Complementary Therapies for Cancer

Short book by Jackie de Burca

Complementary therapies are a diverse range of therapies which can be used in addition to mainstream medicine in order to relieve the discomfort of children with cancer and improve their quality of life.

In this short book, we will be covering a number of therapies that we think are applicable for children with cancer.

The use of these therapies is increasing especially in the cases of the sickest children.

The most frequent reasons (1) that parents opt to use a complementary therapy for their child with cancer are:

  • They wish to try every possible healthcare option
  • To improve the child’s general health
  • To help the child to relax
  • To reduce side effects from treatment
  • To decrease the child’s anxiety

Complementary therapies can have varied effects from soothing and relaxing to pain relief to helping strengthen the immune system. On an emotional level both the parents and the child can feel that they have taken back some of the control by using a complementary therapy. Some patients may believe that it can change their outcome and parents who go this route can feel more motivated to find a cure for their child (2).

The Department of Medical Oncology (3) at St. Bartholomew’s Hospital, London, produced a research paper which concluded that patients’ satisfaction with complementary therapies was high even without the hoped for anti-cancer effect. Patients also reported psychological benefits such as optimism and hope.

Therapies such as aromatherapy and reflexology are based in the area known as holistic medicine, which means that well-being is a harmonious balance between the mind, body and spirit. When this balance is restored it is said to stimulate the body’s natural self-healing (4) processes.

For those who feel less comfortable with touch or talk therapies art or music therapies are wonderful options. Art therapists believe that being creative helps to heal. To do music therapy the patient does not need to be musical as the purpose is to relax and reduce anxiety, symptoms and the side effects of treatment (5).

A brief history of complementary therapies

For those new to considering complementary therapies it may be a surprise to find out that the roots of many holistic therapies go back 4000-5000 years across the Ancient Egyptian culture to the Indian subcontinent where one could find Ayurvedic medicine which is still practised today.

Chinese medicine (6) has more than 4000 years of history and is based on the philosophical concept of balance – yin and yang. In China they would pay their physicians to maintain their health not when they found themselves ill.

As the UK has been a destination for invaders, refugees, scholars, travellers and migrants part of this legacy is a diversity of health and medical practices that are today referred to as "complementary and alternative medicine" (CAM). There has been much conflict in the past between conventional medicine and CAM practitioners and during the early twentieth century CAM was virtually outlawed in Britain. Nowadays the complementary/alternative health movement is accepted as part of modern life and increasing amounts of people are opening up to trying these therapies.

We will be ONLY focusing on the complementary therapies in this short book.

Emotional Freedom Techniques (EFT) for Cancer

Our guest Deborah D. Miller, Ph.D. EFTCert-I, EFT-Adv, explains the Emotional Freedom Techniques (EFT) for parents with children with cancer and her practices with children.

If you are in a position, where you or a loved one, has a child dealing with Cancer wouldn’t you like to help yourself and/or your child feel better as you deal with cancer? If you could feel powerful enough to participate instead of sit by helpless, wouldn’t you do so? Wouldn’t you be happy to give your child any manner of relief whether from fear, stress, or the trauma of cancer? These are some of the very reasons why using EFT is beneficial. EFT is complementary and beneficial to the traditional treatments received. The doctors treat the physical aspects of cancer and EFT is working on the emotional, mental and spiritual aspects. Together they form a powerful tool that can lead to recovery.

Watch Deborah explaning EFT - (Video on YouTube) - Introduction to Tapping for Parents with Kids with Cancer

EFT is an extraordinary powerful and simple technique for reducing and/or eliminating emotional and physical problems. Our body’s energy system interacts with our thoughts, emotions and physical body. Since our thoughts and emotions are energy they in turn affect the energy system. Consequently, when our body’s energy system is out of balance it influences our overall health. EFT re-balances the body’s energy system.

