Author: Jonathan Sarson

Date: 23 01 2019

Jonathan Sarson, CNHC registered Reflexologist, Massage Therapist and Aromatherapist discusses the role of Complementary Therapists on the Cancer Unit of two hospitals in North Wales...

During my interview to become an Oncology Therapist at Ysbyty Gwynedd (Bangor Hospital) and Ysbyty Glad Clwyd (Glan Clwyd Hospital), I was asked to present a talk discussing the role of Complementary Therapies on Oncology wards. Following a successful interview, I have been working with a team of three therapists for a year now to deliver the complementary therapy service on the hospital Oncology Wards.

Our costs are paid for through charitable funds, and there are plans to expand the service to Wrexham Hospital as well.

My research into this and my subsequent time on the wards has shown me how much we can help patients and why many of the leading Cancer Treatment Centres have established Complementary Therapy teams. As therapists, we strive to make our patients lives healthier, happier and pain free and it's a real honour to be involved with people at such a critical time in their lives.

How can complementary therapies benefit cancer patients? Many patients experience side effects of treatment such as vomiting, nausea, scar tissue formation and constipation. Complementary therapy treatments can help improve these side effects in some patients and can also help improve quality of sleep.

Emotionally, complementary therapies can help reduce the distress of diagnosis by increasing relaxation, reducing pain and improving quality of life. We provide a safe space to talk and patients don’t need to put on a brave face with us, as they may feel the need to with their family. Plus, we have more time with each patient so we can fully to listen to their concerns. After a cancer diagnosis, everyone tries to care for the sufferer by telling them what to do, whether that be attending appointments or being told what to eat – so choosing a complementary therapy gives a bit of control back to them.

While chemotherapy and radiotherapy treatments seek to destroy cancer cells, they destroy good cells as well and that unfortunately causes unpleasant side effects. Complementary therapies allow patients to feel that they are helping their own body and energy systems rebuild and reminds them that they have a role to play in looking after themselves. We also get to know patients’ true feelings which puts us in a great position to signpost them to other services to further improve their quality of life.

We can inspire hope. A cancer diagnosis can be shocking and disrupt people’s life plans, but complementary therapies can be a positive experience for people following their diagnosis. It can also inspire people to search for positive experiences, regardless of their prognosis. Cancer treatment often causes scarring, weight and hair loss often making it difficult to stay self-assured, but we can help people to regain this confidence.

We also do our best to inform and work with other members of NHS staff about our service, as some have had no experience of it and worry about possible contraindications. We inform them about the level of our knowledge and the benefits that their patients may get, so that they feel confident to refer their patients to us for support.

Complementary therapies are starting to become an integral part of a patient’s treatment plan, allowing the Cancer Treatment Centres to provide treatment to for their mind, body and soul.