In Health: Battling Cancer: Bringing More Options to the Fight

Battling Cancer: Bringing More Options to the Fight
By Wendy Sweet

Photography by Kris Hanning

Along with treatments provided by physicians there are many supplemental therapies cancer patients can choose.

“You have cancer.” Those three words can strike fear in the heart of the strongest person. Cancer is a diagnosis that very probably will change your life. “Cancer is often an adult’s first experience going from being a self-determining individual to someone who must simply follow directions,” says Victoria Maizes, M.D., executive director of the Arizona Center for Integrative Medicine. But there are ways you can actively participate in your care and take back some of that self-determination.

“Education is essential,” says Alex Holland, M.Ac., L.Ac., president of the Asian Institute of Medical Studies. “An important part of healing is knowledge — being aware of healthy therapeutic options and making healthy choices. It is important to acquire as much information as possible from reputable sources that include an integrative perspective.”

This article doesn’t examine traditional methods that physicians use to battle cancer. Rather, we want to shine the spotlight on some adjunct therapies that may help. This is by no means a comprehensive list, but just a beginning. Regardless of what you choose to do, it is imperative that you inform your oncologist or other physician about any adjunct therapies in which you plan to participate. It also is crucial that you work with someone very knowledgeable regarding herbal or other supplements you may take. Any herbs or other supplements must be cleared with your doctor, as there is a real risk of interference with your prescribed drugs.

Arizona Center for Integrative Medicine
Integrative medicine is identified as healing-oriented medicine that takes account of the whole person — mind, body and spirit. It makes use of all appropriate therapies, both conventional and alternative.

“At the Center, you will have a 90-minute consult with a physician who will advise you on what you can do in conjunction with your cancer treatments,” says Dr. Maizes. “These adjunctive therapies or programs can include such things as exercise, diet, herbal supplements and other ways to reduce side effects,” she explains.

“Thousands of studies show that what you eat has an impact on your well-being and even potentially on your survival. For example, drinking green tea may reduce the recurrence of breast cancer.” Other beneficial steps can include adding olive oil to your diet and lowering the overall fat in your diet. “You may want to talk to a nutritionist for advice specific to your case,” Dr. Maizes adds.

Guided imagery can be an inexpensive and empowering addition to a cancer care plan. “I recommend checking out for audio and video resources on fatigue, healing, anxiety, etc.,” Dr. Maizes suggests. “A local psychologist, Steve Gurgevich, Ph.D., has a website called (also known as that sells audio programs you can access with ease.”

Acupuncture has been shown to reduce the side effects of chemotherapy. “I would make acupuncture accessible to all cancer patients if I could,” relates Dr. Maizes. She suggests checking out the Asian Institute and the Arizona Cancer Center regarding this ancient treatment. “Some Tucson area hospitals may offer discounted acupuncture sessions,” she notes.

“At the Center, we often recommend a variety of herbs, but herbal supplements have to be done with the help of a knowledgeable person.

“Large studies on yoga show it helps with fatigue related to breast cancer treatment. Exercise can reduce the recurrence of a wide variety of cancers. You may be fatigued and not feel like exercising, but don’t stop! Do what you can. Four hours of exercise a week is recommended for reducing recurrence.

“Be sure to inform your doctor about what you are doing. At the Arizona Center for Integrative Medicine, we are training oncologists to practice integrative oncology, which adds these therapies to conventional treatment.”

Dr. Maizes suggests you work with an oncologist who will promote appropriate diet, exercise and supplements, as well as provide or direct you to guided imagery and acupuncture. For more information, check out

Asian Institute of Medical Studies
“It is important for the cancer patient to feel in control of his/her body and treatment strategies, and to have many choices for self care,” says Alex Holland of the Asian Institute of Medical Studies. “Feeling empowered accelerates the healing. Because each individual is different there is no one right way to treat; treatment is tailored to each individual’s needs. Having a good support team to confer with also is important for helping to ease stress.

“Traditional Chinese Medicine has thousands of years of history and experience to its credit. Being holistic it addresses body, mind and spirit. At the Asian Institute, we offer acupuncture, tu ina Chinese massage, qigong inner strengthening exercises, dietary therapy and Chinese herbs in tablet or raw form to be decocted. We also offer lifestyle counseling and emotional support.

