Cancer, right from diagnosis through the treatment up to the recovery process, is rather painful and is a challenging process for anyone. It not only destroys a part of your body, but it can also eat away at your mind. In such trying times, it is crucial for patients, their family members and caregivers to be in a good mental state to reduce suffering as much as possible. It is critical to stay calm and optimistic during the entire treatment and remission process to have a complete recovery.
ZenOnco.io believes in a holistic approach to oncological practices and techniques. Therefore, we have introduced special programs designed to enhance the conventional treatments for cancer by augmenting it with wellness practices that improve the overall physical and mental health of the patients. At ZenOnco.io, we strive to provide reassurance and help calm the patients by providing psychological and emotional support through our various initiatives and programs that come under the umbrella term of 'integrative oncology.'
Integrative oncology practices are vital for patients with cancer to cope with the heavy physical and mental toll that cancer and Cancer Treatment takes on them, be it through exercise and fitness or counseling and therapy. There has also been evidence to suggest that patients who receive integrative therapies along with their standard medical treatments, as opposed to the traditional treatment alone, have a higher chance of living longer after the treatment period.
The five wellness practices undertaken by ZenOnco.io as part of their integrative oncology protocol to accompany typical cancer treatments are
'Keeping calm' is all about being in the right mental temperament before, during, and after cancer. Apart from the physical side effects of cancer and its treatment such as fatigue, change in appetite, pain, Nausea and vomiting, hair loss, etc., it also has numerous mental side effects. These include stress, anxiety, depression, grief, and lack of sleep. It is not only necessary to alleviate the patients from these side effects because of the inherent suffering associated with them but also because these mental disturbances can affect how the body responds to treatment, the patient's immune system, and they can increase the risk of cancer progression and compromise the overall health of the body.
Thus, we, at ZenOnco.io, believe that keeping a calm composure, working through each process one step at a time, and ample emotional support from family and the community at large will help to reduce the suffering of the patient and drastically improve the overall efficacy of the cancer treatments.
'Keep calm' consists of four aspects. These are:
Let us take a look at each one of them and what they encompass in detail one by one.
Mindfulness refers to the ability to be fully and wholly present at any given moment, wherever we are, without getting overwhelmed by what is around us. All humans innately possess the quality of mindfulness, but through daily practice and intention, we can experience it on a more tangible level. Mindfulness practices help us to experience and have a complete awareness of our surroundings, our environment, our body, and our feelings in their entirety. This is achieved through our five senses, our thoughts, and our emotions.
Mindfulness-based therapy is a specialized kind of treatment that uses mindfulness techniques and practices, designed to help reduce Stress and Anxiety in patients of various illnesses. They consist of two types of intervention programs. These are
Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) is an 8-week program in mindfulness designed to help reduce and cope with anxiety, depression, and Pain. It uses meditation, body awareness, yoga, and awareness of thought processes, patterns, emotions, and actions. Mindfulness-based cognitive therapy (MBCT) is a particular subtype of psychotherapy that uses cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) techniques in conjunction with mindfulness meditation practices.
One of the most important components of mindfulness-based therapy is meditation. Meditation is a process of relaxing and releasing the mind to allow it to wander and explore its natural curiosities and thought processes. It is thought to have originated in ancient India. Meditation allows us to release tension from the body and the mind, and remove judgment on what's happening around us and to simply let things be. Through meditation, one can also experience a heightening of their senses, wherein we can notice and experience sounds and sensations, such as the wind blowing in our hair or our face, in a very profound manner.
Meditation and mindfulness can put us in touch with our Anxiety and stress, and this is extremely helpful for cancer patients. It calls for the patient to pay attention to the present moment and the present moment alone, practice deep breathing exercises, and also pay attention to their body. Mindfulness helps the patient to cope with their Stress and Anxiety and other difficult emotions without overly analyzing them, suppressing, or even encouraging them. It is a process of complete surrender to what is and calmly navigating them, instead of fighting them. By doing this, the patient can now identify the root cause of their suffering and the source of their fears and Anxiety. This allows the patient to overcome the feeling that their sufferings and worries have overtaken them. It will enable them not to be consumed by the scary thoughts that come with an illness like cancer. Meditation and mindfulness can also help the patients to manage their Pain better.
Yoga has similar effects and has been found to be highly effective in relieving physical Pain as well. It is a mental, physical, and spiritual practice that also originated in ancient India. It consists of a wide range of poses or 'asanas' that aid in controlling the mind and the body. It is a practice that requires a lot of discipline and so, practicing it can help the patient in developing self-discipline and control over their thoughts and their bodies. Many studies done on cancer patients indicate that Yoga can significantly reduce side effects of cancer treatments as well as Anxiety and depression, and can improve the overall quality of life. Others have shown a decrease in Fatigue in those patients and survivors who attended Yoga classes regularly.
Studies have shown that both MBSR and MBCT have significantly improved the copying abilities of patients with terminal illnesses, such as cancer, and reduced the level of Anxiety and Depression in them when compared to patients who did not receive such treatments. The evidence in support of Mindfulness-based therapy is quite substantial, and the treatment is so simple that mindfulness should be considered as an essential part of cancer treatments in hospitals as well as cancer centers. However, that is not the case in India, and ZenOnco hopes to bridge this gap with its integrative oncology programs.
