Volunteers, Alternative Therapies Can Boost Outlook for Cancer Patients

Patient Receiving Qigong Therapy

Several years after my husband, Brian, passed away from pleural mesothelioma, I returned to the workforce.

I could always find a job in retail because I had experience in that field, but I wanted more meaningful employment.

As luck would have it, SolarisCare, an Australian cancer support organization that regularly purchased my book ‘Lean on Me,’ learned I was looking for work. They offered me a position as a volunteer and office coordinator for their organization.

My decision to accept their offer paved the way to the most fulfilling job I had ever held.

Volunteers Are Lifeblood of Support Center

My role as volunteer coordinator involved the recruitment of professional and nonprofessional men and women willing to volunteer their services four hours weekly or biweekly.

Thankfully, it was a relatively easy assignment. People constantly streamed into the office willing to volunteer their services to people diagnosed with cancer. Although their reasons for volunteering varied, most had lost a loved one to cancer — or had recovered from cancer themselves. Some actually were undergoing cancer treatment at the time they applied to volunteer.

Volunteers are the lifeblood of SolarisCare.

One such person was Maria. She had pleural mesothelioma and was in the early stages of her disease. Maria’s reason for volunteering differed from the other volunteers: Her life expectancy was short and she wanted to do something meaningful with the little time she had left, instead of waiting for the worst to happen.

Humbled by the courage of this beautiful woman willing to put the needs of others above her own, I could not refuse her. She became one of SolarisCare’s valued ‘meet and greet’ personnel. Her responsibilities included welcoming people with a cup of tea as they came into the center, listening to their concerns and scheduling their complementary therapies.

Maria volunteered with us a few months before declining health made it impossible for her to continue. I will always remember her gentle smile and quiet, caring manner. She was an inspiration to everyone privileged to have met her.

Group Sessions with Alternative Therapies

Thanks to the number of professional therapists who generously volunteered their time, we were able to offer a wide range of complementary therapies to cancer patients and caregivers who attended our center. Therapies included massage, reflexology, Reiki, pranic healing, kinesiology, counseling and qigong.

During the five years I worked for SolarisCare, I witnessed the positive effects of these therapies. When it came to lasting benefits, qigong (pronounced CHEE-GUNG) therapy stood above rest.

  • Given as group therapy, qigong allowed cancer patients and their caregivers to participate together.
  • Group therapy also provided cancer patients and caregivers the opportunity to meet and communicate with others experiencing similar circumstances.
  • Once they learned the techniques of qigong, cancer patients and caregivers could practice at home without the need of a therapist.

What Is Qigong?

Qigong originated in China. It’s an ancient system of healing that uses breathing techniques, gentle movement and meditation to balance and strengthen the body.

The great appeal of qigong is that everyone can benefit, regardless of ability, age, beliefs system or life circumstances. These factors make it an ideal complementary therapy for cancer patients and their caregivers.

There are many forms and styles of qigong which fit into three main categories.

  • Medical: Intended to heal yourself and others.
  • Martial: Designed to enhance physical fitness.
  • Spiritual: Intended to relax and enlighten the mind.

Generally, all qigong practitioners incorporate exercises and techniques from all three categories into their therapy sessions.

Benefits of Qigong

A number of health-care professionals agree that qigong is a highly effective practice and recommend it as an effective form of complementary medicine.

The benefits of qigong:

  • Lowers blood pressure.
  • Lowers cholesterol levels.
  • Strengthens immune system.
  • Improves bone mineral density.
  • Reduces falls in the elderly.
  • Improves sleep in the elderly.
  • Enhances quality of life and fitness for people with heart failure.
  • Improves balance for people with Parkinson’s disease.

Qigong and Cancer

A 2012 article published in Medscape Medical News highlights the benefits of qigong, stating that cancer patients who practiced qigong as an adjunct to their regular cancer care experienced an improvement in their quality of life, particularly in the area of social and emotional functioning.

The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center adds their voice to this theory. A 2013 study carried out by the center concluded that qigong therapy reduces depressive symptoms and improves the quality of life in women undergoing radiation for breast cancer.

Ask Your Doctor About Classes

Qigong can be a great benefit to cancer patients and their caregivers. If you and the loved one you care for would like to give it a try, ask your oncologist if they have any suggestions about classes offered in your area.

If it is not possible for you to attend qigong classes in person, there are videos you can purchase and on YouTube that can teach you how to perform the simple exercises in the comfort of your own home.

Reach out to the Qigong Institute or the National Qigong Association for more information and resources.


Lorraine Kember is the author of "Lean on Me," an inspirational personal account of her husband's courageous battle with mesothelioma. She is an accomplished public speaker in Australia and is passionate about sharing her journey with cancer. Her website can be found at www.lean-on-me.net

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