Integrative Health and Pediatric Cancer Care

Dr. Lucille MarchandMADISON - Integrative Health brings together the best of alternative therapies and conventional medicine to keep the body as healthy as possible, even in the face of a major illness like cancer. And, it can benefit both adults and children alike.


During a recent presentation at a Pediatric Hematology and Oncology Advisory Group (PHOAG) meeting, Lucille Marchand, MD, UW Health Integrative Health, palliative care and family medicine physician, explained how Integrative Health can help in the care of a child with cancer.


How Integrative Health Can Help


"Integrative Health is about keeping people as well as possible, because the healthier they are, the easier it is for the body to get through the challenging treatments," said Marchand. "Cure is fantastic, but there is so much more that happens to people when they are ill."


A child's illness affects the entire family, and it can be a very overwhelming experience. On top of the worry for the child's well-being, parents have to manage multiple appointments and treatments, often while working and even caring for other siblings. That is why Integrative Health also looks at ways of caring for the family and even the community.


"The health of the family is going to have a big impact on the child, and the health of the community around the family is going to have a big impact as well," explained Marchand. "That's why one of the things Integrative Health does is mobilize a team around the patient and family. And not just the health care team that exists in the hospital, but a team of support people that exists in the larger community."


Through American Family Children's Hospital, parents have access to an array of resources, including social workers, dieticians, Child Life staff, and groups such as PHOAG.


Marchand, who works extensively with adult cancer patients, noted that parents are often better at mobilizing their support network than adult patients who are dealing with their own illness.  When a child is ill, parents often recognize that it will be overwhelming and tend to reach out. When they do, Marchand encourages them to seek out specific things, such as financial support for a modality, like acupuncture, that can have tremendous benefit for kids.


"If I had a magic wand, the one thing I think every child and adult would receive is acupuncture," she said. "For cancer patients, it can help with energy levels, nausea, vomiting, and neuropathy with certain chemotherapy agents."


American Family Children's Hospital and the University of Wisconsin Carbone Cancer Center have licensed acupuncturists on call who specialize in working with children and cancer patients. While acupuncture is traditionally done with thin, hair-like needles, Dr. Marchand also pointed out that acupuncture can still be effective when performed without needles.


One of the challenges, however, is that acupuncture and other Integrative Health therapies like Healing Touch aren't usually covered by insurance. Turning to a support network can help alleviate some of the financial burden, while providing a therapy that can have tremendous benefit.


The Importance of Good Nutrition


Even if a family doesn't seek out therapies like acupuncture, they can take steps to ensure the family's nutrition is the best it can possibly be.


"Many times we get into 'comfort foods' that are more snack or reward-type foods because we want to comfort a sick child," commented Marchand. "But there are ways we can provide comfort with excellent nutrition."


Cookies, cakes and other "treats" aren't going to support a child's physical body while going through treatment; they just provide empty calories. Instead, Marchand stressed slow foods made from fresh ingredients are what the body truly needs.


"There are even ways to make pizza in the healthiest way possible," she said.


Marchand recounted how she loves good food and as a busy physician and mom, had to find ways to make healthy food in the simplest way possible. One of the strategies she used was to make large quantities of soups, stews or casseroles and freeze the extra. Foods that are going to be reheated in a microwave need to be in glass or ceramic containers, not plastic. If you do make a pizza, make extra for another day.


Tips for Improving Your Family's Nutrition


Among other recommendations Marchand shared included:

  • Maximize fruits and vegetables: Parents can camouflage vegetables by using an immersion blender to puree soups, and use sweet potatoes or butternut squashes to give the soup a sweeter flavor. For fruits, parents can create healthy smoothies that are filled with protein, good fats and other beneficial nutrients.
  • Join a C.S.A. or buy local as much as possible, including organic dairy and meat: Wisconsin is home to numerous small organic farms where people can buy direct from the farmer. One of the easiest ways is through Community Supported Agriculture, or C.S.A. where you can purchase a specific "share" of produce. And again, parents can prepare and freeze produce to use over the winter months.
  • Rethink foods: Often, when we look in our cupboards we have far more food than we could ever use. If we buy only what we need, we can focus on getting higher-quality fresh foods, rather than processed foods.
  • Develop a menu for the week: Planning in advance can help parents focus on what they need and minimize their grocery bills because they're not buying a lot of extraneous foods.
  • Drink lots of filtered water.

Tips for Helping Maintain Your Child's Wellbeing


Developing a healthy body also extends beyond nutrition. Marchand discussed other elements that are crucial to a child's wellbeing, including:

  • Exercise: Kids are often quite active, but when they're sick or not feeling well, there are simple stretches, or other ways to help them stay active even when in bed.
  • Guided imagery: Guided imagery and visualization techniques can help kids manage the stress of being ill. Healing Images for Kids by Nancy Klein is a book available from health psychologists at American Family Children's Hospital. It teaches children about guided imagery and visualization and includes activities for them to try.
  • Breath work: Undergoing treatments and procedures can be very stressful. Breath work can help kids relax and is simple to do. Just have them take a deep breath and release it very slowly while concentrating on their out breath.
  • Touch: When kids get sick they're often touched in ways that are hurtful, so it's important to provide a healing touch such as a gentle back rub.
  • Spiritual care: Stories can help kids cope with what they are going through. Pictures of home and family, and talking to them about what they find important, are all ways to help them manage overwhelming experiences.
  • Artwork: Art can help kids process the emotions they're experiencing. Collage, for example, is a great activity and incredibly simple.

There are many ways to support a child who is coping with an illness, and it is important for families to figure out what works best for them. Integrative Health helps expand the treatment options, while caring for the whole person.


"It's about finding what we can do to best support the child," concluded Marchand.

Date Published: 02/19/2010

News tag(s):  lucille r marchandintegrativeourkidschildrenpediatric cancerparenting

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