All Together Now
More than 70 million Americans are living with hypertension. Many do nothing about it, and many don’t know they have it—even as it registers a heavy toll on the body.
“I’m doing this for me.”
That’s what Sherry Kellner says of her decision to explore integrative medicine since being diagnosed with breast cancer more than a year ago, and she says it in a way that is at once forceful and exuberant. In fact, speak to Kellner for even a few minutes about her experience with cancer, and her positive attitude shines through. “I’ve learned to have a little patience,” she says, “and I’ve learned to be more proactive about handling the side affects of my treatment—but always with my doctor’s blessing.”
Like many patients today, Kellner is turning to such complementary therapies as acupuncture, aromatherapy, mindful breathing, guided imagery, and gentle exercises to support traditional medical care. And Overlook is embracing this integrative approach, making sure all areas of wellness are addressed—the mind and spirit, as well as the body—to elevate the patient experience. Integrative medicine was introduced to cardiac-care patients years ago, and today more than 13,000 cardiac patients in the Atlantic Health system are supported with these therapies every year. Now, these therapies are being used to help treat patients facing many different kinds of challenges, from cancer treatment to recovery from surgery.
“Integrative Medicine offers a special kind of care to patients, helping people empower themselves to improve health and wellness,” explains Emilie Rowan, manager of Integrative Medicine for Atlantic Health. “Patients in the hospital are recovering from a procedure or facing something that’s causing them stress, and we want to help them with that. When something like yoga or massage or deep breathing can rebalance patients and make them feel better, that makes a huge difference in mental attitude and emotional well-being.”
As a nurse and a licensed acupuncturist, Roye Evans, RN, the Integrative Medicine coordinator at Overlook Hospital, sees the benefits of these therapies firsthand every day. “Patients find themselves in situations where they have no control and feel like their bodies are being invaded,” she says. “Their bodies become something they have to fight against. But when they’re able to reconnect with their bodies through integrative therapies, they regain control and find a sense of peace.”
Evans often visits patients at their bedside to promote healing, whether it’s through acupressure or meditation or deep breathing. She’ll teach patients and family members how to focus on acupressure points to relieve nausea and fatigue, or leave behind a guided imagery CD that patients can draw on whenever they need. Other times, she consults with patients in the chemotherapy infusion rooms or outpatient radiation rooms, where such therapies as massage, Healing Touch, and Reiki are available. “We let them see this space as a place for healing rather than a place for being sick,” she says. “We focus on survivor work: Cancer is now a chronic illness; you live with it and cope with it.”
And, as Kellner reminds, a cancer diagnosis does not preclude people from having other medical issues: “Just because you have cancer doesn’t mean that other things can’t be bothering you also. Cancer doesn’t exclude you from other ailments. That’s why it’s so important to be looked at as a whole person, not just as a diagnosis. No one can experience cancer for you, but the support and expertise of other people make it so much easier. Complementary medicine is a big part of this.”
Rowan and Evans hear all the time just how grateful patients are to receive some relief. “Patients come to me and say, ‘You have helped me to be aware of my body for the first time since I was diagnosed,’ ” says Evans. “They tell me they’re able to cope with stress and emotional reactions to what they’re feeling, health-wise. They tell me they can manage pain better, feel less anxious, feel more like themselves. It’s tremendously rewarding.”
To learn more about Integrative Medicine, call (888) 544-0312.