Joseph Kelliher provides acupuncture treatment to patients at the Winchester Hospital Cancer Care Center (WHCCC) every Wednesday morning.
I am the staff acupuncturist at the Winchester Hospital Cancer Care Center (WHCCC). Every Wednesday morning, I roll my cart of acupuncture supplies up to the second floor where the infusion area is and walk from bay to bay asking people if they’d like to receive acupuncture while they’re getting their infusions. Most people are getting chemotherapy, but there are also some who are getting fluids because they have vomited so much they need IV fluids, blood transfusions because the chemo has damaged their ability to produce new blood cells, or even immunoglobulins because their immune systems have been compromised.
I was nervous when I started working there that it would be a morbid, depressing place. I couldn’t have been more wrong. The infusion area itself is light and airy with lovely art, much of it produced by cancer survivors, all over the walls. The individual treatment bays are clean and comfortable, with a reclining chair and visitor chairs, a television and an IV pole. Volunteers circulate around offering people snacks and warm blankets. The nurses and doctors I work with are some of the most amazing people I know. Extremely knowledgeable and professional, they are also cheerful and compassionate and genuinely caring on a scale that you just don’t regularly see in most workplaces.
And the patient population I work with has a higher concentration of truly enlightened beings than any Buddhist retreat I’ve ever been to. Nowhere else in my life do I hear more frequently “Actually, I’m very lucky.” I suppose confronting one’s mortality, regardless of the severity of the cancer that is being treated, gives a lot of people pause to consider the blessings they’ve been afforded in this life. Of course, there are plenty of people who are frightened, angry and sad about their condition, but I know that the care they receive helps them come to grips with their diagnoses in many ways.
At the WHCCC there are some challenges to providing quality acupuncture care. I am treating people sitting in reclining chairs, hooked up to IV infusions, so I often have a challenging time accessing the areas that hurt. Also, I am only there one morning a week, so I can’t easily see people for a course of acupuncture treatment that would be most beneficial for them.
Despite these obstacles, I do my best to provide people with a positive, comforting healing experience with acupuncture, and I know the treatments make a big difference for a lot of my clientele. There are a growing group of people who ask specifically to receive their chemo treatments on Wednesdays, so they can get acupuncture. This program is funded by a very generous grant from the Heidbreder Comfort Fund, which is intended “to alleviate some of the burden and hardship of the cancer journey”, meaning people can receive treatment without having to worry about paying for it. Unfortunately, our insurance system in this country is so broken that despite its proven positive outcomes and low cost, almost no insurance coverage is available for acupuncture for cancer care.
Beyond the physical ailments associated with cancer and its treatment, acupuncture can be very helpful with the mental upset of battling cancer. Fatigue, insomnia, and depression about the cancer diagnosis, its treatment, and the effects it has on the entire family of the person diagnosed need to be attended to and acupuncture has a very positive role to play in this regard. A cancer diagnosis can be overwhelming to people and whole families. The principles of Traditional Chinese Medicine and acupuncture treatment work deeply with the connection between the physical state of the body and the functioning of the mind to keep people clear and calm through the continuum of cancer treatment. To be able to offer some relief, not solving the problem, but soothing and strengthening those affected, can be a wonderful support for people undergoing cancer treatment.
I have come to a place where I really look forward to my mornings at the Winchester Hospital Cancer Care Center. Acupuncture really does offer substantial relief from the physical and emotional trauma of people battling cancer, and to be able to offer this wonderful healing treatment to people in such difficult circumstances has been a gift to me. Actually, I’m very lucky. /p>