When healing means more than fighting cancer itself, Rocky Mountain Cancer Centers’ care team offers support and solutions
At Rocky Mountain Cancer Centers, our providers are dedicated to treating the whole person, not just the disease. For many patients, that means that while chemotherapy and radiation attack cancer cells, complementary integrative therapy treatments like acupuncture, mindfulness training, meditation, and nutritional counseling build strength and offer everything from pain relief to emotional healing.
Used together with conventional treatment, “there are great benefits to complementary and integrative therapy, not in terms of cures, but in terms of stress reduction, help with coping, with quality of life,” says Rocky Mountain Cancer Centers oncology social worker Marianne Stenhouse, LCSW, OSW-C.
The National Cancer Institute estimates that as many as a quarter of cancer patients experience depression, and some studies indicate that reducing depression, stress, and anxiety may have a positive effect on treatment outcomes for cancer patients.
According to a study published in 2005 in CA: A Cancer Journal for Clinicians, meditation, guided imagery, and relaxation techniques have been found to reduce anxiety and symptoms of distress, in some cases for up to six months. That same study reported that acupuncture helped relieve the pain that cancer often brings, and that certain supplements can boost mood and ease distress in cancer patients.
That study, like Stenhouse, cautions patients to distinguish between complementary, or integrative, therapies, which are used alongside conventional medicine, and alternative treatments, which proponents often suggest should be used instead of conventional medicine, and which the study said “can be harmful and often are bogus.”
For patients considering complementary therapies, Stenhouse has two important bits of advice:
- Choose providers carefully.
- Before beginning any complementary therapy, talk with your doctor and care team.
That second piece of advice is vital because some therapies may not be appropriate for all patients. What’s more, some might even impact your cancer treatment. Some vitamins or supplements, for example, may interfere with the effectiveness of some chemotherapy regimens — so it’s essential to tell your care team about any supplements you are considering taking, even vitamins.
Stenhouse and her colleagues at Rocky Mountain Cancer Centers can offer referrals and resources to help you find local complementary therapy providers to work with during and after your cancer treatment. We also offer support groups at some of our locations that incorporate mindfulness strategies for patients, survivors and caregivers.
It’s important to find providers who are specially trained and familiar with the particular needs of cancer patients. With massage therapy, for example, some techniques can be helpful for one person and harmful for another, depending on each individual’s cancer diagnosis, symptoms or additional medical issues. Massage can sometimes be costly but many integrative therapy clinics that RMCC works with can see if your insurance will cover the treatment or they may have scholarships for those who qualify.
Likewise, nutritionists who specialize in working with cancer patients are more likely to be aware of interactions between medications, supplements, and chemotherapies, as well as knowledgeable about which nutrients are most important for patients during cancer treatment.
The key to helpful, healing integrative care is to ensure it’s truly complementary to the care you’re already receiving. Even if a provider has training in working with cancer patients, be wary of any who disparage or want to replace your medical care. “You want to work with people who are willing to work as a team, rather than wanting to work separately from your doctor,” Stenhouse says.
Rocky Mountain Cancer Centers offers many support groups and educational events that can help you learn healing and coping techniques that are complementary to your treatment.