Breast cancer survivor Susan Ockey remembers the day during a yoga and meditation class when the subject of breathing came up.
"At that moment, I realized I had not actually taken a real breath in years. I had run through the cancer surgery, the treatments and teh physical recovery of breast cancer- multi-tasking every aspect, barely breathing, just quick shallow pants through my life. As odd as it may seem, to stop and take a real breath seemed unnatural. After practising, it was amazing how calming breathing could be."
Ockey said that the program, known as ‘mindfulness-based’ therapy, was not only helpful in dealing with the after-effects of cancer, but also helped her cope better with the stress of everyday life.
A recently published study in the Journal of Clinical Oncology and written by researchers from CancerControl Alberta and the B.C. Cancer Agency shows meditation and gentle yoga to be more effective than group therapy in helping breast cancer survivors cope with the stress and anxiety that often follows treatment, according to a recent study from cancer researchers in Alberta and B.C.
The study, the largest trial of its kind, followed 271 breast cancer survivors in Alberta and B.C.
"More women than ever before are surviving their active treatments for breast cancer but continue to have high levels of stress resulting from their illness," says Dr. Linda Carlson, a clinical psychologist with CancerControl Alberta at the Tom Baker Cancer Centre in Calgary, Professor in the Department of Oncology at the University of Calgary, and the study’s lead author.
"Our study shows mindfulness-based therapy is better than group therapy for decreasing symptoms of stress and for improving overall quality of life and social support. As participants gradually increased their exposure to feared thoughts and feelings during mediation practice, the feared stimuli lost much of their power."
Findings show participants who used ‘mindfulness-based’ therapy, which includes meditation and yoga, were more likely than group therapy participants to develop positive coping strategies, such as acceptance, and less likely to use unhelpful strategies such as worry and avoidance.
Study co-author Joanne Stephen, clinician-scientist with the Provincial Psychosocial Oncology Program of the BC Cancer Agency, says cancer survivors who used meditation and yoga often displayed “a sense of heightened control, calm, peace and serenity, even in the face of the many uncontrollable elements of cancer.”
The Tom Baker Cancer Centre offers an eight-week, mindfulness-based therapy program, which includes weekly, 90-minute group instruction and a six-hour mediation retreat. Participants are also encouraged to meditate and do yoga at home every day for 45 minutes.
~By James Stephenson from Alberta Health Services Cancer Cares Newsletter October 2013 Volume 1, Issue 14