Monday, 11 November 2019

BRiC's Collective Voice: Complementary Therapies and Resilience; Aug. 28, 2019.

'It’s not necessarily about being pampered, although this can feel good, it’s more about the support and kindness of another human being.'

Our discussion topic focussed on complementary therapies and their effectiveness in helping us to build our resilience following a breast cancer diagnosis. Our members have tried counselling, mindfulness, CBT, acupuncture, meditation, reflexology, Reiki, tai chi, hypnotherapy and so on. A good therapist will listen to how we feel and offer appropriate therapies to suit our needs. Some therapies offer a quick fix, perhaps feeling more relaxed or targetting something specific like acupuncture for hot flushes. Others may take time to be effective, such as counselling, and things may get worse before a positive effect is seen.

Getting the timing right when trying a longer term therapy such as counselling is key, as acting too soon after diagnosis may result in a negative experience which may be off-putting for later when the talking therapy may be more useful. The trauma of a breast cancer diagnosis may take some time to process, and trying to crystalise our feelings may be harmful if taken on at a time when numbness is a useful self-protection mechanism. A good therapist will help us to make the right judgement at the right time.

Self-awareness can be profoundly liberating when achieved via counselling, CBT, psychotherapy or other kind of talking therapy, but it can also be very challenging work. We have to be ready to face our fears, to dig deep inside and look at what we have been through, what it means to us, now and in the future.

Our members have all had a primary diagnosis of breast cancer and many are living with a secondary diagnosis. Many reported finding the relaxation therapies very helpful both during and just after treatment, Reiki and reflexology proving very popular. Many cancer hospitals and centres offer these types of therapies to cancer patients free of charge and many of our members took advantage of this. Massage is also very relaxing, but many beauty salons and spas won’t offer massage to people who’ve had cancer without a letter from a GP or other medical professional, so it’s worth being aware of this when inquiring.

Sound therapy has been tried by a few of us and has helped considerably with fatigue. Herbal remedies have been used alongside our traditional medication to enhance healing and wellbeing and to counteract the side effects of our post-cancer medicines.

Some of us have shied away from complementary therapies, perhaps seeing themselves as someone who ‘just wants to get on with it.’ Personal wellbeing practices such as meditation and journalling are helpful. Others have taken a ‘bury my head in the sand’ approach, believing they don’t need or wouldn’t benefit from additional help. Calming meditative activities such as crochet, knitting and sewing are popular, providing both focus and distraction. Some of us feel that exercise is our therapy, we run or practice yoga or walk in nature.

Some of us are unclear on what therapies might be available and whether we have access to them as cancer patients. Many centres continue to support patients for up to 5 years after diagnosis, and those with a secondary diagnosis may find they have open access to their local centre. However some centres only actively offer complementary therapies during and just after treatment and this may not suit us, particularly if we are working as much as we can through treatment. Therapies offered vary considerably by region, and sometimes we may decide to find our own private therapists. It is key to trust the therapist and believe in the treatments undertaken. For some of us, we want to go to therapists who have been through cancer themselves, and/or have had specialist training in working with cancer patients.

Counselling is generally offered as a series of six sessions which may not be long enough to be fully effective, and as private counselling is expensive this can be a problem. Scratching the surface and opening up deep wounds but not following them through may leave issues unresolved once the counselling stops. Some of us have had unpleasant experiences with therapies, and it’s worth taking the time to find the right one at the right time, and to check qualifications of the therapist.

As a group we believe that psychological help should be part of the package of treatment following a cancer diagnosis, with much better information about how to access complementary therapies and what they can do for us. Counselling can be helpful even many years after diagnosis, and relaxation therapies provide an ongoing support for wellbeing whatever stage we are at. Self-care is so important following a cancer diagnosis and many of the relaxing therapies give us time and space to focus on our wellbeing, to feel cared for. It’s not necessarily about being pampered, although this can feel good, it’s more about the support and kindness of another human being.

If you are a woman living in the UK with a breast cancer diagnosis and you would like to join our private group, please leave your name in the comments or send us a private message.

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