When one of North Shore University Hospital’s cancer patients was devastated at the thought having the access line that delivers her chemotherapy changed, holistic therapist Nancy Mishanie, RN, helped her to relax. Close your eyes, she told the patient. Go to a special place. What do you see? What do you want to do now that you’re there?
The relaxation technique, known as guided imagery, had such a profound and calming effect on the patient that she used it on the day of her procedure to help cope.
“I always expect good results, but sometimes the results blow me away,” Ms. Mishanie said. “You give patients the tools, and then they can use them in an instant. A lot of people use imagery and progressive relaxation techniques at night when they’re having trouble sleeping because their mind starts racing, they have fears.”
Guided imagery and other relaxation therapies are part of a new program at North Shore University Hospital (NSUH) being funded by the Don Monti Memorial Research Foundation. The program, which began in July, offers alternative therapies to cancer patients and their families at no cost. In addition to relaxation therapy, the program also offers reflexology and massage therapy.
Music therapy, pet therapy and art therapy are among the other services to be added to the complimentary alternative therapies program. Tai Chi, which uses gentle movements to reduce stress and improve health, and on-site haircuts and hairstyling for patients who want a little extra pick-me-up will also be available.
While research shows the benefits of alternative therapies, insurance typically does not cover them, so hospitals and cancer centers rely on philanthropy to fund these kinds of programs, Ms. Somerville said.
The Don Monti Memorial Research Foundation has for 40 years supported a huge breadth of cancer-related research and patient-care services at NSUH, highlighting how donors and institutions can work together to make a significant impact.
Other programs the foundation and its president, Caroline Monti Saladino, have funded include a social work position for the bone marrow transplant unit, as well as the full renovation of the unit. The bone-marrow transplant unit has completed more than 75 transplants this year and become an acknowledged destination center, thanks in large part to contributions from the Don Monti Memorial Research Foundation.
“The investments that Caroline has made in the floor, in the bone marrow transplant unit, in research, have really taken us to a new level of excellence,” Ms. Somerville said.
The complimentary alternative therapies program aims to reduce anxiety of both patients and their caregivers, as well as help relieve pain and promote the healing process, said Joanne Bentson, deputy nurse executive and associate executive director at NSUH. It’s what Ms. Bentson describes as a multi-focal approach to wellness, and it ties in with the hospital’s goals of promoting family-centered care. “It augments conventional medicine,” Bentson said. “It’s really a mind-body approach.”
So far, the results have been astounding. Ms. Mishanie recently performed reflexology on a patient suffering from neuropathy, a side effect of chemotherapy that results in pain in the hands and feet. The patient had a pain level of about 6-7 out of 10 when Ms. Mishanie began working with him. By the end of his treatment, the pain level was down to a 2-3, she said.
“Initially family comes in and they don’t want to leave the bedside, and then I offer them a vacation in their imagination” Ms. Mishanie said. “Sometimes they just get a chance to breath and regroup and they go out more refreshed and just in a better place to be with their family.”
For patients, the alternative therapies are so relaxing that some fall asleep during their session. For others, it is a much-needed breath of fresh air during their toughest hours – like the bone marrow transplant patient who was surprised and thrilled to learn that massage therapy would be available during his stay at NSUH.
That patient, Mishanie said, will spend a month in his hospital room in isolation. For him, having a holistic nurse visit or being able to escape the four walls of his room through guided imagery will be a key part of the healing process.
“As a holistic nurse you want to assess the whole person – their physical, psychological and spiritual needs – and then provide them with the appropriate therapy to facilitate wellness and alleviate suffering,” Ms. Mishanie said. “When you have a person that’s relaxed, they can go through the process a lot more easily.”