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My mother in law o”h- bless her soul, actively avoided saying the word, Cancer. She referred to it as ‘The Big C.’ I believe she was afraid of tempting fate by mentioning illnesses in general. Unfortunately, she had breast cancer in her early 70’s so I guess not mentioning the Big C didn’t give her the protection she had sought. She remained soft spoken, while simultaneously being a force to be reckoned with. She was an incredible person, mother in law, and grandmother and is sorely missed.

I treat the side effects of Cancer daily in my practice. It is gratifying to be able to help someone during such a difficult time. Chemotherapy is non-selective. While working to destroy the proliferating tumor cells, it unfortunately severely compromises an Individual’s immune system, leaving them depleted and susceptible to illnesses in general. Acupuncture is a necessary adjunct treatment to support the immune system during this time. Supporting and strengthening a person’s overall Qi or energy is essential.  It allows them to get through the treatments with an increased level of energy and provides necessary protection against illnesses they may be exposed to.   

Acupuncture is a personalized treatment, and not a-one size fits all approach.  People respond differently to various chemotherapy regimens.  With that said, there are certain symptoms I commonly see that respond very well to a Holistic approach. Building the immune system and helping relieve fatigue is vital. While there are many medications often infused during chemotherapy to combat nausea, some people may still find it overwhelming.  Every patient responds differently to the various chemotherapy treatments, and differently in terms of their individual timeline. Some of my patients have the most difficulty the day of, and the day subsequent to their chemotherapy. Some people find the fourth day to be the most debilitating. Since Acupuncture is custom tailored to that individual, in that movement of time, we can target exactly what the side effects they are experiencing for optimal symptom relief.

There are a few different techniques I use to combat nausea.  From my experience, a multi- step approach gives my patients optimal relief. There are Acupuncture points I use preemptively prior to the chemotherapy treatment.  Those points are targeted to avoid nausea entirely at best, or as a minimum to mitigate it.  There are Acupuncture points that I use post chemotherapy directed to suppress and relieve nausea.  Additionally, I utilize Pyonex- a stay in Acupuncture needle. One of my patients once coined the phrase ‘To go points.’ Somehow that stuck, and my patients now ask for ‘To go points’ all the time!   It looks like a tiny round band-aid, with a very short needle on it, smaller than a thumbtack. When treating nausea, it allows me to insert a ‘To go point’ for continued nausea relief, providing coverage even between Acupuncture treatments.

Neuropathy in the hands or feet, fingers or toes, or a combination thereof, is another common side effect of certain chemotherapy drugs. It is a side effect that typically becomes increasingly more aggravated over the course of treatments.  It also increases in severity over an extended amount of time. It can be very aggravating to the person and have an adverse effect on quality of life in daily activities of living. As an example, closing buttons on a shirt can be very frustrating or impossible. Pins and needles and losing sensation can range from mildly uncomfortable to extremely painful. At times it may even make it difficult to walk in a stable manner. There are Acupuncture points that target the blood flow tremendously improving circulation to these areas.

Mouth sores and ulcers are another common devastating side effect.  Many people are already experiencing a loss of appetite, and extreme weight loss. Add mouth ulcers to the equation and it exacerbates the already trying situation. Some of the Acupuncture points I use to remedy this clear the heat from the gastrointestinal tract. The heat coming from the Stomach is often a root cause to the mouth ulcers which are a symptom. Helping a patient have relief from this awful side effect enabling them to eat, drink etc. is rewarding.

Last but certainly not least, there is a psycho emotional component that a person endures during this time, as well as subsequent to their chemotherapy treatment schedule. Acupuncture is tremendously effective in helping balance someone’s emotions. It can be so challenging trying to endure the chemotherapy treatments, while still trying to live life. Acupuncture helps achieve this balance. 

Some of my patients push themselves very hard to try and maintain daily function as close to their prior normal schedule as possible.  Some of my young patients dealing with extensive cancer make a personal choice not to tell their children. It is not my place to judge how they handle it. I co-treat with numerous Clinical social workers and Psychiatrists who are adept at helping provide therapy and support. I respect that it is ultimately the individuals’ right to choose to share their burden with their friends and family, or to try and endure secretly.  One thing for certain, it is vital to be respectful of an individual’s decision to share, or to keep the situation under wraps and close to home.  It is never ok for anyone to question or argue as to how they are handling it.  My patients and I often laugh at the peculiar words and suggestions people make who really have no clue what they are enduring.  The best thing is to avoid asking for constant updates.  The most helpful is to offer help and support to your friend or family members, telling them you are there for them in whatever capacity they need. 

The scientific advances towards eradicating cancer are prolific and moving forward every day.  Until we reach that blessed point in time, there are Holistic treatments including Acupuncture, that can help one sustain the lifesaving treatments, and live almost symptom free from the side effects of those treatments.  None of us like talking about the “Big C,” but knowing what can help as an ancillary treatment is tremendously valuable.