Emotional Support for Cancer Patients
And Their Families
Dr. Luc De Schepper
Modern medicine with its Sherlock Holmes tools has made great strides in the early detection of cancer. Yet the incidence of cancer is rising in every age group, especially in our children-in fact cancer has risen to the second most prevalent cause of death in this country. Allopathy (conventional medicine) has since the early nineties held out hope in the form of genetic therapy: the "minimal and smart" interventions (genetic therapy) in comparison with the more devastating approaches (chemotherapy, radiation and surgery) would bring the demon of cancer to a screeching halt. Despite these promises, the latest recommendation for all cancer patients now is to have both chemotherapy and radiation. Patients are suffering more than ever from these treatments, while the promised genetic therapy has lead to disappointments, even deaths. Even the New England Journal of Medicine and the Journal of the National Cancer Institute have recently admitted that many of the promising new treatments have been disappointing.
Increasingly patients are demanding from their physician's relief from their suffering, not only from the disease, but also from the therapeutic treatments. Unfortunately, physicians in this country are insufficiently trained to provide much needed non-invasive and non-addictive therapeutic relief. And according to a recent study in the Journal of Clinical Oncology, they are also insufficiently trained in how to communicate with cancer patients. The shock of the bad news of a diagnosis of cancer can cause symptoms in itself: I have many times in my practice seen a patient's health suddenly spiral downwards when receiving a diagnosis such as cancer. I used to have a practice in the same building as an oncology center, and I would see patients both before and after their diagnosis of cancer. One day they could be asymptotic and full of energy and only a few days later they would have turned into a cancer patient, complete with fatigue and aches and pains never felt before. Fortunately in homeopathy we have remedies for what we call "hearing bad news", remedies discussed later in this article. After receiving such a remedy, the patient would at least have the strength and presence of mind to cope with the news and make calm decisions about her treatment. How I wish that medical doctors, even if they adopted nothing else from homeopathy, would support the patient with one of these simple remedies when giving such a crushing diagnosis.
I hope to address, in this issue and the next, some of the wonderful homeopathic remedies available to provide support for cancer sufferers. This article will address emotional support for the cancer patient and his family. All too often we forget that the family members become cancer sufferers themselves without even having the disease. Family members need to protect their own emotional health while their beloved ones are struggling with their illness. Part two of this series will address the side effects caused by different cancer treatments. I hope that physicians and patients alike can look at these homeopathic remedies as a wonderful tool to help them in their ordeal. Patients should always discuss these remedies with their physician (hopefully an informed one). But rest assured the remedies would in no way interfere with the allopathic treatment administered.
Helping the Family
Before we explore how homeopathy can help cancer patients themselves, we will take a look at how it can support their families in their ordeal, which often includes great anxiety, physical exhaustion, and loss of sleep when caretaking the family member throughout the night.
Nightwatching: This condition occurs in the family members of any patient whose condition requires caring for them throughout the night, when physical exhaustion is combined with emotional anguish. Cocculus is probably the best remedy for this situation, especially if the person becomes forgetful from exhaustion after putting out so much energy for the patient. People who need Cocculus have lost energy on all three planes: the mental plane (manifesting as forgetfulness), emotional (grief and anxiety about their family member's health), and physical (weakness, tiredness, vertigo). The Cocculus person typically manages to hold it together as long as the family member needs her then falls apart as soon as the patient dies. Causticum is another useful remedy for nightwatching, but Causticum is more often needed when the person has suffered a number of losses in a short time, resulting in a feeling of paralysis and manifesting as forgetfulness, stuttering, tics, etc. The Causticum state comes more often from the blows of repetitive grief's knocking down the Vital Force, while the Cocculus state usually comes from a lack of sleep.
Anxiety about health and fear of cancer: Family members often develop this fear when they see another family member dying from cancer. Arsenicum is the top remedy here, but Nitric acid also has anxiety about disease and fear of death, connected to a fear of the expense, dependency, and immobility resulting from a long-term degeneration. Nitric acid is especially indicated if the fear of cancer leads to the typical Nitric acid "4 P's" personality: pissed, pest, pessimistic, and never pleased. These people are very irritable and do not hesitate to use vulgar language. Dissatisfaction is their most prominent aspect. They are always complaining and unforgiving. They finally become nihilists, not believing in anything. They lose all hope and any motivation to do things. Someone who needs Arsenicum will be less irritable and pesty but still will keep complaining out of overriding anxiety.
Anxiety about germs (when family members have to be careful about avoiding infection) is most likely Arsenicum.
