Taking the best of what is proven effective from natural medicine and using it judiciously in conjunction with gold standard conventional treatments can be an empowering approach. While there is some risk of interactions between herbs, nutritional supplements and pharmaceutical drugs, there are also many natural health modalities which are proven safe or very low risk and can be used alongside conventional treatments. The most important point here is communication - medical personnel must know before you take anything other than what they prescribe in case it reacts adversely or reduces the effect of the treatment.
The growing field of integrative oncology is represented by the Society for Integrative Oncology (SIO). Their website provides an excellent resource and includes the following message from a patient advocate;
In "A Patient's Perspective on Integrative Oncology: Getting Past the 'War," Living with and Beyond Cancer" by Josh Mailman, Co-Chair of SIO's Patient Advocacy Task Force, discusses the roles of integrative oncology and how it has helped him.
"I discovered that integrative oncology is about understanding the whole body...I also learned about the growing body of evidence-based research on integrative oncology, and, as a patient, it was important for me to understand which treatments or suggestions had evidence-backed research so that I could separate them from those that had not been properly or fully studied.
My journey into integrative oncology helped me in many ways; first in finding peace with my diagnosis; second removing many stress points from my life; and third by helping me manage my fatigue after my conventional treatment. Integrative Oncology has helped me live with a cancer that cannot be cured, but can be treated as a chronic illness.”
Using the evidence based clinical guidelines of the SIO helps inform our choice of activities and courses suitable for inspiring and empowering people affected by cancer to live well. Some of our integrative practices include;
Meditation involves sitting or lying still and using various techniques to still the mind to experience a peaceful, transcendent state where a feelng of wellbeing is possible. In a class environment participants are guided in meditation by the instructor. We also offer a 5 week course exploring different meditation traditions and techniques, and an 8 week Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) program proven in numerous clinical trials to decrease anxiety and depression, and increase wellbeing for people facing health issues, stress and pain.
Yoga means ‘union’ in Sanskrit, the ancient language of India. A class consists of relaxation techniques, breath awareness practices, mindful movement which includes exercises to stretch and strengthen all the muscles of the body, and either active or passive approaches to meditation. Taught by experienced instructors, yoga is a low risk form of exercise that encourages self- acceptance and stress management.
Tai Chi is a gentle, mindful movement technique which brings some of the benefits of exercise along with meditative practices.
In a group setting, sound experience practitioners produce resonant, soothing sounds using instruments such as music bowls and the didgeridoo and voice harmonics. Participants report that receiving sound experience brings about a profound feeling of peace.
Reflexology is the application of pressure, stretching and movement to the feet and hands believed by some practitioners to relate to corresponding parts of the body. Reflexology is an accessible form of massage which complements conventional cancer treatment by relaxing the body and reducing stress.
Touch based therapies fall under the banner of massage and may include techniques from Swedish massage for relaxation, acupressure, manual lymph drainage, and sports massage. The specialisation of oncology massage is a growing field and massage therapists with oncology massage training are able to work effectively with scar tissue, chemotherapy ports, post -surgery recovery and radiation burns.
Art and Writing Therapies actively and creatively engage you to explore and develop your unique inner resources to make personal meaning of your life experiences. Creative therapies are a way to non- verbally process the experience of cancer and many people find them a helpful supportive care strategy, regardless of previous experience.
Reiki is a Japanese energy-based therapy which is said to promote overall wellness. A Reiki practitioner transmits ‘universal energy’ to the recipient to help with pain management and side effects of cancer treatment. Reiki may include hands off or touch based therapy, and is conducted in a quiet, meditative space. Many clients report feeling a sense of being unconditionally cared for without talking.
If there’s one thing you can do to increase your tolerance to cancer treatments, manage fatigue, improve body composition (muscle:fat ratio) and minimise the risk of complications and co-morbidities such as cardiovascular disease and osteoporosis, it’s exercise. Individualised exercise programs can be prescribed by a cancer specialised Exercise Physiologist, or you may prefer to join a general exercise group. Whatever form of exercise you enjoy, or used to enjoy, there’s a way to integrate it into your lifestyle. It’s best to have a combination of resistance, weight bearing and cardiorespiratory exercise, but any movement is better than being sedentary. The old message to rest during cancer treatment has been replaced with the message to be as active as you can be. While you may still require a modified exercise program to manage cancer and the effects of treatment, building exercise into every day is one of the best ways to feel well.
Take a look at the wellness programs offered by Cancer Support WA.