A Look at Complementary Care for Orlando's Breast Cancer Patients

Alternative treatments, enhanced services and integrative medicine help improve the quality of life for women living with breast cancer.

When 47-year-old Kari Rucker of Orlando was diagnosed with breast cancer, she underwent a double mastectomy, had lymph nodes removed and received infusion chemotherapy. She’ll take tamoxifen for 10 years to reduce the risk of recurrence.

While these traditional measures helped save Rucker’s life, they also took a toll on her physically and emotionally. She lost chunks of hair. Her eyelashes and eyebrows fell out, and she needed to wear compression sleeves to prevent lymphedema. Rucker thought, “How can I go back to work like this? I was starting to freak out.”

Enter AdventHealth’s Eden Spa—a serene space catering to cancer patients. This specialty boutique spa offers rejuvenating services including lymphedema therapy, as well as fittings for compression garments, breast prostheses, mastectomy bras and wigs.

Previously, patients had to search around town for these ancillary needs with trips to sterile environments like durable medical equipment facilities. But AdventHealth adopted a more holistic approach, providing a one-stop shop for healing, explains A’njanene Moitt, Eden Spa’s manager. In 2018 alone, the spa served 1,523 patients over more than 4,000 visits.

Rucker was custom-fitted for compression garments in “a beautiful room like Victoria’s Secret.” Then she met Janet, “the wig lady,” whom Rucker compares to a magician for how she transforms women.

When patients worry about the next step (after surgery and/or therapy), Moitt says, “We reassure them that they can live life like they did before.”

Eden Spa exudes positive, healing energy. “The ladies are amazing,” says Rucker, grateful for the nurturing environment. “I feel like they saved my life. I’m now completely confident to go back to work.”

Orlando mirrors the American Cancer Society’s national statistics, where one in eight women will be diagnosed with breast cancer in her lifetime, according to Diane Robinson, PhD, a neuropsychologist and program director at Orlando Health’s Cancer Support Community (CSC).

She, too, notes the shift to a holistic approach. “We’re bringing the human side to cancer care,” says Robinson. “We’re looking from a psychological perspective and at the patient’s environment.” What is she struggling with—getting to treatment, advocating for herself, cooking meals? “We help empower patients to take ownership of their health,” she says.

Robinson sees patients lose their identities as their lives fill with doctor appointments. To complement medical treatments, Orlando Health’s CSC offers integrative services that feed the soul—from acupuncture, meditation and laughter yoga, to tai chi, art workshops and music therapy.

For Rosalba Valencia of Orlando, the creative arts resonate with her. As a seven-year CSC participant and volunteer, the 73-year-old takes painting classes, sings with the Inspiration Choir and enjoys the creative writing group. “It’s been wonderful. We write short fiction, poems and song lyrics. I love creating together,” says Valencia, who’s even writing a play. The arts help her focus on something other than cancer.

Citing the studies behind integrative medicine, Robinson says these therapies reduce pain, decrease stress and help elevate mood. “Many of our programs foster social support, which is a huge variable in the quality and length of life,” she notes.

Adds Valencia: “These programs give me something to do and something to give to others. They are part distraction and part purpose.”