A metastatic breast cancer (MBC) diagnosis can cause significant physical, emotional and psychological distress, making it important for people living with the disease to explore complementary and integrative therapies like meditation. These therapies can provide a range of benefits that traditional treatments may not offer.
Complementary and integrative therapies encompass a variety of practices, including acupuncture, yoga, massage therapy, mindfulness meditation and dietary supplements. While some of these therapies are supported by more scientific research than others, many patients living with MBC report feeling that they are helpful.
Nancy Herard-Marshall, who has been living with MBC since 2020, has found meditation to be particularly helpful in managing her symptoms. She notes that meditation helps her relieve anxiety and stress, improve sleep and mood, decrease fatigue and improve overall quality of life.
“Meditation has been extremely helpful for me,” Nancy says. “I meditate every day now, and I find that when I am not keeping up my practice of meditation, I start to slip. I start to find that I’m more anxious. The depression starts to come in.”
Studies have shown that meditation can have a range of benefits for patients living with MBC. Daniel Hughes, Ph.D., explains that meditation can lead to changes in the brain that are similar to those resulting from physical exercise.
“Dr. Lorenzo Cohen, one of my mentors at MD Anderson, has cited studies where the neuroplasticity of the brain changes from meditation and he likens it to doing muscular exercises, but you do exercises through meditation, and it does change some of the anatomy of the brain,” Dr. Hughes explained.
For those interested in starting a meditation practice, Nancy suggests starting with just a few minutes per day and gradually working up to longer sessions. She also recommends using an app like Insight Timer, which offers a wide range of meditations and guided visualizations to choose from.
“There are thousands of different meditations, guided visualizations and guided imagery on the Insight Timer app,” Nancy says. “You can get the app for free or you can get the pro version and pay. I recommend to get the app for free, try it out, and you will find meditations that are helpful for you.”
While complementary and integrative therapies are not meant to replace traditional medical treatments, they can be used in conjunction with them to provide a more comprehensive approach to managing symptoms and improving quality of life.
“Just as our treatments are becoming more personalized, complimentary and integrative therapies can and should be personalized to each individual because it looks different for each person,” Nancy says.
Living with MBC can be challenging, but exploring complementary and integrative therapies like meditation can help patients manage symptoms and improve their overall well-being. By finding practices that work for them and incorporating them into their daily routines, people living with MBC can feel more empowered and in control of their health.
Susan G. Komen’s MBC Impact Series provides people living with metastatic breast cancer and their loved ones a safe, collaborative space to gather information related to MBC and discover practical resources to help make decisions for improved physical and emotional health. Hear more from Dr. Daniel Hughes and and Nancy Herard-Marshall in the November 2022 MBC Impact Series event on complementary and integrative therapies.
Wellness Wednesdays, presented by the MBC Impact Series, feature educational videos on various lifestyle and wellness topics for those living with metastatic breast cancer. Watch more Wellness Wednesday videos on Komen’s YouTube channel.