by Dr. Ronald Burmeister
Cancer is a dreaded word
which alarms us all, especially if you have it. My disease, a non-Hodgkins lymphoma, was
diagnosed three years ago through various radiological procedures, biopsies, and major surgery.
After three months of waiting, the long-awaited chemotherapy began, five devastating drugs
administered orally and intravenously over eights hours every three weeks.
Within five days I was
overwhelmed with total body sickness such as I had never experienced before. In search of help
other than anti-nausea drugs and analgesics, my wife suggested I begin trying complementary
medicine to curb symptoms. The most effective of these treatments was reflexology administered
by a competent therapist in my home.
She was reassuring as
she probed my feet and told me about the various areas of the feet that relate to the body. And
to my amazement, my condition improved, over and above all the medications I was taking to
overcome symptoms. I continued reflexology for almost one year before my therapist felt secure
enough to dismiss me from her practice.
Being a physician
trained in the scientific method, I was as skeptical as most of my colleagues, that
complementary techniques are only placebos at best. Through recent radiologic advances, however,
integrative medicine procedures have actually shown the brain to be functioning during therapy,
revealing electrical activity very similar to experiments performed with placebos.
What good news! Our
mind-body connections really are reactive and receptive in ways that may heal differently than
mainline medicine. Why not use them to “complement” the advances made in cancer treatments that
provide us with improved quality of life and cures?
During my illness my
reflexologist and other practitioners proved knowledgeable and sympathetic, and applied their
skills with gentleness and professionalism on a weekly basis, ameliorating my symptoms and
anxiety. As my oncologist continued therapy through month three and four, the expected slow
weight loss and diminished energy along with the usual nausea would have been totally
debilitating without the integrative procedures that I chose.
By now I was also being
treated by a physician in the cancer center who specialized in integrative medicine. She
confirmed my decisions regarding treatment, added glimmers of hope, and widened my vision to
other therapies which relieved symptoms from chemotherapy. I discovered a more positive attitude
and creativity that expanded my mental resources in writing, music, and engendered a greater
appreciation for fellow sufferers.
I was transformed from a
suspicious patient into a believer of complementary medicine! My reflexologist was integral in
maintaining this affirming activity to the end and beyond chemotherapy.
Although treatment with
integrative medicine is difficult to document statistically, efforts through the National
Institutes of Health are underway to investigate various aspects of therapy. With long-term
controlled studies, more will be learned about the value of these techniques as they are applied
in juxtaposition to standard medical procedures and pharmacotherapy.
The future is bright for
the professions that comprise complementary medicine and for the patients who receive the
benefits of compassionate care from the practitioners of the art.
Dr. Ronald Burmeister practices Obstetrics & Gynecology at Rockford Health
Systems in Rockford, IL.