Winter Solstice Greetings 2016

by Rick DeTroye, LAc, MAcOM

Winter Solstice Greetings 2016,

It seems we made it through our annual Winter storms relatively unscathed, the longest night is here, and we're on our way to welcoming longer and warmer days. I'm sure many of you are rejoicing!

I greet Winter Solstice with a mixture of emotions: A little sadness, a deep love for Winter, the excitement of celebrating holidays with friends, a longing to turn inward. Chinese medicine relates Winter to the Kidney and Kidney to Water. Winter's opposite, Summer, relates to the Heart and Heart to Fire. Where summer and Fire are all about activity, Winter and Water correlate to stillness.

Stillness is what I most appreciate about Winter: It's capacity to quiet us, to provide space for reflection, and to restore us. It's a time to slow down, rest, and allow ourselves to prepare for the activity that bursts out in Spring and flourishes in Summer. This is Nature's pattern, one which stressful modern lifestyles tend to overlook and ignore.

I encourage everyone to take the opportunity this Winter to provide times to slow down and rest. That might mean sleeping longer, going on gentle walks, spending time outside (even if it's raining!), taking an afternoon nap, meditating, doing yoga, qigong or tai chi, turning off your phone more often (especially during acupuncture!), and daily vacations from news and social media. Take time to be with yourself in any way that promotes inward calm and quiet stillness. As I stated in my post-election note: Do whatever brings you the greatest good. You will know what that is when you do it.

Lastly, I'd like to thank everyone for the many good things you bring to me and my practice. 2016 has been a great year and I couldn't have done it without your continuing trust and support. Many of you have sent referrals my way and I'm very grateful. Thank you all so much.

Have a Happy Solstice, Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, and Happiest of New Years!

The Post-Election Decompression Blues

by Rick DeTroye, LAc, MAcOM

Rick DeTroye LAc LLC acupuncture northeast southeast portland oregon

It's an understatement to say this was a tough election season, no matter which side of the aisle you sat on. Emotions right now run from angry to depressed to anxious to fearful to relieved to elated, depending on what party you belong to and who you voted for. Since Election Day, people have experienced sleepless nights, excessive stress, and exhaustion. Not a good combination with cold and flu season upon us.

What patients feel, I often feel. This week has been no different. It's been difficult to focus and I've experienced a flurry of emotions. It's been easy to feel stirred up and I don't particularly like feeling stirred up!

Fortunately, I have tools to deal with this. I meditate, do Qigong, walk, play guitar, and spend time in the woods. I've done all of these this week and it's helped me weather the storm of emotions both on the inside and outside. My wife and I had Thursday off, so we walked and birded at a wildlife refuge along the Columbia River. I can't tell you how much more calm, energized, and centered I felt afterwards.

I encourage you to do the things that bring you the greatest good this week. Stay away from the television, get off Facebook, don't read the newspaper, minimize heated conversations. Strong emotions will probably still be there, but finding stillness in the midst of this storm will be most important and very helpful.

I know all of you have experienced the calming action of acupuncture and now is an opportune time for a treatment. I'd say our nervous systems have been jacked up and need a little calming, wouldn't you? A few pins can help you do that. It will also boost the immune system which gets so run down with stress.

Whatever you choose to do, do something that restores you. Be kind to yourself and others. Treat yourself gently.

"Healing With Nature" Revisited

"Healing With Nature" Revisited,

Ten years ago, in the Summer edition of my newsletter, Root & Branches, I wrote an article which was well-received by patients and friends. A couple of weeks ago a friend reminded me of the article and how much he had enjoyed it. This peaked my curiosity, so I dug out a copy of the newsletter, reread the article and realized that it's as timely now as it was then. I've reworked the article a bit and want to share it with you here. I hope you enjoy it...

