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Treating the Whole Person

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Male breast cancer survivor Matthew Wright (left)

Integrative Oncology Clinic provides physician-guided massage therapy, acupuncture to ease cancer patients’ pain

Four-time cancer survivor Denise Locsei counts herself among the lucky ones.

Santosh Rao, MD, Medical Director of Integrative Oncology for UH Connor Whole Health

After battling both breast and lung cancer over the past 13 years, Denise feels the new UH Connor Whole Health Integrative Oncology Symptom Management Clinic is treating the whole person. Matthew Wright, a male breast cancer survivor, respects the guidance of renowned Santosh Rao, MD, Medical Director of Integrative Oncology for UH Connor Whole Health and President of the international Society for Integrative Oncology.

Like other offerings through UH Connor Whole Health, the Integrative Oncology Symptom Management Clinic aims to treat patients with complementary therapies to safely ease their pain, fatigue and anxiety. Dr. Rao sees each patient first, so it’s billed as an office visit, and patients receive either acupuncture or massage.

“I was losing my grip on positive thoughts, and I’d tried everything I could through the years,” said Denise, whose last bout with cancer occurred in 2022. “Now this service is being offered at an affordable price. I can’t say enough about how amazing it is to help your mental state of mind to fight cancer.

“It’s a game-changer for me. I am one of the lucky ones.”

The Integrative Oncology Symptom Management Clinic is available every Wednesday to patients at all stages of cancer, from those in active treatment to those who have recently had surgery or finished chemotherapy, radiation therapy or hormone replacement therapy. In the initial one-hour consultation, Dr. Rao discusses with each patient their lifestyle, exercise, stress management and sleep. He utilizes National Comprehensive Cancer Network guidelines to manage symptoms such as anxiety, depression, insomnia, nausea, joint pain, neuropathy and other common concerns for cancer patients.

Referrals come from surgical and medical oncologists, thoracic surgeons, head and neck surgeons, breast oncologists and many other specialties as word has spread about this unique service. While Dr. Rao’s main office and this clinic are at UH Connor Whole Health’s home base in Beachwood, patients can also receive some of these treatments in Medina, Avon and Rocky River. They come from a wide range of ethnic and socioeconomic backgrounds.

“We have evidence that these therapies are helpful,” says Dr. Rao, who is working on publishing his findings and is receiving rave reviews from patients across Northeast Ohio. “If we can reduce someone’s pain or help them feel better, that’s a win. I get hugs from patients telling me this is the best thing we’ve ever done. Our patients are really happy.” Matthew, a professor of theater at Oberlin College, experienced a recurrence of cancer in 2021 that presented in his lymph nodes, following initial treatment for breast cancer in 2016 that involved surgery, chemotherapy and hormone therapy. Daily radiation treatments over six weeks were particularly taxing on his body. Suffering from chronic fatigue, high blood pressure, gastrointestinal upset and major anxiety, Matthew was drained. During a follow-up appointment with a surgeon, lymphedema, or a buildup of fluid, was found. He was referred to Dr. Rao, who prescribed a more plant-based diet, weaned him off Ambien and encouraged yoga and meditation. Massage therapy and acupuncture were provided as a complement to Dr. Rao’s consult.

Since starting these integrative oncology visits, Matthew’s sleep has improved and his complex GI issues – the most troubling side effect of his cancer treatment – have abated.

“Dr. Rao is truly, truly amazing,” said Matthew, who is impressed with the doctor’s network of integrative practitioners from around the world. Thanks to Dr. Rao’s guidance, Matthew felt well enough to take a grand tour of the United Kingdom this summer with his partner.

“This was a renewed incentive to invest time in myself, to stop and breathe, and that’s been incredibly powerful for me. The difference between last year and this one is indescribable. I’m very grateful to him.”

Dr. Rao sees more opportunities to collaborate with others for the benefit of patients. Patients can take advantage of other offerings through UH Connor Whole Health, including art therapy and music therapy.

“This is practical care and it saves people a lot of money,” Dr. Rao said. “It’s very gratifying to help people without contributing more to the stress of the financial toxicity of cancer care.”

Denise finds the massages open up her chest and relieve her coughing.

“This is something just for you,” said Denise. “I could not be happier with UH. It’s the best hospital in the world for me.”

Ted Teknos, MD, President & Scientific Director of UH Seidman Cancer Center, believes the collaboration with UH Connor Whole Health offers great benefit to cancer patients.

“Traditional cancer therapies, while often highly successful, may lead to a myriad of uncomfortable symptoms,” Dr. Teknos said. “The holistic approach that Dr. Rao and his team at Connor Whole Health offer to our cancer patients has yielded truly remarkable results. For many patients, it has allowed patients not only to survive but to thrive following their cancer treatment.”

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To learn more or schedule a visit to the Integrative Oncology Symptom Management Clinic, call 216-285-4070.

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