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Breast Cancer and Reiki
The American Cancer Society estimates that in 2006, approximately 212,900 women in the US will be diagnosed with breast cancer. American women have a 1 in 8 chance of developing this type of cancer at some point in their lives, and nearly 2 million have already been treated for the disease. Fortunately, the number of people who die from breast cancer has decreased significantly. Early detection and advances in chemotherapy and other treatments mean that more people are diagnosed with breast cancer each year.[i]
As with any cancer, breast cancer treatment can have its own set of complications. Nausea, vomiting, hair loss, and low blood cell counts often follow chemotherapy and radiation therapy. In a recent study published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute, Dr. Michael Hassett of Boston’s Dana-Farber Cancer Institute found that 16% of breast cancer patients under the age of 64 require hospitalization for chemotherapy.[ii] Chemotherapy targets all cells that grow rapidly, including white blood cells (called neutrophils), which help the immune system. Neutropenia, meaning that the number of white blood cells in the blood has fallen below normal, reduces the immune system’s response to invaders such as bacteria, viruses and fungi.[iii] Therefore, the most common and major reason for post-chemo hospital visits was high fever due to infection. Anemia due to low red blood cells leads to other problems such as fatigue.
Anti-nausea drugs, blood transfusions and lab-made “enhancers” are now part of the growing arsenal of treatment options.[iv] But for women who feel at odds with taking medication at first, these methods may seem too dangerous or add to other complaints. Neutrophil enhancers, for example, cause temporary bone pain when the bone marrow produces more cells. Leigh Leming, 54, a breast cancer survivor who was later diagnosed with breast cancer, decided this time she wanted to try something different. Unable to eat due to nausea, he now follows the advice of an Ayurvedic chef. She drinks ginger, lemon and honey juice before eating. Leming explains: “It’s the only thing that keeps my food from going bad.” He also takes wheatgrass juice to build his blood, because 2 ounces of wheatgrass juice has the same nutrients as 4 pounds of organic matter: “The difference in my energy is amazing!”
A patient at St. Luke’s in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, Leming saw flyers teaching Reiki there. Reiki (pronounced “RAY-key”) is an ancient form of energy healing that was discovered in the late 19th century by a Japanese monk named Dr. Mikao Usui. “Rei” stands for “universe,” and “ki” refers to “life force” similar to “Chi” in Chinese medicine or “prana” in yoga. Therefore, Reiki means “universal energy,” which works on all levels – physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual. By appealing to all of these levels, Reiki is gently but surprisingly believed to enhance people’s natural ability to heal themselves. One can practice Reiki with the hands on or above the body, even across long distances. Many people experience it as a warm, tingling or feeling of deep love and support.
Leming’s friends in St. Luke’s Wellness Center explained that he receives Reiki sessions before chemotherapy to relieve some of his post-chemo reactions. Some patients have seen significant improvement in pain after Reiki treatment. After experiencing this pain myself—”I forget to take my pain pills after a Reiki session”—Leming gathered a group of patients and survivors to learn how to help themselves with Reiki. After receiving an attunement (opening the body’s energy channels) from a Reiki Master, they can now feel Reiki flowing through their hands. Although her pain returns, Leming describes her calmness and peace when dealing with the pain, as well as the other challenges of cancer such as finances and family relationships.
No US studies have proven Reiki’s effectiveness in treating cancer; however, the Canadian Breast Cancer Research Initiative recently awarded a $20,000 grant to Dr. Ahlam Mansour of the College of Nursing, University of Saskatchewan. Dr. Mansour will study “the effects of Reiki on the level of anxiety, physical problems, spiritual life, and the number of complete blood in patients undergoing AC (chemotherapy) for their first time.”[v] The June 1997 issue of Cancer Prevention Control shared preliminary results from a controlled study at the Cross Cancer Institute in Edmonton, Canada. Twenty volunteers with chronic pain, including cancer pain, received Reiki treatment from a certified Reiki Level 2 practitioner. Study administrators used a visual analog scale (VAS) and a Likert scale to measure pain before and after the treatment. Reiki. The study found that receiving Reiki significantly helped with pain.[vi]
Across the United States, hospitals and nursing homes are beginning to appreciate Reiki. In 1997, Nancy Samson, RN, BS, began coordinating a volunteer Reiki program in the radiation oncology ward at Dartmouth Hitchcock Medical Center in New Hampshire. Today, the center hosts Reiki Certification Classes and offers a 50% rebate on class fees to DHMC employees. [vii] The prestigious California Pacific Medical Center’s Health and Healing Clinic offers Reiki, along with acupressure, nutrition and yoga. [viii] Geriatric therapists are offering Reiki to patients as a way to relieve pain and reduce anxiety about the unknown.
Arizona has the longest relationship between Reiki and traditional cancer treatment. Sally Soderlund, RN (Support Services Coordinator for Oncology) directs the Tucson Medical Center (TMC) Reiki Clinic. The Reiki program at TMC started 11 years ago in the Cancer Care Unit. Since then, it has spread to other areas of the hospital. Reiki practitioners at TMC often describe Reiki as “healing energy” and work together in groups of two. He emphasizes the relaxation and healing aspects of Reiki, rather than focusing on metaphysics. Although some patients report spiritual experiences during Reiki, devotees explain that Reiki is a healing process, not a religion. The success of the TMC clinic continues due to patient repeat sessions and nurse reports on improvement in patient condition and healing.[ix]
The American Cancer Society considers Reiki a “safe” cancer treatment. Their website accepts reports of Reiki patients experiencing rapid healing and increased quality of life. Like massage, Reiki induces relaxation, lowers heart rate and reduces stress. Research shows that people recover better if they maintain a low level of stress. Because massage uses muscles, however, the American Cancer Society recommends avoiding areas near tumors until research shows whether changes in the muscles can spread cancer cells to other areas of the body.[x] Unlike massage, Reiki involves little or no touch: no muscle changes. Recipients remain clothed while the energy travels up and through their body. For people with multiple ailments, Reiki offers access to the healing power of relaxation without conflict.
[i] American Cancer Society: Cancer Reference Guide. cancer.org/docroot/CRI/content/CRI_2_2_1X_How_many_people_get_breast_cancer_5.asp?sitearea=
[ii] About Health and Fitness: breastcancer.about.com/
[iii] “How Cancer Can Put You at Risk for Chronic Illness.” Healthmonitor: July-August 2006, p. S3.
[iv] “Take care of yourself.” Healthmonitor: July-August 2006, p. S4.
[v] Source: Office of Communications, University of Saskatchewan, Canada, usask.ca/communications/ocn/Apr24/news8.html.
[vi] Source: Olson K, Hanson J, 1997. “Using Reiki for pain relief: a preliminary report.” Cancer Prevention Control 1997, June, Vol.1(2): pages 108-13.
[vii] Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center: Education and Experience. dhmc.org/dhmc/webpage.cfm?site_id=2&morg_id=0&org_id=1&sec_id=3&gsec_id=3&item_id=3
[viii] CPMC Institute for Health and Healing. cpmc.org/services/ihh/professionals/overview.html
[ix] Rand, William Lee. “Reiki in Hospitals.” Reiki News Articles: International Center for Reiki Training. reiki.org/reikinews/reiki_in_hospital.html
[x] American Cancer Society. “Reiki” and “Massage.” cancer.org/docroot/eto/content/eto_5_3x_massage.asp?sitearea=eto
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