It was a Tuesday last February when Linda Shay received the call at work. Her biopsy the day before had revealed a four- centimeter tumor in her right breast.
“I was stunned,” says Shay, a senior business analyst at Allina Health who also had back surgery and a ruptured gallbladder in 2010.
She had come to rely on integrative health therapies, like nutrition counseling and meditation, from Allina’s Penny George Institute for Health and Healing to manage her pain and stress level. Facing her greatest health challenge yet, Shay met with her oncologist to work out a cancer treatment plan. It included practicing meditation plus weekly acupuncture to relieve stress and the side effects from the chemotherapy. Eighteen months later, she is cancer free.
“The integrative health techniques, combined with contemporary medicine, made the world of difference as to how I tolerated the cancer treatments,” she says. “I feel very fortunate to have all these options.”
Across the Twin Cities, patients like Shay and health care providers are recognizing the benefits of integrative health. Allina, Park Nicollet, and the University of Minnesota Medical Center, Fairview have each expanded care options in order to meet the needs and requests of patients looking to take control of their total health.
Understanding Integrative Health
The term “integrative health” encompasses practices and therapies outside of conventional medicine—from acupuncture to functional nutrition and meditation.
“What’s different with integrative health (or integrative medicine) is that you’re doing it alongside what we already do in conventional medicine,” says Dr. Nancy Van Sloun, an internal medicine physician at Park Nicollet who also has fellowship training in integrative medicine. “In fact, I would argue that it’s just good medicine.”
And it starts with a partnership between patient and provider. The goal is for the patient to feel respected, listened to, and like a full participant in her treatment and care. “That’s the most important thing about integrative health, we’re really walking together in this journey of healing,” says Dr. Carolyn Torkelson, medical director of integrative health at the Women’s Health Specialists (WHS), a University of Minnesota Physicians clinic.
At WHS, Torkelson and her team collaborate with traditional and complementary health specialists to create a personalized plan for each patient. WHS offers in-office acupuncture, massage, and health coaching, as well as referrals to local integrative health specialists.
Other examples of integrative medicine include the Penny George Institute’s partnership with Sister Kenny Rehabilitation Center to alleviate the physical side effects of various medical treatments through acupuncture, yoga, and healing touch. (The Institute also offers an Art of Healing program, which introduces patients to the therapeutic properties of art, movement, music, and writing.)
On the University of Minnesota campus, the Center for Spirituality and Healing (CSpH) provides patients with resources and education on topics ranging from mindfulness-based stress reduction to workshops on living and healing with purpose. CSpH is on the cutting edge of integrative health research and also supports practitioners through continuing education opportunities.
All three systems (Fairview, Allina, and Park Nicollet) recognize the importance of social and emotional health in recovery and have dedicated groups for survivors to support and uplift one another.