“Acupuncture and Chinese herbs can be utilized for prevention and strengthening as well as symptomatic relief. Acupuncture is virtually painless with essentially no side effects. It is very relaxing, economical, holistic and has a long proven history. It can be initiated during chemo or radiation to relieve the side effects, calm the spirit and help strengthen. Acupuncture and a healthy, anti-inflammatory diet are important components to be utilized throughout the process,” he adds.

“Many oncologists do not want their patients using Chinese herbs with chemo agents,” Holland points out. As a result, “Chinese herbs often are initiated after a course of chemo and radiation.”

At the Asian Institute, patients are seen in the Community Clinic. A session includes a discussion of the issues at hand and an acupuncture treatment, which lasts about 20 to 25 minutes. An herbal consultation also will take place if needed. During the session tu ina Chinese massage and dietary and lifestyle counseling are given if necessary.

For more information, contact the Asian Institute of Medical Studies at 322-6330 or click on their website:

When Sherri Romanoski was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2001, she received great information about her treatment and tumor from her oncologist, but information on how to handle having cancer was harder to come by. She had unanswered questions such as how to talk to her sons about her disease and how to deal with her rollercoaster emotions. “As a kindergarten/first grade teacher, I knew that education and knowledge was key,” Romanoski says. She also wanted to help other survivors access information. As a result, in 2003 she became the founder and president of BAG IT, which offers cancer patients a canvas bag filled with cancer-related information and resources.

“We ran focus groups of oncologists, oncology nurses and most importantly survivors to see what to include in the ‘take home’ bag,” she recalls. “It took a year and half to get the first bag out.” Since then, more than 27,000 BAG IT bags have been given away in Arizona. “The response has been incredible. The feedback we get tells us BAG IT is helping people cope more, worry less and communicate better with their medical team.”

The bags are available to anyone with cancer and can be found at the Arizona Cancer Center as well as many surgical, radiology and oncology clinics and offices around town — and around the state.

Included in the bag are publications from The National Cancer Institute, the National Coalition of Cancer Survivorship, and a resource CD from Arizona Cancer Coalition. “We include this awesome binder that has helpful tips and encourages people to start keeping track of their own medical information,” says Romanoski. “There also is great information for caregivers. They are under an immense amount of pressure and often go through the same emotions as the patient.”

An ongoing challenge at BAG IT is finding money to keep the organization running and bags being delivered. Funding comes from grants, foundations, businesses and private donations. BAG IT also holds two main fundraisers a year in Tucson. The “Wine and Dine” (a wine tasting with dinner) will be held June 5 at Hacienda del Sol. “Take a Hike for BAG IT” will take place at Loews Ventana Canyon on Nov. 13, 2011. The morning event begins with either a hike along the Ventana Canyon trail or a meditative walk, followed by brunch with a speaker at Loews.

Romanoski offers this advice to cancer patients:

• Start by keeping track of your own information in a binder. Write down everything.

• Formulate your questions prior to an office visit and write down the answers — you will refer to them time and time again.

• Take someone with you to all office visits and treatments.

• Use reputable sources for information.

• Be open to new options to help you get through, such as massage, tai chi, yoga and meditation.

• Support groups help many but you have to shop around for a good fit.

• Stay hopeful.

For more information on BAG IT call 575-9602 or go to

Beat Cancer Boot Camp
Beat Cancer Boot Camp is a physical support group designed to empower and inspire cancer survivors to take charge of their lives. Anita Kellman, a clinical liaison for a breast surgeon, founded the camp about six years ago. “In my job, I spend a lot of time around cancer patients,” she relates. “Because of their immune systems, it’s better for them to exercise outdoors than in a gym environment. So I started this boot camp program for cancer survivors.

“Beat Cancer Boot Camp is more than just exercise,” notes Kellman. “It involves mentoring, having buddies, sharing stories, asking questions and networking.” The group also gets together periodically for lunch, dinner and field trips.

Although participants sign up for an eight-week session of classes, the classes never end. “You are drafted unless you go AWOL!” Kellman jokes. “At each class, we do a full hour of non-stop exercise. I have classes three times a week, and you can come once, twice or all three.

