Alternative therapies help to ease pain and stress of cancer patients

Non-traditional, stress relieving treatments can help those with cancer and other illnesses.

Molly Crooks receives a Reiki and massage treatment from Peggy Zinsser, a licensed massage therapist and Reiki master at Spa Harmony in the Wilfred R. Cameron Wellness Center. Photo:Holly Tonini

“Acupuncture has steadily grown in popularity because people are recognizing and understanding its benefits,” explains Vanessa Burrows, supervisor of Spa Harmony at the Washington Health System Wilfred R. Cameron Wellness Center in Washington, which offers acupuncture, acupressure, Reiki and other therapies. “However, there is still a lot more people can learn about the benefits of acupuncture. Acupuncture can be used help ease the side effects of chemotherapy, such as nausea, sleep deprivation, pain, fatigue, hot flashes and many other side effects. It can also help (the patient) deal with the anxiety and stress that goes along with a cancer diagnoses.”

How does acupuncture work? The stimulation aids the body’s healing process.

“Acupuncture improves the body’s functions and promotes the natural self-healing process by stimulating specific anatomic sites – commonly referred to as acupuncture points,” Burrows says. “Acupuncture needles puncture the skin to help alleviate pain and help with illnesses. For example, allergies can be eased, migraines can be reduced, pain in various parts of the body, such as the neck, can be reduced and it has even been shown to help with morning sickness.”

Acupressure works in the same way and is increasingly being used to help oncology patients.

“Reflexology or acupressure help to ease breathing issues that can occur due to chemotherapy,” Burrows says. “This helps the client to continue daily tasks during treatment. Oncology massage can be a great way for the client to feel more at ease and relaxed during this high stress time.”

Molly Crooks of Washington gave acupressure a try when her physicians recommended it during treatment for an illness in 2009 that left her in chronic pain.

“It has helped me tremendously,” Crooks says. “I had a second medical issue in 2012 when I had thyroid cancer and they ended up taking out my thyroid.

I got through that illness much better and more quickly and turned around much faster because I was using all of these other therapies to help me.”

The third therapy she is referring to is Reiki, a Japanese technique for stress reduction and relaxation that also promotes healing. It’s based on the idea that an invisible life force energy flows through us. If that energy is low, we are more likely to get sick or feel stress. If it is high, we are more capable of being happy and healthy. “Honestly, when I first heard about it, it sounded kind of strange,” Crooks admits. “But you have to kind of think outside the box.”

The married mother of two has continued with Reiki and massage therapy because she believes it helps keep her balanced and grounded to help maintain good overall health and deal with the stress of daily life.

“The massage is just awesome and has so many benefits,” Crooks says. “If you have a muscle tweak or things aren’t feeling right, they’re able to work on whatever part of my body is not 100 percent.”

Burrows says Reiki is becoming more widely recognized as a healing practice as well.

“Reiki is also a wonderful option,” she adds. “Reiki is a healing technique based on the therapist channeling energy into the patient by means of touch to activate the natural healing process.”

Health insurance may cover some of these therapies, but most policies do not. “Many clients at Spa Harmony utilize their HSA (Health Savings Account),” Burrows explains. “This is the credit card account that some companies offer to their employees from their individual insurance plans. With this account, they can use it for massage, acupuncture, Reiki and sometimes pedicures for diabetics if these are medically necessary.”

She has also seen insurance companies offer a reimbursement program for these services, so she recommends clients check directly with their insurance provider on what could be covered or reimbursed for treatment of different illnesses.

Though each of these treatments is growing in popularity, Burrows still calls them hidden treasures.

“As more information and education are attainable to the public, people are gaining the knowledge about the benefits of acupuncture and massage,” she says. “The body is an amazing thing. It can heal itself when given the proper tools. The variety of services we offer at Spa Harmony can be a part of that healing process.”

Crooks agrees and only gave these therapies a try at first thinking she had nothing to lose and everything to gain. “I think it could be a lot of benefit to a lot of people if they just give it a try, whether it’s massage or Reiki or acupuncture,” she says. “Your health is really important and you only have one body – so you have to treat it well.”