by Jill Shainhouse ND FABNO
Most patients who are between the ages of 18 and 34 feel that there is a lack of complementary and alternative resources as well as support for young adults with cancer.
Young adult patients are often motivated, resilient, and want to do everything possible to support themselves through treatment and most importantly prevent recurrence of disease. They are also a population that is extremely concerned about preventing or lessening the long-term complications of cancer treatments. Although there are some newer programs in place that focus on specific age groups, unfortunately are no CAM programs available through the Ontario hospital system for these patients.
Diet and Nutritional Supplements:
Young patients need more counseling with respect to food and nutrition. Their diets may need varying degrees of tweaking depending on the patient’s prior eating habits. Two common questions are: 1) What should I avoid? and 2) What should I focus on eating? The current model in hospitals allows for consultation with a registered dietician, but little is discussed about what foods may hinder or enhance the patient’s outcome. Patients want a diet that will help them stay as healthy as possible and they want to prevent a recurrence. The most important time to change a young adult patient’s diet is likely after chemotherapy and/or radiation due to challenges with appetite, digestion and changes in taste during treatment. The bottom line is not to beat yourself up if you don’t have the “perfect diet” during active treatment.
There is also a lot of interest in the area of vitamin or plant based supplements (nutraceuticals) that may work synergistically with chemotherapy and/or radiation. These substances may also reduce the side effects of these treatments without causing their own set of side effects such as dry mouth or constipation just to name a few.
Young adults are often frightened of the effects that chemotherapy will have on their body. Concerns range from feeling nauseated, weight changes, overwhelming fatigue, hair loss, and for female patients; cessation of menstruation/induction of early menopause. Discussion of these topics and learning how to deal with issues that may arise can help alleviate some of the worry that patients have.
Acupuncture is an ancient and clinically proven technique. How does it work? Mainly by increasing blood flow and endorphins (natural pain killers) in the body. In practice it may be effectively used for symptom management. It can help patients deal with anxiety and induce relaxation. It helps to reduce nausea and improve appetite. It is also good for relieving pain and neuropathy (pain and numbness caused by damage to nerves from chemotherapy).
Yoga and the Mind-body Connection:
The practice of yoga helps to create awareness of the breath and the body, strengthening the connection between the two. Young adulthood is an exciting, empowering and often confusing time in one’s life. It is easy to get lost in the madness of life, especially after a cancer diagnosis at such a young age, and it is important to adapt lifestyle changes to aid in coping. Yoga can help young adults to improve self-awareness, and can be a very relaxing practice as it strengthens the mind-body connection. It may seem like a simple and less challenging form of exercise than say an aerobics class or a team sport, but the benefits are tremendous.
The Power of Positive Thinking:
Do something that you love and your body will thank you for it. The mind/body/spirit is “one” and the parts cannot be separated. If a patient lives in constant fear, there is a physiological response to that fear that is not favorable for healing.
Here are some things that I often discuss with young patients:
1) Be a responsible participant in your care (be your own advocate and understand your disease and the reason why certain treatments are recommended).
2) Be aware of what you are experiencing as a patient.
3) Seek happiness, joy and live in the moment.
4) Visualize a successful outcome.
The tendency in the hospital is to focus on the side effects of the drugs and not the potential benefit. It is important to educate the young patient that there is always hope and potential for the body to heal. The important thing to remember is not to let anyone take that away. Love, relationships and laughter have all been shown to benefit survival.
This chapter’s featured YA organization is: