Easing Cancer Symptoms Through Love and Compassion

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Roswell Park pilots heart-centered therapy program with pediatric patients

In the fight against cancer, Roswell Park Cancer Institute (RPCI) has an ever-growing arsenal of treatments. Recently, two RPCI employees introduced a heart-centered approach, called Healing Touch, which focuses on the mind and spirit of the patient, as well as physical ailments.  

Thanks to a Quality of Life grant from the Roswell Park Alliance Foundation, Sue Hess, PhD, an RPCI grants coordinator, and Lynda Beaupin, MD, a staff physician of pediatric oncology, held a pilot program in the complementary therapy over the winter. 

“Basically you’re trying to restore balance and flow of energy around and within the body when doing Healing Touch,” said Dr. Hess, the Healing Touch instructor. “It’s believed if you have some sort of illness or acute injury you have congestion or blockage of that flow.

By moving one’s hands around a patient’s body or lightly touching the patient, the body’s energy field can be manipulated in order to manage pain and other cancer-related symptoms, Dr. Hess said. With the pilot program, Dr. Hess instructed a group of pediatric patients, parents and caregivers, 30 people in all, in the use and practice of Healing Touch. 

“Healing Touch is a little bit different than other energy modalities in that there is an emphasis on the practitioner coming from a place of love and compassion for another human being,” Dr. Hess said. “So, what better way than to try this with family members and extended family?”

Aubrey Murphy, along with her son, Sullivan, 8, an acute myeloid leukemia patient, attended the eight-session program. According to Aubrey, the program connected patients with their parents or caregivers on a different level.   

“In this situation, sometimes you can’t do a lot for the person who’s going through it,” Aubrey said. “You have to allow the doctors to do what it is that they need to do. So, I was able to help Sullivan and do something myself as opposed to having to rely on the doctors.”

At each session Dr. Hess spoke about the philosophy of Healing Touch and demonstrated techniques. She then provided handouts on the techniques for participants to practice at home. According to Dr. Hess, there are five levels to Healing Touch. Even though participants focused on the basics, Dr. Hess said she believes these techniques will help with most of the physical and emotional issues patients experience. 

According to Aubrey and Sullivan, Healing Touch has great value to cancer patients and their family, and they are hopeful the program will grow outside of the pediatric unit. 

“When my head hurt, my mom did (Healing Touch), and my head felt a lot better than it did,” Sullivan said. “I liked it because it helped me when I was down in the dumps, and it helped with my spirit.”