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Mind-Body Medicine for Cancer

Using mind-body techniques can enhance your quality of life, lessen pain, and may extend your longevity, say proponents.
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Treating the Effects of Chemo continued...

Examples of mind-body medicine that Katherine Puckett recommends to cancer patients include deep breathing, progressive muscle relaxation, guided imagery or visualization, meditation, yoga, tai chi, and even listening to music or enjoying nature.

"When you have cancer, or when a loved one has cancer, you have a lost sense of control," Puckett says. "By doing whatever you can to take care of yourself, you're gaining back some control." Many mind-body techniques, such as deep breathing, visualization, and meditation, can be done by individuals on their own. "When you have the tools to do some of these things by yourself, it's very empowering," says Puckett.

Using mind-body techniques does not necessarily mean having to be "positive" all the time, Puckett say. "It's important to make room for all the feelings you're having. It's important to cry as well as to laugh."

Encouraging the Practice

Other conventional medical institutions also see the value of mind-body medicine for their cancer patients and are offering it as an adjunct to conventional cancer therapies. Five years ago, Jupiter Medical Center in Jupiter, Fla., opened its Mind-Body Institute. According to medical director Mark Gocke, MD, the hospital wanted to provide complementary care in a hospital setting to patients who wanted to use such therapies in conjunction with conventional care. Patients undergoing chemotherapy and radiation, and even those recovering from surgery, can take advantage of various complementary options such as acupuncture (recommended by the National Institutes of Health as a safe and often effective treatment for chemo-related nausea), music therapy, nutritional classes, massage, stress reduction, hypnotherapy and psychotherapy, Reiki, acupressure, and deep-tissue massage.

"You don't want to ignore any modality that can help, whether conventional or complementary," says Gocke. But, he cautions, complementary therapies are not a replacement for conventional treatment. "If stress-reduction techniques allow you to tolerate chemotherapy better, you're enhancing that treatment. Even if it's just a fraction, that's better than nothing at all."

At the Swedish Cancer Institute in Seattle, staff members, as well as cancer patients and their families, are encouraged to take advantage of mind-body therapies. "The staff faces tremendous challenges," says John D. Wynn, MD, medical director for psycho-oncology at Swedish and clinical assistant professor at the University of Washington School of Medicine. "The more we can support our staff, the more we can inspire our patients."

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