Acupuncture has been practiced in Chinese medicine for thousands of years, and now it has come to Waterford Place Cancer Resource Center.
Acupuncture can benefit patients as they go through cancer treatment, helping them relax, reduce nausea and stomachaches, improve sleep patterns and energy and deal with pain.
“We can help with whatever side effects they’re having,” says Ginger Michels, acupuncturist and owner of A Touch of Ginger, which is providing the service. “We help them keep their energy levels up as best as they can.”
What is acupuncture?
Acupuncture is the use of very fine needles — some as thin as a strand of hair — on the surface of the skin to stimulate specific points on the body. It helps free the movement of blocked qi, says Michels, who describes qi as the energy or life force that powers the body to perform its functions. Qi moves through pathways throughout the body, she says, but disease, trauma and other factors can block or disrupt its flow.
Through placement of needles, acupuncture is used to tell the body where the problem is and to activate the body’s own ability to heal itself, she explains. The needles move energy to restore function to the part of the body where the system is struggling to do its job.
Individual treatments last about an hour and involve speaking with the patient for 10 to 20 minutes to determine their needs before placing the needles. She typically places four to 12 needles, which takes five to 10 minutes. The person then rests with the needles in place for 15 to 30 minutes.
Do the needles hurt? It’s a unique feeling to each individual, Michels says, but the needles should never feel sharp. Most patients describe it as pressure, pulling, pushing or aching.
“Once the needles have been placed into a stream of energy, patients are very comfortable and feel more relaxed as the treatment gets the flow of energy moving in the right direction,” she says. Many patients nap.
Education and more
In addition to providing acupuncture treatments at Waterford Place, Michels and her team will offer educational talks about what acupuncture is and how it can help. They also plan to incorporate acupuncture in a session on sound healing and hope to eventually introduce community acupuncture — where they treat five or six people at a time.
Omar Ramos, program development and operations manager at Waterford Place, says he wanted to bring acupuncture to the center because it is a safe, proven method to address treatment-related side effects. Many participants are trying it for the first time, and they’ve expressed an improved mood and greater sense of well-being.
Michels is honored and excited about sharing acupuncture with Waterford Place participants.
“I feel it’s two giant steps,” she says. “First, we’re getting this treatment to people who would really benefit from receiving it. Second, they’re receiving it at no charge.” Like all the services provided at Waterford Place, acupuncture is free of charge to anyone affected by cancer.
Helping patients feel better
Michels says the best part of her job is watching someone feel better. Many patients come to her saying, “I’ve done everything. I’ve seen doctors, tried medicines and surgery and I still don’t feel better. I don’t know what else to do.” Following an acupuncture treatment, they tell her the pain is gone or they haven’t had a migraine in a week.
“It’s so exciting — so incredibly rewarding — to watch that moment that someone feels better,” she says. “It’s so amazing to impact people’s lives and help them feel better than they have in so long.”
Two of Michel’s practitioners, Anjalee Patel and Patty Jones, are former acupuncture patients who retired from their careers to perform acupuncture.
“It changed their lives so much, they changed their careers,” she says. Patel was a physical therapist and Jones was a pharmacist.
“We’re excited and grateful to RUSH Copley to grow this program and educate people about acupuncture,” Michels says. “The more people who understand what it can do, the more people we can help.”