Navigating Cancer Treatment with the Help Acupuncture - Elmbrook Memorial Foundation - Ascension Wisconsin

Skip to Content

Published on April 17, 2015

Navigating Cancer Treatment with the Help of the Elmbrook Memorial Foundation

Beth had not been feeling well for two years. She had a sore throat and eventually noticed swollen lymph nodes, and nothing helped take away the symptoms or the pain. Doctors couldn't determine what was wrong, but Beth would not give up as she wanted an answer as to why she was constantly sick. In 2014, she finally received her diagnosis: base of tongue cancer.

Base of tongue cancer is a difficult one to diagnose as there are few symptoms in the early stages and tumors are difficult to detect. Additionally, this cancer is more common in men, those who drink alcohol and those who smoke. Beth, being a non-smoker and not one to drink alcohol, was not a typical candidate for tongue cancer.

Beth became a patient of Dr. Shannon Offerman, a radiation oncologist at Wheaton Franciscan – Elmbrook Memorial Campus. Together with a medical oncologist, Beth and her doctors arrived at a treatment plan; 33 sessions of radiation and eight sessions of chemotherapy, all of which would be completed within eight weeks. This treatment was not only intensive, but the side effects of head and neck cancer can make daily routines very difficult. As a teacher Beth made the difficult decision to quit her job because she knew the fatigue and other side effects would not allow her to work.

When treating any type of head or neck cancer, one of the common side effects is a dry mouth as radiation can cause damage to the salivary glands. This makes swallowing, eating and digesting food very difficult. Beth experienced this side effect and spoke with Dr. Offerman about it. She suggested trying acupuncture, offered through the Rejuva Skin Care and Wellness Spa, located at the Elmbrook Memorial Campus Pavlic Center.

Not one to believe in non-traditional medicine, Beth researched acupuncture prior to making an appointment. What she learned was that acupuncture could not only help with her dry mouth but also with other side effects she was suffering from including a sore throat, bloating and nausea. She was also encouraged to try it by the rest of her cancer care team. Still reluctant, she gave it a try. However, as acupuncture is not covered by health insurance, the cost was somewhat prohibitive as she was unemployed.

Assisting patients with costs associated with cancer treatment is something the Elmbrook Memorial Foundation is able to provide on a case-by-case basis. Beth’s oncology social worker understood Beth’s needs and requested assistance from the Foundation to help cover some of the acupuncture costs. Due to generous donors, funds were available to provide financial assistance to Beth.

She made her appointment with an acupuncturist, who has special training in head and neck cancer care, and found this holistic treatment to be extremely beneficial. During Beth’s first appointment, she had a burst of saliva within five minutes. Beth never lost full function of her salivary glands, and she credits that, in part, to acupuncture.

Not only did acupuncture help with Beth’s salivary gland, but it also helped her queasiness and swelling from chemotherapy. Additionally it helped with a sore throat that would not go away, even with prescription medications.

Beth and her caregiversBeth, who is now cancer free, thanks the whole cancer team at Elmbrook Memorial Campus who assisted throughout her journey. Beth stated, “Everyone was wonderful!” She credits Dr. Offerman and her medical oncologist not only for helping her with cancer treatment but for introducing her to a new form of therapy. She also truly appreciated her nurse, Deanna as she would call Beth at home to ensure she was feeling okay.

“Linda Sarner was terrific! I would see her at my chemo treatments and was able to ask her questions. More importantly, she listened to me.”

Beth also appreciates the chemotherapy nurses and radiation technicians who had a great sense of humor and made her treatment a little easier.

Of course, Beth enjoyed and greatly appreciated her acupuncture sessions. She gives kudos to her treatment as it truly did help manage her radiation and chemo side effects. Beth is very active on the American Cancer Society website and other cancer discussion boards. In talking with others suffering from head and neck cancers, she has learned she is very fortunate to have had a doctor who was proactive in recommending acupuncture. Others Beth has spoken to, due to impaired salivary glands, have needed feeding tubes, have lost their taste buds, and sometimes worse. None of the people she talks to received acupuncture and some did not know that it could alleviate cancer treatment symptoms.

Beth, her husband Dennis, and their three children are extremely thankful to the Elmbrook Memorial Foundation for the reduced costs of acupuncture. They all believe it helped Beth tremendously.

“We cannot put in words what it’s meant to our family,” Dennis stated. She knows her medical treatment coupled with holistic medicine propelled her to success!

As a non-smoker without any other risk factors, Dr. Offerman told Beth she has better than a 90 percent chance of survival. In fact, Beth returned to teaching on a part-time basis.

The Foundation is pleased to have the opportunity to provide assistance to Beth and other oncology patients. It is with donations from individuals that make all of this possible.

For More Information

Can acupuncture really help relieve cancer treatment symptoms? Watch this FOX6 News segment to hear Beth share her experiences and learn more about our cancer care program.

Navigating Cancer Treatment with the Help of the Foundation