After the reality of the dreaded words: ‘You have breast cancer,’ sinks in, the next step for many women is to secure the most technologically advanced medical care.
But there’s another, lesser known side to the story. Recent research shows treating mind, body and spirit with integrative medicine, reduces anxiety and combined with traditional medicine can be more effective in healing breast cancer.
Laura Squillace of Southfield, was diagnosed with stage 3 triple negative breast cancer in 2011. Both she and her sister, who was being treated at the same time, carry the BRCA1 gene mutation linked to an aggressive form of the disease.
In fact, it was Squillace’s sister who inspired her integrative medicine journey when she purchased a guided imagery CD for her at the hospital during her surgery.
A journey, Squillace believes, that has led, in large part, to a full and happy recovery.
“I feel great,” said Squillace, who five years later, continues to practice guided imagery and good nutrition, receive oncology massage and Reiki, see a naturopathic physician and exercise regularly.
She also volunteers once a month at the Breast Care Center at Beaumont Hospital, Grosse Pointe, where she contributes to her own well-being by giving back as a mentor to newly diagnosed patients.
Gail Elliott Patricolo, director of Beaumont’s Integrative Medicine program, said integrative medicine addresses areas traditional medicine does not.
“A breast cancer diagnosis can be devastating to a woman,” Patricolo said. “There’s physical pain, emotional pain, hair loss and high anxiety. Traditional medicine takes great care of the physical via lumpectomy, mastectomy, chemotherapy and/or radiation.
“But what can we do to reduce anxiety? That’s where integrative medicine comes in: we focus on the emotional, physical and spiritual.”
And while a growing body of research shows integrative therapies effectively reduce anxiety, pain and the side effects of treatment, they do not cure breast cancer.
“Nothing we do in integrative medicine cures cancer,” Patricolo stressed. “We are not an alternative to traditional medicine. We are an adjunct.”
In addition to experts trained in oncology massage, Beaumont’s Integrative Medicine program offers nutritionists, acupuncturists, Reiki practitioners, yoga therapists, naturopathic and medical physicians.
“Today’s patients want to feel empowered,” Patricolo said. “But some herbs and supplements have counter-indications with breast cancer drugs. It’s important they take action in a supervised setting.”
“Laura was the ideal patient,” Patricolo continued. “She recognized the value of both traditional and integrative medicine and was 100 percent compliant in combining both approaches.”
Using guided imagery, for example, leading up to reconstruction surgery, Squillace said, was a game changer for her.
“It helped me get through a tough thing in pretty good shape,” she said. “Today, integrative therapy is just as important to me as seeing my medical doctors on a regular basis.”
Beaumont’s Integrative Medicine program is available at the Troy, Royal Oak and Grosse Pointe hospitals, as well as the Health and Wellness Center in Rochester Hills, and the Beaumont Medical Center in West Bloomfield Township. For more information or to make an appointment, visit http://www.beaumont.edu/centers-services/integrative-medicine/
Breast Cancer Facts from the American Cancer Society
Roughly 1 in 8 U.S. women will develop breast cancer over the course of her lifetime.
About 246,660 new cases of invasive breast cancer will be diagnosed this year among U.S. women and 2,600 new cases among U.S. men.
About 40,450 women and 440 men in the U.S. are expected to die this year from breast cancer.
Breast cancer is the second leading cause of cancer death in women, exceeded only by lung cancer.
Breast cancer death rates have been declining since 1989.
The survival rate for women diagnosed with breast cancer is now around 90 percent, and even higher when detected in the earliest stages.