illness, from diagnosis through their course of treatment, and even beyond into healthy survivorship.
EMDR Therapy for Anxiety, PTSD and Trauma
The relationship between trauma and cancer can go both ways. Trauma can be a long-time foundational stressor which kicks in the cancer process. Other times, a cancer diagnosis can create its own trauma. A well-established psychological tool called EMDR (eye movement desensitization and reprocessing) Therapy has been shown by several studies to help ease cancer trauma in oncology patients.
EMDR stands for eye movement desensitization and reprocessing therapy. That is a big name for a somewhat complicated but very fascinating and highly successful modality for dealing with trauma. EMDR has been helping individuals with all kinds of trauma for almost thirty years. Recently, professionals have begun to use it for pain management, anxiety disorders, eating disorders and more.
EMDR sessions are led by psychologists, psychiatrists, and counselors that are trained in the modality.
The process is simple. The practitioner speaks with the client about past events that led to trauma. At the same time, the therapist exposes the client to “external stimuli” which most of the time are eye-related stimuli that produces lateral eye movements. However, the stimuli could also be auditory, such as hand tapping or audio input.
According to the EMDR Institute, after successful treatment with EMDR therapy, “affective distress is relieved, negative beliefs are reformulated, and physiological arousal is reduced.” Research conducted by clinical psychologist Dr. Francine Shapiro in the late eighties suggests that EMDR is so effective against trauma because it “facilitates the accessing of the traumatic memory network, so that information processing is enhanced, with new associations forged between the traumatic memory and more adaptive memories or information.”
In layman’s terms, EMDR can significantly help ease cancer trauma. It can lead to creating new beliefs and insights about a past trauma and the reduction or even elimination of emotional stress associated with that event,
The Connection Between Trauma and Cancer
The link between traumatic events in a person’s past and cancer diagnosis has long been verified in the literature. Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, i.e. PTSD) throws the body into long-term fight-or-flight response, or extreme chronic stress. Chronic stress is directly connected to the development of cancer.
At the time that the cancer news is received, a person may experience racing pulse, numbness, confusion, disorientation and dizziness. These are all normal signs of “shock.” The trouble comes, however, when the effects of these events linger with us long after the trauma occurred. For a complete list of PTSD effects, check out this recent Breast Cancer Conqueror blog.
Studies have also revealed what EMDR can do for those affected by cancer trauma.
In 2016, researchers at the University of Milano-Bicocca as well as the Italian Association for Psychosomatic Medicine in Milan, Italy found that EMDR promoted self-healing by stimulating the immune system and creating new adaptive processes in the brain.
The Italian investigators also stated that pinpointing specific memories and potential traumas which may have led up to the cancer as well as the trauma of the “cancer event” itself may assist in bringing the body back into balance to assist in healing both the trauma and the cancer.
Our emotional traumas can sometimes catapult us into a stress response for decades. Using modalities like EMDR cools the flames of chronic stress in almost all cases. In many cases, it helps to eliminate the hold a trauma may have on a person altogether. And when this happens, the body moves in to the “relaxation response” where your miraculous body begins producing healing hormones instead of destructive ones.
Equestrian or Equine Therapy
Equestrian therapy (also known as equine therapy or equine-assisted therapy) is a form of therapy that makes use of horses to help promote emotional growth. Equestrian therapy is particularly applied to cancer patients with anxiety, depression, trauma and other mental health issues.
Horses are the most popularly used animal for therapy purposes (although elephants, dolphins, cats and dogs may also be used). This is because horses have the ability to respond immediately and give feedback to the rider’s action or behavior. Horses are also able to mirror the rider’s emotion.
The basis of the therapy is that because horses behave similarly like human beings do in their social and responsive behavior; it is always easy for patients to establish connection with the horse.
Meditation is a practice that helps us transform the pain, joy, sorrow and happiness of daily living. Also commonly referred to as “mindfulness,” meditation teaches the cancer patient to nurture present-moment awareness. Awareness helps us to understand the mind and its relationship with the body. The practice of meditation calms the mind and balances its relationship with the body.
It is known that thoughts and emotions have a great impact on wellness. Research shows that meditation is beneficial to cancer patients, especially those having difficulty coping with their illness. The use of meditation in healthcare centers is widely used, where individuals can learn and practice these skills to promote better health and enhance their quality of life.
