- Question from Connie: Are there any types of massage that should not be pursued by breast cancer patients, either during chemo or afterwards?
- Answers - Jennifer Griggs, M.D., M.P.H. Anything that hurts.
The obvious is if you have a wound or suture area or painful area, or something from radiation where the skin hurts. You don't necessarily want someone to grind on it, as sometimes deep-tissue massage people might do. And it goes without saying that whatever you're going to do — family or a formal integrative medicine treatment — you want the left hand and right hand to know what's going on. In other words, you want your oncologists to know what types of alternative therapy you're getting, and vice versa.
Most of the oncologists I work with, as long as their patients tell them what they're doing, whether it's yoga or Reiki or creative visualization, they're usually fine with it. They just want to make sure that nothing is going to be contra-indicated with something else. For example, if you're on antidepressants or chemotherapy and you're experimenting with herbs, etc., they will want to know.
In the last 15 years or so, the divisiveness and the division between allopathic (conventional) and naturopathic (holistic) camps are giving way to more cooperation. More cancer therapy clinics will give massage, etc. in a traditional medical center. Even in dentistry, you may find relaxation therapies to help you get through dental work. As long as there's communication between the healing practitioners so they can work together with the patients as active participants in their own care, then massage is more and more accepted as being fine.
- Jennifer Griggs, M.D., M.P.H. Speaking as an oncologist, we'll take any help we can get! The drugs we give you may have side effects, so we give you more medicine. I agree there's been a sea change in how most oncologists regard alternative therapies. They're much more open-minded than they used to be.
I'd like to respond to two points. First, what not to have with a massage: The body is connected to the person, and sometimes during a massage, emotions get dredged up because the body can store feelings and memories. If that happens during a massage, it's not necessarily a bad sign. Some people actually go for massage in order to uncover old memories or hurts that might be burdening them in some way. But it might be best not to go through that stress at a time when you're undergoing the physical stress of surgery or other breast cancer treatment.
The other point is that the side effects of chemotherapy can be markedly alleviated by energy healing. I learned this from a nurse in England. She is a very good healer, but her boss didn't want her doing 'healing' on the unit because he didn't feel comfortable with it. So she meditated and prayed for guidance on how to help her patients. She was inspired to give healing to the chemotherapy bottle, and her patients had much less nausea, vomiting, headaches, diarrhea, and other side effects. So healing is one way to lessen side effects of medication.
I second that. In fact, if people go to the National Institutes of Health (NIH) website, in the Complementary & Alternative Medicine section, it includes things in the psychiatric field that are traditional for us — biofeedback, deep breathing, guided imagery, hypnosis, and progressive relaxation. These are standard behavioral tools that we use, not only with cancer patients, but also patients with anxiety disorders, etc.
In addition to what Dr. Benor just said, deep breathing, biofeedback, hypnosis, and progressive relaxation have been shown to significantly decrease anticipatory nausea, where before the person even gets the chemo, just the cues of the building where they get the chemo or the alcohol smell of the swab can trigger that conditioned response. One of the ways to un-condition that pre-medicine nausea is to use one of those relaxation therapies.
- Dan Benor Dr. Lachman made a good point in that these techniques can be preventative, so a person can start learning them before going to treatment. One I find helpful is what I call WHEE. It's a potent and rapid self-healing technique. I use it a lot with children. It's very easy to learn and use, and very potent for dealing with pain, anxiety, and stress reactions.
The Ask-the-Expert Online Conference called Complementary and Holistic Techniques Part 2 featured Dan Benor, M.D., Larry Lachman, Psy.D., and moderator Jennifer Griggs, M.D., M.P.H. answering your questions about the various complementary and holistic treatments that may benefit those with breast cancer.
Editor's Note: This conference took place in October 2004.
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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