The MATCH Study: Mindfulness And Tai chi for Cancer Health. This innovative clinical trial conducted by the University of Calgary/Tom Baker Cancer Centre and the Princess Margaret Cancer Centre is now recruiting cancer survivors! As a participant you get to choose which treatment approach you want, or let us assign you to a group if you are equally interested in both. We will measure program effects on psychological, physical and biological outcomes including quality of life, mood, stress, balance, blood pressure, heart rate, immune function and more! Visit www.thematchstudy.ca for more details.
by Matthew Machan
Over the past eight weeks I have had the opportunity to attend both the Mindfulness and Tai Chi/Qigong program sessions offered through the MATCH study, as part of my training to work on the study. My experience with these programs has been quite amazing, as I have learned much more than what I had anticipated. As expected, I am now more educated on the art of meditation, being mindful, and meditative movements (Tai Chi/Qigong and the mindfulness yoga). However, I have also learned an immense amount about the challenging journey of battling cancer. It became clear that the Mindfulness and Tai Chi/Qigong programs provide an opportunity to limit the struggles that cancer patients face. For people not familiar with each intervention it might be hard to know how they are similar and different, so the team thought it would be useful for me to share my impressions with potential participants, as someone new to both practices.
When examining both of the programs, there are many similarities. Both of the programs succeed at providing a safe, comfortable, and welcoming environment for participants. It is clear that the participants feel safe and secure within the groups by the way they act, speak, and engage in activities. Those battling cancer may often feel insecure or uncomfortable talking about their experiences, but these sessions foster a safe space to discuss their hardships by applying it to their intervention practices. The programs give participants an opportunity to speak to others who truly understand what it is like emotionally, physically, and psychologically to endure cancer. Furthermore, both programs focus on dealing with current life conditions, accepting them, and how to reduce the negative impacts that are associated with undergoing cancer or disease. Dr. Carlson likes to refer to the equation of “Suffering = Pain (x) Resistance”, and both programs work to reduce the resistance portion, resulting in less suffering. Overall, the mindfulness and Tai Chi/Qigong programs are very effective at calming participants, teaching them how to accept and let go, and reducing the impacts of stressors in their lives.
One difference I observed is the breadth of material covered. The mindfulness program contains detailed lessons every week, which provide new information while still integrating previous content. The lessons clearly lay out the purpose of the different mindfulness activities by initiating discussions on how the practices work to combat and cope with processes that occur in the mind and body during challenging circumstances. These explanations are concise and clear, allowing all audiences to understand. I believe this empowers the participants as they can better understand what is happening to them, and the importance and benefit of applying the practices taught. This level of explanation and amount of information may allow participants to feel more accomplished at the completion of the program due to all the knowledge they have gained. However, it could also overwhelm participants by being too much to take in every week.
Conversely, the Tai Chi program does not cover such a vast amount of new material each week, and while new concepts are taught in each class, subsequent lessons are not as significantly different as previous ones. This format may be preferred by some participants, as they may not feel as overwhelmed by the content, but could also deter others from coming if they do not feel they are learning more with each session. Another difference I observed is that there are more physical movements in the Tai Chi program compared to Mindfulness, which puts a larger demand on the participant’s body. Although programs can be modified to any level of physical ability, the mindfulness program seems to be more adaptable, whereas the Tai Chi generally requires a slightly higher level of physical ability. Furthermore, when modifications are made to the movements or exercises, it has the potential to make participants self-conscious if everyone in the group is doing the movement but they cannot. However, from my experience the Tai chi/Qigong program provides a better opportunity to revitalize your muscles, joints, and body overall to become more healthy and fit.
The last major difference is in the way I feel after each session. The discussions in the mindfulness class coupled with the meditation allows me to leave the room feeling more calm and at peace with myself and my mind. The exercises carried out in the Tai Chi session also have this calming effect, but instead of being more aware of my thoughts, I have felt more aware of my body. The Tai Chi movements give me a feeling of empowerment, and this feeling of strength and contentedness about myself and my body seems to positively impact my thoughts and mind as well.
Overall, both programs seem to provide great strategies for participants to take control of their lives and reduce the negative symptoms associated with cancer or disease. Although they provide different strategies, and concepts are presented differently, they both efficiently work to achieve the same goal of mind and body health. These programs are welcome and beneficial as they provide a non-pharmacological method for individuals to take control of their lives and health. This empowers participants as it reduces the strict reliance on drugs and medication by allowing individuals to feel healthier by their own actions. Both programs illustrate the necessity and benefit of implementing integrative oncological practices, to provide more successful healthcare to patients.
MATCH study breaks the clinical trials mold and allows patients to choose their intervention.
For more information visit our website: www.thematchstudy.ca
Matthew Machan is an undergraduate at the University of Calgary, enrolled in his third year of a Bachelor of Health Sciences, majoring in Biomedical Sciences. Matt is a summer student working at the Holy Cross Centre with Dr. Linda Carlson and Dr. Erin Zelinski on the MATCH Study, performing data collection and management, as well as participant screenings and assessments. He has been attending the Mindfulness and Tai Chi/Qigong classes to gain a better understanding of the programs provided in the MATCH study and what they entail.