Helping Cancer Patients Heal with Complementary Care

Monday, August 1, 2016

As part of our commitment to comprehensive cancer care and survivorship services to our patients and their families, Augusta Health Cancer Center recognizes the need to care for the whole person: body, mind and spirit. That's why the Cancer Center is implementing a Healing Arts Program that is designed to help patients cope with the emotional stress and worry of having and surviving cancer.

A musician playing a Native American FluteTreating and overcoming a serious illness such as cancer requires more than just managing symptoms. It affects the entire person—sense of self, mental health, confidence, faith/spirituality, emotions, ability to do daily activities and relationship with others. Many are unable to express their feeling or cope with the overwhelming burden a cancer diagnosis brings.

Engaging in artistic activities, exploring creative expression, as well as integrative medicine such as massage, meditation and fitness, can have a powerful impact on enhancing the healing process. Exposure to music and participation in art projects during a patient's medical treatment promotes multiple aspects of wellness and coping. Integrative and Complementary Care focuses on lifestyle changes that also optimize health and well-being. Complementary medical therapies from other healing traditions like yoga, massage therapy and mindfulness/meditation are also offered where sound evidence of effectiveness and safety exist.

Brad Johnson, Director of the Augusta Health Cancer Program, says:

"Cancer is not one disease—it's hundreds of different diseases. Each is unique, and each patient is unique. There is a great deal of stress and anxiety, both about surviving the disease and treatment, and about maintaining day-to-day concerns such as paying the bills while in treatment. We use a 'Distress Screen' with our patients to determine their psychosocial stressors and connect them with the programs they need. The screen evaluates the physical (are you sleeping?); the practical (do you need transportation?) and the emotional (what is your anxiety level and how are you coping?)."

He adds:

"When you have cancer, you feel like just about everything in life is outside of your control, and you start searching for a sense of normalcy. You also start to re-prioritize your life and many patients realize that they need to start caring for themselves; diet, exercise, stress reduction. These programs provide healthy ways to deal with stress, and a path to a healthy lifestyle during treatment and when treatment is complete."

The Healing Arts Program includes programs that have started and are going well, programs that the staff would like to expand, and programs that are still in the future.

Cancer Center patient running on the treadmillGenerous gifts to the Augusta Health Foundation have provided for some of the current programming, such as:

  • Musicians in Residence Program - Experienced instrumentalists and student musician volunteers work with patients and family members during treatment to provide soothing sounds and tones. There is some evidence that when used along with conventional treatment, music can help to reduce pain and relieve chemotherapy-induced nausea.
  • Medical Fitness and Movement - Programs includes Cancer Rx and Strength Through Breast Cancer which are 8-10 week guided programs to improve a patient's functional strength, stamina and flexibility. Yoga uses a combination of postures, rhythmic breathing and meditation, and is said to contribute to physical and mental well-being. Tai Chi uses slow, controlled movements to reduce symptoms and enhance quality of life.
  • Pet Therapy - Augusta Health Recreational Therapy department's facilitates certified pet therapy dogs interaction with patients, which can help to reduce stress, anxiety, and depression, manage pain, lower blood pressure, and create feelings of being in control.

Current programs that the Cancer Center hopes to expand with additional funding and volunteers:patient with a therapy dog

  • Art and Soul Classes - Patients participate in creative art projects, drumming/musical tones, painting, drawing and mixed-media expression that will relax, inspire and strengthen their artistic spirit and serve as a relaxing, meditative new practice. The drumming/musical tones classes have started, but the painting, drawing and mixed-media expression classes are in need of funding and volunteers to lead them.
  • Massage Therapy - Therapeutic massage involves manipulation, rubbing and kneading of the body's muscle and soft tissue. Some recent studies show massage can decrease stress, anxiety, depression, and pain, and increase alertness. There is also some evidence that massage stimulates nerves, increases blood flow and the supply of oxygen to cells, and helps circulation of the lymph system. Again, funding and volunteers are needed to expand this program.
  • Spirituality and Prayer is generally described as an awareness of something greater than the individual self and is usually expressed through rituals and/or prayer. The psychological benefits of prayer may include reduction of stress and anxiety, promotion of a more positive outlook, and the strengthening of the will to live. Funding would help expand this program.
  • Relaxation, Meditation and Mindfulness teaching is a mind-body process to offer participants tools for finding peace and balance through visualization and using concentration or reflection to relax the body, sooth the spirit and calm the mind. Funding would help expand this program.
  • Writing/Journaling - Open to cancer survivors and the friends and family, the Writing Community provides an opportunity to honor life experiences through writing. Only requires a willingness to write and to support other writers.
  • Energy-field Therapies - Reiki is a form of hands-on treatment used to manipulate energy fields within and around the body while Healing Therapeutic Touch is a relaxing, nurturing, "hands-off" non-invasive energy therapy. Both may assist in balancing your physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual well-being. Reiki requires a trained leader.

Because the Healing Arts Programs are supported 100% by philanthropy, this planned expansion is dependent on resources—both financial gifts and grants through the Augusta Health Foundation and volunteers. To make a gift to support the Healing Arts Program, please contact Augusta Health Foundation at (540) 332-5174 or ahfoundation [at]

Artists, writers and caregivers who are interested in volunteering for the Healing Arts Program should contact Brad Johnson, Augusta Health Cancer Center Director, at (540) 332-4347 or bjohnson [at]

Information on Complementary Therapies:

Augusta Health is an independent, community-owned, not-for-profit hospital whose mission is to promote the health and well-being of its community through access to excellent care. Named one of the 100 Top Hospitals in America by Thomson Reuters/Truven in both 2011 and 2012, Augusta Health has also been nationally recognized by HealthGrades as one of America's 50 Best Hospitals for clinical excellence and patient safety for two consecutive years. For more information about Augusta Health, its programs or its services, please visit the website,