Resources aim to ease journey through chemotherapy

By: Terry Oparka | Troy Times | Published March 11, 2015

 Troy Community Affairs Director Cindy Stewart hands “Welcome to Troy” packets to Teresa Shepard in the Assessing Department at Troy City Hall March 5.

Troy Community Affairs Director Cindy Stewart hands “Welcome to Troy” packets to Teresa Shepard in the Assessing Department at Troy City Hall March 5.

Photo by Donna Agusti

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While a cancer diagnosis is frightening, the effects of treatment, which may include chemotherapy, may be even more frightening for some.

According to the American Cancer Society website, chemotherapy differs from surgery or radiation in that it treats the whole body. Side effects of the treatment can include nausea, fatigue, vomiting, loss of appetite, itching or rash, numbness or tingling in the hands or feet, diarrhea, constipation and hair loss.

The most difficult part of cancer treatment for many, especially women, to grapple with is hair loss.

Cindy Stewart holds a high profile job as the community affairs director for the city of Troy. She is often in the public eye representing the city at grand openings for new businesses and at City Council meetings. She was diagnosed with breast cancer last June and underwent a double mastectomy in August. Her husband has multiple sclerosis and is unable to work full time, so Stewart said she had to return to work to maintain their health insurance.

She received a free wig, for the cost of a donation, from Marlene Rosenberg, who operates Wigs for Chemo by Marlene in the Henry Ford Medical Center-Columbus, in Novi, which offers chemotherapy for all patients in the Henry Ford Health System and where Stewart had her treatment.

Rosenberg said she’s received the 500 wigs — which she keeps in stock in her room in the Columbus Center — for cost. 

Rosenberg, a hair colorist for 23 years, said she started Wigs for Chemo when she could no longer work as a colorist due to tendonitis.

“I don’t have to blow dry a wig or iron (curl) it,” Rosenberg said. “I’ve been doing it for six years.”

“It’s an all-time low for most women,” she said of hair loss. “They love their hair.

“If they can’t find a wig, I’ll go and get it. With my experience, I’ve got an eye for what I think they need. It’s a wonderful experience for these people.”

She also offers free eyebrow kits, since that can be part of the hair loss for chemotherapy patients.

“I’ve seen so many people leave feeling so much better,” she said. “So many people are just so lost and don’t know where to go. I’ve never suffered with cancer, but my best friend died from cancer. I wanted to give back to the world and to women.”

“I don’t mind talking about it,” said Stewart, who lost her hair 15 days into her chemotherapy treatment.

In preparation for her possible hair loss, Stewart had her hairdresser trim her hair into a short style, then cut the wig before she shaved Stewart’s hair, at her request.

Facing hair loss

A friend since high school, Cathy Buscaglia, went with Stewart when she had her head shaved, and Biscaglia shaved her own hair off in support of Stewart.

“I was scared, but she said, ‘I’ll go first,’” Stewart said. “A shaved head is traumatic, but not so bad. The first time you look in the mirror, it’s a shock.”

“People are so optimistic and encouraging,” Stewart added. “That’s what helped me. I can’t say I’ve never cried or been sad. I’ve had rough patches. But I want all my positive energy to help me get to the end of this cancer journey.”

To that end, Stewart said, she takes advantage of the services of integrative medicine offered through the Beaumont Health System. Stewart enjoys free oncology massages given by massage therapists who are training in the post-graduate clinical oncology massage program at Beaumont. Stewart also uses the track and takes yoga classes offered at Sola Life & Fitness, the health and wellness center operated by the Beaumont Health System in Rochester Hills.

Integrative medicine through Beaumont Health System includes acupuncture, massage therapy, cranial sacral therapy, a detoxification program, naturopathy, guided imagery; gentle yoga; and reiki. Integrative medicine services have been offered for 11 years at the Royal Oak campus and for eight years at the Troy campus, which also encompasses facilities in Sterling Heights and Rochester Hills.

Gail Elliott-Patricolo, director of integrative medicine for Beaumont, said the aim of integrative medicine is to safely integrate the patient through traditional medical care along with holistic medicine and services.

“The patient can get lost Googling things that may be unsafe for them,” she said. “Everything we do is evidence-based. The patient knows it can be safe and effective. It’s an overwhelming diagnosis.”

She said that all of their integrative medicine practitioners have the highest level of training.

“One of the dilemmas is that there’s very little licensing in the state of Michigan,” she said. “It’s truly consumer beware.”

She noted that well-meaning friends could purchase a spa package for a cancer patient, which could result in a massage therapist not trained in oncology unintentionally causing harm to a patient’s lymph nodes, resulting in lymphedema — swelling in an arm or leg caused by a lymphatic system blockage — which can be a lifelong affliction.

“It’s important to fight cancer with specific protocols,” Elliott-Patricolo stressed.


Seek qualified practitioners

“Patients should really make sure that practitioners have the highest level of education in their field so they can be safely treated,” Elliott-Patricolo said.

She said acupuncture treatment has been shown to reduce anxiety and increase range of motion. Also, skin care offered through the center is specific to oncology skin.

Elliott-Patricolo noted that the practices do not treat cancer itself, but help to manage the side effects. For example, some may think acupuncture will cure cancer, but that’s not the case.

“The goal of acupuncture is to manage side effects and manage well-being,” she said.  

She added that the World Health Organization lists acupuncture as a treatment that can help almost every bodily function, as well as hot flashes, dry mouth caused by radiation treatment, skin rashes, constipation, diarrhea, anxiety, depression and insomnia — all side effects of cancer treatment.

Elliott-Patricolo said that naturopathic medicine doctors at Beaumont, or NDs, do four years in pre-med, then four years in one of six naturopathic medical schools in North America. They are board certified. She noted that a physician might use ND after his or her name but not be board certified because there is no license requirement for that in the state.

“The beauty of integrated medicine in a hospital is that there is communication between all providers,” Elliott-Patricolo said. 

The integrative medicine center handled 22,000 patient appointments last year.

“Encouragement and support keeps me going,” Stewart said. 

At press time she had four more radiation treatments left. She plans to walk at the Detroit Zoo to raise money for breast cancer research this April.

“It’s all about attitude,” Stewart said. “Thank goodness there are all these resources.”

For information on integrative medicine at Beaumont, visit www.beaumont.edu/centers-services/integrative-medicine/ or call (248) 964-9200. For information on Sola Life & Fitness, call (248) 267-5656 or visit solafitness.com. For information on Wigs for Chemo by Marlene, call  (248) 344-7360.

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