Imagine your body’s energy system like a simple household electrical circuit. When you turn on a light switch, electrical current flows through a pathway provided by electrical cables that subsequently pass through a light bulb causing it to shine. You are similar. As long as your energy system is open and flowing, your "light" shines. Whereas negative experiences, emotional traumas or illness inhibit the energy system, and that is analogous to a circuit breaker flipping or turning off the light switch.

EFT is so simple to use that kids can learn it in a couple of minutes. It can be used in a fun way so that they enjoy using this tool to feel better. EFT uses a series of "tappings" with the fingertips on strategic points on the face and body to stimulate the energy system while bringing to mind a specific problem – whether a fear, pain, or traumatic event – and stating affirmations about the problem. This process clears the "short-circuit" from the body’s energy system, thus restoring balance to mind and body. This restoration of balance simply reduces or eliminates emotional problems, and many resulting physical problems.

Can being healthy be as simple as unblocking your energy "flow" so that you "feel" better, emotionally and physically? EFT clients and practitioners find that it has a great effect. I have been working with children with cancer in a hospital setting since September of 2007. I continually see relief in these children. Seeing their anxieties drop or disappear, seeing the smiles return to their faces, teaching them ways to help their bodies heal, has been a gift to me, the children and their families. I would like to share that gift with you. Empower yourself and your child during this journey with cancer.

The Tapping Points

EFT tapping Points You lightly tap on each of the points with two or three fingertips. The order is not fixed but most practitioners tap from the top to the bottom just to make the process easier to remember. The Karate Chop Point is not shown, but use the fingers of one hand to tap on the fleshy part of the side of your other hand (imagine a scene with a karate expert chopping a board with his hand – that’s the spot) Look at the image of the dots on the child’s face to see the rest of the points: Eyebrow, Side of the Eye, Under the Eye, Under the Nose, Chin, Collarbone, Under the Arm and Top of the Head. Watch Deborah showing the Tapping Points - (Video on YouTube) - EFT Tapping Points

While you tap, you focus on the issue at hand and use simple statements about the emotions that you feel when you think about this issue, such as fear, worry, guilt, sadness. By doing so, the energy system re-balances and the emotion such as fear reduces leaving the person feeling better.

Let me give you a simple example using stress. First, focus in on how much stress you feel you have right at this moment. Using a scale of 0-10 where 0 is no stress and 10 is maximum stress; quantify how much stress you are feeling. Then tap with two or three fingers on each point and say the words out loud (if possible) that I’ve written for you.

Watch Deborah giving an example to reduce stress - (Video on YouTube) - Reducing Stress in Parents with a Child with Cancer

Begin by tapping on the Karate Chop point, the fleshy part on the outside of one of your hands, with the fingers of your other hand. Then state out loud:

Even though I feel so much stress, so much pressure, so much worry, I love and accept myself completely and profoundly.

Even though I worry about my child all the time and it makes me so stressed, I love myself completely.

Even though I don’t know how to stop worrying about my child, I love myself completely.

Eyebrow: I feel so stressed because my child has cancer.

Side of Eye: I hold onto that stress because I don’t know how to get rid of it.

Under the Eye: My body is tense because of this stress and I feel horrible. I worry.

Under the Nose: I feel so anxious that I forget to breathe deeply. Then I feel more stressed.

Chin: I hold onto this stress, this fear and anxiety.

Collar Bone: How can one get rid of the stress of having a child with cancer? It feels impossible.

Under the Arm: To be a good parent I have to feel stressed when my child is ill. Otherwise it would appear that I don’t care and I care a lot.

Top of the Head: I have to have stress and worry about my child to be a good parent.

Eyebrow: This stress doesn’t help me or my child. It just makes me anxious and then my child is too.

Side of Eye: I want to help my child not make the situation worse. I choose to let go of my anxiety and stress now.

Under the Eye: It is ok to do so. I give myself permission. I choose to relax so that I can better help my child.

Under the Nose: My goal is to help my child. To do that well, it is best that I am calm and relaxed.

Chin: I choose to let go of the stress. I imagine I can throw it away, or burn it, or stomp on it until I feel better. I do that until it is gone.

