Returning to a healthy new normal after cancer treatment is no small feat. You Finished Treatment, Now What? A Field Guide for Cancer Survivors? (Köehlerbooks, 2022), by Amy Rothenberg, ND should be on your list if you have cancer or know someone going through treatment.
As a member of the cancer club, I have one wish from Dr. Rothenberg’s new book, I wish it was written five years earlier for my own post-treatment recovery. I craved what this book offers, a whole-person integrative approach to recovery from an experienced licensed doctor.
As Dr. Rothenberg says in the book, “I know this terrain intimately, as a cancer survivor, thriver and as a licensed naturopathic doctor.” Dr. Rothenberg’s own cancer journey and the advice she received from colleagues guided much of the book’s content. She also recounts patient stories from her own medical practice that provide insight into how she has helped others through their cancer treatment and post-treatment journey. I worked with Dr. Rothenberg at the Institute for Natural Medicine during my first few years of cancer recovery. Her warmth, tenacity and knowledge come through in every book chapter.
Any cancer patient will tell you they have a constant list of questions and worries running through their minds during the acute phases of conventional oncology treatment. There are people at the ready to answer questions and guide you through the emotionally and physically exhausting process. But when that phase ends or tapers off … then what? How do you move toward a new normal? Few doctors are as qualified to help with the then what as Dr. Rothenberg.
Another issue is you don’t always know what to ask. During treatment many patients never think to ask about certain outcomes because the emphasis is about staying alive, not about the quality of their life after treatment. I remember asking one of my doctors if a type of complementary therapy would help speed up recovery. Her answer baffled me: “I don’t know much about it, but I guess so, if you think it might help.” It’s a lonely world when you know what you want, but can’t find the right person for guidance. Dr. Rothenberg’s book doesn’t leave you wandering or wondering what to do after cancer treatment. She introduces readers to the power and benefits of integrative medicine and integrative oncology.
Integrative oncology is the evidence-based practice of whole-person comprehensive cancer care that folds in mind-body medicine, nutrition, physical vitality, and lifestyle into conventional cancer treatments. It is not a replacement for cancer treatment, it dovetails ongoing or previously administered therapies to reduce, prevent or minimize side effects, enhance the efficacy of conventional treatments and provide mental and physical support. Naturopathic physicians who specialize in oncology are uniquely trained to help you find a path that suits you (see more here on how to find a licensed naturopathic doctor trained in oncology).
It’s common for cancer patients to divide their lives into two camps – before cancer and after cancer. We scrutinize our lifestyle choices before cancer and agonize over just how much to change after treatment, like what to eat, whether to gain weight or lose weight, how to get back to regular activity, is it OK to stop taking certain medications, what about dietary supplements, and are our homes a healthy environment? Dr. Rothenberg dives into recommendations on sugar intake, fruit and vegetable consumption, supplements, weight and exercise, personal care and medications. She emphasizes that each person’s situation is unique – the type of cancer, past and ongoing treatments, other illnesses or conditions all go into making after treatment recommendations and lifestyle changes.
Dr. Rothenberg takes up many of the common side effects that may remain after conventional cancer care such as fatigue, brain fog, lymphedema, peripheral neuropathy and more and lays out the evidence-informed natural medicine approaches for each. “Natural medicine cannot help everything, but I feel sad when I hear patients say, Well, I’m lucky to be alive, I can live with this. Let’s face it: we’re all lucky to be alive! And quality of life matters, too!” says Dr. Rothenberg.
Fear and uncertainty are the most difficult after-cancer issues. “A cancer diagnosis can be a huge blow,” Dr. Rothenberg says. “The shock, the details of complicated decision-making, and the treatment process itself can bring on emotional and physical stress,” she writes. Post treatment brings on a new host of thoughts and “a potent mix of exhilaration, anxiety, fear, depression, overwhelm, terror, anger and relief.”
Dr. Rothenberg explores the notion that cancer patients may never return to their previous before-cancer normal, but that it is possible to get back to life with a “strong and consistent head game.” Each person brings along a complex history of emotional trauma and agility. Cancer only complicates this roller coaster of thoughts because the physiological stress of chemotherapy agents and the trauma of surgery and radiation can cause activation and inflammation of the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems. This in turn can lead to anxiety, panic attacks and depression induced by the treatment itself.
Dr. Rothenberg shares a funny story about somatosensory amplification, where small symptoms anywhere in the body are amplified and some cancer survivors worry whatever such a symptom is might be cancer. “One time a year or so after my treatment was complete, I walked into a open cabinet door, really clocking my forehead. I had a big bruise and small egg on my head,” she says. “The next morning, I woke up with (an unusual for me to ever have,) headache and I literally said to my husband, ‘oh! I hope it’s not brain cancer!’ We looked at each other and started laughing, considering the situation. Sometimes a good laugh is the best medicine indeed!”
She impresses upon readers that you can change your biochemistry to alter your stress response. This is a takes a variety of approaches including medications and dietary-supplement aids when appropriate and prescribed, along with exercise, support groups, psychotherapy, gratitude and mindfulness practices, breathing techniques, touch and massage therapies. Sometimes something as simple as laughter, having fun and time with family and friends is enough. Dr. Rothenberg is particularly keen on gratitude practices when spoken aloud, to yourself or written in a journal to strengthen relationships, improve sleep and gain more life satisfaction.
You Finished Treatment, Now What? is a book that has long been needed so that cancer patients know what can be done to help them restore their lives, overcome treatment side effects and learn how to make their bodies inhospitable to possible future cancers. Dr. Rothenberg is a champion for the growing practice of integrative oncology.
Her dream is that every cancer patient has access to a naturopathic doctor trained in integrative oncology. Until that day, this book is a step in the right direction to help patients know what to ask for so they can champion their own health and recovery.
Purchase the book, You Finished Treatment, Now What?, A Field Guide for Cancer Survivors from your favorite bookstore or online. Follow Dr. Rothenberg on Amazon for more tips of after-care treatment. To learn more about naturopathic medicine and oncology and find a naturopathic doctor, visit oncanp.org.