March 30, 2010

How Do You Chose An Alternative Med Practitioner?

Shortly after my diagnosis, I applied for and received scholarship funds to pay for alternative medicine treatments. Living in the Bay Area, my choices were endless: Chinese Medicine, nutritional therapy, energy healing. Practitioners wanted to shove coffee up my ass, have me go on juice fasts, float in healing water pools, select animal totems, and gulp down putrid herbs. They used dirty words like sleep and meditation too.

Alternative medicine is just one more area of cancer care that I’ve had to get savvy about navigating.  It is just as much of an industry as standard cancer care with its own pit falls, winners, and losers.

Walking into an alternative medicine practitioner’s office is a wild card compared to the narrow experience of visiting a traditional doctor’s office. The alternative medicine industry has few standards or regulations (though they could well afford to). Many practitioners are zealous about healing in ways that are not always realistic or are an overreaction to allopathic cancer care. And because many alternative methods depart from science to some degree, they often involve varied emotional, spiritual, and religious components that can be jarring to survivors whose internal worlds might already be in an precarious spin.

I was an avid and educated alternative medicine consumer long before I was diagnosed with cancer, and continue to use it as part of my care. But I don’t talk or write about my personal alternative medicine experiences. I’m not interested in becoming a walking billboard for a lifestyle that I can’t scientifically prove has had an impact on my health, nor do I know if it would be beneficial to the particular disease path of any other patient.

Still, I’m a huge proponent of getting smart about alternative care and wrote in  Everything Changes extensive guidelines for defining your alternative medicine goals, questions to ask a practitioner, and other checklist for evaluating alternative medicine experiences.

My number one tip is that although many forms of alternative medicine use concepts that we cannot rationally understand, you should always still use intelligent, rational thought processes in deciding whether the methodology is right for you and if the practitioner is a trustworthy, educated, experienced, and intelligent person.

Have you used alternative medicine? How did you go about finding a practitioner? What qualities did you look for? Any good stories to share about the winners as well as the wackos?

Check out Everything Changes for a mini-guide on navigating the world of alternative medicine.

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November 02, 2009

Too Lazy to Exercise?


I get winded from climbing a flight of stairs.  This is pathetic.  Aside from having two tumors in my neck (which have no impact on my lung capacity) I’m not sick.  I’m just lazy. I’m a skinny, out of shape weakling.  I’ve always hated exercising.

I’ve been a dancer and choreographer most of my life.  But to me it never was exercise; it was a profession.  Since my first surgery I’ve suffered from dizziness that keeps me from dancing.  I feel like I’ve been evicted from the heaven of the dance world and am now walking among mortals who have to face the drudgery of jogging, yoga, and stair masters.  I find exercising utterly and mind numbingly boring.  I detest it.

I’ve tried many strategies to get myself to exercise.  Positive reinforcement: Reading clinical studies about exercise benefits for cancer patients.   Negative reinforcement:Imagining myself  with osteoporosis.  Guilty reinforcement: Thinking of young adult cancer patients who are too sick to even walk.  Creative reinforcement: Rearranging corners of my house as workout space.  Retail reinforcement: Buying a new pair of Adidas.  Practical reinforcement: Creating 20-minute exercise schedules n my mind.  Writerly reinforcement: Writing tips in my book Everything Changes on how to get back into exercise after surgery and treatment.  None of these tricks have worked.

As a cancer patient, I’ve learned that sometimes how I think and feel about something doesn’t really matter.  Sometimes in life you have to force yourself to do things whether you want to or not, like having surgery or radiation. So if exercise is boring to me maybe that just doesn’t matter.  Just do it.  I’m lazy and unmotivated?  Just do it.  Maybe this is why Nike’s slogan Just Do It really stuck.  Perhaps it appeals not only to motivated athletes but also to lazy consumers like me.  I originally thought that writing this blog post outing my slothy lifestyle would shame me into exercising.  I don’t think so.  No trick is going to work for me.  I just have to do it.

Do you have a love, love/hate, or hate relationship to exercise?  How does illness impact your exercise choices?

Check out Everything Changes: The Insider’s Guide to Cancer in Your 20s and 30s for tips and recommendations on how to safely exercise after surgery and treatment.

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March 23, 2009

Yoga for Cancer and Chronic Illnesses


Do the words “yoga healing” conjure images of spa-like relaxation, chiming bells, and waterfalls? This nirvanic bliss may be the end result, but any proactive patient knows that even when it comes to alternative medicine and yoga, a lot of hard work goes into creating a good, safe, personal practice.

How do people living with cancer and other chronic illnesses evaluate alternative medicine practices such as yoga? What exercises and yoga postures are safe for cancer patients? What’s the difference between Ashtanga, Iyengar, Birkam, and restorative yoga, and what form of yoga is best for cancer patients? How can you find a studio that is friendly to cancer survivors? How often should you practice yoga and will it be affordable? What kinds of exercises can young adult cancer survivors do at home?

Listen tonight to the Stupid Cancer Show, at 9 PM EST when co-host Matthew Zachary and I will be talking about yoga and cancer with experts Kelly McGonicgal, Editor in Chief of The International Journal of Yoga Therapy, and Halle Tecco founder of Yoga Bear.

Have you engaged in yoga as a cancer survivor, or someone living with another kind of illness or disability? What was your experience? Was it a physical practice, spiritual practice or equal amounts of both? Did you create a regular routine of going to class or practicing at home, or was yoga more of an off and on activity for you?

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