It is a common belief in Christianity, and perhaps in other faiths, that humans are a unity of body and spirit (not just souls trapped in a body). So what happens to our bodies has spiritual significance. If we allow it to happen, illness and its emotional effects can be spiritually harmful.
One aspect of spirituality after diagnosis or treatment is simply to maintain your pre-diagnosis spiritual practices of prayer, worship, meditation, scripture reading. You do not need less of these things. If anything, you need more. So you might even want to increase your spiritual practices or add something new.
You can also seek out books, articles, and online resources from survivors and writers within your faith tradition. You do not have to accept everything they say or do everything they suggest, but you can find encouragement and practical help.
This can help you remember that whatever physical and emotional resources and support you have from those around you, the divine love is also still with you. Whatever you are going through — and whatever comes next — our Creator knows it and loves you now and into eternity. Cancer has not destroyed you and cannot destroy you. You can find joy when you focus on the good.
There is an article here which discusses spirituality at greater length, lists a number of spiritual practices, and reports various benefits of spirituality at all stages of dealing with breast cancer and its aftermaths. If you search breast cancer emotional healing spirituality books … you will find numerous books which deal with spirituality for those who are dealing with breast cancer.
Don’t neglect your spiritual health. It remains important while you seek bodily and emotional health.
Deacon Joe Whipple servers at Our Lady Star of the Sea Parish in Marblehead, MA.
A cancer diagnosis of any sort represents an unparalleled mental, physical, and emotional burden for all patients and their families. At least one-third of women who have had surgery for breast cancer experience significant distress, despite having a potentially positive prognosis. Surgical scars, drains, reconstruction of a very intimate part of their physical identity are but a few reasons that some patients become depressed and anxious.
Despite advances in surgery, chemo, and radiation therapy to treat breast cancer, there is increasing awareness of the need for the whole patient to be considered. The use of complementary therapies and alternative medicine (CAM) as an adjunct to conventional treatment has been scientifically proven to help women recover and improve their sense of well-being.
Yoga is but one of the many different complementary therapies that significantly help patients who suffer from depression, anxiety, sleeplessness, adhesions, lymphedema, and fatigue. It promotes healing from and increases physical range of motion and overall wellness. It is recommended especially for patients who have had a mastectomy (single or double) because it offers exercises that promote flexibility in the body, and stretch the surrounding tissues in the armpit and shoulder girdle, making the muscles stronger while breaking up any scar tissue from the surgery. Fewer women suffer from disability if they regularly practice yoga. Range of motion is restored, and quality of life improves.
The physical benefits notwithstanding, yoga also presents a calming effect and general improvement in a sense of wellness. Through breath work and meditation, which are integral parts of any good yoga practice, women experience less anxiety and a restored sense of being able to deal with life’s problems as they arise, without feeling overrun with fear and anxiety. Blood and lymphatics flow more readily when certain yoga poses are employed, giving a nourishing element to all organs and cells.
Perhaps one overlooked benefit of the yoga practice is that of belonging to a community. Although yoga can be done in one’s home (and there is merit to that, for many are intimidated to go to a public class), there is an added sense of “belonging” and not feeling isolated. It is especially helpful to practice with a teacher who is trained in working with patients who have had surgery; and even more specifically, mastectomy/reconstruction. It is always wise to consult your physician before embarking on any exercise program, including yoga.
As with anything new, it is important to be patient through the healing process, never forcing a pose or causing undue stress on the body. It is best to start with a gentle practice, and to remember that yoga is a practice. The benefits will unfold, as early as the first class, and very subtle changes will emerge over time. It is not a quick fix, and must be experienced as part of the journey—one that is very worthwhile indeed!
Maida Broudo, MA, RTTR has a masters degree in journalism from Harvard University. Belinda Termeer has 30 years of experience treating cancer patients.