Wellness is a term that includes both physical and mental wellbeing. Most people, when they hear the word wellness, think in terms of physical fitness and eating a healthy diet. But wellness in the modern age is all about a holistic approach to the mind and the body, and understanding that both these aspects of human life are fundamental to its existence. Typically, wellness has seven dimensions to it. These are physical, emotional, intellectual, social, spiritual, environmental, and occupational. As part of the keep calm wellness practice, at ZenOnco, we like to focus on spiritual and emotional wellness more than anything else. This is because they are both vital to keep your spirits high when going through an ordeal like cancer.
Many mental illnesses are characterized by a person's inability to feel or express ordinary human emotions. Emotional wellness, therefore, refers to one's ability to properly feel and express human emotions such as happiness, sadness, and anger. It also comprises the capacity to feel, express, and share love with oneself and others, and feel a sense of satisfaction and fulfillment in one's life. A person who is emotionally well will have a sense of self-acceptance, self-love, optimism, and self-esteem.
Spiritual wellness is about having certain beliefs, principles, and values that can guide and help find direction in a person's life. A spiritually well person will have a ton of faith, hope, and devotion in their beliefs, be it based on their religion or otherwise, that provide a sense of meaning and purpose in their life. It also encompasses the ability to find meaning and purpose in life, to question what is obvious, and to appreciate the things in life that do not have an explanation. Spiritual wellness is all about accepting what cannot be changed and finding that perfect balance between the inner workings of the soul and the powerful forces of the material world.
One research paper suggested that patients with Lung Cancer with more spiritual inclinations and emotional wellness had a higher sense of overall psychological wellness, and they also seemed to show lower distress from their symptoms. Another study showed that having a sense of purpose or meaning in life (found through prayer and spirituality) helped with the physical and psychological well being of Breast Cancer survivors. Thus, there is evidence to show that emotional and spiritual wellness should be essential components in cancer treatments. However, such an approach is much lacking in typical cancer centers and hospitals in India. This is what drives ZenOnco.io to do what we do with passion and zeal.
ZenOnco.io can help cancer patients to achieve emotional and spiritual wellness with specially designed and personalized programs. We can help patients build up their emotional wellness through therapy and programs that provide support and teach patients to tune in to their thoughts and feelings, develop an optimistic outlook, learn techniques to manage stress, and above all, find acceptance and forgiveness for themself. We can also help patients in their journey to achieving spiritual wellness by teaching them meditation techniques, enhancing their curiosity, teaching them to find an opportunity to grow in challenges, and helping them see the greater picture and meaning of life.
Guided imagery, also referred to as Guided Affective Imagery, or KIP, Katathym-imaginative Psychotherapy, uses mind-body training or mind-body intervention techniques to help the patient to visualize mental images. It is a quick and easy technique to manage and reduce Stress. An instructor or teacher helps you visualize vivid images that evoke the senses of touch, vision, hearing, taste, and smell through verbal instructions or audio recordings or even through the patient's imagination or inner voice.
There are two techniques or methods to generate images in our minds. These are:
Voluntary imagery comprises either remembering or reproducing images from past memory or creating entirely new ones from imagination. Whereas involuntary imagery refers to the natural response of the mind to seeing or hearing something, i.e. when the person sees or hears something and can retain the image or sound in their mind.
Guided imagery refers to the first kind, i.e., the voluntary technique of creating and imagining images and perceptual sensations in the brain from the patient's long term or short term memory or their imagination with the aid of instructions from the guide or therapist. Guided Imagery is therapeutic and helps patients to focus on specific tasks and images and take their attention away from the Pain and stress, thereby reducing the intensity of their suffering. It has been found to alleviate Stress from the body and mind rather quickly and efficiently and helps the patient get in touch with their subconscious mind.
Usually, the therapist will narrate or play a Guided Imagery recording for the patient that helps them imagine some sort of a scene that evokes all of their senses, i.e., vision, hearing, touch, smell, and taste. It could be a scene on the beach next to the waves where you can see the beautiful waters and the horizon, hear the waves, smell the sea salt, feel the sand and the tides between your toes and even taste the salt in the air. This allows the patient to enter into a deeply relaxed state, making them forget their worries for the moment and bring down their Stress and Anxiety levels. More organizations are realizing that Guided Imagery may also help with reducing Nausea and vomiting, which results from Chemotherapy and reduce Anxiety levels before radiation therapy, but there is not enough solid evidence for the same. But its positive effects on the mental and emotional wellness of the patients are well substantiated. For example, one particular study found that relaxation using Guided Imagery for one week significantly helped reduce anxiety, stress, depression, insomnia, and other psychological distress symptoms as well as physical symptoms in patients with Breast Cancer.