Healing With Nature & The Five Elements

I went for a drive recently along the Columbia Gorge Scenic Highway, up to Crown Point and then down to Latourell Falls. It was a Sunday, so both places were crowded and at times it felt like I had never left the bustle of Portland. Eventually, I found a quiet spot along the trail leading to the falls and stopped to rest. Although all the waterfalls in the Gorge are beautiful, Latourell Falls is a very special place for me. When I go there, I like to sit quietly and listen to the thunder of the falling water and the rush of the stream that flows below it. I watch the sun as it crests overhead, sending ribbons of light flickering over the basalt boulders at its base. I breathe in the smell of wet rock and vegetation, and the rich humus of the canyon floor. I soak in the cool mist that bathes my face and watch the falls dance snakelike to the rhythm of the breeze. I always feel calm and renewed when I leave there.

In the early years of Chinese medicine (2000-5000 years ago by different estimates), it's likely that people experienced a much closer connection to Nature than most of us do today. They subsisted by farming, hunting and gathering. They collected water from streams, springs and wells. They lived in much more primitive and exposed conditions. Their existence depended on their abilities to understand and harmonize with the natural landscape, with the cycles of the sun and moon, and with the changing of the seasons. They honored the spirits of the Earth.

Today, we seem much less aware of Nature's influence in our lives. Most of us live in densely packed cities, in houses with central heating and air conditioning, with water that's piped in from distant reservoirs. We gather our supplies from shelves and bins at super markets and eat food which was grown in places named Locally, California, Mexico and Chile. We rarely look up to the sky to notice its shifting weather patterns, the stars that fill the night or the ever-changing phases of the moon. Many of us get up in the morning, go to work, stop at the gym, come home, watch television, check our emails and go to bed. It's easy to understand how we've become disconnected from the natural world and less aware of its influence on us.

Yet, this Spring I was struck by the number of people who mentioned how delighted they were to be back working in their gardens. All of them commented on how good it felt to spend time digging and planting again. In a couple of instances, they remarked on how grounded they felt when working in their yards. When they're anxious, upset, preoccupied, stressed or feeling scattered, a bit of gardening helped to reduce these emotions and regain their senses of centeredness and calmness.

I'm sure that the soothing effects of Latourell Falls and working in the garden can be ascribed to a variety of factors: the engaging effect of the activities, the fresh air and increased oxygen, the negative ions created by the waterfall, a bit of light exercise and aerobic activity, as well as the beauty of the surroundings. It's difficult to feel bad when surrounded by Nature. In my experience, however, there's another factor at work here which goes unnoticed: the influence of the Five Elements - Fire, Earth, Metal, Water and Wood.

Traditionally, Chinese medicine places special emphasis on our relationship to Nature and its Five Elements. Each of these elements has an affinity to specific organs in the body: Fire aligns with Heart, Earth with Spleen, Metal with Lung, Water with Kidney and Wood with Liver. I've studied Chinese medicine for twenty years and have spent at least forty years developing a closer relationship with Nature. I've come to realize that when we spend time in Nature and pay attention to its sights, sounds, tastes, smells and textures, we actually interact with and take in a bit of its healing energy. Nature affects us not only because it calms and relaxes us, but because these Five Elements exert a powerful influence on our bodies, minds and spirits.

The elements of Fire, Earth, Metal, Water and Wood are a way of describing Nature's influence within us. These elements become more alive and their impact on us becomes increasingly evident when we pay attention to their influence on our health. When we develop an awareness of these relationships, we can utilize the Five Elements to our benefit.

When I visit Latourell Falls, I'm actually bathing myself in all five elements: the Water element of the falls and stream, the Metal of the basalt walls, the Fire of the warm sun, the Wood of the green trees and the Earth of the rich humus. Because my Kidney energy tends to run low, I probably receive the most support from the Water influence which dominates there, but Liver (Wood), Lungs (Metal), Heart (Fire) and Spleen (Earth) are all supported by the time I spend there.

During the cold, wet Portland winters, when we lack joy or "fire" in our lives (think seasonal depression in February), spending time in a sunny location like Hawaii or Arizona brings warmth into our bodies and Fire back into our lives.

In the case of gardening, the grounding effects of digging and planting are also related to the act of working in the soil, the Earth element which nourishes the Spleen and Stomach. But without realizing it, we're also interacting with Metal (rocks), Fire (the sun), Wood (plants) and Water (in the watering can and the rain).

