Receiving a cancer diagnosis can be a profoundly stressful event in a person’s life. According to the American Cancer Society, over 14.5 million Americans are living with – or have survived – some form of cancer. The emotional blow of the diagnosis, combined with the pain and discomfort of the disease and treatment, can impact one’s ability to work, provide financially for dependents, or engage in social and recreational activities. Surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation treatment can cause unwanted changes in a patient’s physical appearance and self-esteem, undermine his or her ability to relate to loved ones emotionally or sexually, and lead to an increased sense of isolation and depression. Often, the diagnosis and the reality of living with cancer challenge an individual’s spiritual beliefs, their sense of purpose, and their life priorities.
Given the scope of cancer’s effect upon a person’s life, ideally, the treatment should not be focused only on the physical aspects of healing. It is estimated that as many as 65 percent of cancer patients seek complementary therapies to augment the conventional medical care they are receiving. Medical research has demonstrated that interventions such as psychotherapy, relaxation, prayer, meditation, and massage can reduce stress, improve sleep, encourage a sense of optimism, and boost the body’s immune response.
Here are 4 alternative therapies that, when used in conjunction with conventional medical care, can enhance the quality of patients’ lives by helping them to cope more effectively with the effects of cancer and its treatment:
Psychotherapy can help patients find the inner strength they need to cope more positively with their diagnosis. Talking about their feelings with a qualified and caring professional, and receiving ongoing emotional support can help reduce the sense of isolation, anxiety, and hopelessness that cancer patients commonly experience. There are many different kinds of psychotherapy; some patients meet individually with a counselor, others meet in a group setting to discuss common problems and coping strategies.
EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing) is a relatively new protocol used by some psychotherapists that can facilitate a remarkably swift and permanent healing of negative and distressing thoughts and feelings. It can also alleviate certain types of physical pain that have become “locked into” the memory of a person’s central nervous system.
Guided Imagery is a process where patients use their minds to visualize and sense soothing experiences, like the sight of a favorite place, or the feeling of warm sun on the skin or cool water on the toes. Guided imagery and hypnosis can help channel the power of a person’s own mind to produce real physiological benefits for the body, including boosting the immune response, reducing blood pressure, increasing the sense of well-being, and even decreasing the pain of cancer and cancer treatment.
Mind-Body Stress Reduction Programs help patients learn stress management and meditation techniques. Medical studies show that mind-body meditation can improve a patient’s mood, coping skills, and quality of life. It also can boost a patient’s immune response and help to alleviate disease-and-treatment-related symptoms, such as nausea, vomiting, and pain. Meditation programs have proven to be so successful in improving patient outcomes that they have become a reimbursable medical service under many health insurance plans.