Cancer doesn’t just affect a part of your body – it affects your life globally. Patients and families struggle physically, emotionally and spiritually when faced with this disease. The goal of the integrative oncology program here at Abramson is to support the whole person, through every stage of treatment. As the integrative oncology patient navigator, my role is to help educate patients and families about complementary supportive resources, and help with access to these services. We’re fortunate to be able to offer a variety of services at our cancer center, which allows us to support patients in whatever way works best for them. Here’s what our program currently looks like:
Acupuncture – Our acupuncturist assists patients with managing side effects from treatment. Using this technique, he addresses symptoms as diverse as nausea, pain, insomnia, anxiety or even dry mouth. Acupuncture can help patients improve their well-being without adding more medications, which is a request many of our patients have.
Nutrition – Our nutritionists are registered dieticians who assist our patients with whole-food nutrition, as well as supporting patients who are facing challenges due to taste changes, lack of appetite or swallowing issues.
Reiki – the Reiki program supports patients in active treatment, who are receiving either chemotherapy or radiation. Reiki volunteers provide free sessions for patients and families. Many patients find the experience helps them relax, which is important during high-stress times such as treatment days.
Yoga – We have 3 yoga classes a week at our center, along with a 4th class at a yoga studio in the community. Our instructors are able to tailor the classes to meet patients wherever they are at on a given day. Feeling fatigued? Do the class from a chair – everyone can still benefit from the meditative movement and breath work (along with the stretching!)
Physical Therapy – Cancer fatigue is one of the most common side effects patients face, but it can be combated with exercise. Patients can benefit from physical therapy for pain and fatigue. Something I’d like to see is patients being referred to physical therapy earlier in treatment. Waiting until patients have become very deconditioned makes it harder to get them back to a higher level of functioning, but preventing it is easier.
Counseling – We have wonderful social workers, a full time counselor, psychiatric services and support groups to help patients and families find forums for expression and learn coping strategies. Whether it’s individual, family, or getting patients connected to their peers, these programs help to relieve some of the stress and anxiety patients and families are dealing with.
Mindfulness – The Penn Program for Mindfulness offers an 8 week Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction course several times throughout the year. I also regularly speak with patients about mindfulness practicing they can start incorporating into their day to day to help with distressing emotions. Mindfulness techniques can really assist patients with “surfing the waves” of strong emotion during treatment.
Pet Therapy – Furry friends come to visit in our waiting rooms, bringing a smile to people’s faces and taking their minds off the disease for a few minutes. Patients love sharing about their own pets, and pet therapy volunteers are often treated to cell phone pics and stories of pets back at home.
I’m fortunate to see firsthand how these services support our patients, but we still need more research into these areas. That’s why I’m thrilled to see groups like the BUCK Foundation make this a priority. Personalized medicine doesn’t just have to apply to pharmaceuticals – using research we can also target holistic therapies to the patients they will serve best, such as identifying which patients are most like to respond to acupuncture, or how much exercise/what type of exercise can help prevent relapse in different disease populations. Specified information like this will help figure out the best course of treatments for each individual patient with maximum returns. I look forward to seeing what the future holds for the field of integrative oncology!
By Laura Galindez, MSW, LSW
Integrative Oncology Patient Navigator, Perelman Center, Penn Medicine