Well Being — 07 September 2014
Treating a patient as more than an illness

By Jana Soeldner Danger Karene Harper was a single mother with an eight-month-old baby daughter and two sons, ages eight and 14, when she was diagnosed with Stage 3 lymphoma. “The idea that I might not be here for my kids was devastating,” she says. Grueling treatments of chemotherapy and radiation put her into remission, but left her with extreme pain and muscle spasms that woke her at night. To cope with the debilitating side effects, she was taking 15 pills a day, and the medications were damaging her liver. In past years, physicians might simply have tried changing her medications, or told her she would just have to learn to live with discomfort. Today, however, more doctors are accepting and even embracing practices that treat a patient as a whole rather than focus only on his or her illness. Harper was referred to the integrative medicine program at Sylvester Comprehensive Center, University of Miami School of Medicine in Deerfield Beach, which offers holistic practices that can complement traditional treatments. Services include herbal medicine consultations, acupuncture, meditation and yoga, nutritional counseling, exercise plans, restful sleep practices, group wellness workshops and art therapy. While not all of Harper’s problems have disappeared, her pain and muscle spasms have lessened and she has been able to quit taking most of her medications. “I have a greater sense of well-being,” says Harper, of Weston. “It’s given me more hope and strength.” More doctors are willing to try these kinds of techniques because studies show they work, says Dr. Ashwin Mehta, director of the integrative medicine program. “Our patients say it’s very empowering to know things they do on a day-to-day basis can help with their treatments.” Exercise may help reduce inflammation and improve sleep quality, Dr. Mehta says. Certain foods may strengthen the immune system. Acupuncture can lessen dry mouth after chemo or radiation and help with neuropathy, nausea and cancer-related fatigue. He also advocates a concept called mindfulness. “Mindfulness is anything that brings your attention and focus into the present moment, like meditation, prayer, breathing exercises and guided imagery,” he says. He describes the latter as a daydream visualizing the body healing itself. A patient whose white blood cell count is down after chemotherapy might imagine his or her bone marrow as a factory producing the needed cells. The Feldman Center for Optimal Health at Holy Cross in Fort Lauderdale also offers such alternative treatments, including hypnotism, acupuncture and massage and music therapies. “Patients are looking for ways to avoid medication,” says Chrissy Turner, who oversees the program. Hypnosis may help with quitting smoking, weight loss and dealing with traumatic events, Turner says. Music therapy relaxes the body by raising temperature, slowing breathing and lowering blood pressure. “It must work for many patients,” Turner says. ‘Because we see them returning.”

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