There has been a lot written about fighting cancer with nutrition. As a personal chef (Chef
Gloria B) specializing in cooking for any medical condition, I have had much experience cooking
for those with cancer. I have worked with nutritional healers, doctors, and other specialists in
the field. There is an array of information from many different approaches with this disease. I
don’t believe there is one right program; rather, it is a combination of your type of cancer and
body composition that will emerge as the right way of eating for you. It is also a progression
from the way you are eating now to a healthier one.
There are a few common denominators that most professionals agree upon:
- No sugar, honey, cane syrup, corn syrup, evaporated cane juice
- No artificial sweeteners: aspartame, Splenda,
- No dairy (plain yogurt is OK at certain times)
- Eliminate gluten or wheat
- Use only healthy fats (olive oil, avocados, nuts, olives, fish oil, flax seed oil, flax seed)
- Herbs: use all organic fresh herbs, such as oregano, thyme, basil, turmeric, rosemary,
and garlic in your cooking
- Fresh vegetables: Especially organic cruciferous vegetables such as kale, broccoli,
cauliflower, bok choy, beet greens, Brussels sprouts, red onions, arugula, and Swiss
chard. They can be cooked or juiced daily: eat in large quantities. Cruciferous
vegetables contain powerful antioxidants and can reduce inflammation. They are high in
Vitamins A, K, and C, and dietary fiber. You can eat as much as you want of these foods.
Polyphenols are a type of phytonutrient, which are unique compounds found in plants
that fight disease. They are found in blueberries, green tea, cinnamon, pomegranate,
strawberries, raspberries, spinach, carrots, onions, shallots, sweet potatoes, pecans,
almonds, asparagus, dark chocolate, cocoa powder, saffron, oregano, and sesame seeds, to
name a few!
- Fresh wild fish such as wild salmon, wild cod, wild haddock, tilapia, and halibut
- Slow-cooked oatmeal (steel-cut oats)
- Beans (not from cans)
- No foods from cans
- Whole grains such as brown rice, quinoa, millet
- Filtered water
- A probiotic for friendly bacteria
- Fresh peeled turmeric and fresh ginger added to meals: these are powerful anti-inflammatory
When I work with clients, I incorporate these foods into their meals along with some of their
other favorite foods. Many times clients will have multiple food restrictions; it is a challenge
for them to eat. I conquer those challenges for my clients and make food taste delicious.
For the medical oncologist, the main focus is on treating the cancer aggressively, to eliminate the threat to the patient and prevent a recurrence. They know that the patient (and family) is under tremendous emotional stress, but it is not their responsibility to address it, other than referring the patient to counseling or psychiatric care.
There are more and more modalities designed to help the patient cope emotionally (Yoga, massage, meditation, Reiki, counseling …) Acupuncture can help on that level, and I would like to give a quick insight as to how it does that.
Acupuncture is a modality of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM). It is a medical model that is at least 2500 years old. It is not until the 18th or 19th century that the topics of neurology and psychiatry appear in TCM literature as separate disciplines. The reason is that in TCM thinking the body and the mind, emotions, physical health, and disease are not viewed, or conceived of, as separate. In this model, any physical disturbance will affect the emotional balance, and eventually the spirit. Likewise, any lasting emotional distress will affect the physical health of the person.
Acupuncture has a calming effect on the nervous system. It causes a shift from the “fight or flight” (stress) response to the relaxation response. It does that by way of a shift in brain chemistry, inducing the secretion of dopamine, endorphins, enkephalines, and dynorphine. It also achieves this by triggering a shift from ortho-sympathetic dominance to para-sympathetic dominance. This can explain how acupuncture can help the patient, during and after breast cancer treatment, deal with the stress and anxiety caused by her condition.
Pain affects our emotions: it is well demonstrated that having pain for more than a week will cause irritability, depression, and fatigue. When I treat a woman who has peripheral neuropathy due to her chemotherapy, and I can restore her nerve function, it immediately makes her feel better emotionally and restores a positive attitude about herself and her health.
