In cancer treatment

Carole O’Toole, CancerChoices advisor, breast cancer survivor, author of Healing Outside the Margins, and former director of the Institute for Integrative Oncology Navigation shares part of her cancer treatment story:

While my goal was to keep myself together through my cancer treatments, how to reach that goal seemed as elusive as a miracle cure. My practical approach to life initially led me to believe that I would just apply my scientific training and research skills to map out where I might go. But I was working without a net. My rare type of cancer left me with little science to guide me. Even though I had no idea how to begin, I concluded that I would not stand a chance if I did not attend to all of me—my mind, heart, and soul. 

The power of this conclusion pushed me to investigate whatever else might be out there for cancer patients in hopes that somewhere I would find something to help give me some respite and offer me hope. Looking back, I feel that this was a turning point for me; I had unwittingly joined a quiet revolution of cancer survivors who wanted to do things differently, who longed for a deeper level of support and care as they moved through their illness.

A letter from Laura

Perhaps you are about to start or are already in cancer treatment. I suspect you, like Carole, are wondering how you’re going to keep yourself together during this time. Maybe you want to pull in therapies and healing practices that would help you fare better during treatment and even make your treatments more effective. If you’ve found your way to CancerChoices, we suspect you’re interested in attending to all of you—mind, body, emotions, and spirit.

Keep reading

A letter from Laura

We know this can be an intense time, with treatment sometimes falling quickly on the heels of learning you have cancer. Before I go on, just settle for a moment and give yourself the gift of silent attending: take in a deep cleansing breath and then let it out, releasing your worries. . . Breathe in again, this time imagining peaceful, warm light filling you. . . Breathe out whatever you don’t need . Feel yourself relaxing. . . Take in a few more breaths, breathing in peace, breathing out your worries. . . now notice how it feels to relax and let go of your concerns for this brief time.

Know that you have your breath with you at all times as a tool for getting centered and calm.

Now let’s continue on.

Cancer treatment can be something of a marathon, and being in the best shape possible is usually worth the effort. Even if you’ve already started treatment, there is still much you can do to bolster your resilience and improve your experience during treatment.

CancerChoices offers guidance, so that you, unlike Carole, don’t have to figure cancer out on your own. If you long to find a deeper level of support and care as you move through treatment of your illness, let us shine a light for you.

So, if you are about to start or are already in cancer treatment and want to explore how you weave together conventional, complementary and self care, see the CancerChoices pages we mention here that we think will be most useful now.

Thank you for choosing CancerChoices to be a guide by your side. You are not alone.

Take care,

Laura

Laura Pole, RN, MSN, OCNS Senior Clinical Consultant
Laura Pole, RN, MSN, OCNS Senior Clinical Consultant

This page includes information useful during active cancer treatment and recovery.

First, take care of difficult emotions, symptoms, and physical distress

Find guidance if you are in crisis while undergoing cancer treatment and need support with your distress

Get clear on what matters now

Once you’ve tended to your difficult emotions and physical distress, you’re in a better frame of mind to ask “What matters most to me now?” The answer to this question may help you sort out necessary changes in your role at work and your personal life. It may tell you what you need to do to take care of yourself and nourish your resilience. It may help you be clear on what you need and how to ask for what you need. This exploration is actually one of the 7 Healing Practices and a good place to start in caring for yourself.

Learn about choices beyond your conventional cancer treatment plan

If you wish to integrate complementaryin cancer care, complementary care involves the use of therapies intended to enhance or add to standard conventional treatments; examples include supplements, mind-body approaches such as yoga or psychosocial therapy, and acupuncture therapies and self-carelifestyle actions and behaviors that may impact cancer outcomes; examples include eating health-promoting foods, limiting alcohol, increasing physical activity, and managing stress practices with your conventionalthe cancer care offered by conventionally trained physicians and most hospitals; examples are chemotherapy, surgery, and radiotherapy treatment, many options are available. These additional therapies and practices can promote your health and wellness, reduce side effects of treatment, boost your resilience and perhaps improve your chances of completing your conventional treatment. Many can improve your quality of life during treatment, and some therapies and practices may improve your response to treatment and your survival.

If you have begun treatment and haven’t already considered options beyond conventional cancer care, you may want to review the options before you now.

What are your choices?

The “Your Choices” section of this website has been created to help you understand your choices when facing cancer. Explore whichever choices seem relevant right now, and at the pace right for you.

Healing is at the foundation of an integrative approach to cancer care. You are more than your cancer, and a cancer diagnosis can open the gates to healing at more than the physical level.

You may choose to add self care and complementary therapies to your conventional treatments. You may need to find professionals to administer or guide you with these.

Therapies and practices you can do now

You may be wondering if you can do anything now that will make you healthier and increase your resilience as you take treatment. We believe you can do much using self care and complementary therapies in an individualized treatment plan. 

However, if adding in anything more to conventional therapies feels stressful and burdensome, then let this go for now. If you decide to wait until after treatment to introduce complementary therapies and lifestyle changes, then pat yourself on the back for setting your limits and minimizing additional stressors. Know that conventional oncologists have much in their medicine bags to prevent and minimize side effects.

