Complementary Support Program Offered for Breast Cancer Patients

January 09, 2001
News Office: Leslie Harris (415) 885-7277

Research from UCSF Medical Center and California Pacific Medical Center (CPMC) has shown that complementary healing approaches -- such as yoga, meditation, imagery and expressive arts -- can have a significant impact on women living with breast cancer by improving their mood, increasing their quality of life and decreasing pain and fatigue, among other positive effects.

To this end, both medical centers have created the Breast Cancer Complementary Support Program that teaches breast cancer patients about alternative treatment modalities to address their mental, spiritual and physical needs. The goal of this innovative program is to create a healing environment for women living with all stages of breast cancer.

"It's a holistic approach to dealing with the experience of cancer," said Brook Stone, a licensed clinical social worker, associate director of the program and CPMC staff member. "We are not just coming at this from a psycho-therapeutic approach by saying let's sit down and talk about this. We are using many different practices. Many of these interventions are ancient."

One portion of the program is a two-day overnight retreat. Participants are introduced to alternative and complementary practices that will give them practical ways to cope with and to process their feelings about having breast cancer. Women participate in dance therapy, guided imagery, meditation, and yoga. They will also receive group support, learn about healthy eating habits, sexuality, exercise and menopause.

Having women go through this program together, as a group, is an important aspect because it creates a strong sense of community among the participants, said Carol Kronenwetter, UCSF clinical director of the Breast Cancer Complementary Support Program.

"When women are confronted with a diagnosis of breast cancer or are being treated for breast cancer, they often have an incredible amount of anxiety and depression. They experience feelings of lack of control and significant feelings of isolation," Kronenwetter said, herself a 10-year breast cancer survivor. "We encourage this group connection because we feel it's very healing to simply know you are not alone and that there are women out there who know how you feel."

The other portion is a 12-week intensive program that focuses on the same modalities as the retreat but over a longer period of time. Women come to the UCSF Osher Center for Integrative Medicine at Mount Zion two times a week. Skilled staff members counsel the women and help them examine how they are feeling, what their experiences are with breast cancer and ways of coping, Kronenwetter said.

"The goal is to allow women to acknowledge their fears in a safe place and to be able to cope with them so that they can reduce traumatic symptoms, such as intrusive thoughts, repetitive obsessive thoughts, feelings of being tense all the time or suffering from sleep disturbances," she said. "We seek to provide services to these women and see them not just as someone who has a particular kind of cancer, but as someone who has needs, fears and wishes."

Four, two-day retreats will be held throughout the year in San Francisco. Each will have a specific emphasis such as self-care and spirituality. The enrollment fee for the two-day retreat is $275. There will be three 12-week programs held this year. The enrollment fee is $360. Some scholarships will be available for both the retreat and the 12-week intensive program.

The program is a collaboration between the UCSF Carol Franc Buck Breast Care Center at Mount Zion, the Institute for Health and Healing at California Pacific Medical Center and the UCSF Osher Center for Integrative Medicine at Mount Zion. It grew out of the Breast Cancer Personal Support and Lifestyle Intervention trial, a three-year research project conducted by UCSF and CPMC that examined the impact psychosocial services had on breast cancer survivors. These services included complementary medicine, mind/body practices as well as support groups, educational forums and patient advocacy. The results are now being compiled, but preliminary figures show that these treatments had positive impacts on the women, including giving them greater feelings of meaning and purpose and greater spiritual well being. Some women also reported increased functional capacity, being able to carry out tasks at work and at home.

Though much of the focus of the program is on group activities, the hope is each woman will take what she learns and figure out what works best for her to enable her to deal with having breast cancer. "Women feel there is a correct way to be a cancer patient," Stone said. "We support each woman coming to her own understanding of what healing is to her. The goal isn't conformity, but to find out what helps you as an individual."

For more information, call (415) 885-7877 or visit the web page: