Many patients [with cancer] feel that the “human” side of their care has lagged far behind and that treatment is directed at their tumors, while they and their families are left to fend for themselves emotionally. While the link between cancer survival rates and emotional support isn’t definitive, medical studies show measurable differences in depression rates and enhanced quality of life for patients who receive that assistance. — Ronald Stram, M.D.
When Hope Nemiroff was diagnosed with breast cancer, she recalls, “There weren’t the services and information I needed to make decisions — and there still aren’t,” at least not in the standard medical setting. As a survivor, she decided to help people navigate the frightening and confusing process of dealing with such a diagnosis by founding Breast Cancer Options, which offers support groups and an abundance of information not readily available in a doctor’s office or hospital.
The Kingston-based organization, which serves the Hudson Valley, is holding its 17th annual Integrative Medicine Cancer Conference: A Holistic Approach to Health, on Sunday, April 28, from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. at the SUNY New Paltz Lecture Center. Workshops will address new medical treatments, integrative science-based therapies, and risk reduction strategies for comprehensive cancer care.
According to a study quoted by Nemiroff, when patients get a second opinion from a center designated by the National Cancer Institute (NCI) — that is, an institution like Memorial Sloan-Kettering, where doctors benefit from extensive clinical research — 43 percent of these patients have a change of diagnosis. “Imagine if you were already diagnosed and terrified, and you’re told one thing, and they do everything over again and say that’s not true,” said Nemiroff. “Diagnosis is as much an art as a science. You want a second pair of eyes.” The keynote speaker at the conference is Dr. Sheldon Feldman, Chief of Surgery at Montefiore Hospital in New York City, one of the top NCI-designated centers. He will report on cutting-edge therapies that minimize side effects, as well as new findings on such topics as patient-centered treatment.
A workshop on addressing the underlying causes of cancer will be presented by Dr. Ronald Stram, founder of the Stram Center for Integrative Medicine near Albany. He will speak on how changes in diet and lifestyle can improve functioning of the immune system, balance hormones, and boost the body’s ability to detoxify and decrease inflammation.
During lunch, two special sessions are available, with the guidance of experienced facilitators, for groups that don’t often get chances to network. One group will focus on young survivors, who face particular challenges such as altered self-image, changes in relationships and sexual functioning, and fertility and motherhood. The metastatic session is for women with advanced breast cancer, an underserved group who will benefit from a discussion of handling the difficult feelings that accompany living with advanced breast cancer, plus information on complementary treatments.
Following lunch, a stress reduction workshop will convey useful skills while helping people relax after receiving what can be an overwhelming assortment of information. “It brings them back to normal so they can absorb more,” said Nemiroff.
Uninsured cancer patients often pay anywhere from two to 43 times what Medicare would pay for chemotherapy, as well as higher rates for physician visits, said Nemiroff, who will join patient advocate Beverly Canin in discussing how to get help with the financial impact of cancer.
Other workshops will cover the use of medical marijuana for breast cancer patients; genetic testing and options for reducing personal or family risk for breast cancer; and dietary, nutrition, and mind-body strategies to boost the immune system and support healing.
“We’re the only nonprofit breast cancer organization in six counties,” said Nemiroff. “Our services are unique.” Among their peer-led support groups is a free retreat for women with metastatic cancer, in space donated by the Omega Institute in Rhinebeck. Also held for free at Omega is Camp Lightheart, for children who have a mother with breast cancer or have lost a mother to the disease. “I got a call one day from a mom who was going to chemo and losing her hair,” said Nemiroff. “She would wake up and find her kid on the floor next to her. She asked why, and he said, ‘I want to make sure you’re okay.’ There are no services for children in that situation unless they’re taken to a psychiatrist or psychologist.” The camp, which has been running since 2007, lasts only a few days each year, but the kids keep in touch with each other. Some of the original campers have asked to return as counselors.
Breast Cancer Options also publishes a Healthy Lifestyles Calendar, available through its website. Each page offers information on a different subject, such as making informed medical decisions, getting a second opinion, breast cancer and the environment, studies on the benefits of overnight fasting.
“Medicines and treatments are getting better,” Nemiroff said. “There are new drugs all the time, and women are learning how to take better care of themselves. We empower people to become their own advocates and learn what’s best for them.”
Breast Cancer Options presents the Integrative Medicine Cancer Conference: A Holistic Approach to Health, on Sunday, April 28, from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. at the SUNY New Paltz Lecture Center. Admission is $25 for students and seniors, $35 for everyone else, with limited scholarships available. Lunch is included if paid by April 24. For details, to register, and to view or order a Healthy Lifestyles Calendar, visit http://www.breastcanceroptions.org.