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Dr. Sangmin Lee shares the benefits of meditation and yoga and explains how mindfulness can affect your overall health.
Dr. Sangmin Lee is a hematologist-oncologist specializing in blood disorders and blood cancers at Weill Cornell Medicine and New York Presbyterian Hospital. More about Dr. Lee here.
How about this one? A positive attitude and mindfulness can improve treatment response.
Absolutely. Absolutely. Treatment for leukemia can be tough. Some of the treatment involves intense chemotherapy. Treatment for leukemia can involve stem cell transplant. And a key important aspect of treatment is being healthy and being optimistic about treatment, because a lot of treatment can have side effects, and side effects can be not as apparent if you are physically more active, and in a good state. So, I think that having a positive outlook is very, very important.
Quality of life issues are difficult for some people. How do you talk with your patients about their quality of life, and staying healthy during their treatment?
So, quality of life is absolutely important. I mean, the whole point of treating leukemia and any other treatment is not only to address the leukemia, but also have good quality of life. So, when discussing treatment options, you always have to balance the quality of life and side effects versus potential benefits. So, that’s always on our mind when discussing potential treatment options, and how it impacts the quality of life. Throughout the treatment process, we always tell our patients that being active, and having a good quality of life, and having good nutrition, is absolutely important, because that’s a key aspect of treatment for leukemia.
What about meditation and yoga for coping with anxiety around cancer diagnosis and treatment? Mindfulness.
Absolutely, absolutely. Those can help. Especially having leukemia, it’s very life-changing, so a typical way that patients are diagnosed with acute leukemia is patients live a normal life, and then they develop, all of a sudden, abnormalities. And they’re diagnosed with acute leukemia, and it can be very sudden. And it can be very difficult. So, that can understandably make patients have anxiety, and other issues.
And I believe that meditation, and yoga, and other exercises can absolutely help cope with this.
And there’s tons of resources for meditation and yoga out there, that are reliable.
Yeah. Should patients regard yoga and meditation as part of their treatment, as part of their self-care, during this process?
Absolutely, absolutely, if the patients are into meditation and yoga. Meditation is very harmless, and it can absolutely help in terms of guiding their mind through their treatment journey. Yoga is good if you’re physically able to do it. So, one caution is that, if you’re not someone who does yoga normally, then you should start off slow, and not push yourself as aggressively.
I was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2011. It was found by accident on a chest x-ray, and I was shocked. There was no history of breast cancer in my family, and I never thought it could happen to me.
Cancer patients are supposed to be upbeat; we are supposed to relax and trust that our doctors will provide the best possible care. I had never had a serious illness before, so I was naïve about what to expect from the medical establishment. I wanted to feel that I was safe and in good hands, and that I could simply follow my doctors’ advice. Unfortunately, that was not my experience.
Our physicians are usually our primary source of information, but the fact is that medicine in the USA is a business. Physicians are paid for their time, so unless a patient is a family member or a VIP, most physicians will not allot a patient any more time than the number of minutes that is the “standard of care.” Some doctors are more caring than others, but the for-profit system that we have in the United States rewards oncologists financially if they squeeze in as many patients as possible. A surgical oncologist will want to do surgery; a medical oncologist will want to do chemotherapy; a radiation oncologist will want to do radiation. This is what they know and what they are paid to do; and most oncologists want to get on with it as quickly as possible.
What they will usually not do is spend extra time consulting with specialists and/or looking in the medical literature for newer and better ways to treat their patients. They will generally not become knowledgeable about any kind of treatment outside their specialty, such as nutrition or any type of complementary medicine. I suspect that most oncologists would be willing to spend the time if they were paid, but insurance in the United States will usually not reimburse for these kinds of activities. In fact, the extra time that an oncologist would have to spend would actually cause them to lose income.