“The camp will help cancer survivors get stronger both physically and mentally. Physically, exercise can help prevent cancer and help prevent the recurrence of it. Mentally, these exercises give participants the strength to fight.” The exercises are all based on the Navy SEALs guide to fitness and include squats, lunges, push-ups, abdominal work and upper body work (both with and without weights).

Although men are welcome, it’s primarily women who attend. “There is a great deal of camaraderie that develops at boot camp,” adds Kellman. “It’s like a sisterhood; everyone gets so closely connected. Cancer is the greatest equalizer. This group brings together people whose paths would never have crossed.”

Her nickname at Beat Cancer Boot Camp is “Sarge.” “I can’t quite recall how it came about, but it has stuck and now everyone calls me that! I give them tough love. I get in their face to where they challenge themselves but know their limitations.”

Beat Cancer Boot Camp is offered at three locations: Brandi Fenton Memorial Park, Udall Park and the park by the Northwest YMCA.

For more information, check out the website:

 Tucson Spirited Walking Group
“The purpose of our group is to enhance our mind-body connection by practicing exercises that combine walking with meditation activities, such as focusing on our breath, visualizations, positive word affirmations and gratitude,” explains Dawn Messer, the leader of the group. “Walking, meditation and being in nature have all been shown to have positive benefits for a cancer patient’s sense of well being, and Spirited Walking combines all three.”

Messer is an optometrist and has a master’s degree in public health; she works for UA’s Department of Ophthalmology and Vision Science, investigating vision development in children. She also is a breast cancer survivor.

“In December of 2008, I attended a Life Beyond Cancer retreat that encouraged participants to become involved in some kind of advocacy work or service to our local cancer communities,” Messer explains. “While at the retreat, I attended a Spirited Walk led by Carolyn Kortge, author of the books The Spirited Walker: Fitness Walking for Clarity, Balance, and Spiritual Connection and Healing Walks for Hard Times. I found the walks wonderfully refreshing and soothing. So in January of 2009, I started offering these walks for other cancer survivors in the Tucson area.”

Participation in the Tucson Spirited Walking Group can vary from just a couple of women to as many as eight or ten. “Typically we walk and visit with each other for about a half hour, and then for the next half hour I lead the group in various mind-body exercises. We always end with a gratitude lap, focusing on all the things in life we have to be grateful for. I have been told that Spirited Walking helps the members of the group feel calmer and refreshed. Others have said it gives them a new perspective on taking the time to slow down and reflect on what is important in their everyday lives.

“We typically walk about one and a half miles at a leisurely pace, but if someone in the group is not up to walking that far, we can walk the short nature loop (at Sabino Canyon), where there are benches. The person can sit while the rest of us walk and we loop back to them in time for the next mind-body exercise.”

The group currently meets three times a month: at Tohono Chul Park on the second Wednesday of the month in the morning, and at Sabino Canyon on the third Sunday in the afternoon and the fourth Wednesday in the morning.

“Anyone is welcome to join us on one of our walks,” notes Messer. “There is no cost, though you do need to pay for a daily or annual pass for either Sabino Canyon or Tohono Chul Park. Anyone interested in attended a Spirited Walk can email me at”

 Arizona Oncology Resource Centers
“Patients need to find a balance between their physical, emotional, mental and spiritual needs during the challenging time after receiving a cancer diagnosis,” says Dawn Rataczak, program coordinator for Arizona Oncology Resource Services. “It is my personal experience that cancer patients who do research into their type of cancer, ask a lot of questions, and are very proactive in treatment choices become their own best advocates on their personal healing journey. Hopefully, our resource services allow a patient to ask the tough questions and support them along the way to find answers.”

Arizona Oncology Resource Services offers:

• Lending libraries and free informational brochures

• Wigs and head coverings available at no charge (patients are just asked to return them when no longer needed).

• Touch therapy appointments for Healing Touch, Acupuncture, Manual Lymph Drainage, Reflexology, Craniosacral, Facial Rejuvenation, Shiatsu, Reiki and Massage. These therapies can relieve pain and the side effects of the drug treatments. “Off the body” work such as Healing Touch, Craniosacral and Reiki can have energetic benefits for body, mind and spirit without invasive touch.

