Holistic approach to cancer care

  • Radiation oncologist Rob Rutledge talking to a cancer patient.

    Radiation oncologist Rob Rutledge talking to a cancer patient.

  • Radiation oncologist Rob Rutledge.

    Radiation oncologist Rob Rutledge.

Signs of anxiety or depression

Some signs that a cancer patient might be struggling with anxiety or depression:

They’re unable to enjoy life and feelings of hopelessness;

They no longer enjoy activities such as playing with grandchildren or watching a favourite television programme;

Loss of concentration when making decisions;

Inability to use the word ‘cancer’ without getting upset;

Disabling insomnia from anxiety;

They are unable to function socially;

Frequent talk of death and suicide.

Talk to a general practitioner, nurse or oncologist about any of these symptoms.

It seems a bit cruel. You get the all-clear from cancer, and along comes depression.

About one-third of all people with cancer are significantly affected, according to radiation oncologist Robert Rutledge.

The Canadian specialist believes if the situation isn’t addressed, it can have a profound effect on a person’s health.

Although the medical system can do a good job of treating cancer, it doesn’t usually handle the emotional side of things very well, he said.

Dr Rutledge, who works for the Nova Scotia Cancer Centre in Halifax, will give a free lecture on the subject for cancer charity PALS this month.

He became interested in the holistic approach to cancer healing as a medical student in the 1980s. He later started a charity, Healing and Cancer Foundation.

“It was one of those magical moments in life, when I just knew what I wanted to do,” he said.

“I wanted to be an oncologist and I was really interested in empowering people beyond the medical sphere. I have been following that path ever since, giving public talks and working with patients in clinics and support groups. I have been drawing on the science of the mind-body connection.

“I also like to tell stories that inspire people. I talk about everything from taking a holistic approach to cancer care to a more hard-nosed talk about getting the best medical care. I also talk about seeing cancer as a learning experience.”

The associate professor at Dalhousie University Medical School said people aren’t usually affected by depression and anxiety until after their cancer treatment is over.

“During the treatment they are putting on a brave face,” he said. “Sometimes the patient might have a meltdown when treatment is over. That is normal.”

He said sometimes it’s just a matter of learning how to handle negative thoughts and feelings.

“I think evolution has given us a bias to focus on learning from negative things in order to survive,” he said.

“We have to learn how to appreciate the positive things in life, also, and learn from them.”

Dr Rutledge’s mother Audrey died of a brain tumour four years ago.

“I have no regrets from that time,” he said. “We spent a lot of time having great conversations. It was very sad, but I felt privileged to have been with her every step of the way.”

His talk, Body-Mind-Spirit Connection: Making a Difference on the Cancer Journey, takes place at 6pm on February 19 at BUEI.

For more information visit www.pals.org or healingandcancer.org. Alternatively, e-mail pals@northrock.bm or telephone 236-7257.

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