Self care

The 7 Healing Practices are the foundation of self care. These practices may be helpful once you start treatment. Since these require more effort than taking a pill, we suggest you pick the top one or two that calls to you. Select one from the graphic to begin exploring.

The 7 Healing Practices can be useful in managing the side effects of treatment and improving your quality of life during treatment. These practices can also help make your body less hospitable to cancer and perhaps make the cancer more vulnerable to the treatments.

Example: Many people do better during treatment when they do aerobic exercise paced to their ability.

Healthy habits include no smoking, limiting alcohol, hydrating, and managing your body weight. These can also be quite useful in managing the side effects of treatment and improving your quality of life during treatment.

Example: Stopping smoking while in treatment will improve the distribution of oxygen to your tissues, which will help make radiation therapy more effective. Stopping will also reduce your exposure to chemicals in tobacco that can interfere with the effectiveness of chemotherapy drugs.

Complementary care

Complementary therapies such as supplements, mind-body therapies, and more might help you now, either alone or in addition to self-care healing practices. Many of these therapies help in one or more of these ways:

  • Ease feelings of overwhelm and anxiety
  • Help manage symptoms such as pain
  • Prevent or minimize treatment side effects
  • Improve quality of life during treatment
  • Make it easier for you to complete your conventional treatments
  • Possibly even improve the effectiveness of conventional treatment 

Some complementary therapies can improve your internal body terrainthe internal conditions of your body, including nutritional status, fitness, blood sugar balance, hormone balance, inflammation and more or your response to surgical stress. Some increase your resilience and your ability to heal after or between treatments.

Many of these therapies are available without prescription. However, note any cautions, and check with your doctor if indicated. Your primary cancer treatment doctor needs to know about any healing practices and complementary therapies you are using or planning. Some therapies should not be used in combination with some cancer treatments.

Mind-body therapies enhance your mind’s capacity to positively affect your body’s function and symptoms. Some interventions focus on calming your mind, improving focus, enhancing decision-making capacity, managing stress, or resolving conflict.

Biofield energy therapies aim to restore and revitalize the flow of energy in your body. These therapies include healing touch, polarity therapy, reiki, and Therapeutic Touch™.

Herbs, supplements and other natural products, as well as some off-label drugs, can be helpful. Herbs, supplements and other natural products can be helpful.

In choosing natural products, we highly recommend getting guidance from a licensed professional knowledgeable about their use in cancer.

Manipulative and body-based therapies can support well-being and quality of life.Manipulative and body-based therapies can support well-being and quality of life by reducing or relieving many common side effects of cancer treatments.

Diet and metabolic therapies may be useful during treatment particularly for helping manage side effects. Some are also associated with improved treatment response in certain cancers.

Exercise and movement therapies are usually safe during treatment if tailored to your physical condition. They may help with managing side effects, improving quality of life, including stamina and energy, and they may improve survival.

Off-label, overlooked or novel cancer approaches (ONCAs), including off-label use of some drugs, may be helpful in enhancing treatment and/or reducing side effects of treatment.

Traditional medicine

Traditional medical treatment systems come from the accumulated knowledge, skills and practices of indigenous cultures around the world. An example is traditional Chinese medicine (TCM). Certain TCM therapies are effective and safe in supporting or complementing conventional cancer treatments. They can be particularly helpful in managing side effects and improving quality of life during treatment. In the West, TCM is commonly integrated into cancer treatment.

Find guidance

Ideally, an integrative oncology doctor, nurse, navigator, or advocate would be able to guide you in choosing therapies that are right for you at this time.

Find information on traditional medicine systems, naturopathy, functional medicine, and other medical approaches, plus how to find professionals in each field.

If you don’t have access to an integrative oncology professional, then think about what you want help with.

You can search our reviews of complementary therapies for how a therapy is rated on treating your cancer/enhancing cancer treatment, balancing your body terrain, managing side effects and symptoms, or reducing your risk of cancer recurrence. We also rate therapies on safety, affordability, and use by experts.

Cancer treatment rehab: restoring function, building resilience

The cancer itself and/or the treatment may affect your ability to function on one or more levels. Rehabilitation can take many forms to help restore you to as much function as possible.

Examples:

Your cancer may have caused difficulty breathing or pain and immobility and weakness. Rehab may be needed to improve your lung function, build strength, and improve mobility. 

Surgery such as a colostomy may have changed a bodily function. Other surgeries may have removed a part of a limb. Rehab specialists can teach how to use and care for prostheses and other adaptive equipment. 

Chemotherapy may have damaged nerves in your hands and feet. Physical and occupational therapy may help with restoring function and improving safety with movement. 

Cancer fitness programs may improve your muscle function and range of motion and reduce fatigue and other treatment effects.

Ask your treatment team about rehabilitation services that might be right for you and how you can access them.

If you are in cancer treatment indefinitely

You may have a treatable, though incurable, cancer and be in treatment indefinitely. With the evolving development of conventional therapies, we’ve seen what were once untreatable cancers responding to treatment. These cancers become like other chronic, potentially life-threatening illnesses such as type 1 diabetes requiring insulin injections.