Meditation teaches us to find a calm and quiet space, free from distraction. Meditation encourages “being, not doing” which helps patients achieve an improved quality of life during treatment by learning to experience joy in each moment. Guided meditation provides cancer patients and their families an opportunity to achieve balance and emotional stability. Patients are encouraged to strive for a daily meditation routine throughout the course of their cancer treatment, with the long-term goal of endorsing it as a lifestyle change for the better.
By definition, Healing Touch is a biofield therapy that is an energy-based approach to creating a sense of peace and well-being. This healing practice is designed to support a cancer patient’s journey through treatment and into survivorship by the use of light touch to achieve emotional and physical balance. HT integrates holistic principles within a professional medical model which also educates and empowers patients. The HT practitioner engages in this form of shared energy therapy while the patient lays fully clothed on a treatment table. The practitioner gently glides her or his hands over various parts of the body based on the intuitive process that occurs in energy work.
A form of Energy medicine, Healing Touch is an ancient Eastern healing technique used for stress reduction, and sometimes pain relief. It is a relaxing, nurturing energy therapy that assists in balancing physical, emotional, mental and spiritual well-being. It is used in a wide variety of settings including hospitals, particularly as it enhances surgery recovery and accelerates wound healing. HT works to improve the body’s natural ability toward balance It is completely non-invasive and safe.
Healing Touch has been found to be effective in helping every known illness, used in conjunction with medical treatment, to relieve stress-related side effects and even strengthen the immune system. There are no known contraindications for this practice. This integrative therapy has been proven to be an excellent complement to traditional forms of cancer treatment, as it is specifically recommended for people with chronic illness and stress. Healing Touch, if practiced regularly, can support your body’s natural healing processes.
The practice of hypnotherapy is older than recorded history. Scientists, physicians and researchers have been using this practice as a component of patient care since the 1800’s. It is gaining acceptance in modern medical communities as a legitimate technique for altering behavior, transforming negative thinking, and helping the body heal itself. While there is some variance within the medical community as to how exactly hypnosis achieves positive health outcomes, there is no argument as to its value.
Research indicates that changing your thinking changes the brain, which in turn changes a behavior or a physiological response. Our brains respond to positive suggestions, which ultimately facilitate the healing process. Hypnotherapy lends to a level of altered consciousness where distractions are blocked, allowing a person to become completely relaxed while remaining in total control. Hypnotherapy involves unlocking the subconscious mind and changing the existing cues that promote anxiety and pain into improved patterns of relaxation and healing.
Lymphedema is a condition that can happen to cancer patients when lymph fluid builds up in the body, resulting in swelling and other possible symptoms. A person’s risk for developing lymphedema depends, in part, on the type of procedure or surgery that was done, whether or not lymph nodes were removed, and how the body heals.
Lymphedema treatment works to reduce side effects which usually develop under the skin of the hand, arm, breast or torso, usually on the same side as the cancer. Treatment is typically a four-part process involving a combination of manual lymphatic massage, compression bandaging, skincare work, and exercise, depending on the degree of edema.
Lymphatic Massage, in the treatment of lymphedema, is a specialized hands-on technique that gently stimulates the action of lymph vessels to move excess lymphatic fluid and protein from a swollen area to a part of the body where it can drain more efficiently. After lymphatic massage, the therapist wraps the area in compression bandaging which is needed to help the tissue with fluid reflow. Depending on the extent of the swelling, patients are encouraged to commit to follow-up care as often as needed to control the swelling and soften the tissue. When the edema is under control or in the cases of early onset lymphedema, a compression garment is advised to be worn during the day. Bandaging or use of a “night” sleeve is encouraged during sleep.
The Lymphatic Massage Therapist is specially trained, licensed and certified to ensure that patients are being treated according to industry standards. Your lymphatic therapist will monitor your skin closely and recommend the best ways to clean, skin brush, and moisturize the affected area. Also, self massage and lymphatic exercises that can be done at home will be suggested to promote continuity of care and long-term management of this condition.