Some studies have shown acupuncture’s effectiveness in treating “brain fog” also known as “chemo brain,” improving memory and cognitive function disrupted by chemotherapy.
For estrogen-driven breast cancer, the treatment will often consist of estrogen inhibitors. These often cause night sweats, mood changes, insomnia, and joint pain. Acupuncture has been shown to improve all these symptoms, without adding other drugs to the treatment.
As an acupuncturist, I feel very fortunate that I can treat patients at a cancer center, while they are receiving chemotherapy, or right after their radiation treatment. I know that it makes their experience a lot more tolerable.
Lalou Begue is a Licensed Acupuncturist and Chinese Herbalist.
100 Cummings Center, Beverly MA 01915
Acupuncture & Herbal Clinic
Angie’s Spa cancer foundation
“Art can permeate the very deepest part of us where no words exist.” -Eileen Miller
“Music has healing power. It has the ability to take people out of themselves for a few hours.”
The concept of the arts as medicine dates back to antiquity, and has drawn increasing interest
from both the medical and scientific communities. Medical professionals are finally beginning to
recognize and understand the role that art and music play in the healing process. Arts in
medicine programs are emerging not only in the US but worldwide as doctors see that their patients’
exposure to the creative arts not only increases their psychological well-being and positive
emotions but also decreases pain, stress, and negative emotions. Breast cancer patients in
particular may suffer greatly from adjustment disorders, depression, and anxiety after painful
surgeries, which can generate feelings of fear, anger, guilt, and emotional repression. Through
the use of creativity and imagination there is a deeper power of healing available to ease these
symptoms of “dis-ease” and treat the whole person, not just the illness.
Julene Johnson, PhD, a cognitive neuroscientist and professor at USCF, is currently running a
study measuring the health impacts of singing in a choir. “The nice thing about the arts,” she
says, “is our long, long history of using music and arts for healing across thousands of years and the fact that it’s relatively low cost to implement.” Numerous studies show that a window
view looking out at nature or the placing of calming artwork in patients’ rooms help to promote healing, relieve pain and stress, and increase overall well-being. Many hospitals are rethinking
how to create “healing environments” as they update their healthcare settings. Studies have
shown that art therapy for cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy decreases depression,
anxiety, and fatigue, thus improving their coping resources.
In his book Remarkable Recovery: What Extraordinary Healings Tell Us About Getting Well and
Staying Well, Caryle Hirschberg writes, “Many researchers believe that music and art provide a way to bypass the “static” of purely rational thought and stimulate deeper parts of the brain – the
limbic (or pleasure system) – that may be the key to the mind-body healing response.” In nearly
all cultures, music and rhythm have been used as forces of healing. In ancient Greece, Apollo
was the god of both music and medicine. Barbara Crowe, past president of the National
Association of Music Therapy, suggests that music and rhythm stimulate deeper parts of the
brain that are the seat of ritual in tribal societies. “There is a clear, distinct parallel between
traditional shamanism and the practices we do in music therapy today.” Many find listening to
Buddhist monks chanting will put them in a meditative or peaceful frame of mind, while slowing
their breathing. Scientifically, the sound of calming, rhythmic music causes the brain to release
endorphins or natural opiates, which can reduce pain, influence heart and respiratory rates,
lessen stomach contractions and enhance the immune system. Researchers have found that a
common rhythm noted in rituals around the world (four to seven beats per second) is correlated
with frequencies of electrical activity in the brain associated with spontaneous imagery, ecstatic
states, and creativity. Many tribal communities will gather to clap, dance, and sing healing chants
for hours around a “sick” tribal member. One of my favorite “recovery” stories describes the man
who listened to the 1812 Overture by Tchaikovsky every day during his long bout with leukemia
and truly feels it was the reason for his total remission.
