The Healing Journey

Integrative medicine blends the art and science of healing.

Paula Golden has dealt with more than her share of cancer. In 1977 she had breast cancer. In 1991 it was stage 4 ovarian cancer, and then in 2003 it was lymphoma. The Syracuse, New York, retired social worker, now 64, calls herself a miracle, but she is also unique in that she has watched a changing medical delivery system that has gone from what she calls the dark ages to the age of enlightenment. That’s right, because unlike most patients, who complain about today’s pressurized managed care medical environment, Golden had exactly the opposite experience because of a group of physicians and a CEO who decided that patients needed more, not less.  

When I had my hysterectomy in 1991, I remember one night in the hospital when I felt so lonely and afraid,” Golden recalls. “I asked the nurse if she could spend a little time talking to me. She said she was too busy. When she left, I was so low. I remember thinking that I was ready to die.”

But in 2003 when cancer struck again, Golden walked into the new facility built by Hematology/Oncology Associates of Central New York in Syracuse.

"It was really a team approach. And the facility is like a beautiful hotel,” Golden says. “I would stop and get a massage before my chemotherapy to relax me and then go upstairs and get my chemo. On the way out I would stop and see the nutritionist or social worker if there were other issues I needed to look at.”

No one disputes that the United States offers the best cancer treatment in the world. But others argue that changes in the healthcare system have put pressure on physicians, including those who specialize in cancer, to see more patients and move them more quickly through the system. At the same time, patients want exactly the opposite; they want more time, more choices, more information, more human connection, more options for things they can do to help themselves heal.

In short, a growing number of patients and physicians want to change cancer treatment from focusing on cure, which can be elusive, to focusing on healing and the whole person—no matter the outcome.

The challenge in navigating such a shift for both patient and provider means understanding language, approach, delivery, reimbursement and science in a medical system that has yet to identify a standard or even adopt similar language for integrative medicine.

Indeed, even the term “integrative treatment” is used by doctors or health care systems to mean a variety of things from coast to coast, ranging from hospitals that use it as a marketing term that says all aspects of cancer care are provided in one building to a physician calling his or her approach integrative because of a knowledge of existing external local programs that provide emotional and social support to which he or she can refer patients.

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