Breast Cancer Awareness Month: Integrating Acupuncture into Conventional Treatments with resources t
I have always been very aware of breast cancer. My grandmother had breast cancer, my mom had breast cancer, and other family members had breast cancer as well. When I was diagnosed with breast cancer, after feeling a lump in my left breast, I used the experiences of my family members and other people that went through similar experiences to help me make decisions for my treatments and give me strength that I was going to get through this and be a healthier, more vibrant person. Each breast cancer is unique, there are different subtypes and genomic features1. Therefore, what works for one patient won’t necessarily work for another. For me, there wasn’t a clear-cut plan of “Do this and you will get rid of the cancer and never have cancer again”. There were statistics based on people with similar cancers, but it came down to decisions regarding my treatment that I had to make for myself. I used my family member’s previous experience as guides, but made decisions based on what was best for me. I did a lot of research: reading case stories, reading scientific studies, listening to podcasts, and I continue to do so because, even though I am a breast cancer survivor, the chance of recurrence is still there. But making lifestyle changes and staying on top of recent research helps me to feel empowered and in charge of my own health. In this post, I will share the resources that have and are continuing to help me on my journey with breast cancer, and a big part of that is acupuncture and nutrition.
As many people have first-hand experience of, waiting for test results and a diagnosis can be a terrifying and very stressful part of the process. While I was getting an ultrasound, a mammogram, and a biopsy, I couldn’t help but think about all the people that have gone through this experience before. Three out of ten biopsies performed are diagnosed as cancer2. That is a lot of biopsies that are being performed. During this time, I was very stressed and lost weight because of the stress. I only told my husband what was happening, and it was very helpful and comforting to have someone close that was supportive. Waiting for a diagnosis is a hard thing to go through so many people, myself included, tend to keep it to themselves so they do not cause their loved ones worry. But having my husband there to go to the appointments with me and hold my hand made me stronger and made a difficult time easier. Also during this time, I was having trouble sleeping. Practicing meditation was very beneficial in quieting my mind and allowing me to get much needed sleep. My meditation practice has helped me a lot throughout this process. Anyone can practice meditation, there are no tools needed and it is free! In retrospect, this also would have been a good time to get acupuncture. Acupuncture is very beneficial in helping one handle stress and sleep better.
When the diagnosis of breast cancer came back, I decided to have a bilateral mastectomy and sentinel node removal and breast reconstruction. I came to this decision after doing research, meeting with doctors and surgeons, talking to family members that have been in similar situations and thinking about what was important to me and my long-term health and peace of mind. I found the following resources very helpful for my surgery.
Peggy Huddleston’s book, “Prepare for Surgery, Heal Faster” This book was recommended to me by a friend and naturopath, and included steps for a patient to do before surgery and a guided meditation to listen to. I listened to the meditation for days before the surgery and on the morning of the surgery as I was being prepared for surgery. It really helped me remain calm and not feel as nervous for the surgery. When my surgeon saw me listening and meditating he was very happy because he knew the benefit. My anesthesiologist was also on board for the procedure and asked for more information about the healing statements. I feel very blessed to have awesome doctors and surgeons on my team. I trust them completely and have a good relationship with them. https://healfaster.com/shop/
Supplies for the hospital and recovery. My aunt sent me this bag, http://bfflco.com/product/, full of things to help the recovery process. It is hard to think of everything that you may need, but this bag does a very good job. My friends also did their own research and compiled a bag of things that were also very helpful including a beautiful, smooth and silky robe (which I wore every day after my surgery), Victoria Secret gift cards (which were very helpful in finding things that were comfortable to wear), and arnica. My family also connected with a breast cancer survivor that created a medical device to help with the management of the drains that are put in place to drain fluid after the surgery. https://www.handandhand.com These products were very helpful. They made showering easier and going out in public easier.
Acupuncture. I had acupuncture before and after my surgery and it helped me recover and not need to take as much pain medicine. I was feeling very nauseas in the hospital after waking up from anesthesia and from the pain medicine and acupuncture helped me to feel less nausea and be able to switch my pain medicine to something not as strong. The following research has been done on acupuncture helping mastectomy surgery recovery. The results show that pain, anxiety, and nausea were reduced after acupuncture treatment. http://www.oncologynurseadvisor.com/breast-cancer/acupuncture-beneficial-to-treat-side-effects-in-women-undergoing-mastectomy/article/576909/
Friends and Family. Having a community during this time was really helpful for me. My father came from out of town to help take care of me. My husband and in-laws helped out around the house and with the shopping. It was difficult to do most things after the surgery so the help was greatly appreciated. Friends and family sent food, cards, and flowers which all lifted my spirits and helped me get better. A positive attitude was really important for me.