Example: With combinations of chemotherapy and immunotherapy, many people with multiple myeloma have been able to live for years. Cancer may not be cured, but it is controlled.

We have seen many people with chronic cancers successfully blend complementary therapies and self-care healing practices with their ongoing conventional treatments to maintain quality of life, manage treatment side effects, and even boost the conventional treatment. 

If your cancer progresses and no longer responds to your treatment regimen, we encourage you to go back to the essential question of “What’s right for me now?” You always have choices, though likely different choices than you had before. Each time you come to these bumps in the road, remember that this time you have more experience and wisdom to get through this next challenge.

Get more help

You may be saying to yourself, “I’d like some help navigating this site,” or “All this written information and guidance is helpful, but I also need more individualized one-on-one help.” Volunteer guides can lead you through this website, and advocates or navigators can help with the bigger unfamiliar territory of cancer.

We’re with you

No matter what you’re facing in your journey with cancer, you are not alone. We’re here to help and connect you with resources that will help you and those you love.

Our partners at Healing Circles are also available to invite you into a small group for support.

Personal story

Harold, a retired 71-year-old engineer, told me about this spiritual awakening and its connection to his choices about caring for himself during cancer treatment. I was helping him navigate within a healthcare system that is not encouraging and barely supportive of his efforts to blend even the simplest self-care healing practices into his plan of care.

Harold, mostly on his own, with some guidance from me, began to study body terrain and the tumor microenvironment from CancerChoices. He also dove into learning about the 7 Healing Practices and how they contributed to creating an inner environment that was less hostile to cancer. Then he started practicing them.

Read Harold’s full story and learn more about his approach.

Guidance at each phase of cancer

Authors

Laura Pole, RN, MSN, OCNS

Senior Clinical Consultant
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Laura Pole is senior clinical consultant for CancerChoices. Laura is an oncology clinical nurse specialist who has been providing integrative oncology clinical care, navigation, consultation, and education services for over 40 years. She is the co-creator and co-coordinator of the Integrative Oncology Navigation Training at Smith Center for Healing and the Arts in Washington, DC. Laura also manages the “Media Watch Cancer News That You Can Use” listserv for Smith Center/Commonweal. In her role as a palliative care educator and consultant, Laura has served as statewide Respecting Choices Faculty for the Virginia POST (Physician Orders for Scope of Treatment) Collaborative as well as provided statewide professional education on palliative and end-of-life care for the Virginia Association for Hospices and Palliative Care.

For CancerChoices, Laura curates content and research, networks with clinical and organizational partners, brings awareness and education of integrative oncology at professional and patient conferences and programs, and translates research into information relevant to the patient experience as well as clinical practice.

Laura sees her work with CancerChoices as a perfect alignment of all her passions, knowledge and skills in integrative oncology care. She is honored to serve you.

Laura Pole, RN, MSN, OCNS Senior Clinical Consultant

Nancy Hepp, MS

Lead Researcher and Program Manager
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Ms. Hepp is a researcher and communicator who has been writing and editing educational content on varied health topics for more than 20 years. She serves as lead researcher, program manager, and writer for CancerChoices. Her graduate work in research and cognitive psychology, her master’s degree in instructional design, and her certificate in web design have all guided her in writing and presenting information for a wide variety of audiences and uses. Nancy’s service as faculty development coordinator in the Department of Family Medicine at Wright State University also provided experience in medical research, plus insights into medical education and medical care from the professional’s perspective.

Nancy Hepp, MS Lead Researcher and Program Manager

Miki Scheidel

Co-Founder and Creative Director
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Miki Scheidel is Co-founder and creative director of CancerChoices. She led the effort to transform Beyond Conventional Cancer Therapies, the prior version of CancerChoices, to its current form. Miki and her family were deeply affected by her father’s transformative experience with integrative approaches to metastatic kidney cancer. That experience inspires her work as president of the Scheidel Foundation and as volunteer staff at CancerChoices. She previously worked with the US Agency for International Development and Family Health International among other roles. She received her graduate degree in international development from Georgetown University, a graduate certificate in nonprofit management from George Mason University, and a Bachelor of Arts from Gettysburg College.

Miki Scheidel Co-Founder and Creative Director

Last update: October 14, 2022

Last full resource review: May 2022

CancerChoices provides information about integrative in cancer care, a patient-centered approach combining the best of conventional care, self care and evidence-informed complementary care in an integrated plan cancer care. We review complementaryin cancer care, complementary care involves the use of therapies intended to enhance or add to standard conventional treatments; examples include supplements, mind-body approaches such as yoga or psychosocial therapy, and acupuncture therapies and self-care lifestyle actions and behaviors that may impact cancer outcomes; examples include eating health-promoting foods, limiting alcohol, increasing physical activity, and managing stress practices to help patients and professionals explore and integrate the best combination of conventionalthe cancer care offered by conventionally trained physicians and most hospitals; examples are chemotherapy, surgery, and radiotherapy and complementary therapies and practices for each person.

Our staff have no financial conflicts of interest to declare. We receive no funds from any manufacturers or retailers gaining financial profit by promoting or discouraging therapies mentioned on this site.