Acupuncture, Wellness Therapies Emphasized at Cancer Center

East meets West at the Cowell Family Cancer Center (CFCC) as patients benefit from integrative therapies that complement traditional cancer treatments.

Since Munson Medical Center opened the CFCC in April 2016, individualized supportive care and wellness programs have been emphasized in coordination with its strong multidisciplinary cancer care. Integrative, or complementary, therapies are provided to patients, staff and community in a three-room health and wellness suite with emphasis on Asian bodywork therapies, such as acupuncture and shiatsu, and Western-based treatments like massage and Australian Bowen Therapy.

Two board-certified, registered acupuncturists, Jill Donberg and Sarah Rasmussen, are contracted to provide services at the CFCC. Both women also maintain private practices in Traverse City.

“So far, the response has been great from patients and caregivers,” Rasmussen said. “Many patients, as well as Munson employees, are trying acupuncture and seeing firsthand how beneficial it can be. The oncology doctors and nurses are very supportive as well, and promote and recommend our services.”

Donberg noted the integrative approach.

“Acupuncturists are always looking for symptomatic relief, through a tedious search for the root of the issue,” Donberg said.

“We use the diagnostic information available to us from doctors, patients, lab results and what we feel in the tissue and pulses of the body.”

“We are trained to use our hands to find information found in places that are hidden. There is a depth to the medicine, an introspective part that comes through long years of practice,” she said. “Practitioners have cultivated their ability to tune into the natural processes of the body, through questions and through touch, to see different layers of pathology.”

“Most importantly, we work alongside western doctors, physical therapists, massage therapists, psychiatrists, dietitians, chiropractors, as we cannot see all layers.”

Integrative therapy is now a fixture in Munson Medical Center cancer care, she said, and is part of health and wellness programming that includes exercise, nutrition counseling, social work for oncology patients, meditation classes, support groups, live music and various presentations and workshops.

The program is receiving national attention as an innovative healthcare model, receiving the Leadership in Cancer Prevention Award by the Less Cancer advocacy organization last February.

Casey Cowell of Traverse City has long been a strong advocate.

“My support for ancillary services is pretty much all-encompassing,” Cowell said. “Acupuncture is one of many support services woven into the fabric of care at the Cowell Family Cancer Center.

“Acupuncture was long excluded from the suite of accepted western medical practices. That is no longer the case. It helps and, therefore, we have it. Being healthy and healing is holistic,” he added. “We obviously need to apply all of our rational inferential and deductive science to beat diseases, but it is also important that we nurture our psyche to ‘go forward positive. Positive attitude and sense of self counts. All of the support services at CFCC speak to this.”

According to the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NCCIH), research indicates up to 50 percent of individuals receiving cancer treatment in the U.S. utilize some form of complementary therapies. Cancer symptoms most often noted as benefitting were stress/anxiety, pain, fatigue, depression and quality of life.

Going Deeper

“Acupuncture is a therapy that unlocks frozen processes in the body,” Donberg said. “This could be as simple as a chronically contracted muscle or as complex as PTSD, nausea, or constipation. Somewhere there is something that has stopped moving, as though it is locked in place.”

“This is the root cause of pain,” she continued. “We have the opportunity to explore the soft tissue and the nervous system, to see if there is something dysregulated. This is acupuncture’s strength.”

Rasmussen agreed, noting benefits she’s observed in treating chemotherapy and radiation therapy side effects include decreased nausea and stomach upset, hot flashes, peripheral neuropathy and decreased anxiety and stress. Acupuncture is also beneficial for those suffering from post-operative pain.

“There are many good reasons for cancer patients to receive acupuncture,” Donberg said. “A commonly overlooked reason is the shock and fear of diagnosis. Shock has its own nature on the body and the mind. The nervous system is sent into a sudden world of uncertainty and fear.  The processing of such an event can live long past cancer has entered remission.”

A common misconception is that acupuncture is painful, which Donberg notes rarely occurs.

“The needles are more like small filaments that we use to simulate the bio-electrical language of the body,” she said. “Many times, acupuncture gives significant relief over the first 12 hours. The acupuncturist will typically know if the patient is a candidate for this kind of recovery.”

Traditional acupuncturists like Donberg and Rasmussen bring significant training and years of experience, including master’s degrees, board certification and state registration to their work along with a commitment to the theories behind the practice.

“My (undergraduate) education was evidence-based and prepared me for a research career…but I joined the Peace Corps instead of going to medical school, which lead me east and introduced me to meditation and herbal therapy,” Donberg said, noting traditional Eastern medicine uses a different body model and speaks of relationships between organ systems and the way both internal and external influences can dysregulate the functions of the body.

“I fell in love with the theory, and its practice has allowed me to witness what Western medicine would call ‘miracles,’” she said.

Munson Medical Center will be hosting a community picnic celebrating cancer survivors, prevention and health and wellness on June 25, 3-6 p.m. at the Cowell Family Cancer Center (CFCC). The event will include free massage, yoga, meditation, a children’s area, nature walk, featured speakers (oncologists and national speakers), and a health and wellness information fair hosted by Munson and community partners. Food will be available for purchase from the Sprout Café. There will also be a community bike ride to cheer on a national biking group riding 300 miles for cancer prevention. The community can participate in the last 20 miles or less to give energy and support to those riding. Anyone interested in participating in the bike ride should contact the CFCC Health & Wellness Suite (231-392-8400) for more information.