We often use the Five Elements spontaneously, without conscious thought or planning, like working in the garden or walking in the sun without really knowing why we feel so good when we do it. Sometimes we get the most benefit from things when we don't work at it, but do it simply for the joy of doing it!

Here's a little exercise that I use to connect with the Five Elements when I'm out hiking:

Let's say I'm hiking the Upper Salmon River trail. If you've ever been there, you know that the sound of rushing water pervades your experience. As I hike along, I extend my awareness to the sound of the river, become aware of my low back (where my kidneys are located) and imagine the sound of the water flowing into my kidneys, filling them with the color blue, which in Chinese medicine is the color associated with Kidney. Or I might just imagine water flowing into my kidneys, along with the sound of the river. I play with the images, letting whatever seems to work at that moment be my guiding image. My intent is usually to increase Kidney energy because of its ability to help strengthen my low back and hips, so I might also imagine the water penetrating my pelvis, hips and spine.

On other occasions, I might become aware of the plants and trees, trying to draw in the energy of Wood. Taking in Wood energy can help cleanse and revitalize the Liver, a great thing to do when I'm irritable, frustrated or feeling depressed. All of these emotions are tied to Liver, so providing support to the Liver when they're dominating my life can be helpful.

If I'm having digestive difficulties, I might become attuned to the smell of the dirt and humus, using that to draw in the Earth element to strengthen the Spleen.

If I'm recovering from a cold, I might sit on a rocky overlook, feel the warmth radiating from the rocks underneath me and imagine the Metal element moving  into my body to warm my lungs. The warmth opens the lungs up, allowing fresh blood and oxygen to diffuse through them and into my body, while clearing the cold and strengthening my lungs.

It never hurts to bring Fire to my Heart, as the Heart's Fire provides vitality to all my organs. I might feel the warmth of the sun on my skin and allow it to penetrate deep into my body until it reaches my heart, filling it with the color red and the emotion of joy. Red is the color associated with the Heart and joy is its emotion.

There are no rules about how to do this. The trick is to use your imagination, visualize using your mind's eye and extend your senses to the natural world. Follow your curiosity and most times it will lead you to the element which will most support you and in the way that it can best do this. Be open to using images, sounds, smells, tastes, colors and sensations. Using more than one sensory channel can strengthen the effect, but don't make it too difficult. Play with it and have fun.

So, the next time you're working in your garden or visiting the beach or skiing at Mt. Hood or camping in the Alvord Desert or fishing in the Deschutes or even walking the dike path along Marine Drive, bring attention to your natural surroundings and awareness to the influence of the Five Elements at work in the landscape. Let their energy permeate you and enjoy the healing potential they offer. It's Nature's gift to all of us.

Spring Is A Great Time For A Tune-up

by Rick DeTroye, LAc, MAcOM

Spring Is A Great Time For A Tune-up,

Spring is nearly here and that means it's a good time to schedule a seasonal acupuncture tune-up. Spring Equinox for 2015 falls on Friday, March 20 and it's also New Moon on that day, which could make for a doubly powerful seasonal shift!

Changes of season can be turbulent times. We see this in the weather that accompanies them: Windy, stormy and quickly changing weather patterns which are often accompanied by dramatic variations in temperature (for instance, 32 degree nights and 60 degree days). Keep in mind that factors which stir things up in the natural world can have a similar effect on our bodies. During seasonal change, it's not unusual to experience fluctuations in mood, difficulty sleeping and increased pain levels. We may also find ourselves more susceptible to getting sick and feeling more irritable or agitated. Having a tune-up treatment or two in the weeks preceding a seasonal change can ease the body through this turbulence, helping to smooth out these "bumps" that might otherwise occur.

Spring is also known for its pesky, and sometimes debilitating, allergies. From February to July, depending on specific sensitivities, many of us are struck with runny noses, sneezing, itchy and burning eyes, and fatigue. As beautiful as those spring flowers are, the season can have its drawbacks. Boosting the immune system and strengthening the body's ability to handle spring allergens are two things which acupuncture and Chinese herbs do very well. The best time to begin treatment for allergies is before they hit and for most of us who suffer from allergies, that means NOW!

