- Question from CRV: Unfortunately, some unqualified individuals have preyed on breast cancer patients' fear and pain. When seeking complementary treatment, what should we be looking for— or looking out for?
- Answers - Patricia Johnson When we are looking for complementary treatment we need to find the method that resonates most deeply for ourselves. One person may get great benefit from nutritional approaches, while another person may benefit more from exercise or practices such as meditation. We should look for whatever complementary approaches most suit our own personalities. We should also seek people with whom we feel comfortable. Don't be afraid to ask about practitioners' past experiences, and don't be afraid to contact other patients who have used the practitioner you are considering.
- Marisa Weiss, M.D. Don't make fast decisions about any of your medical care, either conventional or complementary. Ask questions. Listen carefully to the answers, and reflect on them together with people you trust. You may decide to initiate a limited relationship with someone in the beginning, a specific number of visits, for example. If, at the end of that trial period, the treatment has helped you significantly, that's encouragement to keep going. If it hasn't been helpful, share your concern with that practitioner, try to establish realistic expectations, and pick another point to re-evaluate.
- Dan Benor It's also helpful when visiting practitioners—especially on the first visit—to have someone you trust accompany you, because you may not hear or remember everything that's been said.
- Marisa Weiss, M.D. Being a patient and dealing with breast cancer can feel like a full-time job, or it can make you feel like you're going back to school again. You may be able to shift your thinking from being overwhelmed to feeling that you have the chance to learn something new that might be exciting, interesting, and helpful. I am always amazed by the power each of us has over the perspective we choose to take on a situation. Shifting from a doom-and-gloom perspective to something more comfortable may be within your reach.
- Dan Benor When I started working with people who have serious illnesses, I was very surprised at how often they felt blessed to have had the illness, because it stopped them from pursuing the path they'd been on. They found that the time for reflection given to them by their illness was enormously healing. They found new perspectives, new meaning in life, and ways of letting go of old hurts and stressors that may have contributed to their illness.
- Marisa Weiss, M.D. Do you have any practical suggestions for people who are interested in identifying the stressors in their lives and formulating a plan to eliminate or modify them?
The simplest way is to pretend that your body can speak, and ask it what it might be saying with any given symptom. Often, people will come up with very direct answers such as, "This pain in my neck is really my boss," or "I am bellyaching a lot and that is why my stomach has been acting up." When we release stressors, our bodies can relax. So illness is sometimes a message from our inner self, because we weren't paying attention before.
When we talk about people developing an illness through stress, people sometimes feel that we're blaming them. This is really not what we're doing. We're saying that stress makes it harder for the body to deal with infections or with cells that might be multiplying too rapidly.
- Marisa Weiss, M.D. Memory, concentration, and sleep are particularly vulnerable to stress.
So when we can help our bodies by removing the stress, then our bodies can do their jobs much more easily.
I actually suggest that people sit down, put a second chair in front of them, and pretend that they're talking to their symptoms. I then suggest they change chairs and talk as though they're giving words to the symptoms. Sometimes it's very surprising that the symptoms actually are speaking of healing. These might even be feelings from many years ago that we had to bury when we didn't feel competent to deal with them. When we swallow feelings, they fester, and can lead to the development of symptoms.
- Patricia Johnson I think the most practical way to determine what stressors might be causing symptoms is that frequently, during a stressful experience, or immediately afterward, symptoms will be worse. So watch the pattern of your discomfort to see if you can determine which life situation is throwing you out of balance.
- Marisa Weiss, M.D. At least as important as identifying what causes you stress is trying to figure out what gives you joy, pleasure, fun, and a sense of spontaneity. This is very important for you to know, because you want to learn new ways to bring joy into your life.
The Ask-the-Expert Online Conference called Complementary and Holistic Treatments featured Daniel Benor, M.D., Patricia Johnson, M.D., and Marisa Weiss, M.D. answering your questions about what complementary and holistic treatments are, how to find reliable practitioners, and which might be the best treatments for you.
Editor's Note: This conference took place in October 2002.
The materials presented in these conferences do not necessarily reflect the views of Breastcancer.org. A qualified healthcare professional should be consulted before using any therapeutic product or regimen discussed. All readers should verify all information and data before employing any therapies described here.
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