Ask the Nurse: Complementary therapies

In this month’s blog, we talk about complementary therapies and how myeloma patients and carers can access them.

Living with myeloma can bring emotional and physical challenges for patients and their loved ones. Every myeloma diagnosis is different, and people may need different kinds of support at different times.

Complementary therapies can be one source of support to help people cope with the physical and emotional impact of myeloma, as well as the side effects of treatments.

In this blog, we’re going to talk about complementary therapies and how to access them.

What are complementary therapies?

Complementary therapies are treatments you can have alongside your medical care with the aim of improving your quality of life. They are not a replacement for medical treatment.

They can help people with myeloma feel better and may help patients to cope better with symptoms or side effects.

How might complementary therapies be helpful?

Complementary therapies aim to help you relax and unwind. They can help to:

  • Promote relaxation, enabling your body to rest and repair.
  • Reduce or manage stress and anxiety.
  • Ease symptoms such as nausea, digestive discomfort, fatigue, or pain.
  • Lift your mood.
  • Improve your sleep.

What types of complementary therapies are available?

Complementary therapies can be grouped in different ways, but the main groups are:

  • Mind-body therapy, like yoga, meditation, and hypnotherapy.
  • Touch therapy, such as Indian head massage, reflexology, reiki, and acupuncture.
  • Aromatherapy, using essential oils.

There isn’t a ‘one size fits all’ approach to complementary therapies, just as there isn’t one for myeloma treatment.

If you aren’t sure what type of therapy will suit you, talk to your healthcare team to see what they advise and consider trying a few to see what works for you.

Many people also find emotional support through talking, counselling and support groups, which may be helpful alongside complementary therapies.

Are complementary therapies safe?

Doctors do not usually mind their patients using complementary therapies. Still, some therapies may not be suitable to use alongside certain treatments or complications. For example, people with bone damage should be careful with massage or yoga.

Before using a complementary therapy, talk to your healthcare team. They will tell you if the complementary therapy is suitable for you, if there is a potential for interactions with your treatment, or if any complications could arise.

You should also tell the complementary therapist about any health conditions, including myeloma. This could affect the treatment or advice they give you.

Some therapists may not treat someone with a cancer diagnosis if they have not had the training to help them work safely with you.

How do I find a therapist?

There are different ways you can access complementary therapy.

Ask your healthcare team, your GP or clinical nurse specialist if any complementary therapies are available and ask for them to refer you to the service.

Check your local cancer centre or support group; some offer free or discounted complementary therapies.

Access complementary therapy privately, but make sure they are registered, accredited practitioners and have experience dealing with cancer patients.

Can complementary therapies help carers too?

A myeloma diagnosis doesn’t just affect the person with myeloma. It also affects partners, family, and friends. Looking after someone can significantly impact your emotional and physical wellbeing, so it is very important to look after yourself. Complementary therapies can help you do that.

Complementary therapies may help ease the aches and tensions that can come from caring for a loved one or provide much needed ‘me time’.

Many hospitals and cancer centres offer complementary therapies to carers, relatives, and patients’ household members. Even if you don’t see yourself as a carer, you may be able to access therapies.

Are complementary therapies and alternative therapies the same?

No, complementary therapies are not the same as alternative therapies and should not be confused with them.

Alternative therapies are intended to be used instead of medical treatments you would get through a haematologist. Examples of alternative therapies include any diets or supplements that claim to treat cancer. Complementary therapies are used alongside myeloma treatment.

Although some alternative therapies can sound promising, the claims are not supported by scientific evidence and can give some people false hope.
No scientific or medical evidence exists to show that alternative therapies can cure cancer.

Some alternative therapies are unsafe and can cause harmful side effects, or they may interact with your medical treatment. This could increase the risk of harmful side effects or may stop the medical treatment from working.

This can reduce your chance of controlling your myeloma or of reaching remission.

You can learn more about complementary therapies by watching our “Complementary Therapies” video. You can also find more information on complementary therapies in our Infopack for living well with myeloma.

You can get in touch with us through the Infoline 0800 980 3332 or the Ask the Nurse email service if you have any questions.

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