Guided imagery is a relatively simple technique and can be practiced anywhere when a person is feeling stressed or going down a spiral of overthinking and overanalyzing. But it is not easy to master on one's own. The patient will need help and training from the guide or teacher first before they can start practicing it on their own. At ZenOnco.io, we provide well-trained in-house Guided Imagery teachers to help patients with their recovery process, as part of our integrative oncology programs.
The NCCIH or the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health defines mind-body interventions or approaches as those practices that “employ a variety of techniques designed to facilitate the mind's capacity to affect bodily function and symptoms.”
Recently, specialists have become more aware of the fact that cancer symptoms do not appear in isolation but rather 'cluster' together. When one sign is treated, its side effects may lead to another set of symptoms or distress signals in the body, thus demanding an entirely new way of treating such symptoms. In other words, it is not enough to treat each symptom separately; rather, a holistic approach that works on the entire spectrum of symptoms is required to make treatment more efficient and beneficial for the patient.
Mind-body approaches are known to contribute significantly to reduce headaches, chronic pain, especially in patients with cancer, and Nausea and Vomiting induced by Chemotherapy. There is also ample evidence to show that mind-body intervention has helped patients and survivors to cope better with both the physical and mental side-effects of medical treatment for cancer. At the very least, it improves the overall quality of life and helps boost the immune system.
Persistent or recurrent pain, fatigue, and disturbance of sleep are common and well-documented symptom clusters seen in patients with cancer. The usual methods of treating these symptoms include medications to reduce individual symptoms, so that improving one may lead to worsening of the other. For example, drugs used to help with Sleep Disturbances may cause Fatigue during the rest of the day. There is increasing evidence emerging that categorically shows that mind-body approaches and interventions targeted at clusters like the one mentioned above have worked on each individual symptom.
Some of the most common mind-body approaches include various relaxation techniques, yoga, music therapy, art therapy, journaling, tai chi, qigong, hypnosis, imagery, and other cognitive and behavioral techniques. Meditation has been highly beneficial in helping the patients reduce their Stress and Anxiety and also heighten their sense of awareness of the connections between the mind and the body. Yoga, qigong, and Tai Chi are different variations of movement-based mind-body exercises that have similar effects in helping the body and mind to work in harmony. Yoga was found to be especially helpful in the recovery process and in improving sleep. A study on senior Prostate Cancer survivors showed that practicing a mind-body activity like Qigong was much more helpful in coping with Fatigue and other distress symptoms than just physical activities like stretching. This shows the vitality of mind and body approaches and the importance of incorporating the wellbeing of the mind into the whole approach to Cancer Treatment. There are other techniques involved in the mind and body approach that are more physical in nature. These include acupuncture, massage therapy, Alexander technique, pilates, and spinal manipulation, among others.
All of the treatment methods, techniques and approaches mentioned above and the corresponding studies on the different methods and approaches show that cancer patients who do not receive palliative care and integrative treatment are missing out on a whole lot, and such patients form the majority of the cancer patients and survivors, particularly in a country like India. They lose the opportunity to reduce both their mental and physical suffering drastically and manage all their symptoms, side-effects of treatment, and distress associated with treatment and recovery of cancer.
Although researchers, healthcare professionals, and cancer specialists all over the world are recognizing the importance of holistic treatment, that is not merely focussed on pharmaceutical and medical solutions the healing of the mind as well through mind-body techniques, Indian medicine has fallen short of these developments. ZenOnco.io was created specifically to bridge this chasm and bring the much-needed integrative treatment methods to cancer patients and cancer survivors all over India treatments that are based on mindfulness, emotional and spiritual wellness, and mind-body intervention.
At ZenOnco.io, we are passionate about integrative treatments for cancer that take a holistic approach to treat patients with cancer and help them get back on their feet in the recovery process. We have identified and are working towards filling this significant gap in the Indian medical field. We offer a wide range of programs to choose from, starting right from the diagnosis stage up to the post-treatment stage. We even have programs to counsel patients, programs to bring awareness of cancer prevention, diet and exercise programs, and programs to improve mental and emotional wellness.
The 'Keep Calm' initiative is one of the five aspects of the wellness protocol of ZenOnco.io Under this aspect, we cover mental and emotional wellness, use mindfulness techniques and Guided Imagery to enhance the senses and manage Stress and Anxiety and take a mind-body approach to palliative, rehabilitative, and integrative treatment.
ZenOnco.io's goal is to empower patients with cancer as well as the cancer survivors and give them a sense of control over their situation and their life. The 'Keep Calm' mode of our integrative oncology programs offers personalized mental and emotional counseling, exercise and movement training, help for patients and survivors to build their mental and physical strength, helps with re-establishment and to rejuvenate their circadian rhythms and sleep patterns, techniques for managing pain, stress, and anxiety, methods to improve immunity and a support system that the patient or survivor, as well as their family members and caregivers, can rely on. We will also help patients to take on a more positive and spiritual attitude towards their current treatment and encourage them to have a realistic yet optimistic view of life. Our counseling and training sessions can be taken either online, at your home* or at our ZenOnco.io Healing Center (ZHC) in Mumbai.
*Home Care Service is available only in Mumbai.