University of California San Francisco
Helen Diller Family Comprehensive Cancer Center

Integrative Medicine Classes Help Breast Cancer Survivors Recover

March 26, 2012

Integrative Medicine Classes Help Breast Cancer Survivors Recover

Margaret Chesney, PhD, director of the UCSF Osher Center for Integrative Medicine, left, and Donald Abrams, MD, a UCSF oncologist, review a report on the state of integrative medicine in America.

Breast cancer survivor Helen Robillard closes her eyes as she gently rotates her arms clockwise. Her movements are measured and deliberate; her breathing slow and purposeful.

She studies qigong (pronounced “chee-gung”), an ancient Chinese practice of aligning breath, movement and awareness for healing and exercise, including through this class at the UCSF Osher Center for Integrative Medicine.

“It’s a very relaxing class, so you really learn to slow down,” Robillard says during a break. “It allows me to focus on my movements, where my hands are, where my feet are and it’s stress reduction.”

Diagnosed with breast cancer in the summer of 2009, Robillard added qigong and other integrative medicine classes at Osher to the standard recovery regimen after several rounds of chemotherapy sapped her strength.

“I’m building little muscles in my legs that help in my balance,” she says. “I can close my eyes at points and be off somewhere else. I can focus and be aware of my movements. It adds to my awareness of how I can relax when I’m stressed.”

That focus and relaxation are key aspects of integrative medicine.

“This kind of program allows you to exercise in a comfortable, soft, not strenuous way, and will allow almost anybody to participate,” said Joseph Acquah, OMD, a licensed acupuncturist at the Osher Center. “It’s very soft; it’s gentle. It’s calming. You get to use your mind and body at the same time and there’s a focus which is always good for health.”