It seemed to me they just wanted me to follow their program, but I knew from even a very quick survey of the literature, that cancer decisions are not easy and simple. The treatment is often unsuccessful, and the side effects can be life threatening. Every patient’s case is different, so the “one-size-fits-all” approach on which traditional cancer treatment is based may not be the best way to proceed. Every year 40,000 women in the United States die of breast cancer after getting the standard of care. I did not want to be one of those statistics.
Because I have an academic background, it was natural for me to jump in and do a lot of research. I went to books, journals, and the Internet. I also got a huge amount of help from other patients. I told lots of people that I had breast cancer, and I gave them permission to tell anyone they wanted. My thought was that the more people they told, the fewer I would have to tell. But I had a huge side benefit—because breast cancer is so common, lots of former patients offered advice and support. I also joined a local breast cancer support group and an online support group at breastcancer.org. These patients were incredibly valuable to me. They referred me to doctors, including an integrative oncologist; they told me how to save my hair through chemotherapy; they told me about a program to reduce side effects through fasting; I was able to avoid neuropathy, mouth sores, and much more.
As of now, I have no evidence of breast cancer, but I am at high risk for recurrence or metastasis, so I am not able to simply return to the life I had before. Conventional cancer care offers periodic tests to see whether the cancer has returned, but it does not offer anything beyond hormone therapy to prevent the cancer from returning. The problem is that if it returns it will likely no longer be curable. I had to go outside of conventional oncology, where I found a lot of evidence that changing one’s “terrain” can keep the cancer dormant. Working with an integrative oncologist, I follow a program of diet, supplements, exercise, mental/spiritual practices, and avoidance of environmental carcinogens.
I learned a great deal from my cancer experience that most people don’t know, and I wanted to share my experience. I wrote a book that I hope will help other patients take charge of their care, to help them make the best medical decisions and to stay in remission afterward.
Janet Maker, Ph.D., is author of The Thinking Woman’s Guide to Breast Cancer: Take Charge of Your Recovery and Remission, winner of 10 book awards. It is a comprehensive guide for women seeking to understand the range of options for breast cancer care, providing resources and information they need to make the best decisions about their own treatment and the best ways to stay in remission.
She holds a Ph.D. in Educational Psychology from University of Southern California, a M.S. in Social Work from Columbia University, and a B.A. in English from University of California, Los Angeles. She is retired from a career as a professor and author of textbooks in the field of College Reading, and she credits her background in academic training in helping her do research for this book. She loves traveling, dancing, food, blues music, Spanish, and the outdoors.
Certified Yoga Therapist Raquel Jex Forsgren shares a short yoga and breathing technique to help you reduce anxiety and increase relaxation. You can refer back to these practices in stressful situations to help control your mind and breath.
You can check out more of Raquel’s videos on her YouTube channel, Yoga With Raquel.
So what I’ll ask all of you to do, even those of you that are on‑‑joining us with Andrew‑‑and Dr. Subbiah, you can do it as well‑‑I’d like all of you to feel really comfortable, just to sit in your chair or if you’re watching this in your bed lying on your back, just wherever you are I want you to just simply close your eyes if you feel comfortable doing that. And immediately feel the surface of whatever it is that’s supporting you, the chair, the bed, see if you can sink into it, even 5 percent more than you were initially.
Wherever your hands are, feel the bottoms of your hands, maybe the bottoms of your feet, your toes, your heels. Just feel the body itself. Now notice your breathing and don’t judge it, just notice what it’s doing, if it’s nice and slow and fluid as you inhale and exhale or shorter little breaths or sticky or clunky in any way. Don’t analyze it. Don’t go into any thinking other than just noticing.
Begin to expand your muscles in your ribs as you take your next inhale. Just think about expanding your ribs out just a little bit more, taking two more nice, slow inhales and exhales. And I want you to bring to mind one thing you’re really grateful for today. One thing. The next before we move on, bring to mind a goal, an intention. It could be how you want to feel for the rest of the day, emotionally or physically. How do you want to feel or what do you need? Beautiful.
