Integrative Medicine-A complement to traditional remedies that helps patients through treatment and beyond- By Lynda Belcher
A cancer diagnosis brings about a flurry of thoughts about the course of treatment — chemotherapy —and the ways in which the patient’s life is about to drastically change. Often, further down the list, other elements are considered: dietary changes, living healthier, relaxing more and other components of an emerging field of treatment known
as integrative oncology. At Florida Cancer Specialists & Research Institute (FCS), the Integrative Oncology and Wellness Services program is the umbrella term for an array of treatments that
range from massage therapy to acupuncture to yoga and beyond. They are often used as a complement to standard cancer remedies. This is something that Dr. Nuruddin Jooma and his nurse,Sarah Boses have discovered to great success. Working out of the Pinellas and Hillsborough County FCS offices, Jooma and Boses are the driving force behind this innovative concept. “Integrative medicine allows us to treat the whole patient,” says Jooma. “Every little bit helps. We are able to customize a complementary program based on what type of cancer they have, what type of therapy they are receiving and what side effects they are having from treatment.” The Integrative Oncology and Wellness Services directive incorporates a number of components. Patients have access to massage therapy to manage muscle and bone pain and improve anxiety and fatigue; acupuncture or acupressure to mitigate neuropathy or decreased
appetite; yoga for stress reduction and insomnia; nutritional counseling and cooking classes to reduce any need for dietary supplements; exercise for quality of life; meditation for physical relaxation; music and art therapy for stress reduction and more. Benefits of integrative medicine include the fact that patients are encouraged to be hopeful and think positive, which are
instrumental to successful outcomes. Moreover, it promotes a sense of wellness before, during and after cancer treatment and reduces the emotional stress of the process.
Jooma and Boses both found their path to integrative medicine after working in more generalized fields of medicine. Jooma initially started his career with little interest in oncology until a
clinical rotation changed everything. In a move that changed his professional perspective, Jooma says that one clinic — in which he worked with cancer patients — ended up with a realization of what he wanted to do with the rest of his life. As he delved further into his oncology work, Jooma found that his interest in integrative medicine continued to grow. Despite the fact that his education hadn’t intensely focused on this area of medicine — he cites just one lecture on nutrition in three years of residency-he knew it could help his patients “Once you talk to patients about their diagnosis, they immediately want to know about lifestyle changes,” he says. “They bring you a box of supplements to try to ‘cure’ the cancer. I found that we could instead supply them with standardized, evidence-based information so they are not getting ripped off or using products that are unproven.” As Jooma moved in this new direction, he began to work more closely with Boses, who was working as a chemo nurse at the time. “This program is fortunate to have Sarah,” he says of Boses. “When others saw the benefit of what the program could do, and it continued to grow, I knew we needed someone to coordinate it. She joined us and it has really taken off. She is the ideal person to run this program and work with these patients.”
Boses actually brings a personal background in integrative
therapies to the team. She says that homeopathic therapies have always been a part of her personal care routine. In fact, she successfully utilized acupuncture to help with childhood allergies
versus medicinal remedies.
Like Jooma, Boses had targeted a much different direction for her
career in medicine. She initially wanted to work in a hospital but, after a short stint, found she had much less time with her patients than she would have liked. After taking an opportunity in oncology, Boses found that this was the environment in which she could make a difference. She could take the time to sit and talk with her patients. Moreover, she was able to assess the fact that they were not okay, physically or emotionally. Through her work in oncology, Boses
found she could address the emotional part of their journey, the physical components of the disease and their general wellness. In fact, the ideal integrative medicine approach focuses on the wellness of the patient from the time of diagnosis into survivorship. It teaches them how to make optimal lifestyle decisions. According to Boses, many cancer diagnoses can be prevented through healthier choices. Moreover, proper treatment can guard against recurrence. The program focuses intently on this with survivors as well as those currently struggling with the disease. “We can’t control everything,” says Boses. “What we teach the patients here is what can be done to play a more active role. They begin to feel like what they are doing gives them some control.” As the concept gains traction within FCS, Jooma points out that this is just the pilot stage. Citing statistics that say the risk of cancer can be reduced by as much as 67 percent through lifestyle changes alone, his goal is to show this through integrative techniques. Through continued patient successes, there are plans to add a dietician with oncology experience
to the team and integrate the program into other FCS offices. “Many of our cancer patients are living longer,” says Jooma. “We want to help them make those lifestyle changes that are going to be just important to them even beyond treatment.”