Complementary Therapies

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I found myself thinking about pain yesterday. Not the mental and emotional pain that comes with our journey, but the physical stuff. The pressure of tumours on areas they shouldn’t be, the pain of recovery after surgery, the pain that can sometimes be ongoing. I remember once imploring my tumour to stop hurting so that I could get some sleep. It use to burn and throb in my breast. And to my surprise it did just that. It’s an incredible thing how much control we actually have over the way experience our pain, isn’t it.

In hospital recently, the morning nurse greeted me with ‘oh you’re the one who doesn’t take anything’. Well, not quite true. A bit of mild paracetamol works wonders in taking the edge off. But if I can, I’d rather find another way than the codeine that binds you up making life a little unpleasant, let alone the harder morphine derivatives. And so I get through most of what I need to get through using everything I know about managing pain in other ways. Having a great doctor certainly helps reduce the need for pain relief. And sometimes the deeper breathing helps. Because it’s hard to feel pain when you’re relaxed, isn’t it. Sometimes it’s in distracting myself with things that make me feel good. A hobby, a funny movie, a relaxation CD, anything really. I’ve read that Norman Cousins found that just ten minutes of laughter gave him two hours of pain-free sleep. Again, it’s about the choices we make isn’t it. Do we want to watch a funny movie that will help our healing, or do we want to watch the latest NCIS with it’s gruesome storyline? I deliberately chose to watch ‘Are You Being Served’ a few hours post surgery, and I’m sure this helped reduce my pain. I was too busy laughing to notice.

Sometimes it can just be in the reframing of the pain that I find it easier to manage. If I resist it, I just seem to tense up and it gets worse, but if I step back and observe it, notice it, where it is in my body, how it feels, what it looks like, what colour it is, it somehow seems to diffuse it. I remember hearing someone say that at least if they are in pain they know they’re alive. And I guess I’ve learnt to look at the positives of post surgery discomfort – at least I’ve still got some sensation in the areas I want to be sensitive!

But of course there are days I can’t do it all myself and I am happy to have a little bit of help. A good massage last week, took the burning out of the muscles of my shoulder that are learning to work differently. It’s also brilliant for breaking up adhesions. Physio exercises when I am disciplined to do them also help to rehabilitate. And I remember once, a few years ago, my body just couldn’t take the stress anymore. I bent over and locked up and the pain just kept ramping up until I was vomiting. I’ve never experienced anything like it. And this is when I am most grateful for my husband’s knowledge and training. After watching me for 20 minutes or so, he simply gave me just one adjustment and the whole thing shut down. I went straight to sleep and when I woke up, the pain was gone. I’ve never experienced anything so powerful. An open mind opens up a whole world of options, doesn’t it.

And probably for me the most healing has been the healing of painful emotions which has brought me such physical relief. In healing my feelings, I am no longer pouring these inflammatory chemicals through my system, minute to minute, day to day. And so my body copes with things so much better. Because, what I’ve learnt most about the management of pain, is that if I can take the physical, mental and emotional stress out of my body, no matter which path I take to do this, everything just relaxes and the pain just seems to melt away…

I can’t quite believe it’s July already. And in ten days my next adventure begins. I feel my body recoiling a little, perhaps remembering what happened the last time I went under the knife. And the bits I left behind. I must confess I feel a little bit of apprehension. Opening up old wounds. The need to heal again. But it’s different this time. This time they are putting me back together. And today the overriding feeling is calm anticipation mixed in with a dash of ‘little girl’ excitement. In two weeks I get to grow my breast again for the second time in my life. How many people get to do that twice!

And I know the shift in how I feel is because I am surrounded by people who love me, people who are helping me prepare for this surgery. Mentally, physically and emotionally. And there’s so much we can do to prepare, isn’t there. I wonder how many people realise that choosing a doctor with a good bedside manner has been shown to minimise the need for pain relief? Important decisions, aren’t they. Because for a time our physical and emotional self is in their hands. And I want to know what sort of people they are. Positive or melancholy? Gentle or brash. I once had an anaesthetist sing me to sleep in Persian. Precious memories. Later tonight I’ll crack the lid on the jar of supplements to reduce the bruising and inflammation. Building my buffer I call it. Some people, of course, poo poo the idea. So I love it when a doctor actually asks me to take them. Then I really know I’ve got the right guy. Because nutritional support can work miracles with healing too. And I am choosing to be as gentle and kind on myself as I can this time.

