Bringing Joy, Healing to Patients With Cancer

Angela Lorbeck on her 'life's journey' to integrative medicine, acupuncture at RUSH

When she was 9 years old, Angela Lorbeck would gather cotton balls and bandages and ride her bike around her neighborhood in Madison, Wisconsin, to find and care for people who were hurt.

“I’ve always been driven to help people,” says Lorbeck, who joined RUSH in 2002. “It’s what I know and love to do.”

Lorbeck followed her passion by pursuing a career in integrative medicine. The approach to care uses wellness practices like acupuncture and yoga to complement traditional therapies like surgery, chemotherapy and radiation to help support the mind, body and spirit.

“While pursuing my first master's degree, I was introduced to the field of neuroscience and learned about the intimate connection between mind and body. It was thrilling to more fully understand that our thoughts and emotions affect our bodies, and vice versa. And it was in that moment it clicked for me,” she says. “This was going to be my life’s journey, and I’ve never looked back.”

Building a program at RUSH

A few years after joining RUSH, Lorbeck became the program manager for cancer integrative medicine.

“We were a very small team at the time, helping to support patients with cancer through cognitive behavioral therapy, massage therapy, yoga and acupuncture,” Lorbeck says.

Twenty years later, Lorbeck is the manager of integrative medicine in Supportive Oncology at Rush University Cancer Center. She works alongside program director Teresa Deshields, PhD, to help grow its services in acupuncture, nutrition and exercise, and to expand it across the RUSH system.

“It’s such an honor to be in this position under the amazing leadership and direction of Dr. Deshields,” she says. “With the support of referring providers, we’re able to help more patients with cancer and their healing.”

But that’s just one of Lorbeck’s key roles at RUSH.

Acupuncture for patients with cancer

During her early years at RUSH, Lorbeck received a second master’s degree to become licensed and board certified in acupuncture — a form of Chinese medicine that involves inserting thin, sterile needles into the skin at various points to help the body heal.

She would later receive a doctorate in acupuncture and Chinese medicine.

Now she devotes a significant part of each day providing acupuncture to patients with cancer in combination with their other forms of care.

“The side effects of cancer treatments can be very debilitating,” Lorbeck says. “By participating in regular, weekly acupuncture sessions, it can help offset some of the side effects experienced as a result of surgery, chemotherapy and radiation treatments.”

Other side effects that acupuncture can help with include hot flashes, nausea, digestive disturbances, dry mouth, muscle and bone pain, stress-related fatigue, among others.

A typical day

On an average day, Lorbeck provides acupuncture to five patients with cancer.

For part of each 90-minute session, she identifies the patient’s main concerns and asks additional questions related to sleep, diet, exercise, emotional well-being and social support.

Lorbeck also spends time talking to her patients about what they can expect during acupuncture — how the needles will feel, how it works and where they will be placed on the table.

“I want my patients to fully understand what’s going to happen and for them to be involved in the process — it’s a very critical part of their care,” she says.

Two of the most important questions Lorbeck asks her patients, though, are “What matters most to you in terms of healing?" and "What brings you joy?”

“The answer to these questions not only help to build a connection with my patients but it factors into their care and healing,” she says.

What brings Sue Humbles joy is golfing, but nerve pain from cancer treatments got in the way.

“I did not hesitate when my oncologist suggested starting acupuncture with Angela,” says Humbles, who was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2017. “She’s compassionate and truly listens to my concerns.”

Humbles has been receiving acupuncture since 2020.

“It has helped so much with my pain and discomfort that now I’m back on the golf course — and sometimes with Angela herself.”

Regaining joy

Cancer is a life-altering disease that can affect both your emotional and physical well-being. But Lorbeck says incorporating integrative medicine can help during times of difficulty with cancer.

“The reality is everyone’s experience with cancer is different. But when people receive a therapy like acupuncture, it can often benefit them in multiple ways, and for many, it allows them to do what they love again,” Lorbeck says. “I encourage everyone with cancer to consider acupuncture, and speak with their providers for guidance on the matter.”

And whether it’s through acupuncture, or a bike and safety kit, it all leads back to Lorbeck’s own greatest joy — helping people.

“I love helping to empower people and feel honored to be part of their healing process,” Lorbeck says. “And I feel so lucky to have the support and ability to do that here at RUSH.”

At RUSH, we offer patients with cancer three complimentary acupuncture sessions and one complimentary massage therapy session. For more information on our cancer supportive care services, call (312) 942-5904 or visit us

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