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Acupuncture and the Cancer Journey
‘Cancer’, probably the gravest and most frightening feedback anyone will ever receive from their physician. I know of no woman who doesn’t carry a quiet fear of the possibility of dealing with breast cancer… myself included. Cancer… of whatever type is growing in frequency according to statistics. As my patients have reported to me, it’s as if their personal world has tilted on its axis… permanently.
- Breast cancer incidence in women in the United States is 1 in 8. The chance of dying from breast cancer is about 1 in 35. (American Cancer Society).
- In 2009, an estimated 192,370 new cases of invasive breast cancer are expected to be diagnosed in women in the U.S., along with an estimated 40,170 deaths. (American Cancer Society). (latest 2010 stats not available).
Acupuncture treatment should be considered by anyone dealing with a breast cancer diagnosis because it will support you and enhance your response and help to manage your reactions to Western cancer treatments.
Let me elaborate. I will approach this from the purely holistic approach (body,mind,spirit), which is what Chinese Medicine is founded upon. And I will not be discussing this serious topic from a focus on prevention approach. I am reaching out to those women who have been given a breast cancer diagnosis and are now faced with the myriad of western medical advances to treat and hopefully ‘cure’ their illness.
A woman is going to be faced with multiple challenges as she undergoes the treatment process to fight cancer. From chemotherapy, to radiation therapy, to surgery and possible mastectomy and reconstruction; one can’t help but be overwhelmed with the looming issues facing them.
The western physical interventions are destructive to both the cancer cells and to the body that houses these renegade cells. As a result the side effects can be fairly global. Women will complain of hair loss, dry mouth, nausea, muscle wasting, loss of appetite, neuropathies, depression, insomnia, exhaustion and much more. My intentions with my treatments are to minimize and possibly alleviate side effects. I do this with a focus on supporting the body’s foundation. A helpful analogy is a house renovation. The house across the street from me has been purchased. The family moving in has decided to
Gut the inside of the house and redesign the whole thing. They took down all the interior walls and started over. If the overall frame and foundation of the house was weak the house would have probably collapsed with the gutting process. I see a woman’s body as being ‘gutted’ by the chemotherapy. My goal is to buttress the ‘frame and foundation’ of my patient’s body so they can withstand and tolerate the destructive path of the chemotherapy as well as possible. I do this by supporting them foundationally. In Chinese medicine, that would mean supporting them on an ‘organ’ level. In Chinese medicine we speak about meridians with organ names. I focus a lot on the Liver and Kidney when treating my patients. These organs (and meridians) do a lot of the detoxification and processing of the chemicals used in cancer treatment.
Ultimately I will treat all the ‘organs’ (meridians/officials) of the body. Building blood and qi (pronounced chi, which is equated to ‘energy’) will help my patients’ bodies in resisting infections and secondary complications. I also do frequent gentle ‘clearing’ treatments. This helps support one’s own detoxing organs so they do not become overburdened and overwhelmed.
Also, on the physical realm, I coach my patients on optimizing their nutritional status. With appetite loss the antioxidant support from good nutrition is greatly diminished. Good nutrition and antioxidant support is critical in assisting the body in managing the free radical damage that is going on internally. I will guide my patients to bioavailable (micronutrition that will be absorbed on a cellular level) nutritional support if indicated.
On an emotional level, each woman enters the cancer journey at a different place. Depending on her own level of coping skills, family issues, personal life challenges etc, each woman is unique and brings a different emotional challenge to the treatment process. Some predominating fairly universal challenges are the sense of vulnerability, the fear of death, the fear of loss, anxiety, and a sense of impotence. I strive to create an environment of support and non- judgment where a woman can allow herself to be heard. The partnership created in this environment can become a major source of strength and support.
I am presently partnering Karen, thru this journey. She is 40 years old, and has been diagnosed with Stage 2, Grade 3 breast cancer. She is Herseptin2 positive which is a very aggressive cancer. She’s had a bilateral mastectomy and has now completed her course of chemotherapy. She is about to begin her radiation treatment. Her breast implants and saline enlargement are nearly complete at this juncture.
Together we’ve laughed and cried. Karen experienced barely minimal nausea and no vomiting. She is having some foot neuropathy that we hope will resolve with time. She has only caught one cold in the last 9 months in spite of her more delicate condition. While she has lost her hair, she has not lost her spirit. She struggles with family challenges that have arisen both due to and in spite of her present physical illnesses. Acupuncture points chosen to support her spirit and mood have helped her to stay the course without despair.
Last year I supported Ellen who was 4 months free of cancer treatment. She is now working towards her 5 year ‘cure’. She found acupuncture very helpful in relieving her profound fatigue and resulting irritability that had become her life since chemo/radiation treatment.
Bridging the East with the West during a cancer journey is a gift you can give to yourself that can create the endurance you need and your family would want for you at this time.
I want to remind all of my readers that I now take insurance, and I am at your service.