Plato expresses his views on music education for children in The Republic, book 3, “Musical
training is a more potent instrument than any other, because rhythm and harmony find their way
into the inward place of the soul, on which they mightily fasten, imparting grace.” In modern,
layman’s terms, there is nothing better than listening to YOUR favorite music, be it show tunes,
country, or classical to send your soul soaring! Abraham Maslow coined the phrase, “peak
experience,” which is akin to an ecstatic or religious experience – “you feel as though you are
close to a powerful spiritual force that seems to lift you out of yourself.” How exhilarating to
forget oneself listening to music, if only for a short while, and merge our limited self-conscious
with universal consciousness — a healing experience for sure!
This same relationship between focused attention and a deep sense of enjoyment can be found
by engaging in art activities, whether in a class or by oneself. A 2012 study of women with breast
cancer published in Stress and Health found that a mindfulness-based art therapy program
helped patients not only reduce stress and anxiety, but also decreased depression and fatigue.
The study looked at their brain MRIs and found significant changes in the cerebral blood flow in
regions corresponding to reward and the regulation of stress response. Not only did producing
art reduce their anxiety levels and improve their wellbeing, it also helped them express the
innermost thoughts and fears with which they wrestled during diagnosis and treatment. Art gives
a voice to self-expression when words are not enough. Simply the act of painting, collage, or
sculpting can lift one out of oneself, induce a meditative calm within, put one in the
“zone” where one can completely lose track of time and forget pain and a cancer diagnosis.
Cindy Perlis, director of the UCSF Art for Recovery Program, has watched thousands of patients
-most of whom have stated that they have no artistic talent – create soulful self-portraits, make
fiery masks and spirit houses, embellish old shoes with dazzling glitter and shiny faux jewelry,
and blend words with paint strokes to make striking visual statements. Even those whose
futures were bleak found “healing” when they found art, according to Perlis.
What a gift to breast cancer and other patients that the medical community is finally recognizing
the positive impact of both art and music on symptom management and recovery. Not only can
these two powerful modalities bring back joy and well-being, but also help strengthen the
immune system by uplifting the spirit, renewing energy, and enabling patients to positively
embrace life again. Hallelujah!
As a twenty-five-year breast cancer survivor and professional artist/music-lover, I have experienced firsthand how powerful listening to Rachmaninoff’s piano concertos, Bach’s “B-minor Mass,”Beethoven’s “Ode to Joy,” or Pharrell Williams “Happy” can be while painting in my light-drenched studio. Deep in the flow-state, all rational thinking is stopped and I am flooded with endorphins and JOY! What a perfect prescription not only to restore mind, body, and spirit but also to live every minute filled with grace and gratitude.
The Art of Healing/UC San Francisco www.ucsf.edu/news/2014/12/121776/art-healing
The Connection Between Art, Healing, and Public Health: A Review of Current Literature
Remarkable Recovery: What Extraordinary Healings Tell Us About Getting Well and Staying
Well, Caryle Hirschberg & Marc Ian Barasch
Many people dealing with the aftermath of breast cancer find help and consolation by turning to
their spiritual side.
The spirit is God, however you know him or her—Buddha, Jehovah, Christ, or Allah—a power
higher than yourself from which you draw strength and are soothed and comforted. When you
turn to this higher power, you are no longer alone or afraid.
Whether you believe in a Deity who can part the Red Sea or turn water into wine, or find peace
imagining a benevolent Buddha, or even summon a presence within yourself—when you call on
this Being, you can move yourself from sadness into joy and promote your healing.
For some people, going to a mosque, temple, or church helps foster a spiritual experience. Familiar words and music comfort and sustain them. For others, sitting by a pond or the ocean,
walking in the woods, or gazing at distant mountains fosters a sense of wonder and happiness.
Thus, getting in touch with your spiritual side can lift you out of your immediate situation and
help you to heal.
Yoga is a practice that has been around for thousands of years, originating in India as the complementary practice to Ayurveda, an Eastern practice of medical care that encompasses mind, body, and spirit.
