Huffpost Healthy Living
The Blog

Featuring fresh takes and real-time analysis from HuffPost's signature lineup of contributors

Hollye Harrington Jacobs Headshot

Exploring the World of Alternative Breast Cancer Treatments

Posted: Updated:

As I have mentioned here previously, throughout this tumultuous FBC (F-bomb Breast Cancer) journey, each and every day, I look for and always find Silver Linings. No matter how bad I feel (e.g., laying on the bathroom floor for hours at a time), I am always able to find something positive in the darkness of the breast cancer storm.

One example of a Silver Lining in my life is the incorporation of complementary and alternative treatments to augment my conventional interventions (surgery, chemotherapy, radiation).

One such treatment is reflexology. Reflexology is the ancient practice of applying pressure to the feet and hands utilizing specific thumb, finger and hand techniques. This practice is based on the belief that there are points on the feet, hands and head that are connected to every part of the body -- including the organs. I think it is so fascinating and fabulous that our feet and our hands are literally a mirror of our bodies.

Reflexology has been shown to be effective in reducing pain and tension, as well as promoting relaxation and stress reduction. Additionally, reflexology supporters believe that it increases circulation, boosts the immune system and helps to bring the body back into balance. All of which I need pretty desperately at this point!

I must admit that I've had reflexology in the past and was not terribly impressed or impacted by it. During past treatments, my mind inevitably wandered -- and not to philosophical or life-changing topics. More like, "Ho-hum. What's for lunch today? I'm too nauseous for food. Why am I laying on this table and not hiking? Perhaps I should have scheduled a mani/pedi instead. Buzz (our dog) sure is a loud snorer." Those type of non-linear, nonsensical things.

However, now I'm in a slightly -- actually a completely -- different place in my life and am totally focused on well, focusing. Combine this new motivation with the fact that my reflexology therapist happens to be my Pilates instructor and masseuse. She is a rock star when it comes to massage and Pilates, which means that I had complete faith in the potential of a new and great reflexology experience.

Plus, she is not a wussy. Quite the contrary. When I do Pilates and massage with her, I work hard (yes, even during massage!). The hard, painful kind of work that is totally worth it because anything that I do with her produces results.

Before we started the first reflexology treatment, I was hoping for a nice little foot rub (denial can be a healthy coping mechanism after all) ... and then she dug right into my feet.

Ow. "That's your liver," she said. My liver is clearly in overdrive from all of the pharmacology coursing through my veins.

Ow. "This spot is your adrenal glands," she said. Yes, I've had just a tad bit of stress lately.

Ow. "That is your colon," she said. Well, thanks to the cornucopia of pain management pharmacology, my plumbing is a little (ok, a lot) backed up.

Ow. "This point is for your sternum," she said. Makes a whole lot of sense after my double mastectomy and reconstruction.

And the list went on and on for an interminable 40 minutes.

After finishing the reflexology, my therapist said she wanted to try something called Moxibustion -- Moxi-what?

My therapist explained that moxibustion is a traditional Chinese medicine technique that involves the burning of mugwort, a small, spongy herb, to facilitate healing. Moxibustion has been used throughout Asia for thousands of years. The term is derived from the Japanese "mogusa" meaning herb (mugwort) and the Latin "bustion" meaning burning.

Moxibustion is a form of fire heat treatment that supposedly stimulates specific acupuncture points in the body in order to promote the body's ability to heal itself and manage pain. This sounds so much better than the western pharmacological pain interventions that currently aren't working very well for me.

"The radiant heat produced by moxibustion," my therapist said, "penetrates deeply into the body to strengthen the blood, and restore the balance and flow of vital energy or life force called qi or ch'i." So far, I like what I hear!

Moxibustion is thought to be most effective when combined with acupuncture, which I plan on beginning next week.

Moxibustion is promoted by supporters for its potential to improve general health as well as treat cancer and chronic conditions such as arthritis, digestive disorders and ulcers. How wonderful that this intervention is not just limited to FBC!

There are two types of moxibustion: direct and indirect. In direct moxibustion, a small, cone-shaped amount of moxa is placed on top of an acupuncture point and burned. Fortunately, my therapist did not propose this type of Moxibustion as an option for me. Phew. Instead, she did indirect moxibustion.

Indirect moxibustion is much more common because there is a much lower risk of pain or burning (Silver Lining). We certainly don't need to add any more pain -- and certainly not burns -- to my current list of ailments.

In indirect moxibustion, a practitioner lights one end of a moxa stick (roughly the shape and size of a cigar) and holds it an inch or two away from the skin to bring mild warmth to the area without burning, until the skin becomes slightly red. The intensity of the heat is adjusted according to the patient's condition and comfort. Because I have been unusually cold lately, I was able to tolerate a fair amount of heat.

Indirect moxibustion is intended to induce a gradual, localized vasodilatation response. In addition to increasing the local blood flow, skillful indirect moxibustion is extremely comforting and can create a deep relaxation response. I'm beginning to doze as I write this ...

At the end of our session today, I felt totally spent -- in a good way. As if I had done a great hike. I also managed to take two amazing naps today, which felt great.

So, despite this persistent, F-bomb pain, I have found two new (to me) alternative treatments that will hopefully help alleviate some of my current trials and tribulations. We will be continuing to do this several times a week until I can get back up on my feet again. I am so incredibly grateful for these new Silver Linings.

To read more about Hollye's holistic and humorous journey over, around, above and below breast cancer, please visit her blog, Brookside Buzz (www.brooksidebuzz.com). You may email her at hollye@brooksidebuzz.com.

From Our Partners