Depression: The remedy needed will depend on the particular form of depression. Aurum is a top remedy, especially when depression occurs in an elderly person who has lost his lifelong spouse. It could be enormously helpful in nursing homes. Nat. Mur. is often needed after the death of a child, and Phosphoric acid when the quality of life is lost. Phosphoric acid is a wonderful remedy for homesickness in its larger sense, meaning a longing for the way of life the person once had; taking care of a cancer patient requires putting one's own life on hold, which may result in a loss of career and social opportunities. Or the caretaker may feel resentment alternating with guilt, suppressed anger and irritability, indicating the need for Aurum. These emotions need to be expressed or treated, not suppressed, since otherwise they may lead to disease.
Guilt that a family member has cancer: People often ask, "What did I do wrong that my child got cancer?" This leads to depression, anxiety, indecisiveness and exhaustion. Phosphorus and Calcarea personalities are especially susceptible to this kind of feeling. While Aurum and Nat. Mur. are two of the top guilt remedies, Kali bromatum may be needed, especially if the person shows other typical Kali bromatum symptoms like restless hand movements or hand-wringing. Aurum is strong physically and mentally, but emotionally very vulnerable.
Grief, especially when the patient dies: No doubt Ignatia, Nat. Mur. Aurum, Phosphoric acid, and Cocculus will frequently be needed in this situation. Phosphoric acid is helpful for those patients who derive the most comfort from close communication with and support from their loved ones. The longing for the lost quality of life (metaphorically, the "homesickness" so typical of Phosphoric acid) can transform an initially bubbly personality into someone who is completely indifferent, who shuts out the world by unplugging the phone and lying in bed with her face to the wall.
Feelings of abandonment or resentment against a family member is understandable, if it occurs when one has to totally sacrifice her own time and interests to care for another, or when a child feels robbed of her childhood when it is dominated by an ill sibling. An ill grandparent or aunt may move into the household and may be resented as an intruder by children who perceive the patient as totally dominating their mother's time. Even worse, the oldest child may be forced to take on a parental role with her younger siblings, even if she is barely into her teens. Resentment may be felt against the ill person who competes for the caretaker's time, against the caretaker herself, or both. Phosphorus, Calcarea, and Pulsatilla children are especially vulnerable to feelings of abandonment. The child may react with rage (Calcarea leading into Stramonium) or with clinginess (Pulsatilla). Either reaction is taxing for the mother who is already mentally, emotionally, and physically exhausted. A woman may react with anger toward her dying husband ("How dare you leave me to raise the children alone?") yet feel guilty for her anger at the same time. This combination of grief, a sense of abandonment, anger, and guilt indicates that Nat. Mur. can be very helpful.
Emotional Symptoms of Cancer Patients
Hearing the bad news: Any diagnosis of a potentially fatal disease is a tremendous blow to the Vital Force, and a diagnosis of cancer more so than others because of the suffering and intractable pain involved. Patients of different constitutions will react differently to this shock, however. A Sulphur will get as much information as possible, from books, the Internet or through a second opinion. He will not take any nonsense and his physician had better be prepared to answer some tough questions. A Calcarea will remain passive in his treatment plan; if given a choice, however, he will want to avoid painful procedures. Phosphorus might be shocked but will keep smiling. She will be more concerned for her children and her husband than for herself, wondering, "What will they do without me?" An Arsenicum "knew" all along she would get cancer, it was just a matter of time. She will research (like the Sulphur) but with the added twist of demanding ever more lab tests just to monitor any little change in an already-diagnosed tumor. A Pulsatilla will start crying, reaching out for some reassuring words.
If the homeopath can recognize the constitution right away, a 10M dose of the constitutional remedy will be a good first prescription to support the patient's Vital Force and strengthen her on all planes. If the constitution is not immediately obvious, two remedies stand out for the acute treatment of "hearing bad news": Gelsemium and Ignatia. What is the difference?
® Gelsemium is helpful for the patient paralyzed by the bad news characterized by the seven D's: dumb, dopey, dull, down, dizzy, disoriented, drowsy. These are not helpful qualities if one has to take charge of his condition and plan a possible treatment. In my practice I have found it one of the most common remedies to use when the Vital Force is knocked down by the "bad news," which is often delivered brusquely by a physician whose medical school unfortunately did not include training in this difficult and sensitive area. Upon hearing his diagnosis, all of a sudden the patient has become a "cancer victim." In order to treat a cancer patient successfully we must help bring back his Vital Force, which at this point is suffering far more from the impact of "hearing bad news" than from the cancer itself. Gelsemium will have a remarkable effect on the energy level of the patient who feels the wind knocked out of her sails, who feels exhausted yet cannot sleep (the Gelsemium keynote "sleepiness with sleeplessness").
® Ignatia: this patient reacts entirely differently. Her first reaction is "Why me?" and " I can't believe this is happening to me." Then there are Ignatia's three S's: sitting, sighing and sobbing. The reaction to the bad news is more hysterical and emotional: she may have difficulty swallowing, sometimes due to a globus hystericus; she sits and sighs (which means finding relief in a deep breath). She might just sit by herself, crying out loud, "God, why did you abandon me?" Sometimes she does not say a word, you just see her lips trembling, but then she can start crying hysterically. She may neglect her self-care needs, although eating the refrigerator empty when upset is a typical Ignatia sign. She may have monomania (all thoughts concentrated on one topic) or want to be carried (desiring support or continued attention). As you can see, Gelsemium reacts mainly with a lack of mental and physical energy, Ignatia mainly with emotional symptoms.
