Learning about about complementary therapies can help you make decisions about your treatment plan for cancer. Finding out how other people used complementary therapies can be an important part of this process. However, it is important to remember that what worked for one person may not be appropriate for you. You still need to weigh up the pros and cons of using different complementary therapies based on your individual case.
The following stories were obtained from interviews in 2008 as part of the research for the booklet Understanding Complementary Therapies.
I was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2003. I’d used Chinese herbs and acupuncture for a long time, so I wanted to know whether I could avoid conventional cancer treatment. My therapist advised me against this and she offered to work with my medical team.
I agreed to have surgery, followed by chemotherapy and hormone-suppressant medication. When I spoke to my oncologist about using complementary therapies, he said he couldn’t stop me, but he wanted my therapist to know about my medical treatment.
I had acupuncture the day before my operation to help reduce the stress my body and I would be put under. After surgery, my therapist came to the hospital and gave me acupuncture in my legs to help build my blood, clear toxins from my body and restore my energy. Later, I also had acupuncture for the nausea caused by chemotherapy, and for the hot flushes and lethargy I had from going through a drug-induced menopause.
My therapist also gave me different mixtures of Chinese herbs depending on my symptoms. For constipation, I had a traditional laxative formula that was much gentler and more effective than the conventional laxative I had been prescribed. My therapist also advised me on ways to improve my diet and choose foods that were rich in nutrients and fibre. I ate red fruits and vegetables to improve the health of my blood. Pears and pear juice helped the constipation.
Comparing my experience to others in my support group, I feel I benefited from my TCM therapist’s contribution. My side effects didn’t seem as bad as other people’s and it was great to have someone else looking at the bigger picture of my health and recovery.
In 2002 I was diagnosed with Burkitt’s lymphoma. It’s a highly aggressive tumour and required several bouts of chemotherapy over a five-month period. I was hospitalised for three of those months. The chemotherapy left me with a mild form of neuropathy (nerve pain and numbness). Two years later, I still had numbness in my feet and I had trouble solving problems quickly. At times I felt I was very simple, especially when I was tired. My specialist felt I was not likely to improve.
One day in late 2004 I met a reflexologist. I had never heard of this form of therapy. That same night, I received a phone call from a friend who was undergoing treatment for breast cancer. She indicated that some of her fellow patients, also suffering from neuropathy, had received some benefit from reflexology. I looked up reflexology on the Internet and then spoke with my GP who was supportive of me trying it. I then rang the reflexologist for an appointment.
I have had about 20 sessions over a three-year period with my reflexologist. The neuropathy has improved, although not completely. I have also suffered from depression, and the reflexologist’s support has complemented other treatments for this condition.
I’ve found reflexology to be a positive part of my recovery. I was at complete peace and fully relaxed during the treatment sessions. I wish I had started reflexology earlier and I would have appreciated having reflexology in the hospital when I was having chemotherapy.
Just before Christmas in 2007, I felt some pain in my breast and noticed changes to my nipple, so I saw my GP. I hardly ever go to the doctors because I’m a naturopath and don’t get sick very often.
I had a core biopsy, which showed a malignancy, so I was scheduled in for a lumpectomy in January. It was really hard waiting for test results and the surgery, but I had to, because everything had shut down over the holiday period.
While I was waiting, I took herbal and nutritional remedies for my general well-being. I had always had a very good diet and lifestyle, but after I was diagnosed, I took herbs that would help strengthen and support my body to deal with different aspects of surgery, such as recovering from the anaesthetic and helping my tissue heal.
After the operation, I didn’t feel pain but I was really nauseous, so I took a homoeopathic remedy to quell this.
Luckily the cancer hadn’t spread to my lymph nodes, but the surgeon hadn’t got a clear margin, so I had to have a mastectomy in February. I had lots of pain after surgery, so I took homoeopathic remedies in the hospital for pain relief and bruising. I also had herbs for healing the scar tissue.
Although I was given the all clear with the pathology results, I was offered further treatments, but I decided to wait to see how my body recovered.
For me, becoming informed about the cancer and the different treatments, taking control of the situation by being able to choose what treatments I did and did not want, and keeping positive were really important for my recovery.
Call Cancer Council 13 11 20 for information and support.