Cancer is a dreaded word which alarms us all, especially if you have it. My disease, a non-Hodgkins lymphoma, was diagnosed three years ago through various radiological procedures, biopsies, and major surgery. After three months of waiting, the long-awaited chemotherapy began, five devastating drugs administered orally and intravenously over eights hours every three weeks. Within five days I was overwhelmed with total body sickness such as I had never experienced before. In search of help other than anti-nausea drugs and analgesics, my wife suggested I begin trying complementary medicine to curb symptoms. The most effective of these treatments was reflexology administered by a competent therapist in my home. She was reassuring as she probed my feet and told me about the various areas of the feet that relate to the body. And to my amazement, my condition improved, over and above all the medications I was taking to overcome symptoms. I continued reflexology for almost one year before my therapist felt secure enough to dismiss me from her practice.
Being a physician trained in the scientific method, I was as skeptical as most of my colleagues, that complementary techniques are only placebos at best. Through recent radiologic advances, however, integrative medicine procedures have actually shown the brain to be functioning during therapy, revealing electrical activity very similar to experiments performed with placebos. What good news! Our mind-body connections really are reactive and receptive in ways that may heal differently than mainline medicine. Why not use them to ?complement? the advances made in cancer treatments that provide us with improved quality of life and cures?
During my illness my reflexologist and other practitioners proved knowledgeable and sympathetic, and applied their skills with gentleness and professionalism on a weekly basis, ameliorating my symptoms and anxiety. As my oncologist continued therapy through month three and four, the expected slow weight loss and diminished energy along with the usual nausea would have been totally debilitating without the integrative procedures that I chose. By now I was also being treated by a physician in the cancer center who specialized in integrative medicine. She confirmed my decisions regarding treatment, added glimmers of hope, and widened my vision to other therapies which relieved symptoms from chemotherapy. I discovered a more positive attitude and creativity that expanded my mental resources in writing, music, and engendered a greater appreciation for fellow sufferers. I was transformed from a suspicious patient into a believer of complementary medicine! My reflexologist was integral in maintaining this affirming activity to the end and beyond chemotherapy.
Although treatment with integrative medicine is difficult to document statistically, efforts through the National Institutes of Health are underway to investigate various aspects of therapy. With long-term controlled studies, more will be learned about the value of these techniques as they are applied in juxtaposition to standard medical procedures and pharmacotherapy. The future is bright for the professions that comprise complementary medicine and for the patients who receive the benefits of compassionate care from the practitioners of the art.
Dr. Ronald Burmeister MD