How I support people with cancer.
(see Events page for workshops and classes)
My approach to supporting people cancer brings together herbal medicine and nutrition, counselling, and stress-management (see Integral Stress-Management). During my Master’s program in Herbal Medicine I became very interested in herbal approaches to cancer. I accompanied two friends on their journey and saw the potential of effective integration of diverse modalities. My journey has brought me into the study of psychotherapy, stress-management (and resilience building) with HeartMath and meditation, and Wilderness Therapy. My mission is to create an Integral approach to healing in general and cancer treatment in particular that will harmoniously and synergistically combine a diversity of modalities, traditional and conventional, Eastern and Western.
There are many ways herbal medicine can support people with cancer. The degree of involvement can vary from a totally integrative approach to basic information sessions.
1) Integrative treatment: a treatment of cancer and the whole person that promotes the use of herbs, nutrition, supplements, and nutraceuticals in conjunction with more conventional treatment.
The goal is to modify many of the factors that are necessary for the development of cancer and involves the usage of immunomodulatory herbs, adaptogens to modify stress response and HPA function (improving well-being and immune function), improving antioxidant status and decreasing oxidative stress, blood sugar regulation, etc. Herbs and nutrition can also be used to optimize the efficacy of conventional treatments, while decreasing and alleviating their side-effects. Two important components of herbal approaches to cancer include a systemic (rather than a localized) understanding of cancer. The focus is on the terrain, which allows any underlying pathologies to be seen and treated, instead of concentrating exclusively on the cancer itself. The second important component is the maintenance of vitality and general health: promoting healthy appetite, digestion, assimilation and excretion, supporting liver function and other pathways for detoxification and metabolic function, and supporting the nervous system and mental health. The herbalist’s broad scope when viewing health can also play a role in helping clients determine an overall strategic approach to their treatments. They will have support as they learn how to most effectively and synergistically coordinate treatment modalities.
2) Basic support and constitutional medicine. A herbalist can work with a client’s general health using individualized herbal, lifestyle and dietary recommendations — without specifically focusing on the cancer.
The whole individual, mind-body and spirit, is taken into account within the context of his or her social, cultural and ecological environment. As discussed above, this will improve quality of life and vitality and may improve outcome, but is far less involved (and expensive) than an intensive integrative approach. This may also be of great service to family members who would benefit from general support or have health conditions of their own. Neglecting their own self-care will greatly affect their ability to effectively support the individual with cancer.
3) Information and workshops. People faced with cancer, as well as their families, can easily be overwhelmed by the information and misinformation available to them.
People are often faced with polarized opinions: doctors who refuse to acknowledge the potential validity of non-conventional treatment approaches or claims of miraculous natural products and diets. Some guidance on where and how to find reliable sources of information on how different herbs, supplements, nutrition, modalities and protocols can be invaluable for an individual striving to treat their cancer. One-on-one or group information sessions could help people have a realistic idea of what is available that might be of benefit to them. Understanding cancer within a broader context than the explanations provided by most medical professionals may also be helpful for certain individuals and broaden the scope of what an integrative cancer treatment might entail. Granted, not everyone is interested in understanding their cancer from an integrative physiology and systems biology perspective that takes into account psychological, environmental, and even spiritual perspectives, but for some, this knowledge can become a key to their journey with cancer. Such sessions can also empower a client in their decision making process and in developing an active role in their treatment. It can also help them ask the most pertinent questions and assist them throughout their various consultations with medical professionals. Sessions can also be focused on teaching basic nutritional and lifestyle principles that may have a positive impact on their well-being and outcome. An often-neglected component is how family and friends can best support individuals with cancer — understanding basic principles of nutrition and the importance of stress management will serve all individuals affected by cancer, both during treatment and in maintaining remission. It may also encourage affected family and friends to take preventive measures of their own, thus widening the circle of benefit and helping shift our focus from intervention to prevention. Workshops on cooking and making potential herbal preparations that may be of service (creams, salves, infusions, decoctions, herbal baths and poultices and so on), along with basic herbal home care with a focus on common cancer issues and treatment side-effects (nausea, low energy, insomnia, anorexia, constipation, and so on) could prove both valuable and fun.
HeartMath: Managing Stress, Building Resilience and rebalancing Autonomic Nervous System function.
HeartMath is a scientifically-validated set of techniques, tools, and biofeedback technology for transforming stress, building resilience, improving health and achieving high performance and enhanced creativity. Stress and “negative” emotions have a potential impact on our well-being and our health — including elevated cortisol and blood-pressure, suppressed immune function and cognitive capacity — and contribute to anxiety, depression, low-energy and difficulties in work and relationships. HeartMath is beneficial for those in search of greater health, well-being, vitality, business and sports performance, and improved relationships. Improved well-being and reduced stress, and the resulting improvement in both mindset and immune function, may be of considerable benefit to those with cancer, as well as their friends and family, during both treatment and remission. HeartMath is different, yet complimentary to, meditation and mindfulness techniques. It focuses on transforming emotional states as they arise and is immanently practical. It develops emotional intelligence and interpersonal skills, while simultaneously halting stress responses. As a devoted meditator for nearly fifteen years, I’ve personally found it to be an invaluable contribution to my personal well-being and spiritual practice. HeartMath can be taught in a series of individual sessions (a minimum of four, but more often six, one-hour sessions) or with small groups (for example, a couple). I will most likely be undergoing training for teaching larger groups in September. HeartMath is also very effective with children and teenagers.
For more information go to:
Integral Stress-Management and HeartMath on this website.
A small study has been conducted on the usage of HeartMath by women treated for breast cancer. (http://www.heartmath.org/research/research-publications/finding-a-new-normal-using-recreation-therapy.html).