Massage therapy in combination with traditional medical treatment has the potential to influence the body to heal in many ways. Massage is much more than just a “feel good” service. Massage relieves muscle tension and soreness and causes the body to release its natural painkillers. Additionally, massage aides in the elimination of toxic substances from the body, thus reducing stress. Although massage does not cure disease, it can help a patient enter into a deeply relaxed state, allowing for a reduction of stress, pain, anxiety and other symptoms related to illness and treatment.
The use of therapeutic massage in medicine dates back to the 1850s in the U.S. Research indicates that cancer patients who integrate massage therapy into their treatment regimen report improvements with anxiety, pain and fatigue, a reduction in swelling, improvement of lymphatic drainage, in addition to feeling more relaxed and comfortable. There is also evidence that massage can help boost the cancer patient’s immune system as well as support individuals experiencing post-operative discomfort.
There are a multitude of other benefits of therapeutic massage including: improved circulation, improved flexibility and range of motion, increased blood supply and nutrition to muscles and organs, improved breathing, and speedier recovery from injuries and surgery. Massage therapy can ease the side effects of treatment by reducing pain and fever, restoring sensation by stimulating nerve endings to reduce neuropathy, slowing the rate of scar formation, and preventing atrophy from forced inactivity. In addition, there are many mental health benefits to massage: stimulation of endorphin release, increased mental relaxation, better sleep, reduced anxiety and stress, and uplifted spirit. Massage soothes the body, calms the mind, and revives the spirit.
The Benefits of Oncology Massage
By Sat-Siri Sumler and Lorenzo Cohen, Ph.D.
Oncology massage is an approach to massage therapy based in both compassion and specialized massage treatments to help people manage their experience with cancer. Review of the scientific literature indicates oncology massage helps improve quality of life. Benefits include improved relaxation, sleep, and immune function as well as relieving anxiety, pain, fatigue and nausea. Oncology massage therapists are trained to meet people where they are in their experience with cancer and apply a highly individualized massage treatment to comfort, nurture and support them in their process.
The treatments are modified according to the full spectrum of cancer-related issues: the physical, psycho-social and emotional consequences of cancer. In addition, the person’s individual goals are considered and aspects of the disease and cancer treatment side effects.
Personal goals for receiving oncology massage can include the desire for a respite — a relaxing pleasurable experience in the midst of everything that is going on — relieving nausea or other symptoms such as pain or peripheral neuropathy and helping them get though the remainder of their cancer treatments.
In the past, therapists thought massage would increase circulation and therefore cause cancer to spread. The process of metastasis is very complicated and poorly understood; however increased circulation is not considered a significant part of that process by itself.
However, it’s true that cancer and cancer treatments can put people at risk for complications from massage, so it is important to take some precautions. Because of the different contraindications for massage in this population, it is very important for the massage therapist who is treating a person with a history of cancer – either currently or in the past – to have specialized training in oncology massage, in addition to being a licensed massage therapist.
Naturopathic doctors combine the wisdom of nature with the rigors of modern science. Steeped in traditional healing methods, principles and practices, naturopathic medicine focuses on holistic, proactive prevention and comprehensive diagnosis and treatment. By using protocols that minimize the risk of harm, naturopathic physicians help facilitate the body’s inherent ability to restore and maintain optimal health. It is the naturopathic doctor’s role to identify and remove barriers to good health by helping create a healing environment, both internally and externally.
Naturopathic medicine integrates alternative medical practices, such as botanical medicine, homeopathy, acupuncture, and oriental medicine, with modern scientific diagnostic methods and standards of care.
Naturopathic doctors are trained in conventional medical disciplines as well as in alternative approaches. They integrate this knowledge according to principles that recognize the body’s inherent ability to heal itself, the importance of prevention, and the possibility of therapeutic use of nutrition to promote health and fight disease.
Naturopathy was founded in the beginning of the 20th century by a group of therapists who were followers of Sebastian Kneipp, a 19th-century proponent of the healing powers of nature. At the height of its popularity, there were more than 20 naturopathic medical schools in the United States and naturopathic physicians were licensed in most states. The practice of naturopathic medicine declined as the use of pharmaceutical drugs increased. However, in the past several decades, there has been a resurgence of interest in naturopathy. Now there are over half a dozen naturopathic medical schools in North America and many States are licensing naturopathic doctors again. (source: Naturopathic Health.net)
Educating cancer patients on the benefits of a healthy diet for cancer management and survivorship is especially important at the onset of diagnosis and treatment. Registered dietitians specialize in oncology-specific nutrition practices. As complementary integrative therapists, the dietitians comprehensively assess an individual’s needs and offer appropriate recommendations to promote disease management during and post-cancer treatment.
