Page 24

patient quality of life. Ray says that group classes, personalized therapy, and activities that facilitate mental and physical relaxation can all help counter the feelings of isolation and victimization that frequently accompany a cancer diagnosis. Holistic alternative care puts patients in control, he says. Dr. David Spiegel, Director of Stanford’s Center for Integrated Medicine, agrees. “It’s a part of health care where the patient is more in the driver’s seat,” says Spiegel, a Harvard-educated psychiatrist who leads a staff that uses meditation, hypnosis, massage, and acupuncture to help patients manage pain and anxiety. Physical exercise can also foster a sense of control and self-confidence. Physical activity is increasingly regarded as an effective tool in cancer treatment and recovery and may even have a measurable effect on cure rates. Doctors who

stanford’s living strong , living we l l p ro g r a m once advocated bed rest for cancer patients now encourage them to participate in yoga and exercise classes designed to address cancer-related problems. Spiegel says, “There’s more and more evidence that exercise during cancer treatment, as well as after it, is a very helpful component.” Joyce Hanna, Director of Stanford’s Living Strong, Living Well exercise program for cancer patients, says that she has seen a discernible shift in the medical consensus regarding exercise over the past decade. “When we started our program, we had support, but everyone wasn’t really convinced at that point,” she recalls. Now, however, doctors often encourage patients to enroll in Living Strong, Living Well classes. According to Hanna, exercise helps patients to maintain both physical and mental strength during cancer treatment and recovery. The 12-week Living Strong, Living Well program, which is offered three times each year at 10 Bay 22 | July + August 2011

Area YMCAs, focuses on rebuilding muscle mass and sustaining balance in patients undergoing chemotherapy. But Hanna, like Ray, emphasizes the program’s valuable impact on confidence and quality of life. “A lot of people talk about how it gives them a sense of control after feeling totally out of control,” Hanna says. Her favorite testimonial came from a patient who, upon entering the YMCA, said that he felt “normal again” for the first time since his diagnosis. “He just felt like he was going back into the community,” she says. “[That’s] a first step in becoming healthy.” Through Living Strong, Living Well, patients also often form an impromptu support group. Hanna says this appeals to individuals who might not attend traditional group counseling. “We don’t sit around and talk, because we’re exercising,” Hanna says, “but it obviously can be a supportive group.” That opportunity to share experiences with other patients may have very tangible benefits. According to Spiegel, some studies show that cancer patients randomized into group therapy live longer than control patients, and similar research has also demonstrated the effectiveness of group therapy in reducing cancer patients’ anxiety and controlling their pain. Michelle Duguay, a certified yoga practitioner who teaches classes for cancer patients through the Stanford Cancer Supportive Care Program, also feels that group interaction is a key benefit of her program. “There’s definitely a camaraderie, a community, a support system,” she says. “That’s what really is drawing people there.” Like Hanna, Duguay tailors her approach to help cancer patients manage the physical and emotional effects of treatment. Focusing on breathing, guided imagery, and mental relaxation, she says, gives patients a toolbox of coping techniques that they can draw on when they go in for a round of chemotherapy or an invasive surgery. Because of the skills they’ve learned, “they know how to deal with their stress,” Duguay says. “They know how to deal with their pain.” Duguay says that the supportive community and the skills she teaches inspire many of her patients to continue attending yoga classes long after their cancer enters remission. “This class is what they do to take time for themselves and relax,” she says. Fedasz, who faced a breast cancer diagnosis herself last fall, has personal experience with the ways that the disease can reshape habits and priorities. “It’s really a time for you to reevaluate how you’re living your life,” she says. “And how you should change your life.” Fedasz agrees that alternative therapy not only provides invaluable support during diagnosis and treatment, but can also help patients live better lives after cancer. She recalls a young woman who enrolled in one of the Palo Alto Medical Foundation’s painting classes for cancer patients. “She kept saying, ‘I haven’t painted in years, I haven’t painted since high school,’ ” Fedasz says. “[By having] these options during this time of reevaluation, people can really tap into what they need to do to lead a more positive life... I think it’s really wonderful.”

courtesy living strong, living well

fighting cancer

Eucalyptus Magazine, July-August 2011  
Eucalyptus Magazine, July-August 2011  

This issue features articles about alternative cancer care, artisan organic ice cream, raw food diet, biodynamic farming and summer fun. Fo...