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Reiki: A Light Touch that Helps Cancer Patients

ReikiReiki is a noninvasive practice that uses a light touch on -- or holding hands just above -- a person’s body to  help promote balance and well-being. There is no pressure or tissue manipulation. Despite any clear biologic mechanism, “Our recent study has shown that Reiki induces relaxation, decreasing anxiety, stress and a patient’s perception of pain,” said Jun Mao, MD, director of the Integrative Oncology Initiative at the Abramson Cancer Center. 

Joan Pouch can attest to that. She received a Reiki session during chemo treatment she underwent for Stage 3 breast cancer. “It gave me a sense of relaxation -- a tremendous balancing, both mentally and physically,” she said. These sessions so helped her that she herself became a Reiki practitioner and now offers Reiki every Tuesday for Penn’s cancer patients as part of HUP’s volunteer program. “It’s a unique experience because I can appreciate both sides.”

Reiki is one component of Penn's Integrative Medicine and Wellness Program at the Abramson Cancer Center, which also includes acupuncture, mindfulness-based stress reduction, yoga, and massage. Research is also a big part of the integrative medicine program, helping to define the best, most effective practices for these types of therapies and determine which patients and symptoms they may be most appropriate for.

Reiki is available to any patient receiving treatments in the Cancer Center. Since the program began in 2009, its volunteer practitioners have delivered nearly 6,500 sessions. They are provided free of charge, five days a week, usually in 20-minute sessions.

Reiki does not compete with or replace the patients’ regular treatment, but can help them better cope. Many of Pouch’s patients –- often in an anxious state -- will fall asleep during a Reiki session. “I can sense a patient’s  whole body relaxing. It brings balance and focus.”

“Reiki itself does not cure cancer but it may help lead to better adherence to conventional treatments, which in turn will promote better clinical outcomes,” Mao added.

Vince Gilhool, also a former cancer patient, volunteers his time as well. “Practicing Reiki is one of the best decisions I ever made. Words can’t describe how I feel.” Gilhool, who is a retired parole officer, recalled one patient in particular, a 23-year-old male who had a very aggressive form of cancer. “It was his first day of chemo and I started the session, as the nurse explained what I was doing to his mother.  By the end of the session, the patient was sleeping.  His mother had tears of joy and relief.”

Patient feedback is enormously gratifying, he said. Indeed, comments given directly to practitioners -– or on the Reiki feedback form -- demonstrate how much it helps:

This was the first time in months that I have felt at ease and relaxed. I could feel my tension float away.

* Thank you so much for providing me with this service. I have full trust in Penn for my medical needs, and this has helped my emotional state tremendously as well.

* I loved the whole experience, and credit having the Reiki with giving me the calmness and energy I need to face this disease.

* The sessions added a positive and gentle component to the process. Radiation treatment is difficult and this gave me something that was helping with the physical, emotional, and spiritual side of the experience.

Kim Fleisher, a Reiki master who leads the volunteer program at HUP, said feedback is 99 percent positive. “Some of the nurses comment that Reiki sessions seem to help improve blood pressure and help patients relax, especially those receiving their first treatment,” she said. “The only complaint is that people want longer sessions … and more of them.”

Photo caption: Joan Pouch performs Reiki on cancer patient Margaret Briscoe, to help relax her during a chemotherapy infusion.

 

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