A free program at Stanford University Medical Center pairs healing-hands providers with breast-cancer survivors for weekly one-on-one sessions. The Healing Partners program helps patients cope with their disease and the effects of tratment through a gentle form of energy balancing that promotes deep relaxation, according to Kathy Turner, a nurse and director of Healing Partners at Women's Health @Stanford.
The discipline, known as Healing Touch, is based on the idea that energy fields surround the body and are strongest within it. Movement of the energy field utilizes the same principle as in acupuncture and other Eastern practices, and can bring deep relaxation and a reduction of pain, loss of appetite and swelling that often accompany cancer treatments and the after-effects of surgery, Turner said.
"The belief is that the body has an innate capacity to heal itself," she added.
Turner cautions that healing is not the same as curing.
"Healing is bringing someone to the highest level of wellness and resilience as possible," she said.
For patients with breast cancer, Healing Touch provides an opportunity to let down one's guard and relax. It is a time when patients don't have to put on a brave front of assuring people that everything is fine, Turner said.
"You form a wonderful partnership. ... Loving touch is a powerful experience that everyone needs. It's a simple thing and yet so profound," she said.
Beginning research into the efficacy of Healing Touch showed a high level of satisfaction among patients, according to Turner. Surveys at Stanford found positive changes in depression, anxiety and quality of life among resipients, she said.
Often recipients become providers to other women with breast cancer. Five women ages 39 to 68 recently discussed their experiences as receivers and providers of Healing Touch. Among the high achievers were a psychotherapist, a former Wall Street analyst and hedge-fund manager, a Stanford scientist, a marketing executive and a high-tech professional. They are a group most inclined to be skeptical of such a seemingly ethereal art, they said.
But each conceded her doubt melted away during the partnership, and for some, the experience changed the direction of their lives.
Marly Cardozo, 49, is the only member of the group who hasn't had cancer. She is the first of the group to have received training.
A former Wall Street stock analyst, Cardozo became interested in the program after being a "guinea pig" for a friend who was learning the techniques. She reevaluated her life and chucked her high-tech job. Now she teaches yoga and meditation, she said.
"I felt this is kind of what I was looking for. It is the most spiritual experience to feeling connected in terms of a universal flow. ... You get still and quiet inside so you can heal," she said.
Anne Broderick, 68, a psychotherapist who was diagnosed with breast cancer in June 2005, was Cardozo's first recipient. Like the other women, she was originally skeptical about the technique. "I thought it was pretty 'woo-woo' stuff," she said.
But Broderick was so impressed with the results of her sessions that she became a practitioner.
The technique helped her have less severe side effects from radiation and chemotherapy, she said.
"It was truly wonderful. ... I felt kind of icky for a day or two, but I was still able to work. ... I could really feel the energy moving in my body. I felt a release," she said.
She became Lydia Li's provider. Li, 55, was diagnosed with breast cancer in July 2006.
"I had very bad shoulder pain on the left side. I was able to reduce it from a four to zero," she said.
For strong, independent women who are used to multi-tasking and wanting to be self-sufficient, the Healing Partners program can be an opportunity to ask for help and to receive it, Catherine Palter, 46, a Stanford scientist and recipient/provider, said.
Liane Aihara, 39, also a breast-cancer survivor who has become a provider, agreed.
"It's being able to ask for help in specific ways. You have to be directed and focused in order to ask for help," she said.
Dealing with the after-piece of cancer, Aihara found it difficult to trust her body and feel that she was well. Healing Partners helped her to regain that trust in wellness, she said.
"There is a big emphasis on self-care. If you don't look after yourself, you find yourself getting sick. It causes a shift in perspective. (As a provider) if you are being of service to anyone, you have to take care of yourself," she said.
For more information, see this month's Health Notes column.