Integrative Therapies Help People Find Calm in the Chaos
It happens when you least expect it. Life is moving along as planned, then suddenly you’re knocked completely off balance. That’s what happened to Cynthia Murphy in September 2013. She went to the Breast Imaging Center at Memorial University Medical Center for her annual mammogram. And there it was – a suspicious spot on her breast. She was called back for more imaging and a biopsy. Within 24 hours, Murphy’s whole world changed. She had breast cancer.
The next few days were a whirlwind of appointments, information, and decision-making for the 59-year-old. But then calm appeared in the chaos. Murphy was invited to participate in a massage therapy study at the Curtis and Elizabeth Anderson Cancer Institute (ACI) at Memorial University Medical Center. If she joined the study, she would receive six free massage therapy sessions. All that she had to do was assess how they impacted her stress levels.
“I took advantage of those massage sessions before and after my surgery, and it was great. It was so relaxing. It really did help my sense of well-being. It helped me feel more centered, more grounded,” said Murphy.
She had a lumpectomy and intraoperative radiation therapy at Memorial University Medical Center. The tumor was completely removed and the cancer had not spread to her lymph nodes. It was good news, and Murphy thought she was done with treatment. But the most difficult part of her journey was yet to come. Her oncologist suggested she take a genome test called the Oncotype DX. It assesses the risk of breast cancer returning and helps patients decide if chemotherapy is needed. Based on the results, it was recommended that Murphy receive four courses of chemotherapy.
“That was a shock. Chemo really scared me the most of all my treatments,” said Murphy. Since the massage therapy had been so beneficial in coping with surgery, Murphy decided to try additional integrative therapies during chemotherapy. Integrative therapy combines traditional Western medicine with complementary techniques that are known to improve relaxation, flexibility, sleep issues, stress, and pain management. The goal is to treat not just the physical body, but the whole person.
“Integrative therapies work because the mind and the body are interrelated. They are all part of the same package,” said Jennifer Currin-McCulloch, manager of oncology support services at the ACI. Because of this relationship, you cannot treat just the body without also addressing issues such as stress or well-being. Currin-McCulloch looks for research opportunities to measure the effectiveness of integrative therapies. She has found time and again that what is good for the mind or spirit is also good for the body.
During chemotherapy, Murphy participated in an acupuncture program at the ACI. She found that it helped her control some of the nausea she experienced. She was also taking yoga classes for cancer survivors at Memorial University Medical Center. The combination of therapies helped her to find balance and strength.
After her last round of chemotherapy, Murphy felt she could finally put cancer behind her. She was ready to move on, but cancer dealt one final blow. She was left with intense post-treatment anxiety that made her unable to sleep or enjoy life. Once again, she turned to the integrative therapies at the ACI for help. This time, she tried hypnotherapy.
“Hypnotherapy teaches guided imagery and deep muscle relaxation. You learn to put your body into a deep, relaxed state so that you can find energy and courage to keep going,” said Currin-McCulloch. It was just what Murphy needed. She attended six one-on-one hypnotherapy sessions, and still attends group sessions when her schedule permits.
“When I feel myself spinning out of control, I can practice deep relaxation,” said Murphy. “I can’t say enough good things about the integrative therapy programs at the ACI. They were what I needed to survive and thrive.” Murphy must take a cancer-prevention drug called anastrozole for the next five years. It can have some challenging side effects, but Murphy has not experienced anything negative. She believes yoga, stretching, and other forms of exercise have contributed to her tolerance of the drug.
This year (2015), Murphy will celebrate her 61st birthday and the arrival of her first grandchild. She is also going on a three-month European tour with her husband. She is embracing life and has the resources to cope with whatever challenges may come her way.
The ACI offers a variety of integrative therapies to help people with cancer maintain wellness during and after treatment. Special sessions or studies are offered at various times throughout the year. Learn more at our support services page or call 912-350-7845.