It was nearly Thanksgiving in 1998, and 43-year-old Sue Van Hook was struggling with debilitating nausea brought on by chemotherapy.
Intent on enjoying her upcoming holiday dinner, she turned to a hypnotist for help.
“It worked,” Van Hook, a breast cancer survivor, reported. “I enjoyed a salmon dinner the night before and then a full turkey dinner without any side effects at all.”
When traditional medicine isn’t enough to combat the issues associated with breast cancer treatment, patients often supplement with holistic remedies.
Options run the gamut from acupuncture to dietary changes, but all have the same aim: to provide comfort, healing and empowerment.
The Center for Complementary Therapies at St. Mary’s Hospital in Amsterdam offers a variety of treatments intended to be used in tandem with traditional medicine, including hypnosis, reflexology and yoga.
Specifically for breast cancer patients, the center offers a Healing Touch Buddies program, which the center’s director, Sister Rita Jean DuBrey, described as “an energetic approach to healing.”
At monthly gatherings, DuBrey and a number of volunteers use light, gentle touch or sweeping movements to restore harmony and balance to a patient’s energy system.
“It treats the whole person, in mind, body and spirit,” DuBrey said. “We have many testimonies from women who have said that it really helped their pain and promoted relaxation.”
The Healing Touch Buddies program is free and open to all breast cancer patients, as well as those in remission. Programs will be held from 6 to 7:30 p.m. Nov. 5 and Dec. 10 in the Carondelet Pavilion Auditorium at St. Mary’s Hospital, 380 Guy Park Ave., Amsterdam, and more are scheduled for 2014. For more information, call 841-7146.
Nutritional supplements and dietary changes can also help to combat symptoms associated with breast cancer treatment, said nutritionist Lori Mershon of Saratoga Springs.
Clients battling cancer often come to her with fatigue and insomnia issues, she said.
After discovering where nutritional deficiencies lay, she recommends supplements and suggests dietary improvements.
“We work to eliminate and avoid as many chemicals, food colorings, preservatives, aspartame — all those types of things that do contribute to ill health,” she explained.
Looking to boost her immune system, Van Hook saw a nutritional physician when she was receiving cancer treatment.
“I was taking 21 different supplements three times a day, and there were a lot of immune-boosting things like garlic, a combination of Chinese herbs for the chemotherapy and a different combination of Chinese herbs for the radiation treatments,” she said. “I really felt that they supported me nutritionally.”
Holistic treatments are meant to be used in conjunction with traditional medicine and should be tried only after consulting a physician, noted Mara Ginsberg, founder of To Life, a Saratoga Springs nonprofit organization that provides breast cancer education and support services.
“It’s important to explore what your options might be and then talk to your health care providers to make sure that you and he or she agree that it makes sense and that it’s safe for you,” she said.
To Life offers free holistic treatments for women, including massage and Reiki — a healing technique based on the principle that a practitioner can channel energy into a patient through touch.
Emotional health is another important consideration during cancer treatment that can be addressed in a holistic way.
Mershon, who is also an ordained minister, helps clients come to terms with their fears through focused conversation.
“Oftentimes people will go to a professional and they talk about some of the symptoms but not necessarily the emotions that are behind the symptoms,” she said.
Once fears are acknowledged and put into perspective, Mershon encourages clients to consider the joy the future can hold.
“That is the real healing medicine, being joyful and having something to look forward to,” she said.
Van Hook now runs Haut Terrain, a healing touch practice in Cambridge. Using what she described as two-directional energy flow, she said she can help reduce pain brought on by cancer and its treatment, cleanse the lymph system and even perform “spiritual surgery” by guiding energy through her fingers to shrink, break up or remove tumors.
“It’s quite powerful,” she said.
No one treatment is right for everyone, noted Mershon.
“I always ask [clients] what they resonate with because that really is what their answer is. If they don’t resonate with something like energy work, that’s not going to help them. If they are in agreement with what they’re doing medically, then that is going to help them,” she said. “Whenever we’re in true agreement with ourselves, with the decisions that we make, we do heal.”
Reach Gazette Reporter Kelly de la Rocha at 395-3040 or [email protected], and follow her on Twitter: @KellydelaRocha.