Complementary therapies for cancer

Jenny McElvaney is a Nutritional Therapist based in Co. Meath. She has also beaten breast cancer twice. She joins us today to explain what complementary therapies are and how they might be able to help you.

 The Irish Cancer Society describes complementary therapies as treatments that you can have alongside conventional treatment. They include therapies such as:

Nutrition therapy
Music, art and dance therapy
Gentle massage

Many people find complementary therapies very helpful in a number of ways. As a cancer patient they may make you feel:

  • More positive about yourself and your illness.
  • Better able to cope with the physical side-effects of cancer and the distressing emotions cancer often brings.
  • More focussed spiritual dimensions, that also aid healing.

I have spent much time researching and using complementary therapies, some of which I have found extremely beneficial. Some therapies work on pain, where others can help reduce stress and fatigue. Investigating a therapy to find the right one for you is important.

Some of those I have found useful over the years include:

Acupuncture is a safe treatment for pain relief and nausea and one of the most widely accepted complementary therapies. It can be a particularly helpful therapy to relieve some of the side effects of cancer treatments, and does not cause any side effects. Acupuncture is performed using tiny needles that stimulate nerve fibres which inhibit the transmission of other pain impulses to the brain, inducing the brain’s natural painkillers – endorphins.

Yoga uses a combination of breathing exercises, and works to strengthen the connection between the mind, body and soul. There are many types of yoga, so no matter what your age or lifestyle, there’s a type to suit you. For example, when recovering from cancer, it may be best to try a gentle style such as Sivananda Yoga. A more stimulating and dynamic yoga is Ashtanga. Whichever style you decide upon, it’s often a good idea to have guidance from a practicing yoga teacher, as they can advise on how to hold certain postures for your particular situation.

Mindfulness is a state of being that rewires your subconscious to be more in touch with your inner peace. Learning a way to focus, calm the mind and relax the body, encourages feelings of calmness and positivity. Many people who practice meditation regularly, say it can increase inner strength which begins to follow you in daily life. It can create changes and strength in your ability to face life’s challenges.

Sound and music therapy
Depending on the type of therapy incorporated, tonal instruments such as Himalayan and crystal singing bowls, gongs and tuning forks can all be part of it. Some patients find this very relaxing and find it helps with their recovery and well-being. It can promote relaxation and help reduce stress during or after treatment.

Massage is our oldest form of therapy, and remains one of the most powerful methods of healing. It can help promote circulation throughout the body, and research has shown that it has traditionally been used to treat peripheral neuropathy arising from cancer treatment. It can help to reduce pain, stress and sleep issues, as well as anxiety of dealing with a cancer diagnosis.

A gentle self-massage can also help calm the body. Massaging the neck, shoulders and chest area, using long strokes and always stroke toward the heart, in order to stimulate blood circulation.

Participating in exercise optimises energy, reduces stress, improves alertness and boosts self esteem. A physical therapist or personal trainer, who has experience in dealing with those going through cancer can devise an exercise plan that is best suited to your particular situation.

A whole food diet such as fruit, vegetables, nuts, seeds, whole grains, meat, eggs, fish and dairy. Avoiding processed foods such as pizzas, biscuits, and breakfast cereals which can produce fluctuations in blood sugar. Seek advice on supplements and herbs from a trained Practitioner, to ensure they do not interfere or interact with cancer treatments.

Talk to your doctor or nurse if you are thinking of trying complementary therapies, as some methods can interfere with standard cancer treatments.

Jenny McElvaney’s Complementary Health Clinic offers a range of therapies including Herbal Medicine, Nutritional Therapy and Natural Skincare Products. She is also completing her training in Acupuncture and Traditional Chinese Medicine. She currently holds her Clinics, by appointment, in Meath. Consultations are designed for the person, who may be going through conventional treatment, but also wants to take control of their own health, nutrition and recovery. Natural skincare is also available for those going through surgery and/or radiotherapy. Apart from working with those diagnosed with cancer, she also focuses on general wellness, digestive issues, menopause, lyme disease, autoimmune issues, heart disease, diabetes, chronic fatigue, food intolerances and more. For more on Jenny, visit her website here.

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