There’s no question that cancer and its treatment can take its toll on a person.
While each person's cancer experience is different, the physical, emotional and spiritual challenges the person must face has profound consequences on the healing process. After all, cancer doesn’t just happen to one's body, it happens to one’s whole self.
Healing the whole person is the focus of the Integrative Medicine Department at the Roy and Patricia Disney Family Cancer Center at Providence Saint Joseph Medical Center. Their team of doctors, nurses, diet specialists and complementary medicine practitioners offer patients and their caregivers a variety of options to take an active part in the recovery and healing process.
Integrative medicine is a total approach to care that involves the patient's mind, body and spirit. It combines standard medicine with complementary medicine practices that have shown the most promise in clinical trials.
Sonic healing is one of many types of integrative medicine available at the Disney Family Cancer Center (DFCC). The class is taught each Tuesday afternoon on the cancer center’s campus, in Burbank, Calif. Sonic healing involves the resonating sounds of a quartz crystal bowl, which promotes relaxation and stress relief.
The quartz crystal bowl has emerged as a powerful sonic healing modality over the past 15 years, said Dr. Lester S. Garfinkel, MD, FACP, a medical oncologist and sonic healing practitioner at DFCC. He said the bowls are a modern adaptation of Tibetan bowls that date back to the 13th -15th centuries.
Integrative approaches have been shown to decrease symptom distress, improve quality of life, and aid people with cancer in regaining a sense of control over their lives, according to the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM), the agency that funds scientific research on complementary and alternative medicine. Integrative approaches are increasingly being utilized as adjunct treatment in modern medical centers across the country.
That’s how Debra Selle, a cancer patient at DFCC, first stepped into the sonic healing classroom a few months ago. She was healing from recurrent stage IV breast cancer that had metastasized to her brain, and sought out the class as a way to help herself relieve stress. She said the 45 minutes she spends each week listening to the bowls leaves her feeling refreshed and rejuvenated.
“I like it because I can focus on the tones [of the crystal bowls] and take myself away to a better place, a healing place. That little break each week has really made a difference for me, especially when I am having a bad day. It has given me renewed hope,” Selle said.
Selle said that years ago when battling cancer the first time, integrative medicine wasn’t for her. This time around, she says it has been a godsend. She tries to attend classes each week, and has combined what she learned in her meditation and guided imagery classes with sonic healing. Using the techniques together she is able to achieve a peacefulness and calm she never thought was possible.
“I was a little skeptical going in, but it wasn’t what I expected," she said. "I feel like I have more control in the healing process now.”
Cancer survivor Kaye was also a skeptic. She didn’t know if sonic healing would be for her, but she took the advice of a friend and tried it. She was also looking for a way to decompress and “let go of the day-to-day petty annoyances that aren’t that important, but tend to build up.”
She said all that stress was causing sleep disturbances. Kaye could fall asleep at night, but would wake up several times throughout the night.
“The sonic healing class really helped break that cycle and allowed me to get back to a normal sleep pattern," she said. "I find the technique helps me to feel relaxed, revitalized and keep my perspective.”
Both Kaye and Selle said they have come to believe in the integrative medicine approach to cancer treatment and that the classes offered at DFCC are a true community treasure.
“I think the Integrative Medicine Department is a wonderful service. There is more to physical and mental well-being than what we can find in a bottle," Kaye said. "Integrative medicine is one thing patients can do for themselves to be active participants in their treatment and recovery."
For more information on Integrative Medicine classes at the Roy and Patricia Disney Family Cancer Center, call (888) 432-5464 or online at www.triumphovercancer.org.
For more information on CAM, visit the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine web site at http://nccam.nih.gov/
Thinking about Complementary and Alternative Medicine: A Guide for People with Cancer. National Cancer Institute.
Access online at:
Interview with Debra Selle, June 9, 2012
Interview with Kaye, June 10, 2012
Reviewed June 11, 2012
by Michele Blacksberg RN
Edited by Jody Smith