Yoga involves the practice of meditation, deep breathing, and a series of physical postures. Now that yoga has become wildly popular here in the west, we are just beginning to scratch the surface of its healing capabilities, something ancient yogis have known all along. More physicians are incorporating complementary healing modalities into patient care, as research continues to show that there is more to healing than medication.
For patients undergoing cancer treatments including chemo, yoga can be a welcome distraction with tons of benefits. The benefits of yoga are vast and include improved sleeping, boosting immunity, improved recovery, and stress reduction, without the use of medications. Being diagnosed and going through treatments for breast cancer can be daunting; yoga systematically calms the central nervous system, allowing for relief of stress. Recovering from a mastectomy or reconstruction can be difficult; gentle yoga can help in regaining physical function.
Yoga has also been proven to help with insomnia. Healing occurs while we sleep, so sleep is essential. Yoga also teaches us to be present in the moment and focus on one thing at a time. It enables us to escape our thoughts. It is recommended that you practice yoga with an experienced instructor who is knowledgeable about breast cancer and that your physician has advised it is safe for you.
For more information on yoga for cancer, yoga teacher Tari Prinster has written a wonderful book called Yoga for Cancer, which you can find on Amazon.
Victoria Fitzgerald, E-RYT, RN, is a yoga instructor based in upstate New York.
Meditation is a complementary cancer treatment that can provide stress relief, improve mood, and reduce fatigue in breast cancer patients and survivors. Meditation is a focusing technique that helps you turn your attention away from distracting thoughts and redirect your attention on the present moment. With meditation, you give attention to a single point of reference such as breath, thoughts, feelings, and physical sensations. Meditation can be done sitting, walking, or through yoga; and the practice of meditation can extend into a mindset for daily life.
Meditation has been researched extensively and shown to prove effective in improving psychological symptoms for breast cancer patients and breast cancer survivors. Mindfulness is a construct of meditation that describes engagement in a nonjudgmental awareness and strives to build openness to accepting personal experiences. Research has found mindfulness meditation to be a positive intervention for recently diagnosed women, women in treatment, and breast cancer survivors. There are several complementary cancer treatments based on mindfulness. Mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) is one of the most commonly used mindfulness-based interventions. Mindfulness-based stress reduction has been shown to be effective for psychosocial cancer symptoms such as stress, depression, anxiety, and reduced quality of life.
Mindfulness meditation can be practiced at home or through a program. Here are a few suggestions to get you started:
- Choose an area to focus on
- Breath: focus on taking long deep breaths
- Physical sensation: try scanning your body from head to toe and notice pain, warmth, or tension
- Thoughts/mantra: repeat a word or phrase
- Sit or stand in a quiet space in a comfortable position. You may close your eyes to help keep your focus
- Work on bringing your awareness back to the focus area you chose (breath, physical sensation, mantra). It is natural to become distracted: instead of judging yourself, acknowledge that you are distracted and redirect your attention to your focus area
- Start with a management time interval and increase it as you become comfortable with meditation
Breast Cancer: A-Z Mindful practices: Self Care Tools for Treatment & Recovery by Robin B Dilley, Ph.D.
Here We Grow: Mindfulness through Cancer and Beyond by Paige Davis
Cramer, H., Lauche, R., Paul, A., and Dobos, G. (2012). Mindfulness-based stress reduction for breast cancer—a systematic review and meta-analysis. Current Oncology, 19(5), e343–e352. http://doi.org/10.3747/co.19.1016
Lengacher, C. A., Johnson-Mallard, V., Post-White, J., Moscoso, M. S., Jacobsen, P. B., Klein, T. W., Widen, R. H., Fitzgerald, S. G., Shelton, M. M., Barta, M., Goodman, M., Cox, C. E., and Kip, K. E. (2009), Randomized controlled trial of mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) for survivors of breast cancer. Psycho-Oncology, 18: 1261–1272. doi:10.1002/pon.1529
Bower, J. E., Crosswell, A. D., Stanton, A. L., Crespi, C. M., Winston, D., Arevalo, J., Ma, J., Cole, S. W., and Ganz, P. A. (2015), Mindfulness meditation for younger breast cancer survivors: A randomized controlled trial. Cancer, 121: 1231–1240. doi:10.1002/cncr.29194
Congratulations, you are cancer-free! Or maybe your medical team and you are completing your rounds of treatments, or you are living with cancer…. But now they tell you that ‘You can get back to living your life!’ – Great…… Where do you start?