Extreme fear of death and anxiety about the disease: Because of the intensity of the impact of the bad news, the Arsenicum patient often takes the "symptom elevator" down to the lowest level, skipping the physical symptoms and immediately becoming submerged in the mental/emotional. The patient is tortured at night, with relentless thoughts about what to do, and with anxiety and fears, especially about dying. He moves from side to side in bed, even wanting to move from one bed to another in spite of great weakness and debility. The Arsenicum's deep-seated insecurity hinders him in this situation and his always-present dependency on people will be even more outspoken. While an Arsenicum type in general tends to want someone constantly near him for reassurance and support, the Arsenicum cancer patient actually needs this. His well-known fastidiousness might well take a turn for the worse: he might become obsessive-compulsive, driving everyone around him crazy with trying to avoid the omni-present microorganisms. His normal anxiety about his health will become much more urgent. Death is near, in his eyes, and the practitioner will be assaulted with daily reports from the anguished Arsenicum. In the final stage, he will lose interest in life and may even develop a suicidal disposition. Only a dose of Arsenicum can calm such a person.
Fear of recurrence of the cancer: This fear can appear as fear of disaster (Pulsatilla), of impending disease (Phosphorus, Kali carb.), fear that her health is ruined (Chelidonium), fear of misfortune (Psorinum and Cimicifuga, who feels she has a black cloud over her head), despair of recovery (Psorinum), and fear of suffering physical pain (Aurum).
Worry about the future: In addition to Arsenicum, Argentum nitricum is one of the top remedies for this condition, characterized by constant thoughts of "What if?" (Obsessing about all the things that might go wrong).
Grief over all the losses involved in cancer: loss of health, loss of quality of life, loss of the possibility of a future (especially for a young person with a terminal condition): we have many grief remedies. Two that stand out are Pulsatilla, when there is weepiness and clinginess with a constant desire for company, and Nat. Mur. when weeping is considered a childish reaction and suppressed, frequently with an aggravation of physical complaints from suppressed grief.
Despair about the future, to the point of considering suicide: Aurum is one of our top suicide remedies and also covers the intractable pain associated with the later stages of cancer when it has metastasized to the bone. Aurum will relieve the pain and thus indirectly relieve the impulse to end the unbearable suffering; it will also address the suicidal impulses directly, as it has a long history of relieving depression and despair. (Hahnemann chose to experiment with Aurum as one of the early homeopathic remedies because of its use in medieval Arabic medicine for despair and suicidal depression.)
Anger at being ill: when it manifests itself as irritability, Nux vomica will have a calming effect. When it is accompanied by a sense of resentment and injustice, Causticum can be helpful.
Restlessness can have two forms, physical and mental/emotional. Arsenicum can cover both for cancer patients; when the restlessness comes from intractable bone pain, Aurum will be indicated.
How to take the remedies: Health food stores usually have 12c (or 15c) and 30c potencies on hand. The former are more appropriate for long-lasting conditions, the latter for more acute, urgent, intense conditions. The basic instructions are to dissolve one pellet in 4 oz. of water and take the remedy by the teaspoon: one to three teaspoons a day in longterm, less acute conditions, and as often as every 15 minutes in more intense conditions such as excruciating pain. If the 30c potency is not strong enough, order 200c potency, which is the next strongest one. If the person taking the remedy is hypersensitive (sensitive to medications, anesthesia, fumes, environmental chemicals, vibrations, etc.), start with one pellet dissolved directly in the mouth rather than dissolved in water (which makes the remedy much stronger, since it touches more nerve endings in the mouth). If 12c seem too strong, order 6c potency, which is mild enough for even the most sensitive people. For more information on taking homeopathic remedies, see "Homeopathy's Best Kept Secrets," a former Earth Star article now on my website, www.drluc.com.
Dr. Luc De Schepper is a well-known medical doctor, licensed acupuncturist and certified homeopath who has practiced in Europe and the United States. He has been an alternative physician for over 25 years and is the author of a dozen books. Bestsellers include Candida, Full of Life, and Human Condition Critical. Dr. Luc practices homeopathy in San Diego, CA at (619) 281-8800 and teaches homeopathy at the Renaissance Institute of Classical Homeopathy in Boston, (617) 547-8500. This article was derived from his book Hahnemann Revisited: A Textbook of Classical Homeopathy for the Professional. To order use the printable form on this site, or write to Full of Life Publishing, P.O. Box 31025, Santa Fe, NM 87594.