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'Life is the Ultimate “Yes”'

Anne Broderick Anne Broderick
Alan Yatagai, photographer

Not everyone would consider breast cancer a life-affirming experience, but Anne Broderick is no ordinary person.

In 2005, Anne learned she had breast cancer. Although she faced the prospect of months of chemotherapy and radiation, she refused to envision herself  “lying on the couch rolled up in a little ball” because of the side effects of cancer treatment.

As a person who had left the high-stress, competitive corporate world to become a psychotherapist, Anne understood how to embrace a new challenge.

A friend offered to give her a session of Healing Touch, a relaxation and energy-balancing technique designed to help reduce the fatigue, nausea and other symptoms that may result from cancer therapies.

Anne was skeptical. Her friend explained that Healing Touch is non-invasive (it consists of light touch and deep breathing, and both parties remain clothed) and is meant to complement – not replace – conventional therapy.

Anne agreed to have a session. She was surprised to feel complete relaxed during the session, and afterward to experience what she describes as a “shifting” in her attitude toward her cancer.

She decided to go through a free program at the Stanford Cancer Center called Healing Partners, where a volunteer Healing Touch provider and patient are paired and meet every week for six months during treatment.

“Healing Touch is based on the belief that our bodies are surrounded by a field of energy and our bodies themselves are a denser form of energy. The belief there is that once the body’s energy is cleared and balanced, our bodies have the innate capacity to heal themselves,” explains Kathy Turner, RNC, NP, CHTP, who directs the program.

But Turner cautions that healing is not the same as curing.  Rather, “healing is bringing someone to the highest level of wellness and resilience as possible,” she says.

Anne had sessions all through chemotherapy and radiation and found herself able to work almost every day. She healed quickly from surgery, experienced no tanning, burning or fatigue from radiation treatments and had minimal nausea from chemotherapy.

“The program showed me how profoundly our thoughts and emotions can affect our physical well-being,” she says.

Turner says Anne’s experience mirrors that of many other women.

“For some participants, the Healing Partners session is the one hour each week when they have permission to let go of the stress related to the discomfort and uncertainty of their diagnosis and treatment,” Turner says. “Some report a reduction in physical symptoms, ease of tolerating procedures and a recovery from surgery more rapid than expected.”

Turner notes that, like Anne, many new patients have to grapple with their intellect to participate in Healing Partners. They want to understand how Healing Touch works and are doubtful it will work in them. But after three or four sessions, many participants report experiencing something positive that they can’t explain.

“They have to accept that there is no explanation for how it works. They must let go of trying to understand. When that shift happens, it’s a magical moment for both the participant and the practitioner,” Turner says.

Turner, who is also a participant and provider of Healing Touch, had always considered herself a “rational, left-brained” person. She was trained as a nurse practitioner in Western medicine and had extensive experience in research. But she also knew that nursing fills a basic human need – loving touch.

As a medical professional, Turner was attracted to Healing Touch requirement that providers go through a rigorous certification process that includes five progressive levels of training and a mentored apprenticeship. The training is open to all health care professionals and to lay individuals desiring an in-depth understanding of energy-based concepts. And, because of its nursing focus, Healing Touch has an explicit Code of Ethics and Standards of Practice.

When Anne’s six months in the program ended, she became a Healing Touch provider so that she could share her experience with other women with breast cancer. She is now working with her fifth partner at the Cancer Center.

“The Stanford Cancer Center is an empowering place – respectful, eclectic and open to complementary modalities. Through it, I found a new path,” Anne says.

Turner describes Anne as “inexhaustible and completely open. To her, life is the ultimate ‘yes,’” Turner says.

Currently, in addition to providing Healing Touch in her psychotherapy office and at the Stanford’s Integrative Medicine Center, Anne is helping Turner conduct a study of Healing Touch at the Cancer Center.

Turner and her co-researchers designed the randomized, controlled clinical trial to assess the use of Healing Touch during chemotherapy for stage 1 and 2 breast cancer. Principal investigator on the study is Ellie Guardino, MD, PhD, who was one of two Stanford breast cancer specialists – the other was Robert Carlson, MD – interested in using Healing Touch in their patients.

In the study, as the patients undergo chemotherapy, one group receives Healing Touch for 20 minutes (with Anne administering), a second group listens to a relaxation tape for the same period and a third has chemotherapy only. Results of the study won’t be known for a few years.

Since 2005, the Healing Partners program at the Stanford Cancer Center has paired over 120 breast cancer patients with 30 volunteers. The program is available through the Cancer Concierge at the Cancer Center and is supported by Women’s Health at Stanford, an interdisciplinary program at the medical school focusing on research, education and clinical care. The program recently received a generous grant from the Avon Foundation and a gift from a private donor.

Posted: 3/21/09

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