Cancer Care

A Holistic Approach

A Holistic Approach to Cancer Treatment

When Mary Robinson, age 38 and mother of four, was given a 50/50 chance of surviving her acute myeloid leukemia she chose Methodist Estabrook Cancer Center for specialized treatment and a holistic approach to her recovery. “If we had done nothing, Mary would have been dead in three to four months,” said Methodist Estabrook Cancer Center oncologist/hematologist, Timothy Huyck, MD.

In spring 2014, fatigue seemed a normal consequence of Mary’s too-busy life, and she made light of odd symptoms: body aches, bleeding gums, a slow-to-heal sore, low-grade fevers and night sweats. A bone marrow biopsy confirmed that Mary had acute myeloid leukemia, or AML, a cancer of the blood and bone marrow. AML, which can strike at any age, is the most aggressive leukemia with the lowest odds of survival.

Chemotherapy Side Effects

Dr. Huyck explained that Mary’s initial treatment phase, called induction, requires strong chemotherapy to kill as many leukemia cells as possible. Healthy cells die too, generating unpleasant side effects to be managed: crushing fatigue, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, nerve and muscle pain, skin rashes, dry eyes and other discomforts.

The biggest weight in the world was lifted off our shoulders. Mary is jaw-droppingly healthy now.

Tim Robinson
Mary Robinson's Husband

As Katie Holling, BSN, RN, OCN, one of Mary’s oncology nurses, explained, “Leukemia patients are among the sickest of the sick.”
 “Induction takes the immune system to zero, putting the patient at high risk of infection,” Dr. Huyck said. “That’s why we have our infection control team on the case from day one.”

Infectious disease specialist Robert Penn, MD, is the medical director of infection prevention at Methodist Hospital. He oversaw Mary’s prophylactic antibiotic and antifungal therapies, her special diet, the care team’s vigilant monitoring of her vital signs and other essential protocols.

A Holistic and Multidisciplinary Team Approach

 “We’re always watchful for and ready to treat infection,” Dr. Penn said, “while working as a team to provide truly holistic care for our patients’ needs — physical, mental, emotional, intellectual, social, environmental, nutritional and spiritual.”

Reverend Melissa Strong, chaplain team leader for Methodist Hospital, grew close to Mary, connected first through faith, then by a deepening admiration and friendship.

“Even in the midst of illness, Mary possessed a rare and infectious positivity,” Rev. Strong said. “She genuinely cares for others and eagerly shared her positive energy with patients and staff.”

Kicking Cancers Butt!

“The hope, cheer and spirit Mary has,” Dr. Huyck said, “is second to none.”
Induction was successful, as was the second treatment phase, called consolidation, to prevent recurrence. By mid-January 2015, Mary had completed 24 rounds of chemotherapy and won her battle.

“The biggest weight in the world was lifted off our shoulders,” Tim said. “Mary is jaw-droppingly healthy now.”

Methodist Hospital and the Methodist Estabrook Cancer Center approaches cancer treatment with a holistic approach, treating the patient with not only specialized treatment but also with caring and spiritual support.  As Mary says, “I believe a positive attitude is half the battle.  I was going to get the best treatment and kick cancer’s butt!”

Full Article Appeared in The Meaning of Care | Winter 2015