“Many studies show decreasing anxiety and stress reduce production of adrenaline and cortisol, thus improving the immune system,” Wong noted. “Providing these modalities readily to patients facilitates healing,” she continued, adding that patients often develop their own interest in the techniques and seek out Reiki, meditation, and aromatherapy after completion of their radiation course.
The relaxation modalities are fully integrated into LMCC’s radiation oncology unit. At the first radiation oncology consult, the free services are explained and offered to each patient. In addition, patients who show specific signs of anxiety prior to a radiation therapy session—for example, as a result of claustrophobia—can be referred by their nurses or other clinicians to the center for a brief Reiki or similar relaxation treatments.
For this population, Wong added, “fear and anxiety are among the more prevalent symptoms,” along with the cumulative effect of dealing with the cancer itself, and, for many, balancing the need to continue to work during treatment.
Promoting Wellness With Relaxation
Patient feedback thus far has been extremely positive. “The patients love it, and they want to learn more about it,” said Wong. By offering the services and educating patients about their benefits, she added, “We are really promoting wellness.”
When patients are discharged from their radiation regimens, they often look for other practitioners so that they can continue the therapy, or, they find that they have learned enough about the process to integrate it into their daily lives.
While the program began specifically for the radiation oncology patient, Wong is now working with the Patient Family Advisory Council in promoting health and wellness at sponsored events. Alka Gupta, MD, and Chiti Parikh, MD, co-directors of Integrative Health at NYP Cornell, are implementing these health and wellness services in the health system.
“A lot has happened since our pilot study. It has set the stage for something bigger.”