Did you ever feel lost treating a patient that was undergoing cancer treatment? Did you ever feel that you needed more knowledge about this disease?
Well that’s how I was feeling in my practice. I was getting quite a few people coming for treatment that either had cancer and wanted help with the side effects of their conventional treatment, or had finished their conventional treatment and wanted to improve their overall health.
I have been interested in the topic of cancer for some time. It started with the death of my mother from cancer twelve years ago. My final year thesis at the Burren School of Homeopathy was on the topic of cancer, and I have continued my interest in this disease ever since.
Working with people with cancer or their loved ones can be very rewarding, especially when the properly selected remedy improves their symptoms. It can also be difficult, however, when well-selected remedies fail to act as one would have liked, or just the fact of working with people under such stressful circumstances in their life. Relaxation techniques, both for the family of the patient and also the homeopath, along with good nutritional advice can be beneficial in complementing Homeopathy.
I felt that I needed more knowledge other than Homeopathic knowledge on this subject, as well as some self-help techniques to add to my practice for the benefit of my patients and myself. I started to investigate where I could get this information, and that’s when I came across the Penny Brohn Cancer Care Centre (formally called The Bristol Cancer Care Centre) and saw that they offered courses for complementary therapists as well as medical personnel.
The course I registered for was called “Certificate in Working with People with Cancer for Complementary Therapists”.
The course covered everything from the Bristol Approach to cancer care, to self-help practices, to the biological processes of cancer, palliative care, and how to introduce complementary therapies into a healthcare organisation.
“The Bristol Approach” works as a natural partner to mainstream medical treatment. This approach recognises that when people are faced with a cancer diagnosis it raises a multitude of issues and emotions. Cancer for most people is the start of both a medical and emotional journey, and many people benefit from finding support for themselves and their families.
In my work as a Homeopath I have been asked to treat people in their own homes at the end of life, helping to ease their anxiety, fears, sadness/depression and relieving suffering. Unfortunately Homeopathy is not offered in any hospices in Ireland at this present time, unlike in Britain, where it is offered in some hospices.
My interest in using Homeopathy in End of Life Care was triggered by a patient with multiple metastases who needed relief from his suffering during his final weeks of life. A brief description of his case is given at the end of this article.
When I joined the Committee of the Irish Society of Homeopaths (Oct. 2008), I wrote to Palliative Care Consultants in hospices in Ireland to inform them about the value of Homeopathic treatment in End of Life Care and to see if they would participate in a pilot scheme. Following that, an opportunity arose to make a submission to the Irish Hospice Foundation’s Forum on End of Life Care in Ireland. During the year that followed, various Homeopaths attended and participated in workshops run by the Forum, culminating in the Society giving their presentation in November 2009 when Lelia Doolin kindly presented on the Society’s behalf. A copy of the submission is available on the Society’s website (Members Area).
I had the opportunity to meet other Homeopaths working in this field during the course of that year, such as Dr. Elizabeth Thompson from the Bristol Homeopathic Hospital and Ali Morrish from St. Luke’s Hospice in Plymouth, who both gave of their time and hosted visits to their workplaces. Keeping with the End of Life Care theme, Ali Morrish was the keynote speaker at the Society’s AGM in Dublin in October 2009.
The responses from the Hospice Consultants were very polite, expressing an interest in and wishing us all the best with our endeavour, but unfortunately for various reasons they could not participate in our Pilot Scheme. However, Marymount Hospice in Cork was positive about what we wanted to do and invited us to a further discussion at their hospice. Claire Adams ISHom and I attended a very worthwhile meeting with the Palliative Care Consultant at Marymount, Dr. Tony O’Brien. The Society is currently preparing a proposal for this Pilot Scheme. It will be necessary, however, to raise substantial finances to fund the Pilot Scheme.
Good palliative care, including Homeopathy should be available to all who need it, when they need it and where they need it, be it in a hospital, nursing home or the person’s own home, not just a hospice. The focus of hospice and palliative care is to relieve suffering and improve the quality of living and dying.
Brief history – February 2007
Tom, ( not his real name) a 72 year old male, tall and slim, played sports until ten years ago when advised to stop by his GP as he suffered from angina. Smoked when he was younger and liked a whisky most evenings. He was diagnosed with stage 4 oesophageal cancer with metastases in both lungs. One month into his chemotherapy treatment he came to see me for a very severe pain down his right arm coming from his right shoulder. After repeated investigations in hospital, there was nothing found and he was prescribed pain killers. He had no relief from those. I prescribed Belladonna 30c, to be taken three times in 12 hours. After the second remedy he was pain free for the first time in weeks. The pain stayed away until the next morning when he had to take one more remedy and he had no more pain after that.
I didn’t hear from Tom again for six months, then I had a call from his wife asking if there was anything I could do as Tom had become very difficult. Even though the chemotherapy had reduced his tumours in his lungs he now had been diagnosed with two tumours in his brain. This was affecting his speech and his temperament. For the previous two days he was refusing to leave his chair in the kitchen and go to bed. It would take hours to coax him to do anything including eating. He kept telling his family that he was going to die at 4 o’clock and that the undertakers were coming for him soon and he wanted his son to dig his grave in the middle of the kitchen.
I prescribed Aconite 200c for his symptoms. Thirty minutes after taking the remedy, Tom decided he would go to bed for a rest. The Aconite was repeated again later that evening and again the following afternoon. He stopped saying he was going to die at a certain time and didn’t ask his family to dig his grave again. He was relaxed and calm for a day, and then he became extremely upset, crying alternating with sobbing for two days and one whole night. His GP and cancer care nurse wanted to put him on antidepressants but his wife wouldn’t hear of it. I prescribed Ignatia 200c and his constant crying eased and finally stopped altogether within 24 hours. He still remained sad but was not crying constantly so I didn’t repeat the Ignatia. He then had four days where he didn’t have any homeopathic remedies. His sadness was there now and then especially when old friends or his grandchildren visited. He was becoming resigned to dying and talking about it with family.
When I next went to visit him I noticed he was anxious and didn’t want his wife to leave him alone in his room. He called for her if she left the room for longer than fifteen minutes. His wife had to cancel a hospital appointment she had as she would be gone from the house too long and this would distress Tom. He was very fussy about everything around him, i.e. where the paper was placed on the bed, what temperature his food was, what temperature the room was. He said he had no fear of dying and was disappointed each morning to be still here. Even though he said he had no fear, he did display a lot of anxiety and fear of being alone.
At this stage I prescribed Arsenicum Album 200c and this was repeated three more times during the next four days. Soon after this he began to get weaker and stopped eating. He had some mild pain and refused to take morphine for it, as he wanted to be able to stay awake for when his family arrived from abroad. He would take Arsenicum Album 200c if his pains became uncomfortable. He needed one dose of Phosphorus 30c for haemorrhaging from the rectum and he didn’t have any more haemorrhaging after that. The hospice nurses were concerned he would have another haemorrhage and were relieved when he didn’t have more. The following morning his son (the final member of his family) was due to arrive, but his pains were getting worse and he looked like he was in distress. I then prescribed Arsenicum Album 1M. This alleviated his pain very quickly. The next day, he was awake to speak to his son for a short while and after that his pain increased and he was put on a morphine drip by the hospice nurse. He slipped into a coma shortly after starting the morphine, and passed away five days later. His family were glad that they all had been able to talk to him before he lost consciousness and died.
I think this case demonstrates how effective Homeopathy can be in end of life care. It was very important for Tom to be able to communicate with his family for as long as he could and this was achieved with the help of Homeopathy. The Homeopathic remedies acted quickly and relieved the more distressing parts of his symptoms.