The following is a guest post:
Integrative Health Care Eases Pain and Grief for Cancer Patients
The pain and grief felt by people with cancer can be debilitating and exhausting.
When combined, pain and grief exacerbate each other. As pain increases, the ability to manage emotions becomes challenging. As grief intensifies, sensations of pain may increase. But the right combination of integrative health care can offer relief.
Traditional health care has long focused on easing pain for people with cancer. Many types of physical pain are controlled well with the latest medications and treatments. Pain relief is essential to quality of life, but so is emotional balance, and traditional health care has long ignored the importance of mental health wellness.
Integrative health care combines traditional, holistic and mental health medicine to address both the physical and emotional aspects of health. A combined approach that treats physical and emotional health can drastically improve a cancer patient’s quality of life.
Pain is all too often improperly treated.
Few oncologists or cancer doctors specialize in pain management. For this reason, it is wise for cancer patients to work with a pain management or palliative care specialist. Palliative care specialists help patients manage a variety of symptoms in addition to pain.
The latest pain medicines and therapies available today are far better at controlling pain than what was available years ago. And now that doctors understand that controlling pain isn’t as simple as popping a pill, they’re educating their patients on other factors that affect pain. For example, sleep quality, stress, anxiety and anger are controllable factors that can impact pain.
A 2005 study on women with pain found the less time they spent in the REM stage of sleep (the stage in which dreams occur) the more sensitive they became to their pain. Sleep medication and relaxation techniques are highly effective at improving sleep quality.
Dealing with stress, anxiety and anger may be more complicated than addressing sleep quality, but the payoffs are huge and will improve other parts of life aside from pain. Working with a licensed mental health counselor is among the most effective strategies for addressing stress, anxiety and anger. Many new cancer centers are now offering counseling services to patients and their families.
Coping With Grief
Immense feelings of grief are normal to experience when you’ve been told your life expectancy may be cut short. This is especially true for people diagnosed with largely incurable illnesses such as mesothelioma, lung cancer and pancreatic cancer.
Everyone processes grief differently, and there’s no wrong or right way to grieve. There are stages of grief such as denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. The stages aren’t necessarily processed in a particular order, and people may bounce back and forth between some stages for a while before reaching full acceptance.
Feeling supported by loved ones and a mental health counselor can make the stages of grief easier to process. Joining a support group can also help people move through stages of grief. Support groups help people affected by cancer know that they aren’t alone in their situation and that others are going through similar emotions.
Integrative health care takes traditional medicine a step further by treating all aspects of a cancer patient’s health. Physical pain and emotional grief are best treated at the same time. If one is ignored, the potential relief from either is compromised. Thankfully, integrative oncology centers are opening throughout the country and it seems a trend of more comprehensive health care is on the rise in the U.S.
Michelle Whitmer has been a medical writer and editor for The Mesothelioma Center since 2008. Focused on the benefits of natural and holistic medicine for cancer patients, Michelle is a certified yoga instructor and earned her B.A. in Environmental Studies from Rollins College in Florida.
Axelrod, J. (2014, November 8). The 5 stages of grief. Retrieved from http://psychcentral.com/lib/the-5-stages-of-loss-and-grief/000617
Hanscom, D. (2012). Back in control: A spine surgeon’s roadmap out of chronic pain. Seattle: Vertus Press.
Smith, M.T., et al. (2005). Individual variation in rapid eye movement sleep is associated with pain perception in healthy women: preliminary data. Sleep, 28: 809-812.