“It was just one year and one month ago that you sat with me after my diagnosis of stage 3 breast cancer and assured me that you were on my team and I would make it through!”
Cancer treatments, (chemo, radiation, and surgery) all have taken a toll on not only your body, but also on your spirit, your emotions and mentality, basically on the entire you. Are you left feeling weary, stiff, and maybe in chronic pain? Are you struggling with insomnia, depression, or anxiety?
Are you looking for support through this healing process? Consider a specialized massage with a massage therapist who has training in Oncology Massage. Someone who will work with your medical team, but yet provide a safe place where you can take a vacation from cancer. I’m an oncology massage therapist: my only focus is you, and providing you comfort. A place where you can go and be yourself and feel safe.
“I wanted this every day! After my massage I felt everything was right inside me.”\
A massage therapist trained in Oncology Massage can provide many wonderful and positive effects that can support the healing of all your parts–the physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual parts. Your entire being needs time to restore and be nurtured. The human touch, the comforting and safe touch, that massage will provide can help you relax and give you time away from your cancer. Massage creates a relaxing experience during this challenging time in your life. It is a shame that treatments for emotional healing, such as massage or Craniosacral Therapy, are not part of the cancer treatment protocol but an option for your healing.
“What I craved most was a relaxing touch massage.”
Massage therapy supports all parts of you, your whole person, and in many cases
- Offers short-term pain relief
- Reduces anxiety and stress level
- Helps with depression
- Reduces swelling
- Helps heal scars
- Improves body image
- Helps reduce headaches
- Helps with insomnia
- Helps with fatigue
- Helps ease constipation
- Lessens nausea
- Increases alertness and mental clarity
- Helps improve peripheral neuropathy
- Aids in post-surgical healing and more
“I sleep so well after seeing you.”
- Alleviate side effects from chemotherapy, radiation and other treatments
- Decrease or eliminate nausea
- Increase appetite
- Decrease pain
- Reduce the chance of infections
- Promote Deep Relaxation
- Relieve fatigue
- Improve the quality of life
“Debra-Jean is incredible and supportive, and she provided me with a relaxing safe place to heal. She is knowledgeable, shared what she knows and her experience empowers people to heal.”
Whether you choose massage therapy or CST, you will feel both physically and emotionally nurtured. Many of my clients combine both massage and CST for an incredibly deeply relaxing session, and relish the relief they feel. I am happy to to be part of your healing team, to support you and offer a safe place for you to restore. These comfort-focused treatments are tailored for the individual. You can received these treatments even if you are actively going through your medical treatments, in recovery or survivorship, as well as for those who will be moving on soon.
“Your comforting words and gentle healing touch offered me the strength and fortitude to take on the cancer and make it through. Thank you, my friend, for your partnership and support this past year. You met with your energy wherever I was and supported me there.”
Debra-Jean LeBrun is a Licensed Massage Therapist and Master Aesthetician who specializes in Craniosacral Therapy. She is trained in Oncology Massage and Skincare since 1998. Debra-Jean is also trained in scar release both surgical and burn scars. She had training in Manual Lymphatic Drainage including pre- and post-surgical massage and vacuum therapy. Debra-Jean is located in Beverly, MA, at Balance Within. Debra-Jean can be reached at 978-473-7808, BalanceWithinmassageandskin.