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Breast Cancer in women

Complementary approaches for breast cancer

Women discussed various complementary therapies, as well as dietary and lifestyle changes. Although many tried different complementary approaches at various times, for one woman complementary therapies were an ongoing interest.

 

Describes the various complementary therapies she has used.

Describes the various complementary therapies she has used.

Age at interview: 62
Sex: Female
Age at diagnosis: 48
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Yes the Yoga group gave me such confidence in myself, they changed my way of thinking.

Reflexology, now that was when I've had various physical problems I suppose. I've also had healing which was another revelation for me.

That's this business of somebody looking after you. This feeling you know which always makes me smile and I'm not sure that it's not happening now, but it gives me, it's a big help so that's another alternative.

Yes, I've had Reiki with this friend who practices reflexology and that was interesting because I felt there was a great big weight on my chest.

And I finished the session and I said' "Gosh I felt as though I've had a great big weight on my chest and I can't understand why." And it suddenly dawned on me, of course I would have because of the operation.

I don't know whether this is strictly alternative, oh I've been to an osteopath which was wonderful. And chiropractor recently because I've terrible trouble, because I've got this re-arrangement of muscles it causes a problem this side and ache.

And this bust, this breast here has grown so much you know it's heavy, so I have to use a prosthesis to balance it which again you know. So the chiropractor, McTimoney, which is the gentler, that was a big help.

So I have yes, because I don't think, before I would never have used alternatives so I suppose that's an ongoing thing. I find it really interesting. Sometimes it doesn't always work but I work on the principle that it certainly doesn't harm you, and it's better than taking, well, antibiotics.

Well, I've got to be terribly careful with those you know for something fairly minor you know, I haven't touch wood, I haven't had anything really major.

A few women had tried aromatherapy. One felt that, although it had helped her relax, it may not make a difference to cancer. Another described how it had been of benefit to her generally.

 

Explains how relaxing through aromatherapy has benefited her generally.

Explains how relaxing through aromatherapy has benefited her generally.

Age at interview: 48
Sex: Female
Age at diagnosis: 45
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So, do you have aromatherapy regularly?

Yes, every week.

How does it help?

It makes you, I can relax now. I must've spent 14 years of my life being all screwed up. I could not relax any part of my body. Now I can sit, I can relax. I know what it is to relax. I just, whereas before I didn't know the meaning of the word relax. So in a way that's done me good.

Did you have a very hectic lifestyle?

No. I wouldn't say that I had a hectic lifestyle, it was just, I think I was just one of these people that was just burned up all the time.

I lived on my nerves, but now I don't.
 

Reflexology, yoga and meditation were also used by some women. One described how hypnotherapy helped her to deal with her hot flushes. Acupuncture has also been shown to affect the severity and frequency of hot flushes*. Another praised the homeopathic treatments she had tried at different stages of her illness.

 

Describes her experience of homeopathic therapies.

Describes her experience of homeopathic therapies.

Age at interview: 61
Sex: Female
Age at diagnosis: 59
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I have Tamoxifen, but I also go to the homeopathic hospital and I have several things. And I've found that they have been very helpful.

Some of their, I don't know whether they call them potions or medications or whatever, have been extremely helpful. Some didn't seem to have any effect, but there was two that I've had that really were magical for the sickness. They helped me more for the sickness, and, I think for feeling states too they were helpful.

And they have a very, I mean I see someone very nice there, a lovely doctor. And I'm glad to see her because there is such a lot of grief involved in cancer and she gave me a medication for grief and sorrow.

And I was amazed that they had something for grief and sorrow. And I felt it was helpful, it sort of took the edge off. But I am so amused that they have a potion for grief and sorrow.

That I don't know whether it was sort of this nice young doctor, because she's a particularly sensitive woman, and her coming up, she picked up my grief and sorrow at having this illness and had responded.

And that was helpful.
 

Herbal teas were popular with some women, several of whom had stopped drinking regular tea and coffee. One woman described how she benefited from both T'ai Chi and green tea. A British Indian woman described a herbal mixture recommended by relatives in India.

 

Describes the benefits she believes she has had from T'ai Chi and green tea.

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Describes the benefits she believes she has had from T'ai Chi and green tea.

Age at interview: 47
Sex: Female
Age at diagnosis: 46
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I've started doing T'ai Chi which I find incredible. It's boosted my breathing ability, my lung capacity and my energy levels. And my T'ai Chi instructor told me about green tea so I drink green tea now.

And before I had inflammatory breast cancer I was always covered in psoriasis. Now for anyone who has psoriasis please try green tea because I don't now whether it's the green tea or whatever, but I haven't got any psoriasis at the minute. I'm totally clear as you can see.

I don't know whether it's because I've stopped the coffee and the tea, and having green tea instead.
 

Many women who had not used complementary therapies said they might consider using them if they were diagnosed with a recurrence or secondary cancer. One of these women also noted the importance of a positive attitude.

 

Explains that she has a positive attitude towards her illness but might consider complementary...

Explains that she has a positive attitude towards her illness but might consider complementary...

Age at interview: 52
Sex: Female
Age at diagnosis: 48
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I'm a great believer in being very positive and mind over matter. I keep saying that I'm not going to be ill because I don't have time to be ill.

And I always felt that the chemotherapy was going to work and work really well and it did. I don't know where my positiveness went with the surgery but I think that was out of my hands. And I just, I just keep a positive frame of mind.

And I didn't particularly want, I'm not even, when I went to the counselling groups they used to do sort of it's like a meditation at the beginning and the end. And I couldn't visualise. I couldn't do it. I can't, I don't know whether I can't detach myself enough.

I'm a very down to earth, practical person and that's how I've treated my cancer. You know just straight down the line, and none of this nonsense.

I don't know what would happen if I was diagnosed again. I might look at alternative things at that point. But, as I said, if I was diagnosed with a recurrence I may look at alternative options at that point but not at the moment.

Several women said they doubted the effectiveness of complementary therapies and relied instead on evidence based medicine. Others were wary of the vested interests of companies and therapists.

 

Explains that she prefers evidence based medicine to complementary approaches.

Explains that she prefers evidence based medicine to complementary approaches.

Age at interview: 70
Sex: Female
Age at diagnosis: 70
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I'm a pragmatist. I like evidence-based practice and I've never yet seen any evidence that proves that these sort of 'complementary therapies', (I think of them in quotes) do anything.

They might make you feel, some people, feel more comfortable. They get your endorphins running. You know your brain can produce its own opiates that give your mood a lift and make you feel good.

Massage will produce that, eating a good dinner would produce it, sex produces it. Oh, endorphins are produced by a lot of activities.

But I have other ways, you know I go for a swim. I swim every morning, I do a kilometre, I'm still doing that. Started that within, as soon as the wound had healed, within a month. He wouldn't let me go sooner. But that's the only thing I would do.

But I wouldn't call that complementary therapy I'd call that just doing things to make you feel good.So no, I'm too pragmatic I'm afraid.
 
 

Explains why she is wary of complementary approaches.

Explains why she is wary of complementary approaches.

Age at interview: 51
Sex: Female
Age at diagnosis: 48
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My sister went into that very, very deeply. I actually felt as though she was ripped off by quite a lot of people. Maybe she didn't go to the right ones but she did try quite a lot of things yeah.

You mean they promised results that didn't happen?

She was charged so much for things.

Right.

And they didn't do any good. She was due to go to the [name] Hospital on the day she died. I think that probably would've helped her tremendously because it's not just treatment it's your own well-being as well. Your own thoughts, and your quality of life, and anything that helps you and I think it should do.

You should go for it. If you believe that eating leaves off yew trees are going to help you then do it. 

You've not tried anything yourself though as yet?

No.

Dietary changes were also important to many women. Some had made a few or no changes to their diet because it had always been healthy and balanced. Others reported eating more healthily since their diagnosis, and stressed the importance of fruit, vegetables and vitamins. A few women had made drastic dietary changes when they were first diagnosed but resuming more balanced diets later, weighing physical health with quality of life.

 

Explains that as she has always had a healthy diet she did not need to make any changes to it.

Explains that as she has always had a healthy diet she did not need to make any changes to it.

Age at interview: 42
Sex: Female
Age at diagnosis: 32
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I mean I always had and continue to have a fairly healthy diet, I always ate lots of fruit and vegetables and so on, and I still do. And I like fruit and vegetables. I didn't eat much meat. I was almost a vegetarian for a number of years before I was diagnosed and I continue with that diet.

I like good food and I've never eaten, you know, lots of chips or anything like that. So I've made no change to my life in that way.

I've always been a bit interested in things like homeopathy but I didn't adopt any of those ideas when I was being treated. I just went along with the medical treatment.

I felt that I was in good hands and I'm sure I was, so I didn't feel the need.
 
 

Describes balancing her diet so that it is both healthy and enjoyable.

Describes balancing her diet so that it is both healthy and enjoyable.

Age at interview: 49
Sex: Female
Age at diagnosis: 30
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So I read all these things and I reduced the amount of fat in my diet and salt and tried to drink less caffeine. And tried to reduce the stress in my life but of course that was virtually impossible. A lot of my stress was kind of in-built. I didn't address that for years.

But, yeah, I did try and adjust my lifestyle and went onto wholemeal everything.

And I still have some of those changes but I've backtracked on some of that because I prefer to enjoy myself.

I feel that, to some extent, you can put yourself under a lot of stress by going for these changes and that I'd rather have a healthy lifestyle, a reasonably healthy lifestyle, but still enjoy myself.

So I eat lots of fruit and vegetables. I try and have my 5 portions of fruit and veg a day and wholemeal bread and things like that.

But I eat meat. I use butter. I drink alcohol. And I aim to do those things in moderation rather than give them up.
 

Several women said they had reduced their intake of meat and dairy products. Others had increased their consumption of organic foods and water. One woman pointed out that, although she would like to make dietary changes, she could not afford to do so.

Taking moderate exercise was an important change some women made after recovery. Several also talked about working less and taking time to relax.

 

Explains why, since her illness, she has made more time to relax.

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Explains why, since her illness, she has made more time to relax.

Age at interview: 75
Sex: Female
Age at diagnosis: 68
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But early in the afternoon, I always have a late afternoon rest and then I'm fine for the evening and don't have to go to bed till 11, you know. We're always up at half past six. So by, by five I'm ready for a rest.

I'm sleepy and I would advise people, even if they're quite young, especially if they've got families, to say' "This is my rest time." Perhaps before the children come back from school or whatever, and have that. That was my change that I always had, made sure if possible to have a rest.

And people feel you're very funny then when they say' "Could you come out and speak on such and such an afternoon?" And I said' "Well, I've got something in the evening you see." They think well' "Why can't she do both?" you know.
 

Healthtalk has a whole site on breast cancer in men, for more information see 'Complementary approaches for breast cancer in men'.

*The North American Menopause Society (NAMS). "Bothered by hot flashes? Acupuncture might be the answer, analysis suggests." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 14 July 2014
 


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Last reviewed August 2018.
Last updated May 2015.

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