Integrative Cancer Care: Theory and Practice
MADISON - Marcia and Mark Delforge came down from Green Bay after an encounter with mindfulness-based meditation positively affected how the couple viewed Marcia's treatment for colon cancer.
Madison's Caroline Greenwald was there to continue an aggressive strategy of coping and healing that began the moment her doctor announced her diagnosis of breast cancer.
Those three and dozens of other cancer patients and their friends and families attended the UW Health Integrative Health program's "Surviving and Thriving on the Cancer Journey" Wednesday evening at the Marriott Madison West.
Integrative Health techniques are proving effective in helping cancer patients during their treatments, and the instructors from many of the department's programs - acupuncture, healing touch, the Feldenkrais™ method, mindfulness-based stress reduction and more - were on hand to offer free demonstrations and answer questions.
Lu Marchand, MD, clinical director of integrative oncology services at University of Wisconsin Comprehensive Cancer Center, delivered remarks extolling the virtues of an emphasis on healing rather than merely treating. She also introduced three speakers - Irene Potocki, Patricia Kelly Pesante and Betty Russo - who shared their personal stories of hope and survival with an audience that understood in ways mere observers could not.
More than anything, though, the night profiled the enduring courage of people confronting the diagnosis and physical reality of cancer and finding a way to thrive.
In an article she wrote for the UW Health newsletter "Advances," Dr. Marchand defined integrative cancer care as a "healing-oriented medicine that considers the whole person - body, mind, spirit and lifestyle."
Wednesday she boiled that down to its essence, saying, "Integrative care combines the best of conventional and alternative care. It's everything that works and anything that can be effective."
This can mean a number of things: a change in diet to include more fruits, vegetables, fiber and whole grains; enrolling in a mindfulness class to slow the world down and discovery what's truly important; using Healing Touch therapy to increase physical and mental relaxation.
Each cancer patient follows her own distinct healing path.
"We all have the ability to invite healing into our lives," said Dr. Marchand. "When we limit ourselves to curing and fixing, we're in a very small box. When we're concerned with healing, that box is infinite."
For the Delforges, that box expanded when Mark Heiland, PhD, a psychologist specializing in cancer psychology at UW Comprehensive Cancer Center, dropped in on Marcia's second round of chemotherapy. Dr. Heiland mentioned mindfulness as a potentially complementary treatment and the Delforges agreed to meet with him.
"I think it has seeped into the way we connect with the world," said Mark. "Things seem to be going easier. We don't try to fight the emotions as we may have done originally. We're both coming to terms with cancer."
For Marcia, the sessions instilled an attitude that helped her overcome the dread commonly associated with cancer.
"When I first heard my diagnosis of cancer," she said, "my mind said over and over, 'You're going to die, you're going to die.' I was very depressed, very convinced that I was going to die."
She blamed herself, wondering if something she did or even something she ate led directly to her affliction. But her work with Dr. Heiland prompted a new perspective.
"When I started having a positive attitude, I started to say, 'You know what, I'm going to live.' And now I don't seem to get as sick from the chemo treatments and I'm feeling better overall. The mind does play a big part."
Caroline Greenwald needed no external prompting to enlarge her "healing box." In fact, she was so insistent upon health that she actually consoled her physician when he delivered the news of her breast cancer.
"I told him, 'Don't you worry, don't you take on that guilt. We're going to get through this and we're going to do a good job on this thing.' And then I went to work."
That work included aerobics and cross-training exercise classes, mindfulness classes, relaxation tapes and a complete renovation of her dietary habits.
"My house now smells like a tenement house," she said in reference to all of the kale, flax, garlic and onions she now uses when preparing meals.
All of these healing avenues accompany a dogged refusal to concede even an inch to cancer.
"I'm not going to die. This is not the way I intend to go," she said. "I announced to my doctors, my dentists, even my financial planner, that I plan to live until I'm 120. I told them we're going to have to figure out my finances and whether we cap my teeth or not. My internist even told me, 'Caroline, I don't plan on being in practice that long. We're going to have to find you another doctor eventually.' "
On Wednesday Marcia and Mark Delforge, Caroline Greenwald and many others were living testament to the potency of the spirit, the capacity of the mind and the strength of individual will. It's what lies at the core of integrative cancer care.
"The healing is within each and every person," Dr. Marchand said. "We try to access that healer. We want to find you where you are."
Date Published: 08/15/2007