And once again I’m spending time getting my head in the right space. Isn’t it incredible that when we’re under anaesthetic, our conscious defences are down and we can actually hear what’s being said? For better or for worse. So just as I have been taught, I now teach other people simple ways that protect us while under the anaesthetic. And I’ve heard it said that mental preparation has actually saved lives…

My uncle was diagnosed with mesothelioma last week. Fit, youthful and full of energy. Just slightly short of breath. And after the disbelief, I find that I am angry. And I am surprised it is not with the makers of the asbestos. It is instead with his doctors. Because when he asked if he had ten years, his respiratory physician said ‘no’. And then other doctors told him he had perhaps one year, maybe two. And couldn’t even look him in the eye. I ask you, what crystal ball do they have that we do not? Get another doctor I said.

Why crush a human spirit that is struggling to live through this diagnosis? Would it not be better to be more accurate when asked about life expectancy? Give some hope. ‘I honestly don’t know how long you’ve got, we don’t know how long any of us will live’ would be a good place to start. That’s the nature of being human, isn’t it. None of us know how long we’ve got. ‘Some people with this diagnosis live only a short time, while others live much longer’. An honest answer that gives the opportunity for hope. Because we are dealing with people, individuals, not statistics. And individuals vary so much. That’s how they get the statistics in the first place isn’t it. Because we are all so different.

I have lost count of the number of times I have heard of people given only a small number of months or years to live, who have outlived all expectations. Because they have something or someone to live for, because they have a different genetic make up, because they make different treatment decisions, because they add in complementary therapies, because they won’t take no for an answer.  To tell someone they have only x years to live, seems little more than the very essence of witch doctoring itself. Which is strange for doctors who pride themselves on their science, isn’t it. For if entranced by the doctors words, what choice does a person have except to give up and die? If only they realised how many people give up when the doctor conveys no hope. And sending ourselves a message of ‘no hope’ just seems to shut things down all the more quickly.

But isn’t it incredible how life gives you just what you need, when you need it most? Only 18 hours before I heard of my uncle’s diagnosis I was lunching with a friend. And out of the blue she told me a story about someone she knows who has been living with mesothelioma for ten years now. And he has a real purpose for living. So living he is, despite his diagnosis. And with the power in this knowledge, I was so relieved to be able to arrange for my uncle to chat with him. To counteract the sentence just delivered. Because knowing someone else has done it, means it’s possible, doesn’t it. And hope is one of the strongest life-supporting emotions we have…

It only takes one person doesn’t it, to help us see what’s possible…

Henry Ford once said ‘If you believe you can, or you can’t, you are right.’ Thomas Edison did not give up until he gave us the electric light bulb, Henry Ford persisted until he found a way to produce affordable cars and the Wright Brothers (okay, there were two of them) gave us flight when some people said it couldn’t be done. And what did they have in common? They were ordinary human beings who all believed something was possible and took action to make it happen. It pays to be optimistic, doesn’t it?! There’s always a first time for everything.

When I was initially diagnosed with cancer, I went through the feelings that most people do, facing my mortality as my life flashed before me. And then I remembered something I was taught 20 years ago, that if one person can do something, others can too. And so I began to look for women who had experienced a breast cancer similar to mine and were alive and well 20-30 years later. I read their stories, I listened to their wisdom and I took action. I built a collage in my mind of the possibility for healing, so I knew where to aim. I even popped a picture of myself up in the kitchen with a heart around it and 100% healed written in big red letters across it to remind myself at a subconscious level of where I was headed. I set my course, and every day as I looked at that photo I gave myself hope. I knew, because others had done it before me, that all things were possible. It was as if they were lighting the way.

And it’s the same with other types of cancer and illnesses too, isn’t it?. Where one person can do it, there must be a way that others can too. Recently I read a story about Carol in Connections, The Quest for Life newsletter (Summer 2012). Five years ago Carol was diagnosed with mesothelioma, a cancer caused by asbestos. And despite a prognosis of 6-9 months, here she is today alive and in good health, despite the cancer, and most importantly, enjoying her life. And she too has used a complement of healing approaches. Not just the chemo, but her mindset, nutrition and emotional healing have all been involved.  It makes you wonder, doesn’t it?. I remembered Carol’s story when the Mesothelioma Centre contacted me to ask if I would include some information in my blog about the benefits of complementary approaches for people with mesothelioma.

