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Impact Stories

Complementary Therapies: Treating the Whole Person Not Just the Disease

In October of 2012, Marilyn Obers was diagnosed with breast cancer. A widow at 66 with no family in the area and no experience with cancer treatment, Marilyn never could have imagined how it would ravage every aspect of her life.

“I had no idea what cancer takes from you,” she said. “It robs you of every ounce of energy you have.”

A fighter at heart, Marilyn took advantage of everything St. Charles had to offer, including complementary therapies that are offered along with conventional treatments to help manage symptoms and alleviate side effects.

Undergoing cancer treatment can be very stressful physically, mentally, emotionally, financially, socially and spiritually. Funded by a $20,000 grant from Les Schwab Tire Centers, as well as Sara’s Project, Wendy’s Wish and St. Charles Foundation, complementary therapies are stress reduction techniques that support the health and healing of the whole person.

“Evidence-based complementary therapies help promote relaxation and restore balance supporting the body’s ability to heal,” said Marian Boileau, RN, BSN, Integrative Therapies Manager, St. Charles Cancer Center. “Receiving complementary therapies gives patients a sense of control and active participation in their healing process.”

Marilyn Obers did acupuncture for neuropathy, the often-debilitating pain that results from chemotherapy. It gave her three solid weeks of relief. She received therapeutic massage for cramping. Reiki, a Japanese relaxation technique, allowed her to fall asleep for the first time in a long time.

“I had a feeling of well-being that I hadn’t had in months,” said Obers. “I don’t think I could have made it through without these therapies. I never tried them before — I was not a believer. I didn’t realize what a great benefit I would get from it. I was shocked.”

Each month, the Integrative Oncology Program at St. Charles serves approximately 100 patients for Reiki, 100 for massage and 35 for acupuncture. Patients can receive therapies up to once per week during treatment and four to eight weeks post treatment. In addition, the program offers nutrition counseling, art and music therapy, yoga, relaxation and stress-reduction workshops and a range of other complementary therapies.

“The programs are well used with wait lists,” said Boileau. “Funding is crucial to the integrative therapies program as all therapies are offered free of charge.”

The program has been so well received that there are plans to extend complementary therapies to St. Charles heart patients in the coming months.

After a long road, Marilyn Obers — a self-described “ornery old broad” — is now a CT-Scan away from what she’s hoping to be remission and maintenance therapy.

“It’s been a real godsend having these programs here to help,” said Obers. “I just wish there was more of it. There are a lot of people in need — I’m not the only one — and Medicare doesn’t cover it.” Now a true believer, she’s even changed her will to make the program a beneficiary.