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Reiki's Place in Cancer Care

By Kristen Nicastro, RN, BSN, OCN, Reiki Master
In today’s oncology world we are not only discussing chemotherapy, radiation therapy, and surgical intervention, we are also talking about the physical and emotional side effects from long-term treatments. Complementary therapies in cancer care are on the rise and have broken through some previously defined barriers. I have had some very effective and powerful experience with one such alternative therapy, Reiki, in treating the side effects and emotional aspects of cancer with my oncology patients.

Reiki is a healing technique many believe was created by the Japanese monk, Mikao Usui, in 1922 (though others contend it existed in other forms before that). Sometimes referred to as the “laying on of hands,” the goal of the practice of Reiki is to balance the “chi” or life force energy.

About 10 years ago, only 2 years into my oncology practice, I had a young lung cancer patient who happened to also be a nurse. Due to her disease, she had vocal cord paralysis and spoke with a strained and diminished voice. After her Reiki sessions with another practitioner, that same strangled voice would be strong and clear for 2-3 days.

We, as her chemotherapy providers at Lahey Health, saw this phenomenon repeatedly in our time working with this patient. And, although I was initially skeptical, and a believer in Western medicine and science, I could not discredit what I had witnessed.

 A fellow nurse and I decided to get certified as level 1 Reiki practitioners, which required 8 hours on a Saturday and 6 months of self-administered Reiki treatments to complete the attunement. I honestly felt “something” – a vibration is the best way that I can explain it. We decided to continue the levels of attunement through to master.

With our hospital's blessing and support, we have been providing free Reiki to patients for 10 years as part of our approach to care. Patients have found it helpful for sleep, anxiety, pain, and neuropathies. In a career where I have to give life-prolonging but toxic substances, I feel very thankful that I opened my mind and heart to this gentle, supplemental, non-invasive treatment.

Many Eastern medical techniques have been around for thousands of years and by safely integrating these treatments into our science-based Western medicine I believe can bring more holistic care and may even decrease the needs for some pain and anxiety medications.

For more information on Reiki, check out the International Center for Reiki.
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