June 5 – National Cancer Survivor Day

“National Cancer Survivors Day is a CELEBRATION for those you have survived, and INSPIRATION for those recently diagnosed, a gathering of SUPPORT for families, and an OUTREACH to the community.” National Cancer Survivors Day Foundation, Inc. 

While celebration, inspiration, support, and reaching out are all uplifting for people with cancer and their loved ones, I’ve wondered what this means for those who have not “survived”?

One of the differences between Western and Eastern medicines is the philosophy and theories of health and disease.  Metaphorically, in Western medical language, illness is often likened to an enemy at war with a person (we often say patients are “battling” cancer).  The patient is the good and the disease is the bad.  A survivor of disease is therefore…… a winner?

In Chinese Medicine, we do not think of our state of health as black or white, good or bad; an ongoing fight of enemies – as much as we view a person as one whole living being with imbalances.  In time of severe disease these imbalances may be extreme.  Ideal health as the perfect energetic balance is not believed to even exist in people.  In Chinese mythology and ancient medical classics, “The Eight Immortals” were the only perfectly balanced beings.  We mortals all have imbalances to cope with – these are translated as deficiencies, excesses, stagnations and disharmonies, etc.

Integrating Chinese Medicine into therapy plans helps cancer patients in many ways.  Acupuncture may reduce nausea associated with chemotherapy and promote better appetite.  Patients who are fatigued may feel more energetic and invigorated.  Treatments can support patients who suffer emotionally with depression, anxiety and fear.  All these are benefits for people who are already barraged with multiple medications.

While Western medical cancer treatment is life saving and truly miraculous, it is strong medicine and hard on most patients.  It CAN fell like a fight.  Including the balancing natural approach of Chinese Medicine with other therapies empowers patients, as does self-care practices such as qi-gong, meditation and yoga.  A combination of Eastern and Western philosophies and modalities is excellent medicine for many patients.

Being diagnosed with, receiving treatment and then living life with cancer is a journey.  There is not a clear beginning and end to each person’s journey, just as our state of health is not black or white.  The path is rarely linear.

Those who are living with cancer or are in remission are no more successful at any given time or place in their journey than those who have lived and died.  Cancer patients continue on their personal paths guided by knowledge, intuition, deep wisdom and courage.

The outcome (winning or losing?) is not how we should judge a person’s life.  Death is inevitable for everyone.  Rather we should not judge, but value a person for how he/she lives and appreciate the good influence this person has on those whose lives are touched.  It is about the capacity for love.  Love for each other and goodness do not end with the last breath.

Dedicated to Jeffrey Sherman who died of leukemia (ALL) December 10, 1996 at the age of 21.  He inspired me to practice acupuncture and continues to inspire me every day to do good work.

About the Writer

University Health Clinic Acupuncturist

As the University Health Clinic’s acupuncturist with more than 10 years experience practicing Chinese Medicine, Nancy’s special interests include helping you with pain management, fatigue and using acupuncture as an effective adjunct therapy for mental health. She believes in holistic treatment plans that will lead you to a more balanced state of wellness.

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