So, call or email me today to set up your seasonal tune-up. We can discuss your specific needs and concerns, and get you prepared for a great Spring 2015!

Six Simple Tips For Dealing With Colds & Flu

by Rick DeTroye, LAc, MAcOM

Six Simple Tips For Dealing With Colds & Flu,

Looking out my window,  I can see that the skies are blue, the sun is shining and temperatures are in the mid-50's.  Not bad for late January in Portland. On a gorgeous day like today, it's difficult to imagine that we're in the middle of a nasty Winter cold and flu season.  That is, unless you're in the midst of a nasty Winter cold or flu!  I'm currently at the tail end (I hope) of a tenacious cold that couldn't decide if it wanted to go down to my lungs or up to my head.  In the process of getting sick and trying to hold the nasty bug at bay, I was reminded of some very simple things we can all do to ward off colds and flu, or at least minimize their effects...

Six Simple Tips For Dealing With Colds & Flu

  • Wash your hands and face regularly with soap & warm water. Yes, I know, we've all heard it before, but we still forget this very simple way of avoiding illness. Colds and flu enter the body through the mucous membranes of the nose, mouth & eyes. The main method of transmittal is by our own hands which have come in contact with a virus from surfaces like table tops, door handles and other people's hands. Washing your hands hourly and your face 2-3 times a day can greatly reduce your chance of transmitting the virus to these vulnerable membranes. It can also help prevent passing your own cold or flu on to other people, something I'm sure they'll appreciate!

  • Begin treating the cold or flu at the very first sign of symptoms.  Once the bug gains a foothold, you're probably in for the long haul.  Better to start treating it with the first sign of a scratchy throat, muzzy head, headache, body ache and/or chill.  Take your herbs & vitamins, drink herbal tea, eat garlic, drink hot lemon & honey water, rest, increase your fluid intake - do whatever works well for you, but do it early and do it often throughout the day.  Sometimes you can beat the bug with this approach and sometimes not.  At the very least, you'll get a head start on it and, hopefully, minimize its damage.

  • For sore throats, gargle with warm salt water.  My wife swears by this one.  At least three times a day or more if you can swing it.  The saltiness will help draw out the swelling and soothe the inflamed membranes in the throat.  It may also clear out a virus that's still lingering in there, but hasn't taken hold yet.

  • At the first sign of chest symptoms, try using a chest rub.  I swear by this one.  My colds & flu tend to begin with a sore throat, hang out there a few days, and then move up to my head or down to my lungs.  I know a bug is headed "south" when I feel scratchiness, tightness and mild congestion begin to set in from the bottom of my throat to the base of my ribcage.  At this point, I pull out my jar of Tiger Balm Ultra (any type of warming balm or salve can be used) and apply it from the top of my shoulders to the base of my ribcage and below my sternum.  I also make sure to apply it to all sides of my throat and neck area.  Keep all these areas covered with an old turtleneck that you're not afraid of ruining.  Doing this will help hold in the warmth.  I especially like applying a chest rub at night before I go to bed.  It's soothing and helps loosen up the phlegm in my throat and chest, as well as the congestion in my nose.  For me, it has an amazing ability to prevent a deep cough from developing.

  • For sinus congestion, irrigate your sinuses with a nasal rinse.  Yes, this sounds gross.  Yes, it takes a little getting used to.  And, yes, it is phenomenally effective.  When we're congested and we blow our noses, we often evacuate only a small portion of what's up there.  The mucous that stays stuck in the upper nasal and sinus passages can cause pressure pain and offers a prime breeding ground for secondary infections (i.e., sinus infections).  By gently irrigating the sinuses with a mild, warm saltwater solution, the sticky mucous is rehydrated and loosens, allowing it to be evacuated more easily.  An easy recipe for the solution: 1/2 teaspoon pure sea salt dissolved in one cup warm filtered or distilled water; irrigate one nostril with half the solution and the other nostril with the remainder.  You can use a neti pot or an irrigating bulb for the procedure.  Do the irrigation at least twice per day.

