Penn Medicine News Blog

September 23, 2014 // By Olivia Fermano // Comments

The Art of War Against Cancer

Cancer // Complementary and Alternative Medicine
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The Art of War, the military treatise attributed to the ancient Chinese general Sun Tzu, has influenced more than warfare since it was written over 2,000 years ago. Its principles have been applied to not only military strategies and tactics, but political, economic and legal ones as well.

Today, Tzu's tenets can even be applied to the realm of cancer care, as being demonstrated by a unique program at the Abramson Cancer Center at Pennsylvania Hospital (ACC PAH).

First, let's get past the obvious associations. In 1971, then President Richard Nixon signed the National Cancer Act, signifying the launch of the "war on cancer" in the U.S. While many advances in cancer prevention, detection and treatment have been achieved (some battles won, if you will) the war is far from over.

In the very first chapter of The Art of War, Tzu states that war "is a matter of life and death." Captioning the obvious here, but this can certainly be relatable to facing a cancer diagnosis.

More interesting though is another line from the fifth chapter, which could also eloquently illustrate approaches to fighting cancer:

    In battle, there are not more than two methods of attack - the direct and the indirect;
    yet these two in combination give rise to an endless series of maneuvers.

Understanding that supportive care is the essence of compassionate care and very effective in helping to battle cancer, the Joan Karnell Supportive Care Services (JKSCS) of the ACC PAH integrates a complementary (Tzu's "indirect") approach to attacking cancer with conventional medical treatment. A total of 29 different services and programs are available to be used individually or in multiple combinations to best address each patient’s needs.

A cancer diagnosis and treatment can be overwhelming, to say the least. Through supportive care services and programs, patients and family members are better able to deal with the physical, emotional and financial distress of their situation. "We firmly believe that the less distress patients experience, the more energy they can direct toward their recovery and improve their overall quality of life," said Marylou Osterman, ACC PAH Patient Services coordinator.

One program at the ACC PAH - Mindfulness Based Art Therapy - helps cancer patients creatively come to grips and better cope with their situation. Officially titled Walkabout: Looking In, Looking Out, this special survivorship program decreases distress, including physical pain, anxiety, depression and fatigue through mindfulness-based art therapy using digital photography and art materials and mindful outdoor walks.

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Sep 17, 2014

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