• Denise

Integrative Health Coaching to Enhance Wellness Before and After Surgery for Cancer

I recently had an opportunity to write the following article for the newsletter, Health & Healing in the Triangle and wanted to share it on my blog. It was published July 2019 by Health & Healing, Inc. in Volume 22, No. 1.

When someone receives a cancer diagnosis, their world can quickly turn from one that is routine and comfortable to one filled with uncertainly and anxiety. An overwhelmed state and sense of loss of control can develop as the newly diagnosed patient is bombarded with new information about treatment strategies such as surgery, chemotherapy, targeted therapies, and radiation therapy that they never imagined they would have to personally consider. Once the shock of a new diagnosis settles in and decisions are made about treatments individuals often begin to ask, ‘what else can I do to help gain control over this cancer’.

Taking a holistic approach to cancer care extends beyond conventional therapies and addresses not just physical health, but emotional, social, spiritual and environmental factors as well since there is much more to healing than medical treatments alone. Integrating standard care with nutrition, physical activity, and mind-body therapies takes into consideration the whole person, not just the cancer. Embracing other healing practices can provide a sense of control and empowerment to a person affected by cancer.

However, it is well known that behavior change can be challenging without support and guidance. It often takes weeks or months before a new healthy behavior becomes embedded in one’s new way of life. This is where an integrative health coach specializing in cancer can be valuable as part of an individual’s “anti-cancer” team. There are a growing number of evidence-based complementary therapies that can be beneficial for not only symptom management and treatment-related side effects, but also may decrease risk for recurrence, secondary cancers, and co-morbid illnesses such as heart disease and osteoporosis.

Pre-surgery Integrative Health Coaching

Surgery is a typical part of conventional cancer treatments, and it is often recommended prior to other treatments, however it can also follow other modalities that are utilized to reduce tumor size pre-surgery (e.g., neo-adjuvant chemotherapy).

Sarah was a 42-year-old woman diagnosed with Stage II hormone receptor positive breast cancer who was receiving neo-adjuvant chemotherapy when she came for her first Integrative Health Coaching visit. She was very interested in how she could improve her immune function and decrease fatigue while undergoing chemotherapy and overall to optimize her health prior to breast-conserving surgery. Admittedly she was not eating a healthy diet and craved foods high in refined carbohydrates. She was gaining weight while on chemotherapy and was not engaging in any exercise. Additionally, she was extremely anxious about her upcoming surgery.

During our initial meeting it was discovered that Sarah had once loved yoga, but since raising a family she no longer felt she had time for yoga. After we explored what was most important for Sarah to work on we developed three concrete, realistic goals for the next several weeks which focused on reducing refined carbs and adding more vegetables to her diet, engaging in yoga 2-3 times/week, and utilizing meditation 5-7 days/week for ten minutes to manage anxiety. Through meetings every other week for the next six weeks, Sarah was successful at achieving her goals and felt she was in a healthier state both physically and mentally for surgery.

Post-surgery Integrative Health Coaching

I continued working with Sarah several more weeks following surgery and her main concerns shifted to preventing recurrence and reducing negative effects of hormonal therapy. We continued to work on improvements in her diet and adding in other forms of physical activity that could further enhance her bone and heart health, while also educating her on modalities to help manage bothersome menopausal symptoms. Building on her prior successes and feeling less stressed, more energetic and empowered, Sarah was well on her way to living a healthier, happier “anti-cancer” life despite the continuation of hormone therapy following her surgery. Sarah was proud of her health accomplishments and also felt as though she could now serve as a healthy role model for her family.


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