• Nutritional oncology counseling for before, during and after cancer treatment.

• Movement classes like yoga and qigong, which are beneficial in helping to move toxins out and rejuvenate the body.

• Support groups for relieving stress and anxiety while listening and sharing information with others.

• Counseling also is available at some of the doctors’ offices.

“These treatments are all beneficial before, during and after cancer therapies,” says Rataczak. “The patient can do what helps them to feel good, while following their doctors’ instructions. They are not a replacement for cancer treatment,” she points out. “Rather they should serve to support and help to create a physical and emotional balance during this challenging time. A patient may want to experience different modalities to gauge what benefits them the most,” Rataczak suggests. “The cost for sessions is low because of the generosity of the touch therapists and movement instructors,” she notes.

“Our dedicated resource and chemotherapy volunteers are the best! Some of them are survivors themselves, or they have lost a loved one to cancer. They are very supportive of patients, caregivers, family members and friends who come in looking for answers to difficult questions. It can add a unique perspective to the conversation when the patient realizes that they are talking to someone who has survived and/or experienced what they are currently trying to navigate.”

The Resource Centers are located at Rudasill and La Cholla (520) 877-9038 and Grant and Craycroft (520) 324-2840. They are open Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. For more information, you also can go to

Cleaning For A Reason
While undergoing cancer treatment, you may not feel like putting forth the energy to clean your house. This is where “Cleaning For A Reason” comes to the rescue. Cleaning For A Reason is a national non-profit organization that partners with professional residential maid services in all 50 states and Canada to provide free house cleaning for women undergoing cancer treatment.

“We continue to grow every day, and we hope to double the number of partners we currently have — more than 900 — in the next three years,” says Tom Puckett, PR consultant for the organization.

The cleaning companies that participate must be insured and/or bonded and perform background checks on their employees. Each company agrees to take a minimum of two patients at a time and offers each patient four free house cleanings (one a month for four months).

At press time, three Tucson house-cleaning services were participating in the program. Cancer patients can submit an application for the house cleanings online; a doctor’s verification of treatment also is required. Cleaning For A Reason accepts a maximum of 50 applications online from around the country each day. As might be expected, the demand for services often outweighs the resources available.

Cleaning For A Reason was founded in 2006 and is headquartered in Texas. It is funded through donations and a monthly fee paid by the cleaning company partners, says Puckett. If you are a female cancer patient interested in registering for the free house cleanings, if you have a residential cleaning service and are interested in becoming a partner, or if you would just like more information about the organization, click on, or call 877-337-3348.

Arizona Cancer Center
One cannot overlook the big role that the Arizona Cancer Center provides the community of cancer patients. Their Supportive Care for Healing programs are the most comprehensive in the city to address the whole person through an integrative multidisciplinary approach. In addition to the Healing Therapies treatment areas that are placed prominently in their lobby next to their clinical areas, they also have two highly acclaimed mind-body-spirit programs.

Seven Levels of Healing is a national program by Dr. Jeremy Geffen, author of The Journey Through Cancer: Healing & Transforming the Whole Person, and audio program The Seven Levels of Healing.

The 10-week Eye of the Hurricane Program teaches the techniques of resilience and transformational self-awareness to heal from cancer. Mark Gilbert, M.D., a board-certified psychiatrist and associate director of Psychosocial Oncology at the Arizona Cancer Center, personally leads small groups in three-hour-long morning or evening sessions exploring mind-body medicine, physiology of stress, nutrition and many other topics. For more information call 626-6586 or click on

Hope Has a Name Fund Inc.
This resource was created to fill a critical gap for patients by furnishing financial assistance for complementary healing therapies. Since Sunstone’s demise in December 2009, Hope Has a Name Fund is the only source of financial help on a community-wide basis. “Whether during initial cancer treatments or as part of a new health style for survivors, the efficacy of the modalities that my program covers has been well documented in medical studies,” says founder Nance Crosby. The practitioners perform Massage, Manual Lymphatic Drainage, Craniosacral, Shiatsu, Acupuncture, Healing Touch, Reflexology and Reiki.

“We assembled a team of more than 26 practitioners, have worked with 50 patient inquiries, and granted awards to 35 patients for a total of more than 250 treatment gift certificates,” adds Crosby.