I am four months out from my surgery and I feel very blessed to have caught the cancer early and that I was able to have it removed with surgery. After conventional treatments, I found myself saying, now what? I feel like I can’t just go back to living the same way I was living before. Yes, the cancer was removed from my body, but some thing or some things caused that cancer to develop and grow in the first place and in order to give myself the best outcome of never having cancer again I am going to live the healthiest life I can. So now is the time for lifestyle changes and alternative medicine. This is where they shine, in living healthy day to day. Western medicine was great at handling the immediate threat of cancer; acupuncture, nutrition, exercise, and other natural treatments are great for healthy living and preventing cancer. These are the resources I have found helpful (so far, I’m sure more will come) post- conventional treatments:
Unite for Her. This is a local non-profit in the Philadelphia area. Their mission is to “to bridge the gap between the medical and wellness communities by funding and delivering complementary therapies that support the physical and emotional needs of those with breast cancer during treatment and beyond. We educate our women and the community about the role of healthy lifestyle choices in the prevention of disease and the promotion of wellness.” I attended one of their wellness days at the local hospital after my surgery and I’m now receiving treatments ranging from Reiki, counseling, acupuncture, massage, and private yoga sessions. They also provided an 8-week CSA share full of fresh vegetables and meetings with nutritionists. Local organizations are great resources and there are many of them out there. I was also able to meet people that were going through what I was going through at the event. https://uniteforher.org/programs/wellness-days-therapies/
Nutrition. I eat fresh vegetables, fruits, grains, legumes, and nuts. I removed all animal products from my diet. What is the one food that everyone agrees on is healthy? Vegetables! I watched documentaries and read books and learned more about what eating nutritiously means. One of my oncologists gave me a diet plan that said to eliminate red meat, processed meat, dairy products, high fat foods, and sugar and to eat fresh vegetables. I took that advice farther and eliminated all meat, fish, dairy, and eggs. I am eating more vegetables than ever before and lots of whole grains, beans, and nuts. Resources that I found as helpful for deciding to eat a Whole Foods Plant Based Diet are the scientist, T. Colin Campbell’s book, ‘Whole’ https://www.amazon.com/Whole-Rethinking-Nutrition-Colin-Campbell/dp/1939529840 “the Food Heals Podcast” http://foodhealsnation.com , and the documentary, “What the Health.”
Acupuncture. I am still getting acupuncture regularly and it has helped return sensation in part of my arm that was numb after the surgery. It has increased my energy, as I have been dealing with fatigue post-surgery from hormone medication. It has also helped me deal with my emotions. This has been a very emotional process, full of frustration, fear, anger, sadness, joy, and worry. I have found that acupuncture has helped me process those emotions so I don’t get stuck in one of them. Acupuncture is a very holistic treatment and treats everyone uniquely. It is helpful during this whole journey and helps me to live in harmony with nature and my body. Here is a link to more information about acupuncture and breast cancer by breast cancer.org http://www.breastcancer.org/treatment/comp_med/types/acupuncture
Qi gong and Yoga. It took a while for my chest to feel somewhat normal again. Qi gong and yoga poses really helped to stretch the area and increase circulation. I found the Wu Ming Meridian Therapy form of Qi gong very helpful. Here are the poses, http://albanyqigong.com/images/Wu_Ming.pdf I also had a private yoga session (provided by Unite for Her) which was very helpful. The yoga instructor worked with where I was at physically and showed me poses that I could do to increase mobility and circulation in my chest. The person I went to, Joan, is in Doylestown. http://www.mindfulmettamassage.com
Thank you for listening to my story. Telling one’s story is very healing and it has helped me to write this. I hope that this post brings more awareness to breast cancer and complementary treatments and lifestyle choices that can help people to live a healthy and vibrant life. My story, is just that, my story, everyone’s is different and these resources are what I found helpful, not everyone will find them helpful and that is fine, it is not a right way or wrong way thing.
If you are interested in learning more about acupuncture please feel free to contact me. Kearney@redpandaacupuncture.com
Wishing you health and happiness,