  • Rest.  This is the single best thing you can do for yourself when you're sick with a cold or the flu.  For many of us, however, it's either too difficult to find the time to rest or we simply can't give ourselves permission to rest, so we don't do it at all.  It is, however, vitally important to rest when you're sick as it allows your immune system to do its job unhindered by the usual stress in our lives.  So, resting doesn't mean staying home from work and busying yourself with home and work tasks.  It means RESTING, SLEEPING and DE-STRESSING.  Allow yourself to take a break, slow down, be sick and support your immune system in any way you can.  None of us want to be sick, but being kind to yourself in this way may be just what you need.

We will all catch colds or the flu at one time or another.  Supporting our bodies when we're sick can mean the difference between a rapid recovery or a lingering illness.  Remember that good support while fending off a tough respiratory bug can be found in each of these simple ways.  Treating yourself with kindness and care is always a good approach when you're sick and, after all, you're more than worth it!

Cold & Flu Season: Treating Sniffles, Coughs, Sore Throats & Other Unpleasantries With Acupuncture & Chinese Herbs

by Rick DeTroye, LAc, MAcOM

Cold & Flu Season: Treating Sniffles, Coughs, Sore Throats & Other Unpleasantries With Acupuncture & Chinese Herbs,

There's a curious thing I've noticed about acupuncture and Chinese herbal medicine.  Many of us who use them for our health care discovered them because of their reputation for relieving pain.  That's definitely true for me.  In my case, I had chronic back pain due to a bulging disc and found that both acupuncture and Chinese herbs significantly reduced my discomfort, more so than any other method of treatment I had tried (and I had tried many).  What I wasn't aware of at the time was the wide variety of other ailments that could also be treated with acupuncture and Chinese herbs.  Fortunately, I saw a practitioner (thank you, Kyle Cline) who introduced me to the possibilities these methods offered for improving my overall health and for treating the many challenges my body would deal with in subsequent years.  One of the simplest, yet most helpful things I discovered was how effective these approaches are in treating the common cold and the flu.

During cold and flu season, I inevitably get phone calls from patients who are scheduled for an appointment, but have come down with one of the pesky bugs that are going around. They're often wondering whether they should come in for their treatment or not.  Sometimes they're feeling worse than lousy, can barely make it out of bed and would rather rest than muck their way through traffic for acupuncture.  I agree that there's a certain point of no return with colds & flu, when we know we need to rest and we realize that pushing our body to come in for a treatment will be more detrimental than doing nothing at all.  I always encourage people to stay home and rest in these cases.

However, many times the folks who call are in the early stages of getting sick. The major symptoms won't quite have taken hold and instead, they're dealing with a sore or scratchy throat, slight body aches, a mild headache, runny nose, and/or a fuzzy feeling in the head.  I always recommend that people come in if they're feeling like this because the best time to treat a cold or flu is at its earliest point of onset, i.e., when you first suspect that you're getting sick.  You want to nip it in the bud, so to speak, because once the bug has taken hold, there's usually no chance of loosening its grip and it's likely that you're in for the long haul.

In the earliest stages of colds and flu, herbs can be tremendously helpful, but you have to respond quickly with them.  In order to do this, I suggest that patients keep some sort of "early onset" cold and flu formula on hand.  There are a number of them out there, including Gan Mao Ling, Yin Qiao San (AKA Yin Qiao Jie Du Pian) and Seven Forests' Ilex 15.  I keep Ilex 15 on hand throughout the year and have bottles at home, at work, in my car and in my daypack.  That way, no matter where I am, I can take a few tablets at the very first signs of getting sick.  One trick to using these formulas successfully is to maintain adequate dosing: You have to use a large enough dose of the formula and take it frequently enough throughout the day to affect the cold/flu virus.  Since every body is different in size and constitution, the dosing that works for one person may not match the dosing that another person needs.  If in doubt about how much and how often to take one of these formulas, it's best to consult with a licensed acupuncturist (like me) who can provide you with that information.

