Once a week, Patricia Duggan would go to a place where she’d gaze at nature scenes on a screen, listen to relaxing music, inhale the soothing scent of lavender and luxuriate in a foot massage.
This place? The Center for Cancer Care at White Plains Hospital.
Duggan was diagnosed with breast cancer in March 2016. After her lumpectomy, she had the standard chemotherapy treatments, hooked up in a private cubicle as nurses came and went. One registered nurse, however, was Toyoko Yasui, a holistic nurse who offered complementary therapies such as healing touch, aromatherapy, Reiki, guided imagery, gentle touch massage and visualization.
“All around you is total chaos, but you can imagine you’re somewhere else. I always chose a foot massage because you’re already hooked up like an octopus during chemo,” said Duggan, now 56, a middle school teacher from Yonkers. “Even though I hated going, I looked forward to seeing Toyoko part of the time. She’s very unassuming, but she’s very effective.”
Surgery, radiation and chemotherapy are standard routes in modern medicine when you get a breast cancer diagnosis.
But the less obvious, holistic treatments can help you feel better during that whole process. Practitioners call it complementary or integrative medicine. Meditation or massage won’t make your cancer go away, but your mind, body and spirit will feel a whole lot more up to the task.
“Medicine takes care of physical pain, but patients are suffering from spiritual, emotional or psychological pain also, and this takes care of it,” Yasui said. “This empowers patients to do something for themselves to manage their stress, pain and anxiety.”
With more than 25 years of experience, Yasui was an oncological registered nurse before she became a holistic nurse. She’s also a breast cancer survivor. Yasui works through the Integrative Services program at White Plains Hospital, providing safe, evidence-based holistic methods to complement conventional medical care.
“Holistic care can maximize the effectiveness of the other medical treatments,” she said.
Preliminary findings indicate that supportive complementary and alternative methods are valuable from the time patients receive the diagnosis of cancer to the time of their rehabilitation and recovery, according to BioMed Central, publisher of about 300 peer-reviewed academic journals.
Instead of expecting to cure their disease, patients learn to deal with it, using these methods to strengthen their immune system, relieve pain and manage the side effects from breast cancer or its treatment, often working with a supportive practitioner. “In particular, the fatigue and nausea caused by primary cancer treatment may be alleviated, and recovery from chemotherapy may be hastened,” BioMed Central reports.
Acupuncture, mind-body techniques and massage can help relieve side effects and improve patients’ physical and emotional well-being. Also, about one in three breast cancer patients stops taking her hormone treatments against doctor’s orders, according to BioMed Central. By reducing the hot flashes or joint pain those hormones cause with complementary therapies, patients are more likely to take the hormones for the length of time the doctor prescribes them.
Eugenio Jimenez De Castro provides acupuncture therapy at the same White Plains cancer center where Yasui works, as well as at his Acupuncture Northern Westchester office in Mount Kisco. He’s state-licensed and certified by the National Certification Commission for Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine.
Acupuncture can ease nausea, vomiting, anxiety, insomnia and pain, he said.