By Sterling Davis
“Blow kisses,” a mom encouraged her eight-year-old daughter as they greeted us
upon entering her hospital room. The young girl had been suffering from a brain tumor.
Despite her struggle, she had the strength to welcome us with a beautiful smile
and wonderful air kisses. She knew that upon seeing us she would soon receive some
respite from the pain and nausea she was experiencing due to chemotherapy treatments.
The needles would stay in for about twenty minutes while she rested
and then we would return to see her again in a week.
I spent an entire year as an intern during my senior rotation on the hematology and oncology ward at Rady Children’s Hospital in San Diego, California. We worked primarily with children who dealt with chronic pain. The patients were recommended to us for a variety of reasons, such as pain from accidents, congenital disorders or as a result of chemotherapy.
The two key symptoms that are important to remember here are pain and nausea. These two sideeffects from cancer treatments are extremely common and acupuncture can be helpful for both. At the beginning of each appointment, the acupuncturist will examine the strength and constitution of the patient by assessing tongue and pulse. An acupuncturist will then choose points depending on the location of the pain, the
accessibility of the point and comfort of the patient. (1)
A recent study published on the Healthcare Medicine Institute website shows 90% efficacy in decreasing neuropathy caused by chemo toxin when given a Chinese herbal formula combined with acupuncture. Secondly, chemotherapy may cause damage to the cells lining the gastrointestinal tract causing diarrhea or nausea. There are several acupuncture points to help aid in proper digestion. These points are used to soothe and strengthen the stomach and intestines.
One way of explaining why acupuncture works is that acupuncture helps promote the qi and blood flow in areas of the body. Both qi and blood nourish the peripheral nerves in our body and help heal them from damage. Similarly, qi and blood stagnation in the body may cause pain. In that case, an acupuncturist would move qi and blood. From a western perspective, stimulation of acupuncture points can signal the release of endorphins that can block pain receptors and help the patient feel less pain.
I have been able to witness first hand that acupuncture can reduce pain, anxiety and stress and help the digestive system. If a patient is too young to report, you can sometimes see a change because their facial expression goes from a grimace to serene or they will stop crying. Acupuncture is a slow medicine and so it can take multiple sessions to see results. However, these sessions do not cause adverse side effects, which is why it is such great medicine!
Neither acupuncture nor Chinese herbs can claim to cure cancer, but they do provide relief from symptoms experienced as a result of chemotherapy and radiation treatment. It is important to work as an integrative team with Western medical doctors in order to provide the patient with the best of care. Typically, only acupuncture is provided during chemotherapy. Later, herbs may be introduced after the chemo sessions have ended. The journey with cancer can be a long and tough one, but it fills my heart to help the process by providing relief for pain and nausea while the patient contends with the disease.
1 Wu Ting-ting, Jin Yan, Zhong Yi, Zhang Shi-qiang, Li Yuan, Yang Yun, Jiang Hai-yan, Xia Xiao-ting, Lyu Jun-qiang. Acupuncture plus herbs relieve chemo neurotoxicity. Healthcare Medicine Institute, 4 April, 2016. Web. 7 Aug. 2017.