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A Different Perspective on Cancer Survivorship

Thanks to advances in our general knowledge and understanding of fighting disease and creating health, a cancer diagnosis is no longer necessarily a death sentence. Rather, it can become an awakening—a scary but fascinating part of a cancer survivor’s larger, longer life story. According to a study by researchers at Johns Hopkins Hospital, published in The Oncologist in 1999, long-term survivors of childhood cancer have to deal with not only the acute effects that occur during chemotherapy, but also the chronic effects on growth and development that are likely to last a lifetime and may not surface until several years after treatment.

The existing framework of cancer survivorship care has room to grow: every cancer patient that has completed treatment could receive a personalized integrative plan to manage their recovery and health and minimize the late and chronic effects of cytotoxic treatment. Following cancer treatments such as chemotherapy, radiation or stem cell transplants, chronic, long-term or late effects may include cognitive disabilities, pain, fatigue, neuropathies, weight loss/gain and early menopause. Residual effects from treatment may occur months or even years after the cancer treatment has been completed. The chance of late effects increases over time, and as explained in the book Childhood Cancer Survivorship: Improving Care and Quality of Life, published in 2003, pediatric cancer survivors have a 90 percent chance of exhibiting late effects. The effects may include secondary cancers (from the original cancer treatment), heart and lung damage, growth and development issues, fertility issues, learning disabilities and psychological disorders.

According to the American Cancer Society, fewer than 10 percent of cancers result from genetic predisposition; the other 90 percent is due to lifestyle and environmental factors. Because integrative medicine addresses those factors, it makes sense to support cancer survivors by creating a personalized integrative healthcare plan using a holistic approach to improve the survivor’s quality of life.

Cancer diagnoses can lead patients to feel significant losses of personal control. Tailored integrative healthcare plans give patients options that help them reassert control over their lives, because such plans focus on the whole person, including sleep, movement, nutrition, detoxification and follow-ups with a qualified integrative provider.

A simple yet critical tool is nutrition. Establishing a whole foods diet decreases inflammation in the body and boosts the immune system. It is essential to increase anti-cancer foods such as cruciferous vegetables and berries rich in antioxidants, as well as anti-cancer herbs and spices like garlic, turmeric and ginger. To decrease inflammation and boost the immune system, one should also stay away from sugar, most carbohydrates and anything processed.

Even with an organic, whole foods diet, it is difficult to get enough of certain essential minerals and nutrients. Quality supplements and herbs are therefore recommended by integrative providers as part of a patient’s tailored integrative plan for cancer support. For example, osteoporosis is a very common late effect and may be prevented by maintaining adequate levels of certain vitamins and minerals, such as vitamin D, calcium and boron. Integrative providers are able to recommend quality supplements often not found in retail drug stores.

Movement is used to de-stress the cells, since research shows that stress can be as harmful as bad nutrition. Movement is a very important part of every successful integrative plan. The type of movement is determined by the individual’s preference.

The most important aspect of a tailored integrative plan is mindfulness. Patients may practice mindfulness through prayer, yoga, meditation, painting, bird watching, etc. Faith, hope and having a daily mindfulness ritual have been shown in many studies to improve outcomes of health.

Holistic medical practitioners trained in integrative medicine can create integrative healthcare plans for cancer patients that promote collaborative care between oncologists and integrative practitioners. The post-treatment recovery period can last years. In the integrative world, the patient in remission continues to pursue a long-term healthcare strategy focused on reducing stress, decreasing inflammation and promoting overall health.

Dagmara Beine, MPAS, PA-C, is an integrative practitioner and the owner of Zuza’s Way Integrative Care in downtown Waukesha. Beine provides caring, attentive holistic care for women, men and children. Having walked the cancer journey with her daughter, Beine’s passion is supporting cancer patients and survivors. To learn more, email Beine at ZuzasWay@gmail.com or visit ZuzasWay.com. To read more from the sources used, visit TinyURL.com/ycaukfeq, TinyURL.com/y6ueqa72 and TinyURL.com/y8xyt3bb.

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