Monday, 2 June 2014

My view on complementary therapies

I'm surprised it's been so long since my last blog post, even though I'm not working the time goes surprisingly quickly! I've been feeling reasonably well over these last ten days or so. The most significant problem I've experienced is nausea which has been a frequent problem. Aside from that I've also been having night sweats which haven't helped with the quality of sleep that I'm getting. My pain continues to be very well controlled which is a major plus point and I've also had less fatigue than I was getting three or so weeks ago.
My next scan is booked for Friday this week. I should get the results sometime late next week. Katie and I are really unsure about what this scan will show. On the one hand, my abdominal symptoms that were causing me a lot of problems a month or so ago have improved tremendously however I now have quite a number of metastatic tumours close to the surface of my skin, none of these have shrunk since I've been on the latest treatment, some have got larger and a couple have appeared since I started this treatment. We have a potential new drug lined up if the Pazopanib is not working but we need to discuss our optoins further with my oncologist when we see him on Thursday this week.
Those of you who know me well will not be surprised to read that I'm somewhat cynical about complementary and alternative therapies. A complementary therapy is one that can be used to complement conventional treatments whereas an alternative therapy is one that is used instead of conventional treatments. 
Last week, as part of a well being course Katie and I attended, we saw a presentation from a complementary therapist. She was promoting aromatherapy, reflexology and reiki. Aromatherapy involves the use of essential oils extracted from plants, these are usually massaged into the skin in diluted form. Reflexology uses foot massage. Practitioners of reflexology believe that different areas of the feet are linked to the different organs of the body which can be stimulated by massaging the corresponding areas of the feet. Reiki practitioners believe that they can positively adjust the bodies energy flows by touching the patient or by holding their hands just above the patient's body. The therapist recommended these three therapies for helping seriously ill people to relax, to feel less stressed and anxious and to feel more positive. She also said that these therapies could help alleviate sleep problems and reduce pain and other symptoms.
Even though I'm cynical about many of the claims some make for complementary therapies, I can see that these therapies could be of use in improving someone's sense of well being. Each therapy generally requires one or more 'one to one' sessions between the patient and the therapist. These sessions are conducted in relaxing surroundings and involve some form of touch or massage which is something most people find pleasant. People enjoy being pampered and tend to feel quite positive afterwards. There is also the possibility that these therapies could trigger a placebo response. The placebo effect is very powerful and can produce significant positive changes in a person's perception of their condition.
Whilst I'm convinced that the therapist that Katie and I heard speak had nothing but good intentions, in describing the therapies that she was promoting she said little about the limited scientific evidence for these therapies and she made some claims that are not substantiated by properly conducted research. For instance, she stated that in reflexology the link between areas on the feet and specific organs in the body has been proven, which it has not. In my view, it would help patients if therapists were fully open about any aspect of their offerings that are not supported by scientific evidence. If a therapist were to proactively disclose this information this would help to establish their integrity and might make cynical people like me more likely to try these therapies.
For anyone considering using a complementary therapy in the treatment of cancer I recommend reading this section of the Cancer Research UK website. If you are interested in the therapies mentioned above then click on the links below to see what Cancer Research UK has to say on each of these: aromatherapy, reflexology and reiki. I think the Cancer Research UK commentary on these therapies provides exactly the kind of information, including the scientific support for the various claims for these therapies, that therapists should be giving to potential patients. 
My main challenge in getting out and about continues to be my limited mobility, I still find that walking any distance generally causes me to feel very nauseous. I was really pleased then when Katie and I met some friends of ours at Stourhead and I managed to walk far enough to be able to enjoy the landscaped garden and to take some photographs. The rhododendrums were in bloom and the trees were looking fine in their new foliage. Here are a couple of the photos.


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