Support Groups and Mind/Body Healing Help Women During Breast Cancer Treatment

PJ Hamel Health Guide

  • A clinical trial about to start in upstate New York will study a group of women undergoing chemotherapy for breast cancer, and the effect mind/body activities have on their experience.

    “The purpose of this study is to find out if women participating in a mind/body program or participating in a support group have better control of nausea and quality of life,” said Dr. Lisa Kaufmann, professor of internal medicine at SUNY Upstate Medical University in Syracuse, sponsor of the study.

    Women will be randomized into two groups; one to practice mind/body activities, the other to attend a support group. Mind/body activities will include meditation, relaxation techniques, nutrition, movement, and journaling. The support group experience will focus on health education, support, and sharing experiences verbally with others in the group. The goal of the study is to compare the effectiveness of these activities in helping women cope with chemotherapy’s side effects, in comparison to medications (antiemetic drugs).
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    Tell you what–I’ll predict the outcome right now. Women who meditate, practice relaxation techniques, or pursue other activities that reinforce the connection between spirit and body are going to have an easier time with chemotherapy than those who don’t. And, if the support group is a “right fit” for the women involved, they too will find their chemo experience less of a challenge than women going it alone.

    How do I know? Because, since going through cancer, I’ve personally experienced the power of a positive spirit in dealing with this disease, whether it’s the hair loss and mouth sores of chemo, the depression brought on by failed treatments.

    And I coordinate an informal support group (based at our local pub, rather than at the hospital; ah, the difference a change in venue makes!) I regularly feel the love and strength that’s kindled in this group. As one of the women recently e-mailed me, “I love being a part of this group, and as I get to know other women who are diagnosed, I love having something so positive, helpful, and just plain fun, to invite them to.” When you’re living with cancer, fun is a precious commodity—and just as healing as the array of drugs sitting in your medicine cabinet.

    I’m glad the medical community is catching on to the fact that drugs and other physical interventions alone are not the cure-all for women dealing with breast cancer. There has to be some emotional healing, too. We women have a rich spiritual life, whether it’s out there for all to see, or hidden deep inside. We come by it naturally; our arms are made for holding, our breasts for nurturing, our voices for praise and comfort.

    And when the shoe’s on the other foot, and we’re the ones in need of comfort, we naturally turn to the women around us for support. “Support group” doesn’t have to mean sitting in a circle at the cancer center; it’s any time two or more women meet and connect. The company of other women, coupled with lowering stress levels via the mind-body connection, have helped me, and many women I know, cope with cancer. Here’s betting the upcoming clinical trial in New York will prove just that.
Published On: January 12, 2007