May it shine a light for you…

Complementary Treatment for Mesothelioma Patients

Chemotherapy is a very powerful mesothelioma treatment. It can help kill cancerous cells and relieve symptoms caused by the pressure mesothelioma tumors place on the lungs.

However, chemotherapy is not always effective when used alone to treat mesothelioma. Many patients turn to complementary treatment methods to enhance their body’s response to chemotherapy.

Common Complementary Mesothelioma Therapies

A number of alternative therapies have been developed that treat mesothelioma outside of traditional medicine. These therapies may also be used in addition to conventional treatments, in which case they are referred to as complementary therapies.

This approach can also be termed “integrative medicine.”  

Some of the most popular complementary cancer treatment options include:

  • Supplements (i.e. vitamin C, cat’s claw and astragalus)
  • Acupuncture
  • Dietary changes (i.e. vegetarianism or veganism)
  • Homeopathic medicine
  • Massage
  • Meditation and yoga

Some of these therapies are used as a gentler way to reduce symptoms associated with the cancer, thereby eliminating a patient’s need for pharmaceuticals. Massage may help relieve mesothelioma pain that would otherwise be treated with a painkiller, while yoga and meditation can help reduce the need for an anti-anxiety medication.

Other mind-body approaches to mesothelioma treatment can include Tai Chi, hypnotherapy, deep breathing and guided imagery.

Other complementary therapies are used more specifically to enhance the body’s ability to fight off the cancer. Nutritional changes, which focus primarily on a mineral- and vitamin-rich diet, can support the body’s own cancer-fighting abilities, and supplements can be used to boost the immune system or strengthen the body as a whole. Natural products and homeopathic remedies may also be recommended to mesothelioma patients looking for an alternative approach to cancer treatment.

Precautions for Complementary Therapy

Patients who are interested in adding complementary therapies to their treatment regimen should first discuss their options with their doctor.

While alternative therapies used alongside chemotherapy are generally safe, some activities may not be safe for all people. Additionally, certain supplements may interfere with the efficacy of chemotherapy drugs (such as vitamin C). To prevent any potentially negative interactions from occurring, be sure to discuss any dietary or lifestyle changes with your oncologist.

Author bio: Faith Franz is a writer for the Mesothelioma Center. She combines her interests in whole-body health and medical research to educate the mesothelioma community about the newest developments in cancer care.

For further information about mesothelioma visit

Have you ever wondered how we can become so disempowered as patients?

I guess it all depends on how we view our role in the healing relationship, doesn’t it?. Are we doing the healing and engaging others to help us? Or do we want someone else to fix us, abdicating our responsibility in the whole process?

When I was in the throws of cancer I went looking for an oncologist that was open to an integrative approach. Traditional, alternate, complementary, trial or cutting edge, I needed a doctor who was willing to explore them all, without bias. And I kept looking until I found one. Persistence has its rewards doesn’t it?! When I questioned him about using vitamins during chemo he responded by saying he felt they were a necessity. When I asked about radical approaches, he listened with an open mind. ‘We can only learn when we explore new ideas’ he said. And yet I’ve heard other horror stories of doctors who refuse to let their patients combine therapies despite research showing better outcomes. But surely it’s our decision. After all, whose body is this anyway?

Isn’t it interesting how we learn to label things right and wrong, black and white, good and bad. And yet we could always find someone to sit on either side of the fence. When something is right for one person, it may be wrong for someone else. It’s really all a matter of perspective isn’t it?! I remember the advice Petrea King (Quest for Life) gave me. In her wisdom she suggested I put every healing option on the table, make nothing wrong, and choose the ones that gave me the greatest peace. Her words carried me well and stopped the war and uncertainty within me. And I sense this could only have aided my healing.

And so I used copious quantities of vitamins, herbs, biofeedback, chiropractic care, physiotherapy, subconscious-mind therapy and kinesiology in conjunction with surgery, chemotherapy and radiation. I can’t deny it was full on, but, all in all, I had a great year. I studied, I worked, I mothered, I travelled and I smiled. Sure there were darker days, but I built a buffer around me and it seemed to make my path that much easier to travel.

And I delighted in listening to psychiatrist, Professor Graham Martin’s interview on ABC radio national: Taking charge: mind, body and recovery. After sudden paralysis in 2009, the doctor became the patient and discovered how we must all take charge of our own recovery, doing whatever we need to do to heal. It’s empowering stuff!

United we stand, divided we fall – surely the experience of cancer is not the time for a war between healing modalities…