Softly begin to open your eyes and bring your hands right in front of your heart with your palms placed together. We’re going to do just a few movements of our arms so that you can see what it’s like to connect movement, your body and mind and breath together, and also thinking about lung cancer just something that helps expand the lungs and just activate all of those muscles themselves that need to be nourished.
So as you inhale just open your arms like an (? cast) or goal post. And you’ll need to adjust this. If you have had surgery along the central plate, take it nice and easy, just open, inhaling. As you exhale bring your arms together, touching your palms together, elbows and forearms. Inhale, open the arms again. Exhale, closing the arms together. Just take two more only moving with your own breath. And closing. One more time just like that, beautifully opening and relaxing. And releasing the palms back down on your hands.
Close your eyes one more time. I want you to notice if anything has changed within your body, your mind or your emotions, and there’s nothing wrong if nothing’s shifted. I just want you to notice. And softly blink open your eyes again because I want to show you and have you go through with me one of the best anxiety reducing breathing techniques that can be done. It’s published in the literature.
It’s called alternate nostril breathing. You can do this while you’re waiting at the doctor’s office for results, if you starting to feel panicky or anxious, when you’re inside an MRI machine or a CT scan, when you are just waking up in the middle of the night with racing thoughts and you can’t seem to shut them off. So you’ll take two fingers, sometimes it’s the outer fingers but sometimes with arthritis in older hands it’s a little tougher, so I like to use two fingers, you’re going to bring them up to your nose, and you’ll be closing off one nostril at a time. And I want you to breathe normally and naturally, okay. So this isn’t anything forced.
Close off the right nostril first, and just delicately push it. You don’t have to push it clear into your nose. Just delicately push it. Exhale all the way out the left side of the nostril. Then inhale through the left nostril, exhale out the right nostril. Inhale through the right nostril, exhale out the right nostril. We’re going to do three more of these. Inhale through the left, exhale out the right. Inhale through the right and exhale a little longer out the left. One last time. Inhale through the left and exhale longer out the right side.
Bring your hands back down to your lap and close your eyes again. Take a nice normal, natural breath. And I want you to notice what’s different in your breathing, if anything. Just notice it. Notice your heart beating. Come back to that intention or that goal you set for yourself. And softly blink open your eyes with a smile. I’m expecting all of you watching to be smiling even though I can’t see you. And Namaste.
An expert panel discusses different methods to cope with anxiety and depression through all the phases of a cancer journey. Jane Williams, MSN, RN, FNP, says one of the best ways is to communicate openly with your healthcare team and loved ones. Letting them know how you feel and what you need can lead to you feeling better. Remember that you’re not alone in your journey, and sharing your emotions can help you figure out what works best for you, whether that be running, meditating, etc. Watch the full video below for all the panel’s advice on coping with anxiety and depression.
Founder and CEO of CanSurround, Meg Maley, alongside a panel of Niki Koesel. MSN, ANP, ACHPN, FPCN, Eric Roeland, MD, and lung cancer survivor Randy Broad discuss healing vs. curing and how a healthcare team should focus on what it means to each individual patient.
Founder and CEO of CanSurround, Meg Maley, alongside a panel of Niki Koesel. MSN, ANP, ACHPN, FPCN, Eric Roeland, MD, and lung cancer survivor Randy Broad discuss the definitions and differences of supportive and palliative care, and what it means to them
Founder and CEO of CanSurround, Meg Maley, alongside a panel of Niki Koesel. MSN, ANP, ACHPN, FPCN, Eric Roeland, MD, and cancer survivor Randy Broad discuss the emotional side of cancer and how symptom and comfort management should be apart of your treatment from the beginning.
Deana Hendrickson talks about how important it is to connect with other patients and advocates online. Connecting online to patients with your same disease allows you to make amazing and empowering connections. Check out the whole clip below as Deana explains: