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Colorectal Cancer

Complementary approaches and bowel cancer

Complementary approaches to dealing with cancer have not been subject to the same kinds of rigorous testing as conventional medicine so their effects are not measured or proven in the same way. Moreover, as the name 'complementary' suggests, these approaches should be considered an addition to and not a substitute for conventional medical treatment. Complementary approaches help some people to feel more in control of their situation by involving them in their own care, and by promoting a positive mental outlook and sense of well-being. 

None of the people who tried complementary approaches had unrealistic expectations of what they could do. Two had tried and rejected homeopathic or herbal remedies because they found them expensive and ineffective. A man with terminal cancer had rejected one holistic approach because it was very time-consuming and involved major lifestyle changes. He felt that he was "going to become a sick person because of everything they want me to do." Instead he preferred to get on with his work, family and friends. However, other people felt that a variety of approaches had made a positive contribution to their health. 

Several people focused on diet and had reduced or eliminated alcohol, sugar, meat or dairy products from their diets while increasing their intake of organic foods, whole grains, and cereals. Others were taking vitamins or nutritional supplements like arnica and selenium, which they believed promoted healing especially after surgery.

Others used techniques like meditation and visualisation to reduce stress and to help them focus positively on the future. A number of people had tried Reiki (a form of spiritual healing) and believed it had a positive effect. A woman with terminal cancer describes her positive experience of spiritual healing despite her scepticism about it.

 

Explains how she learned to meditate and how it helps her.

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Age at interview: 54
Sex: Female
Age at diagnosis: 52
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The meditation I think slows me down. It gives me a period in the day where my system is slowing down, it's actually becoming very still and I, I believe that research has shown that you do actually have physiological changes when you meditate that can be measured and it has been shown to be very good for things like stress.

How did you learn to meditate?

We did a little bit of introduction at Bristol and the GP's surgery was actually very helpful and loaned us a tape on learning to meditate and a book to go with it and we just practiced and it felt very strange at first, it felt very alien.

And it was not something that was necessarily comfortable to do and I think when I started doing it I, I felt well nothing much is happening, why am I doing this?

But as you get more and more into it, it becomes noticeable that things are happening and that things are happening in your system and slowing it down and I find that things worry me less now than they would have done before.

 

Describes the technique of visualisation.

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Age at interview: 65
Sex: Female
Age at diagnosis: 49
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It's using the mind to help the body and I'm very much a believer that we use the healthy part of ourselves to work on the unhealthy part because I am also a believer in the psycho neuro immunology that using positive messages to the brain does flow into, you know, via the central nervous system into the immune system.

And I used to use a metaphor for conquering the cancer, in visualisation. There's a process of relaxation first. You relax you whole mind and body and go to a place that's like a neutral, what I would call a neutral stimulus, a place where one enjoys being and I would go to the beach because I love the sea.

So I would find myself on the beach and then I would start imagining that I had this white clad army, so strong, that is my immune system killing off the stragglers of the grey army. So I'd see the white army get rid of the grey army, totally rid of it and then project myself into the future of

seeing myself in a year, two years, five years being well and living my life and then go back to the beach and then I'd open my eyes after counting a certain amount of time.

I'd open my eyes and the exercise was done. And it would just take a few minutes, every time I did it but it was essential because I was fighting this illness. I didn't want this enemy to overtake me.
 
 

Despite her scepticism about it she has found visiting a healer helpful.

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Age at interview: 66
Sex: Female
Age at diagnosis: 64
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Now I'm a very down to earth, very sceptical person but I thought well I had asked so I would go and try it. And I went and I can't explain what happens to me when I go.

She has never professed to be able to cure me, she says that perhaps she can help my immune system and she can give me a little bit more energy. Um, and it's, she's a very devout believer in these powers that she's got.

And I laid there and she said think of beautiful colours. Now if you normally just lie and shut your eyes you can try hard and imagine colours but you don't get a lot of really vivid colours, I've never been able to do it otherwise.

But I did get these lovely colours. I've looked to see if she was burning anything that would influence me or anything at all. There was nothing, and when she put her hands just over me it was like an electric fire.

And, but then, sometimes when my feet have been bad she gets to my feet and her, and it's cold. Now I've touched her hands, they're neither hot nor cold um, and it's just something I can't explain.

Now the specialist I went to I did tell him about it and he said "Well continue," he said "Because something's helping you." And he said "We can't prove anything we just don't know."
 

The usefulness of reconciling conventional and complementary approaches was stressed by several people. One woman explains the benefits of a holistic approach to cancer. Another man expresses disappointment at the reluctance of some conventional practitioners to consider the benefits of allowing patients to be more involved in their own care.

 

Describes the holistic approach to dealing with cancer she encountered at the Bristol Cancer Help...

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Age at interview: 54
Sex: Female
Age at diagnosis: 52
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And one of the helpful things at that point was that I went off and I did a two-day course at The Bristol Cancer Help Centre and that for me was very illuminating because it does look at a disease like cancer in a very holistic way and it says You're not just a disease, you are a person.

You have a mind, a body and a spirit and they're all inter-related and let's look at the balance in your life. And they give you the opportunity to talk with a lot of very useful people like a holistic medical doctor, a counsellor, a nutritionist, a healer.

But I think what Bristol did was to make me realise that I did not have to be a passive victim and I did not have to let the disease be bigger than me and that there were things I could do to improve my health, my sense of well-being and my sense of being in control.

And there were things that I could put in place which would enhance my life and therefore my sense of being positive and feeling healthy. But I would say that with cancer it's probably good to have a, a several-pronged approach to use of resources. 

And it's very much a question of exploring what's there, what's out there and utilising what seems to be right for me and I think because individuals are different some people will key in to one aspect and other people will key in to others, so it's important that there's more than one option.

 
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Argues that the separation of mainstream and complementary approaches to cancer is regrettable.

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Age at interview: 53
Sex: Male
Age at diagnosis: 51
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The oncologist, or the oncologist I've met and I've also spoken to other people who've had similar experiences, they are very much of this attitude of, "We will provide the medicine and make you better - or not", I think is a great tragedy that there isn't joined-up, joined-up medicine between a mainstream and complementary, and I'm not talking about alternative, I'm talking about complementary, and that, that you know a lot of people haven't even heard of The Bristol.

And it may be, it may be that the, The Bristol or complementary medicine doesn't work, for some people, or even the majority of people, but if it helps some people by increasing their will to live or increasing their immune system, self-strengthening their immune system, even if it saves a few lives, then it's a great pity there isn't, that mainstream medicine in, in the main is not acknowledging that there is a, a link between mind and matter, or mind and body in this particular case.

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Last reviewed August 2016.

Last updated May 2010.

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