Western medicine has made great strides in improving breast cancer detection and treatment. Despite these advances in diagnosis, surgery, radiation and chemotherapy, many managing this diagnosis do not fare as well as they possibly could. Evidenced by the frequency of breast cancer survivors reporting treatment side effects, isolation, depression, anxiety and anger, this illness requires support beyond the halls of traditional medicine.
Bodywork modalities such as massage therapy, acupuncture, reflexology and aromatherapy have demonstrated success in improving the quality of life measures that can make surviving cancer such a challenge. Unfortunately, a significant percentage of breast cancer survivors are unable to afford the supportive benefits associated with massage therapy and other holistic health practices.
Addressing this need, Luana Halpern had the vision and drive to found You Can Thrive!, a unique, integrative wellness center offering free or affordable educational, supportive and integrative medical modalities for breast cancer survivors. Located in New York City, Halpern is a pioneer in integrating patient advocacy, symptom reduction, mind-body cohesion and other educative tools to implement a breast cancer survivorship plan.
In an interview with Halpern, we learn more about her innovative and inspiring You Can Thrive! program:
Q: Can you share how and why you started You Can Thrive!?
LH: I was diagnosed with breast cancer at 35 years old, and was very aware of the discrepancy between the amount of funding and awareness for breast cancer vs. how hard it was for a survivor to find affordable services. Due to symptoms, treatment or side effects from treatment, breast cancer survivors often need to take a year off of work – and may consequently lose financial security. After doing research in the breast cancer community, I found that about 85 percent of breast cancer survivors were in some financial straits – with a large percentage in severe hardship. This translates to not having enough money for supportive services, especially when they are needed.
Q: What makes You Can Thrive! unique?
LH: You Can Thrive! is a multi-tiered program from a breast cancer survivor’s perspective. Besides being available for low or no cost, each client receives five units of service to maximize results. After committing to coming in every week, clients first meet with a patient advocate, then receive massage or reflexology, then aromatherapy, then acupuncture and then nutritional counseling – all in one day. The effectiveness of one builds the effectiveness of another, thus maximizing each service’s benefit. The overall goal is to help people not just survive breast cancer, but to see them thrive. This is accomplished by reducing symptoms with integrative health services, and providing support through nutrition, education and outreach to continue with healthy lifestyle practices.
Also, the volunteers are doing this because they want to help, not because they need to work and make money, so it strengthens the process.
Q: As a breast cancer survivor, what has been your personal experience with acupuncture, massage therapy and nutrition?
LH: I didn’t have these services when diagnosed, and was angry – even with a moderate income – that I still couldn’t afford it.
Q: How do clients at You Can Thrive! generally respond to your program?
LH: I see that people coming through our program have help dealing with anger and resentment and reconnecting their mind and body – which is as important as dealing with symptoms of breast cancer treatment. As determined by self-evaluation forms, clients have reported that within the first four visits, primary symptoms reduced around 50 percent. As a result, we are now starting research in collaboration with Columbia University to see how the You Can Thrive! program impacts quality of life from a breast cancer survivor’s perspective.
Q: How is You Can Thrive! funded?
LH: We are expanding exponentially mostly without funding. While we have a few small grants, we primarily run on the generosity of our community.
Q: Have you found local healthcare practitioners eager to volunteer?
LH: Statistics show that one in three Americans want to volunteer, and it is the same with healers.
Q: How often do your practitioners typically offer their services?
LH: Most volunteers come in once a month for about four hour; this includes practitioners. We also have a core group of volunteers (about four people) who do administrative work and they donate their time up to four days a month.
Q: I see that the You Can Thrive! wellness center operates on Sundays. With this kind of weekly clinic, is it challenging to reschedule clients with the same bodyworker?
LH: We recognize that consistency in quality care is important. We maintain consistency within our multi-tiered program with a patient advocate, who is the same person for each client – and they communicate with the practitioners. Since there is not a lot of time to build relationships, communication is stressed.
Q: Is there anything you’d like to say to massage therapists who might be interested in volunteering?
LH: Giving back to the community has an intrinsic value that far outweighs the hours that you would give – and outweighs any fears or biases that anyone can try to place upon you. I am available to speak with massage therapists who are interested in volunteering or who simply have further questions.
After speaking with Luana, I was encouraged and inspired by her wellness center. Volunteering one Sunday a month in New York City is an ideal path for local massage therapists who want to give back to breast cancer survivors. If not, there may be other opportunities to participate in or create a system for gifting massage therapy to those especially in need. Regardless of where you stand, there is no doubt that the You Can Thrive! program is a giant step forward in the direction of true, integrative, compassionate healing.
More information regarding You Can Thrive! is available at www.youcanthrive.org.
http://www.cancer.org/docroot/CRI/content/CRI_2_2_1X_How_many_people_get_breast_cancer_5.asp, How Many Women Get Breast Cancer?, Retrieved April 22, 2009, American Cancer Society, 2009.
http://www.massagemag.com/Magazine/2004/issue107/research107.php, Massage Benefits Women with Breast Cancer, Retrieved April 22, 2009, Massage Magazine, January/February 2004.
www.youcanthrive.org, Retrieved April 22, 2009, YouCanThrive.org, 2009.