Diane Miller, a patient with stage 4 lung cancer, was able to gain a sense of calm and control thanks to her utilization of integrative medicine techniques such as meditation into her treatment plan.
“Overall, I’m happier, I’m more relaxed,” Miller told CURE®. “And the thing that I was not expecting was (that) going into my first quarterly scan after I started (mediation) therapy … I didn’t even think about it. Typically, two weeks before, I am incredibly anxious and stressed out and just on edge and physically shaking when I’m going through the scans. This time was so different. I went into my scans with a sense of calm and confidence. I just was able to do them and go home and get on about my business. And it was incredible.”
A backache in the fall of 2020 began a chain of events that led to Miller receiving her diagnosis in January of 2021.
“It was just a whirlwind for a few months after that, of different tests and just trying to figure out what our next move was,” she said. “And we knew that I needed a high level of care, so, my husband and I decided that City of Hope, would be our next call.”
There, Miller connected with Dr. Ravi Salgia, a medical oncologist, professor and chair of the department of medical oncology and therapeutics research and the Arthur and Rosalie Kaplan Chair in Medical Oncology and Therapeutics Research at City of Hope’s comprehensive cancer center in Duarte, California.
Salgia, Miller said, “has such a calm presence about him … and assured me that this was not a death sentence, that there are treatments for me. And here I am today. It’ll be three years in January.”
It was Salgia, Miller said, who first recommended that she incorporate integrative medicine into her treatment plan.
The Office of Complimentary and Alternative Medicine in the Division of Cancer Treatment and Diagnosis at the National Cancer Institute defines complimentary and alternative medicine (CAM) as “any medical system, practice or product that is not thought of as standard care” and, integrative medicine as “an approach that combines treatments from conventional medicine and CAM for which there is some high-quality evidence of safety and effectiveness.”
Complimentary health approaches, according to the National Cancer Institute, are used by millions of Americans, and can include dietary supplements, vitamins, herbal preparations, teas, acupuncture, massage, magnet therapy, spiritual healing and meditation.
“After about two years of treatment, I was stable, feeling better overall, but I was still struggling with the anxiety that comes with a cancer diagnosis like this,” Miller said. “So, I talked with my team, Dr. Salgia, and explained what was going on, that I was having trouble sleeping and (that) the anxiety was a problem.”
Salgia, in turn, recommended that Miller visit with Dr. Richard T. Lee, an integrative oncologist with City of Hope.
“I honestly didn’t know much about integrative medicine,” Miller said. “I didn’t know what to expect. I went in there with all kinds of questions about different therapies that I had come across, different mushrooms or supplements or this and that. We talked at length about that sort of thing.
“And then, I explained to him that my biggest problem was the anxiety and lack of sleep. It was really difficult to deal with, it was affecting my quality of life terribly. So, he recommended meditation. I explained to him I have tried and I’ve never been very successful with meditation on my own. And that’s when he told me about Frank Munoz, who is an amazing human being. He’s a chaplain, a researcher and a mind body medicine specialist (at City of Hope). And so, I started seeing Frank once a week, and Frank guides me through meditation. Frank has taught me how my mind can affect my physical body and my healing. And it’s been an absolute game-changer for me.”
Beyond being able to sleep again, Miller said her sessions with Munoz have her feeling like she has “a little bit of control in this situation that has been so far out of my control. It’s given me the feeling like there’s something I can do for myself to help myself. And that is huge.”
“This is going to change the lives of so many people”
City of Hope announced on Sept. 12 that it had received a $100 million gift from philanthropists and co-founders and co-CEOs of Panda Express Andrew and Peggy Cherng to create the Cherng Family Center for Integrative Oncology at City of Hope, billed in a news release as “a first-of-its-kind, national integrative oncology program that brings together Eastern and Western medicine to improve outcomes and quality of life for cancer patients and survivors.”
The $100 million gift, according to the news release, “is the largest single philanthropic contribution for cancer care in City of Hope history and the largest donation the Panda Charitable Family Foundation has made to any organization.”
Lee will lead the efforts of the Cherng Family Center, which will launch in southern California before working their way across the national City of Hope system.
“The Cherng Family Center for Integrative Oncology at City of Hope will accelerate the research, education and clinical care needed to ensure cancer patients and their doctors have access to safe, proven approaches,” Lee, Cherng Family Director’s Chair for the Center for Integrative Oncology at City of Hope, told CURE® via email. “The gift will immediately accelerate research, therapeutic development and clinical trials so researchers can develop evidence-based practices for cancer patients nationwide.
“City of Hope will develop education and training programs to address the shortage of knowledgeable clinicians in this field. As part of this, City of Hope plans to create in the coming year or two one of the first integrative oncology fellowships created and led by oncologists. We will also be hosting the Society for Integrative Oncology International Conference in October 2024, which is the premier scientific conference for the field.”
City of Hope, Lee said, has been piloting integrative oncology services in Orange County, California over the last year. City of Hope provides mind-body medicine therapies such as medication to help patients cope with anxiety and poor sleep, and recently began offering acupuncture — which clinical research as demonstrated has benefits for patients dealing with pain — as well as group yoga and tai chi classes.
“An estimated 40% of cancer patients use integrative therapies annually to address their cancer diagnosis and its associated symptoms such as pain. Patient demand for integrative therapies is growing,” Lee said. “Studies have shown integrative oncology can support better health, quality of life and clinical outcomes for cancer patients.”
Miller said she was thrilled to hear thew news of the Center’s announcement.
“As a lung cancer advocate, I was concerned, I wanted other patients to have access to this therapy,” she said. “And when I knew that it would be offered to everyone on a wider scale, I was just thrilled and over the moon. This is going to change the lives of so many people for many years to come.”
“Integrative therapies can be utilized at any point along the cancer spectrum from diagnosis, throughout treatment and into survivorship,” Lee said. “The key aspects are making sure the right patient is using the appropriate integrative therapy in a manner that is safe, personalized and evidence-based to improve outcomes. Patients should work with their cancer team to determine the right therapy at the right time.”
Lee recommended that patients speak with their care teams about their interest in integrative oncology therapies and potentially arrange for consultation with an integrative oncology expert.
“I think it’s incredibly important to figure out what’s important to you at the time,” Miller said. “What side effects you’re having, was it anxiety, is it nausea, is it something else? And talk with your oncology team, first of all, and also talk with your integrative care doctor so that they can collaborate and come up with the best plan for you. There are many therapies to choose from whether it’s acupuncture, meditation, massage, there’s diet, there’s all sorts of things to choose from. So it’s really important that you decide what it is that you need at the moment and start there and then give it a chance it for me it took a couple months to realize the benefits. Some people might be more immediate, but I say give it a try. Stick with it. Go in with a positive mindset. And you will be so impressed and so happy you did.”
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