In addition to proper dosing, another key to successfully using herbs is to take them long enough to ensure that the symptoms won't return.  I've seen people, including myself, take Ilex 15 for a day or two, start to feel better and stop taking the herbs, only to have a reoccurence of symptoms within a few days that is even more severe and more resistant to treatment.  One way to address this is to take the herbs for one to two days after the initial symptoms are gone.  So once the sore throat is gone, the head is not fuzzy, the aches and headaches have subsided, keep taking the formula for a couple of days, EVEN IF YOU FEEL 100% BETTER.

What about acupuncture?  Due to modern life's daily scheduling constraints, it won't always be possible for a person to get in for acupuncture at the first sign of symptoms.  However, If I have an open appointment and they can come in for it, I always recommend that a person get a treatment in the early stage of a cold or flu.  If it can't reverse the progression of an illness, a treatment can at least reduce its duration and severity, and help with the recovery.  Acupuncture strengthens the body's immunity by reducing sympathetic nervous response (i.e., stress), stimulating production of white blood cells, mobilizing the immune system's response to pathogens and strengthening the organs involved in the immune response.  When all of these functions are balanced and working optimally, the body is more capable of keeping invading viruses and bacteria in check.

For people who are prone to getting sick, I recommend that they come in prior to cold and flu season to begin strengthening their immune system. Immunity is a complex process that involves the nervous, digestive and respiratory systems.  Acupuncture is effective in improving the functions of all these systems, thereby bolstering the overall strength of the immune system.

There are times when, no matter what you do, you can't avoid getting sick. This happens for a couple of reasons.  In the first case, sometimes a person's immune system is weakened and doesn't have enough strength to fight the bug that's causing the illness.  Secondly, there are times when no matter how strong your immune system is, the bug is stronger.  In each of these cases, it's likely that a person will get sick, no matter how many herbs they take or Western medications they ingest.

So, let's say you do get sick.  Then what good is acupuncture or herbs?  Once again, the stronger the body is, the more likely it will move through an illness with minimal damage and complications.  The reverse of this happens when the immune system isn't strong enough to fight the initial infection and a secondary infection swoops in due to the vulnerability.  How many of us have had viral colds that very quickly morphed into bacterial sinus infections.  If our immunity had been stronger, would we have been able to fight off the cold and stay free of the secondary sinus infection?  Probably.  Two other scenarios which I often treat are a lingering cough after a chest cold and a cold or flu bug which the person "just can't seem to get over".  Both of these are instances in which acupuncture and/or Chinese herbs are extremely helpful and can promote a quick turnaround.

My introduction to the power of Chinese herbs in treating severe respiratory infections occured nearly 15 years ago.  My wife and I were in the midst of hunting for our first home, a stressful endeavor, to say the least.  I came down with an terribly sore throat that rapidly changed into a combination head and chest cold.  Fairly quickly, the infection settled in my lungs and I developed bronchitis with a barking, painful cough and lungs that literally crackled when I breathed.  The symptoms endured for a few days and I felt miserable.  Eventually, I went to see my friend, Kyle, who gave me the Chinese herbal formula Gua Lou Zhi Shi Tang/Trichosanthes & Zhi Shi Decoction.  Within hours of beginning the formula, my cough began to loosen, my chest was less painful and I could breath more easily.  After a couple of days, I was on the road to a rapid recovery.  If I'd had any doubts before that, I was now sold on the effectiveness of Chinese medicine.

It seems that cold and flu season is upon us.  I've seen folks with what I call "change of season" colds since early September and this past week I treated people with mild, lingering symptoms of scratchy throat, body aches and fatigue.  As the holidays take hold and November's rain and colder temperatures set in, many of us are bound to catch some sort of bug.  During times of stress (i.e., holidays) and seasonal change it's especially important to take care of ourselves by reducing stress, getting plenty of sleep, eating well, reducing sugar and, in general, supporting our bodies in ways that strengthen our immunity.  Acupuncture and Chinese herbs are two excellent ways of accomplishing that goal.  However, if the symptoms of colds or flu do make an appearance in your life, remember that early treatment and follow-up can help you move more quickly through your illness and back to feeling healthy.

