Carolinas HealthCare System
Cancer Care
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Beginning the Healing Process

Bridget S. Bongaard, MD, FACP, FIM, Chief of Integrative Medicine, CMC-NEM

Survivorship starts at the time of diagnosis. That is an important mindset--to have the vision for wellness and not disease.

How do we help you summon your courage and strength, and rebuild a well of strength and reserve to use for healing? You have what is needed inside you already, but as part of your Integrative Oncology team, we partner with you to accelerate the healing process by teaching you good nutrition, important self-care skills, helping with the mental and spiritual mindset to get the job done with the use of Integrative Medicine techniques. Each program is a learning chapter in itself, but in this issue we will focus on the body-mind connection.

Most patients receiving a diagnosis of cancer go through great emotional shock: grief, anger and denial, finally achieving some level of acceptance as the life threatening experience of a cancer diagnosis is digested and metabolized psychologically. The impact of the patient’s mental and spiritual health affects not only immediate, but also long-term outcomes, including recurrence and survival.

Many factors influence mental health outlook in the cancer patient at the time of diagnosis. It is important to identify the initial degree of the person’s psychological hardiness and resilience as this provides the base of strength and coping skills for the disease-related challenges.

Treatment-related alterations of body image, disturbance of sexual/ intimate relationships, ability to cope with treatment side effects— which can include fatigue, anxiety, depression, insomnia, vasomotor symptoms and cognitive dysfunction greatly influence quality of life and function.

In a study done by Groenvold et al 2007, the question was raised as to whether psychological distress in newly diagnosed breast cancer patients was associated with survival. Analysis of 1,588 patients beginning two months after their primary operation and extending 12.9 years, showed that low levels of emotional distress and low fatigue independently predicted longer recurrence-free and overall survival, after controlling for tumor biological factors.

There was a positive clinical correlation with longer recurrence-free survival and less anxiety, while overall healthy emotional function remained a significant indicator of overall survival. Low levels of fatigue also independently predicted longer recurrence-free survival. Thus, it is important for patients and their doctors to address these symptoms and create effective strategies for treatment.

In the next issue, we will talk about how mental stress (anxiety, depression and psychological trauma) affects the body‘s healing powers and ability to overthrow cancerous cells invasion. We will also begin to teach you to utilize integrative medicine techniques to capitalize on improving immune function and tumor surveillance with use of stress reduction techniques.

To schedule an appointment with Dr. Bongard, call 704-403-7050.

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