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Joining FORCES is the FORCE newsletter with news, views and supportive information for individuals concerned about hereditary breast and ovarian cancer.

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Facing Our Risk of Cancer Empowered and Relaxed

by Drea Thew

Presented at the 2006 Joining FORCEs Conference by Cynthia Myers, PhD, LMT, Director of the Integrative Medicine Program, Moffitt Cancer Center & Research Institute, University of South Florida College of Medicine.

Dr. Myers discussed mind-body medicine: hypnosis, yoga, biofeedback, meditation and other techniques that promote health and well-being by enhancing the mind’s capacity to affect bodily functions and symptoms. These techniques fit into the NIH’s complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) domains. Relaxation is also a type of mind-body medicine.

Dr. Myers spoke of evidence that mind-body medicine can be helpful in many health care situations, including coronary artery disease, post-surgical outcomes, and managing the side effects of cancer treatment. Clinical trials at Moffitt are investigating mindfulness-based stress reduction in early stage breast cancer, and massage for young cancer patients.

The heart of Dr. Myers’ presentation was a discussion of the fight-or-flight response and how to manage it. This natural response is a series of autonomic nervous system changes that occur when we perceive a physical threat. The goal, she said, is to replace the fight-or-flight response with the relaxation response—a physical state of deep rest, including reduced heart rate, blood pressure and rate of breathing—and an increased subjective state of physical well-being. This can be accomplished with many techniques, including bio-feedback, progressive muscle relaxation, meditation, hypnosis, and guided imagery.

In closing, Dr. Myers led the audience through a simple relaxation exercise. Afterward, when participants agreed they were relaxed, Dr. Myers commented, “It’s so simple, and yet there’s something reassuring about it. Instead of perceiving a threat, which we can do with our minds, by choosing a word that is very relaxing, very nurturing perhaps, you are getting into the driver’s seat of your own body-mind connection.”

Drea Thew is a FORCE Helpline volunteer.

CAM Resources

Dr. Myers suggests the following websites for more information about CAM, how to find a mind-body practitioner, and how to evaluate the safety and efficacy of a particular CAM practice:

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