A Little Daylight

by Rick DeTroye, LAc, MAcOM

A Little Daylight,

If you're not experiencing cancer, it's difficult to imagine what it's like to have it. I realized that recently while treating someone going through chemotherapy. As an acupuncturist who's treated people with cancer, I hate to admit that. I understand what it's like to have joint pain, sciatica and headaches - I have those. I know what it's like to feel abdominal pain, to have a sinus infection and to have sleepless nights - I've been through all of that. Cancer, I think, is a whole different thing and living with the disease is unlike other challenges we might face.

In my early years, I had very little awareness of cancer, at least in a direct sense. I remember hearing my parents and grandparents talk about people they knew who had cancer, but I had no concept of its personal impact and I didn't give it much thought. At some point, however, cancer started to creep into my life. I graduated from Oregon College of Oriental Medicine in 1998, and within five years of graduating, three of my classmates developed cancer. A couple years after that my mom was diagnosed with breast cancer. Little by little, I discovered more people in my life dealing with cancer. This past year, my mom had a recurrence of the disease and a number of other friends and patients were diagnosed with it. I can see effect that it's had on all of these people.

Someone who's been diagnosed with cancer is in a difficult position and for many reasons. They have to act quickly (often within days) and make decisions about treatments that they know very little about. They're in shock, they're angry, they're scared, they're confused, they're in denial, they're stressed out. They're experiencing a multitude of emotions. They've received their diagnosis, have talked with their oncologist and have a vague idea of what they're in for. They've heard stories about or talked with other people who've had cancer. They're scheduled for surgery, chemo and/or radiation. Usually, if they contact me, they're seeking relief from fatigue, pain, nausea and vomiting that they're experiencing while undergoing chemo or radiation. My job, as I see it, is to ease their discomfort and offer them a bit of "daylight", a little more breathing room.

Tran Viet Dzung is a well-known and respected French-Vietnamese surgeon and acupuncturist. His approach to cancer emphasizes what he calls "treating the Mental". "The Mental" refers to the psychological and emotional aspects of a person, including their stress response and, for lack of a better description, their spirit. Dr. Tran feels that supporting these aspects is the most important thing we can do for someone with cancer. When mind, emotions and spirit are out of balance, their ability to fight cancer will be diminished. It's well documented that if a person is chronically stressed, their immune system will be weakened. A battle with cancer is, if nothing else, very stressful. At a time when a person needs to rally their immune system and have it working at peak efficiency, they're instead having to deal with upheavals in their life, body and psyche. That type of stress can be very taxing on the immune system.

One of the beauties of Chinese medicine is its ability to provide treatment for physical symptoms like nausea and vomiting. Another is its calming effects on the mind and emotions. When acupuncture needles are inserted, a sort of chain reaction takes place in the body. Muscles begin to soften, the breathing deepens, the stomach and intestines begin to gurgle, eyes get heavy and often the person being treated falls into a light sleep. It's a restful and restorative state to be in, an opportunity to de-stress and to coax the body back toward a state of improved physiological function. It's also a chance to spend time away from the world of cancer. That's a good thing.

Last week I needed to check on insurance benefits for someone who's going through chemo. I was a little apprehensive about calling this particular insurance company because they're what I would describe as "conservative" in their coverage for acupuncture, meaning that they don't cover much. I was surprised to see that of the limited conditions they approve for acupuncture (only two), the side effects of chemo (i.e., nausea and vomiting) was one of them. I realized then that acupuncture's ability to treat these side effects is being taken more seriously and that even the most reluctant of insurance companies are taking note of it. This is strong acknowledgement of acupuncture's effectiveness and it's important role in cancer treatment. It's also great news for people fighting the disease.

Ultimately, only someone who's living with cancer can understand what it's like to have it. As an acupuncturist, I'm here to provide treatment and support for them during their illness. When they come in for acupuncture ashen-faced, fatigued and nauseous, and they leave my office with color in their cheeks, feeling rested and able to eat, I can appreciate how powerful this medicine is. When they make it through chemo or radiation with a minimum of side effects and with the hope that there are better days ahead, I know my efforts have helped. In the end, acupuncture is a small, but reassuring offer of daylight that can make a positive difference during their treatment and recovery.