Nutrition is an important component to cancer treatment and prevention. During treatment, optimal nutrition can help improve strength and increase energy as well as preserve muscle mass. Some of a cancer patient’s identified nutrition management issues might include nausea, vomiting, suboptimal appetite, bowel irregularities, malnutrition, and/or general consultation on diet and exercise. Research has been done to determine how food choices can help a cancer patient’s chances to improve survival. The dietitians are specially trained in providing individualized nutritional support through all stages of illness, treatment and beyond, supporting each patient and family member with a goal of attaining optimal quality of life for all.
The dietitian will obtain a detailed diet history. Using this information, realistic meal plans will be formulated to incorporate the right foods to achieve nutritional goals while a patient is in treatment. Specific foods and recipes may be suggested to increase intake. Suggestions for meals and snacks will be given for foods that may be better tolerated. Conversely, after treatment, weight maintenance may be the targeted objective. Again, the dietitian together with the patient will create goals to help maintain or lose weight and lower the risk of future recurrence. Additional benefits can include improved mood, reduced stress level, more energy, and less pain. In conjunction with medical treatment, nutrition management is an instrumental component of enhancing a cancer patient’s life, especially when paired with daily fitness activity.
The practice of Reiki is a method of healing developed by Mikao Usui in Japan early in the 20th century. Reiki is a natural healing energy that works on every level, not just the physical, and is understood to promote the body’s regenerative self- healing ability.
There are many variations of Reiki but, in essence, Reiki works at bringing us into balance and is believed therefore to reinforce the body’s natural ability to heal itself at all levels, whether physical, mental, emotional or spiritual. It is a tradition that is open to any belief system.
The method of receiving a Reiki treatment from a practitioner is simple. The recipient remains clothed and lies on a couch or sits on a chair and relaxes. The practitioner gently places his or her hands non-intrusively on or near the body. There is no massage or manipulation and the whole person is treated rather than specific symptoms. It is also possible to receive Reiki at a distance.
Dancing, singing, drumming, and other expressive arts
An integral part of healing offered at many comprehensive cancer centers is the regularly scheduled support group. While not exactly therapy in the traditional sense, support groups exist as a complementary service to medical treatment to provide forums for patients and their loved ones to meet with others who are experiencing similar situations. Led by trained and experienced facilitators, support groups are known to yield positive outcomes for those who regularly attend who, with compassion and understanding, can relate to their peers in ways others simply cannot.
Support group members are encouraged to make a standing commitment to consistent attendance and group membership to promote a trusting and cohesive group process. Those interested should contact the oncology counselor prior to joining the group to ensure that all individual needs have been appropriately addressed with a goal that a mutual fit will ultimately occur between the individual and the group. If it is determined that an individual’s needs are presently beyond the scope of what the group setting can provide, the counselor will recommend that the individual seek additional psychosocial support and make referrals accordingly.
Yoga is an ancient practice that is used to create and maintain balance in the body, mind, and spirit. Through a combination of body postures and controlled breathing exercises, yoga helps us achieve total peacefulness. Yoga is an aid to maintaining health and can also support the healing process in a variety of ways. A regular yoga practice can ease muscle tension, improve circulation, improve concentration and memory, increase flexibility and balance, ease chronic pain and anxiety, tone and strengthen the body, and support proper functioning of all body systems.Yoga instructors teach their students how to use the techniques they have learned in class as an ongoing self-care practice at home. Individualized attention and instruction is given to each participant to address specific needs and issues. Beginners and individuals of all ages, stages, and conditions are encouraged to practice yoga regularly as a complementary therapy to help reduce stress and anxiety, and to promote mind-body awareness and healing. In collaboration with medical treatment, yoga can greatly impact a person’s ability to mentally cope as well as achieve an overall improved physical, psychological and spiritual well-being.