Integrative Oncology—July 2010

I am not a health care provider and cannot give specific medical advice. What I am is a three-time survivor of cancer who is thankful for being alive. I am not only surviving, but thriving. I want to use my story and my experiences to offer hope and support to others with cancer. And I want to use this column to share ideas with oncology nurses and help you with all you are doing for cancer patients and their families.

I believe that the mind, body, and spirit are all connected. This column, Integrative Oncology from the Patient's Perspective, will focus on these connections and on strategies and practices that can help to keep the connections as healthy as possible. Many of your patients are already using these practices for support. Some practices are good, and evidence suggests they are helpful. Others can be harmful, however, and nurses can help patients separate the good from the not so good. This is not a column that advocates doing away with conventional treatments and using alternative treatments only. Instead, it is about complementary practices that can be used with conventional medicine to help patients feel better. And, it is about complementary practices that are evidence-based.

I had my first cancer—a Wilm's tumor—in l945, when I was 3 years old. I had my second cancer 30 years later, and my third cancer 30 years after that. For more about my story, see my children's book, Dancing Cancer, which I wrote to offer hope and support to those touched by cancer. The book was profiled in The Patient's Voice in the June issue of Oncology Nurse Advisor.

I have often been asked, “What has been your secret for overcoming cancer?” I believe that many things have helped me survive three cancers, among them faith, prayer, a positive mental attitude, and the support of family and friends. When patients first learn they have cancer, usually their mind shuts down or starts to spin. Many go straight into fear mode. But a cancer patient needs faith, not fear. A strong faith can help in managing stress and finding peace.

A healthy lifestyle is also very important—for everyone, but especially for cancer patients. I didn't smoke and seldom drank alcohol. Since I grew up on a farm, we always had lots of fresh fruits and vegetables. Local produce was available. When I buy my groceries now, I shop the perimeter of the store where the fresh, whole foods are. When picking out fruits and vegetables, I try to get as many different colors as possible. I drink lots of water, sometimes adding lemon, orange, cucumber, or fruit slices. For most of my life, I've been physically active. I taught dance, and I was always interested in promoting physical activity. I still do therapeutic exercises and other physical activities. Yoga, Tai Chi, Qigong, walking, swimming, dancing, gardening, and other physical activities are important. It's important for cancer patients to do something they like and enjoy, and to just keep moving. Lots of rest and good-quality sleep are also important. Nurses can teach the patients about the importance of rest and good sleep hygiene.

I also used complementary therapies to help me get through treatment. For example, I never experienced nausea when I was having chemotherapy and radiation because I used acupuncture and Chinese herbs. I still go for acupuncture every 6 weeks.

These are just a few of my “secrets.” Future columns will offer sources for evidence-based help and support as well as explore specific ways that nurses can help their patients. This column is for oncology nurses, and your ideas for topics are most welcome. Thank you for the opportunity to share Integrative Oncology from the Patient's Perspective. ONA

Linda McDonald lives in Sarasota, Florida. You can e-mail her with your thoughts and ideas at

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