Holistic and Complementary Therapies Support Quality of LifeAug 26, 2016 04:42PM ● By Linda Sechrist
Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End, authored by Dr. Atul Gawande, a surgeon at Brigham Women’s Hospital in Boston, Massachusetts, was recently summed up beautifully by David G. Allan, editorial director of CNN Health and Wellness, in his latest Wisdom Project essay. Allan mused that the moral of Gawande’s book was that if we strive in our final months for independence, companionship, mindful attention, dignity, wisdom, joy, love and freedom from pain, we have the power to make powerful moments full of meaning and joy.
All of the qualities and values named in Gawande’s book are those that Dr. Diely Pichardo-Johansson, Dr. Rebecca Hunton, and Joanna Helms, a Registered Herbalist, help patients to realize by compassionately offering guidance regarding what can be done to enhance quality of life. The multi-dimensional concept of quality of life goes far beyond physical health to encompass areas related to the spiritual, mental, emotional and social aspects that can help an individual to create quality time that allows them to have experiences that elicit positive feelings and life satisfaction during even a life-threatening illness such as cancer.
Pichardo-Johansson, a board certified physician in hematology, medical oncology and internal medicine at Cancer Care Centers of Brevard in Melbourne, finds the targeting happiness and joy through science based mind-body approaches is the key to unlock genetic and cellular messages that help patients respond better to conventional medical treatment. It also helps them experience fewer side effects from chemotherapy and ultimately have the best possible outcome for their particular type of cancer. “I firmly believe that this type of “whole patient” approach is equally important for a patient undergoing curative treatment. In my experience, I have seen this integrative approach increase the chance of cure,” she explains.
Helping a patient to create short term goals with joyful expectations, Pichardo-Johansson guides them towards targeting any future births, holidays, weddings, birthdays or graduations where the patient longs to be present is ideal. “For example, if a patient whose life expectancy is September, he or she might target Thanksgiving because they love celebrating that holiday with their family. When this intention extends their life, we can work towards meeting the next one on the list. In other words joyful expectations about coming events can remind anyone daily what their life is worth living for,” says Pichardo-Johansson.
Even the very ill in Stage 4, can build simple pleasures into their day by doing such things as bathing with an exquisitely fragrant soap that makes them happy, indulging in a freshly gourmet brand of coffee instead of their regular brand, or listening to an exquisite selection of beautiful music. “The more things that bring joy and contentment, or that release tension, reduce stress, anxiety and discomfort— especially promoting relaxation and enhancing feeling of well-being—the more possible it is to activate genes that keep women alive long enough for them to achieve a dream, tie up loose ends, and attain their joyful expectations,” advises Pichardo-Johansson.
Pichardo encourages women to delete all negative messages about chemotherapy and begin to see it as their friend. She helps patients to create “feel good” visualizations such as seeing the treatment as scrubbing bubbles cleaning out malignant cells, packman attacking the bad guys, or a golden light of love penetrating the body.
“We also work on seeing each future day as bonus time that presents an opportunity to get in touch with divinity and to indulge in the guiltless pleasure of working on or renewing a spiritual relationship with a higher power. Facing cancer is a reminder of our vulnerability and human mortality,” remarks Pichardo-Johansson, who strongly believes that psychotherapy and grief therapy, or any therapy for healing childhood wounds and self-destructive messages from the past are a vital part of the mind-body whole person approach. She also supports the use of prayer, meditation, yoga, and energy work.
Hunton, the founder of Radiantly Healthy MD LLC, in Melbourne, is an integrative specialist, who combines holistic and traditional therapies to ensure optimal wellness for her healthy patients. She helps individuals with cancer or other life-threatening diseases to gain a sense of well-being by empowering them to be proactive. Her integrative approach to medicine combines conventional medical techniques with natural, yet proven alternatives such as herbal and vitamin supplements, medical foods, and a personalized diet.
In Hunton’s experience, anyone diagnosed with cancer is avalanched with opinions and recommendations from well-intended friends and family who suggest supplements, herbs, diets and many therapies supposedly known to cure cancer. “So many recommendations are conflicting. Even an individual who has had a lifetime of choosing natural solutions can become confused,” she says.
Hunton cites an example of a 45-year old patient with breast cancer. She initially ate a ketogenic diet, which is high fat, low-carbohydrate diet with adequate protein. Then she went to an institute that recommends a diet of living foods. The woman returned home and ate totally vegan, which is a plant-based diet without any animal products including eggs and dairy. Her cancer returned with even more of a vengeance. Confused, she went back to ketogenic.
“From my experience, mindfulness meditation, and energy medicine such as Reiki or acupuncture integrate well with conventional cancer treatment. “Actually, I’ve seen patients with cancer respond better to auricular therapy, a form of ear acupuncture that uses tiny beads, than they do anti-nausea drugs. And mindfulness meditation can help to reduce the stress. Noticeably, we see the best outcomes when we combine integrative and traditional approaches,” explains Hunton.
For individuals working with doctors that follow the traditional western medicine cancer treatment model, Hunton believes that patients need to have an advocate to help them discern what is and is not okay to include in a plan that nourishes their body. Diet matters and good nutrition must be a priority during cancer treatment to give the body strength. It doesn’t have to be a physician; it could be a knowledgeable nutritionist or a holistic nurse. An experienced cancer coach is another helpful option.
Helms, a professional member of the American Herbalist Guild and the founder of Mama Jo’s Sunshine Herbals in Indian Harbour Beach, has been in clinical practice for more than 20 years. This has given her plenty of opportunities to work with cancer patients. “I collaborate with doctors through their patients and enjoy being part of a team that works together to enhance the quality of life and achieve the best outcome for the person,” says Helms.
If a doctor feels that Helms is recommending herbs that are unsafe, she asks which studies they have read and what they might be specifically referring to, what concerns they have and if she can formulate differently. “Doctors aren’t always familiar with herbs and the benefits to the body but they learn to trust me because they know that I don’t over step my bounds. They generally change their minds about herbs when they see the improved results in a patient’s blood work,” she notes.
Helms interest lies in the individual and their symptoms. Her concern is for matching their unique symptoms and emotional state with herbs formulated to improve them. She generally selects from flower essences, nerviness, nutratives, and adaptogens, which can be used in various forms—inhalant, topical, tincture, tea or footbath.
Adaptogens nourish and support the body to improve strength, energy, stamina, endurance and mental clarity. They help the body to adapt to stress and don’t interfere with medications.
Nervines are herbs that specifically support the nervous system. Their effects range from mildly calming, to strongly sedative. They are used to relieve muscle tension and spasms, racing thoughts, insomnia, and worry.
Herbs that provide nutrition for the body are made from plants known for the content of their minerals and vitamins. These also have an anti-inflammatory aspect and create an environment in the body that is unfriendly to disease.
After years of experience, Helms is very sure of one thing; “The definition of healing and progress depend on the individual.”
Read more: What Women Should Know About Ovarian Cancer
Dr. Diely Pichardo-Johansson, Cancer Care Center, 1430 South Pine St, Melbourne. 321-674-5050..
Dr. Rebecca Hunton, Radiantly Healthy, The Deratany Bldg., 150 Fifth Ave. Ste. C, Indialantic. 321-254-6803. Rh-Md.com.
Joanna Helms, Mama Jo’s Sunshine Herbs, 1300 Pinetree Dr. Ste. 3, Indian Harbour Beach. 321-779-4647.