--Anne Burke, Custom Publishing Writer
Lynda Lumaya, a North Hills mom who works in the film industry, was diagnosed in February with a type of breast cancer called triple negative.
Because triple negative is particularly aggressive, Lumaya’s doctors at the Roy and Patricia Disney Family CancerCenter at Providence Saint Joseph Medical Center in Burbank are attacking her disease with guns blazing: chemo, surgery, more chemo and radiation.
It all comes with a lot of stress and unpleasant side effects. But Lumaya is finding relief with some surprising therapies: acupuncture and yoga.
“I started taking yoga classes and I’m telling you — it was amazing,” said Lumaya, 52. “I won’t lie and say it didn’t hurt — the woman who taught the class forced me into certain positions — but it made a world of difference.”
Acupuncture and yoga are among “complementary therapies” that cancer centers offer as they embrace integrative and holistic approaches to help patients through what may be the toughest time in their lives.
Complementary therapies vary from facility to facility and can include massage, nutritional counseling, pet therapy, guided imagery, video games and ancient healing practices such as tai chi and qigong.
“Patients are very excited to add these things to [conventional] cancer treatment,” said Dr. Lisa M. Schwartz, medical director at Providence Saint Joseph’s integrative medicine program.
Acupuncture is effective against chemo-induced nausea and neuropathy (tingling or pain), radiation-related dry mouth, fatigue, anxiety and sleep disorders. Massage helps ease anxiety,insomnia and muscle stiffness, Schwartz said.
At Children’s Hospital Los Angeles, a teenager taking powerful opiates for cancer pain agreed to give acupuncture a try.
“Within a week, he had improved significantly and we were able to wean him off a lot of his [opiate] medication,” said Dr. Leo Mascarenhas, head of oncology at the Children’s Center for Cancer andBlood Diseases at Children’s Hospital.
Younger cancer patients “are generally not scared of [acupuncture] needles because they have already gone through so much,” Mascarenhas added. “They are trusting and willing to try these things, and when they see that it actually helps them, it’s a win-win situation.”
Cancer centers are also realizing how important ambience can be in treating cancer.
Just by walking in, you’d hardly know that the Los Angeles Center for Women’s Health at California Hospital Medical Center is a medical facility and not a spa. Colors are soft and soothing, tasteful artwork hangs on the walls, and vases with fresh orchids adorn tables.
In the radiation oncology room at Disney Family Cancer Center, patients can mellow out with mood music, low lights and soothing images of beaches, deserts or mountains.
“You can really be off in a different world while you’re getting your treatment,” Schwartz said.
Nutrition and lifestyle counseling also are part of this holistic approach.
Dr. Dennis Holmes, a breast surgeon and medical director at Los Angeles Center for Women’s Health, counsels all his patients — both sick and well — about the importance of exercise, fruits and vegetables in reducing the risk of breast cancer or the recurrence of an old cancer.
“I see a lot of women who come in with significant anxiety — tremendous anxiety — about a cancer diagnosis they will never get,” Holmes said, noting that seven out of eight women never develop breast cancer in their lifetimes.
“Yet they don’t recognize that obesity is a risk factor for breast cancer. I say, ‘Hey, I don’t know what the future holds for you, but these are things that you can actually do to reduce your risk of breast cancer and cardiovascular disease.’”
Self-image is also part of these new approaches to cancer treatment. Holmes practices oncoplastic surgery, in which he can improve the appearance of a woman’s breasts during the same procedure in which he removes the cancer.
Mastectomy is no longer as disfiguring as it used to be, Holmes said. Nipple-sparing mastectomy is a procedure that preserves all of the skin of the breast, including the nipple and areola.
Innovative therapies aren’t limited to breast cancer treatment. They’re also helping pediatric cancer patients get through traumatic ordeals.
Youngsters at Children’s Hospital play action-packed video games in which good-guy cancer therapies overpower bad-guy cancer cells. The games are instructive but, perhaps more important, a great distraction.
Therapy dogs have been used for many years, with tremendous results.
Dogs “get on the bed and there’s a beating heart and a warm-blooded creature next to [the child], and that adds an extra level of calm,” Mascarenhas said. “Some of these dogs are, huge but they’re as gentle as they can be.”