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Achieving True Wellness

by Sue Weldon
Despite the incredible advances that are occurring in the field of cancer research, every year more than 5,000 women in the Philadelphia region are diagnosed with breast cancer. We are fortunate to have some of the top medical facilities here in Philadelphia, with innovative and effective treatments to treat and cure breast cancer. However, the conventional treatments—chemotherapy, radiation, surgery—often lead to debilitating side effects that can last for months or even years, and prevent women from experiencing true wellness.

As many readers surely know, the side effects of conventional cancer treatment can include nausea, headaches, profound fatigue, neuropathy, muscle and joint pain, anxiety and depression. Adding to all of these challenges is the psychological pain of losing a breast or breasts. This change in the body forces menopause in younger women, and women of all ages experience changes in body image, sexuality and sexual intimacy, adding even more stress to a very difficult situation.

While the medical community knows how to treat the cancer, the wellness community knows how to treat the woman. An abundance of research has shown that integrating complementary therapy with mainstream medicine can help lessen the physical and emotional symptoms experienced during both treatment and recovery, and can significantly improve patient wellbeing. Incorporating healing therapies like acupuncture, massage, yoga, exercise and nutrition into patients’ treatment plans can significantly increase quality of life, reduce pain, restore energy, alleviate symptoms and empower patients to take control of their own health.

Nevertheless, physicians’ focus must remain on treating the cancer, and they don’t always have the time to discuss complementary therapies with their patients, who are themselves already overwhelmed by the task of evaluating the various therapeutic options. Determining which complementary therapies are best for their own healing and then vetting the best qualified local practitioners takes many hours, and the treatments are often quite expensive and rarely covered by insurance. As a result, most cancer patients have neither the understanding nor the access to the complementary therapies that could help restore their health.

In 2009, the nonprofit Unite for HER was created to bridge the gap between the medical and wellness communities. Unite for HER’s programs and partnerships are the “change-makers” the medical community and our women are embracing. We deliver a comprehensive program that enables our patients to not only heal, but to have control in their treatment plan as well as their emotional and physical well-being. This is the beginning of change. Working in partnership with local hospitals, Unite for HER funds and delivers complementary therapies that support the physical and emotional needs of those with breast cancer during treatment and beyond.

In the winter of 2016, Unite for HER partnered with Penn Medicine Abramson Cancer Center to provide massage therapy treatments in hospital oncology suites. Early findings show that massage therapy recipients in this setting saw a 56 percent decrease in anxiety levels, nausea was decreased by 54 percent, pain decreased by 39 percent, and feel-ings of fatigue lowered by 49 percent. Fully 100 percent of the 355 women surveyed from the program would recommend massage treatments to other breast cancer patients. This union of the medical and wellness communities is the future of cancer treatment.

We envision a future where complementary therapies will be integrated with the standard of care, where insurance companies recognize the critical role that complementary therapies play in the treatment of breast and all cancers so that all patients can experience more complete wellness. Unite for HER exists to bridge the gap between the medical and wellness communities, but it is our hope that in the future that gap will be closed.

We also strive to realize a healthier community where people from all stages of life and demographic groups will have a deeper understanding of the role that healthy lifestyle choices have on the prevention of disease and the promotion of wellness. We, along with our children, will be educated about the value of proper nutrition, regular exercise, limiting exposure to toxins and self-care. At the core of preventative care is good nutrition. Simple, real, whole foods prepared using healthy cooking methods can boost our immune systems, provide relief from stomach issues, reduce the chemicals in our bodies, help manage weight and offer a whole host of other benefits. Investing in wellness programs and disease prevention education is a key component in battling the cancer epidemic in our city and around the world.

Sue Weldon is a 12-year breast cancer survivor and president and founder of Unite for HER (UFH) nonprofit, an organization that serves the emotional and physical needs of women affected by the disease. UFH has established a substantial presence in the Philadelphia medical community and each year hundreds of newly diagnosed breast cancer patients receive healing complementary therapies at no cost to them.

Published (and copyrighted) in Philly Biz, Volume 1, Issue 10 (September, 2016).
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