The Health, Information & Meditation in Oncology (HIMO) Method as an Integrative Approach in Cancer Treatment

Gioacchino Pagliaro
Psychology, Bellaria Hospital, Bellaria Hospital, Bellaria Hospital, Bellaria Hospital, Italy

Published on: 2020-03-30

Abstract

A diagnosis of cancer and its consequences represent a destabilizing experience for patients and their families. The impact of the disease is not limited to physical symptoms but involves also a wide range of psychological, emotional, social and spiritual aspects (Gurevich M, et al. (2002) Koopman C, et al. (2002), Mehnert A, et al. (2018). Emotional distress is very often observed in cancer patients and is associated to decreased quality of life, satisfaction with medical treatment outcomes and compliance with therapies (Han JA, et al. (2005), Roth AJ, et al. (1998); Lam WW, et al. (2013), Berry DL, et al. (2015). Additionally, the load is further increased by practical and informative needs (Harrison D, et al. (2009; Howell D, et al. (2012). The aim of this work is to present an integrative method for the support of the oncologic patients, developed in 2003 and widespread by the Oncologic Department of the AUSL of Bologna, part of the National Health Service: the Health, Information, and Meditation in Oncology (H.I.M.O.) Method. The method is based on three pillars: providing patients with proper and updated medical information on the care path; providing patients with information on a healthy lifestyle, especially nutrition and exercise; teaching a meditation practice that can help patients to better cope with the experience of illness, promoting wellbeing on a psychological and emotional level. These aspects were found to positively affect patients’ treatment outcomes satisfaction, quality of life, adherence to therapies, physical and psychological responsiveness to treatment (Cooper H, et al. (2001), Couturaud F, et al. (2002); Faller H, et al. (2016), Grahn G (1996), Schwedhelm C (2016), Courneya KS (2003), Goleman D (1976), Simonton C 1980). Feedbacks from patients seem to confirm the success of the method, which is considered a Mind-Body Medicine method simultaneously operating on the mental, psychological and spiritual dimensions. 

Keywords

Cancer integrative treatment; Supportive Care in Oncology; Health information; Meditation in Oncology; Psycho-Oncology; Distress

Introduction

The global incidence of cancer has steadily increased over the last decades and represents a challenge for the continuous effort aimed at increasing not only patients’ survival rate but also their quality of life [1]. A diagnosis of cancer and its consequences represent a destabilizing experience for patients and their families. Diagnosis is in fact considered a traumatic and highly stressful event, which often strains the coping skills of all the involved actors to the limit. Side effects to therapies and physical symptoms can heavily impact patients’ private, social and working life [2]. Among them, a rather high number of patients report fatigue [3], pain [4] and a variety of functional symptoms, including the worsening of mobility and cognitive skills [5,6]. However, the impact of the disease is not limited to physical symptoms but involves also a wide range of psychological, emotional, social and spiritual aspects. It is estimated that 80% of oncologic patients’ present stressrelated symptoms [7,8] and that one out of two patients presents significant levels of psychological distress, especially anxiety and/or depressive symptoms [9,10]. Emotional distress is in turn associated with a worsening in terms of quality of life, satisfaction with medical treatment outcomes and compliance with treatment [11-14]. The load is further increased by the practical and informative needs [15,16], which often do not find a prompt response. The sum of these aspects can negatively affect individual coping skills and reduce patient adherence to treatment [17]. A systematic review published by Fiszer C, et al. 2014 [18], conducted on 23 studies investigating patient’s perceived needs during cancer treatments in women with breast cancer, has detected medical information and emotional/psychological needs to be the most frequently and intensely reported ones. Based on the existing literature, it is possible to state that interventions aimed at addressing information and emotional needs, alongside medical treatments, are of significant importance in order to support the delicate phase of adaptation to the diagnosis and therapies. In particular, opportunities such as providing proper information on the disease and different stages of the care path [19], the adoption of a healthy lifestyle and a regular meditation practice proved to positively impact patients’ treatment outcomes satisfaction, quality of life, and adherence to treatment, physical and psychological responsiveness to therapies. The aim of this article is to present a holistic method of integrated information and meditation in Oncology, developed within the Italian National Health Service and called “Armoniosa Mente”. In Italian, this word is an adverb made of two concepts - Harmony and Mind – suggesting that the method aims at supporting the oncologic patients during treatments, creating harmony through the mental processes. For a better definition, the term has been translated into “Health, Information & Meditation In Oncology” Method (H.I.M.O.). The H.I.M.O. A method is adopted in various Oncologic Departments across Italy and addresses the abovementioned opportunities: 1) Medical Oncology Information about the different stages of the care path, 2) Information/Education on a Healthy Lifestyle and 3) the practice of a specific meditation from the Tibetan Medicine tradition. The method is taught to psychologists, psychiatrists, and oncologists through specific training courses organized by the Oncologic Department of the Bellaria Hospital, part of the Bologna A.U.S.L. (Local Health Unities Organization).

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