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 Mihaela Dirlea, MSW, RSW
A shift in perspective can make a profound impact
Our Canadian Cancer Healthcare System is very adept at assessing, diagnosing and treating physical ailments of the body, but comparatively little attention is being given to a more holistic approach to health and wellness. This trend has been shifting in recent years, with more medical centres offering a wider range of programs such the MATCH study’s mind-body interventions for cancer survivors: Mindfulness-based Cancer Recovery (MBCR) and Tai Chi –Qigong (TCQ), which acknowledge the interconnection between mind and body.
However, despite this promising shift there are many barriers to cancer survivors accessing these supports, such as lack of awareness, pre-conceptions about the benefit of these programs and time constraints.
We have asked our first group of MATCH study participants from Toronto to share their thoughts about the program and found that graduates of both MBCR and TCQ classes seem to have derived impactful benefits from their participation and commitment to the classes.
“It’s like I had a different life before and after. This program has been very fulfilling. I have learned so much about myself. And even the troubling issues at work…before I would have put up with it, but now I realize I don’t have to.” Karen, Cancer Survivor, MBCR participant, Princess Margaret Cancer Centre
“Great antidote to everyday stress living in a big city. Helps to focus and clear the mind. Highly recommend it as a practice to follow. Not at all difficult on the body.” Tony, Life champion, Tai Chi-QiGong class participant, Princess Margaret Cancer Centre
“It feels like I am getting connected to myself again.” Vanessa, Cancer Survivor, MBCR participant, Princess Margaret Cancer Centre
Even those who entered the program with a skeptical attitude found that a shift in perspective made a profound impact.
“At first I wasn’t sure about doing this, I thought this is a big time commitment, but I am so grateful I have decided to do it. This has been good. This has been really good.” Erica, Cancer Survivor, MBCR participant, Princess Margaret Cancer Centre
Specifically, our MATCH study participants not only describe attending these classes to be highly enjoyable, but most mention noticing concrete improvements in sleep, stress, mood, flexibility and energy.
“Great class, great teacher, I look forward to each week, I have felt better, sleep better and have better mood.” Marcia Forde, Cancer Survivor, Tai Chi-QiGong class participant, Princess Margaret Cancer Centre
“I never felt judged, I felt so safe in here, like I could do anything and I knew that no one would judge me. This has been true throughout the program and it’s quite unique.” Cancer survivor, MBCR participant, Princess Margaret Cancer Centre
“I find the class vital and stimulating with superb organizational structure for the group- better flexibility and relaxation are early results.” Gary Lewis, Cancer Survivor, Tai Chi-QiGong class participant, Princess Margaret Cancer Centre
Some have found that the program has helped them reduce their medication intake having gained more tools to cope with distressing symptoms.
“Perhaps the most astonishing thing to me about the [MBCR] program is how well I have been sleeping since joining the group. I had been taking a sleep aid for the last few years and in the weeks leading up to the program, I started weaning myself off it. I was very anxious about how I would cope without the medication but within a short time after starting the mindfulness study, I stopped and am now sleeping better than I have in years, even better than when I was taking the medication.” Erica, Cancer Survivor, MBCR participant, Princess Margaret Cancer Centre
Finally, our participants are suggesting that these programs would benefit cancer patients earlier on and suggest that these be available to individuals at all stages of the cancer experience.
“I wish this would have been available to me during my treatment, when I had so much time at home and I was too tired to do anything. All I could do was be in bed and recover from my treatment. This would have been very helpful during that time. I hope you will be able to make it available to people during treatment.” Cancer Survivor, MBCR participant, Princess Margaret Cancer Centre
While there may be many barriers in cancer survivors accessing mind-body programs, initial testimonials from our MATCH study participants suggest that those who are able to make the commitment can experience impactful benefits.
For more information visit our website: www.thematchstudy.ca
Mihaela is the MATCH study Coordinator for Toronto site at the Princess Margaret Cancer Centre. Mihaela has received both her BSc Hons and MSW from the University of Toronto. She has been working in Cancer Survivorship Research since 2011 and most recently has pursued certification in Mindfulness-based Stress Reduction facilitation from the Centre for Mindfulness Studies/University of Toronto. Besides her involvement in psychosocial oncology and mindfulness research, over the last several years she has been studying a Kathak – North Indian Classical Dance.