Collar Bone: In its place I choose to put more love. Lots more love. That is the best thing I can do for my child. Love is the best thing I can give my child.

Under the Arm: I feel so relieved to have let go of this stress. My body is more relaxed. I can focus on loving my child.

Top of the Head: I fill my body with love instead of stress and let that love grow and grow until all I do is filled with love. Now that is a great example of how to be a good parent to my child. I choose to love my child completely, deeply and tenderly.

Take a deep breath.

Did all or some of the stress release? Do you feel more relaxed? This example shows how EFT shifts the body energy system. Shifts may occur in one round of EFT like what we just did or repeated rounds including the same and different wording. Either way, EFT is a fabulous tool to help you and your child with cancer.

This general script I shared with you is to give you a simple example of how EFT works. You can use simple words to get results, learn more about how to use EFT even more effectively and/or have a private session with an EFT practitioner. I offer group tapping sessions for parents with children with cancer.

Deborah D Miller, Ph.D.

Aromatherapy for Cancer

What is Aromatherapy?

Aromatherapy is a complementary therapy to promote psychological and physical well-being as well as reducing the symptoms of a range of conditions (1). It is based on the use of concentrated essential plant oils. Essential oils are the pure essences which are found in herbs, flowers, grasses, roots, seeds, bark, berries and fruits. These are extracted mainly by steam or water distillation (2). There are about 400 essential oils but in general there are 40 which are commonly used.

These essential oils consist of tiny aromatic chemicals which aid in a variety of health, hygiene and beauty conditions. People can benefit from them via massage, vaporisation, bathing and inhalation. The theory is that each essential oil has its own specific health benefits. Aromatherapy is also used in preventative medicine.

In aromatherapy the essential oils are absorbed through the skin and have gentle physiological effects. It is especially effective for a variety of chronic conditions as well as stress related problems. As the oils stimulate your sense of smell it is also thought that this process may play a part in the effects of aromatherapy.

Aromatherapy and Childhood Cancer

As with other complementary therapies, both children and their parents choose aromatherapy for a number of possible reasons:

  • The feeling that they are doing something pro-active to help themselves
  • To reduce pain
  • To manage anxiety
  • To manage stress
  • To improve well being

In the case of childhood cancer when children are receiving chemotherapy it is the nausea and vomiting which remain as two of the most distressing symptoms. As well as the chemotherapy itself the anticipatory anxiety is a big factor.

Aromatherapy has been anecdotally reported to decrease vomiting and nausea as well as anxiety while also increasing the quality of life of the patients (3).

Children can easily self administer depending on their age and the form of aromatherapy which also means that outside of a scheduled session the child or perhaps parent can administer the essential oils.


1. A Nursing Times survey of nurses in relation to complementary medicine found that aromatherapy massage was overwhelmingly the most popular complementary therapy employed by nurses. The reasons for this are the demonstrable therapeutic benefits including the alleviation of anxiety, chronic tension headache, cancer pain in addition to reducing stress perceived by patients in intensive care units.

2. In 1993 a study took place with palliative patients for six months which comprised of 42 female and 27 male patients. None of them had previously had the treatment. The results revealed that 81% stated that they either felt ‘better’ or ‘very relaxed’ after their treatments. 25% reported that the benefits lasted for more than one day (4).

3. A study at a UK cancer centre to evaluate an aromatherapy service had 89 initial patients. The study required six aromatherapy sessions and 58 out of the 89 patients completed these. The authors of the study reported significant improvements in anxiety and depression (measured by HADS*). *HADS – Hospital Anxiety and Depression Scale

4. Another small study focused on the physical and psychological effects of aromatherapy massage on 8 patients with primary malignant brain tumours who were attending their first follow-up appointment after radiation therapy. Although the authors reported no psychological benefits but did report a statistically significant reduction in blood pressure, respiratory rate and pulse (5).

What Happens in an Aromatherapy Session?

Firstly the aromatherapist will ask you questions about your medical history as well as your general lifestyle and health. Through this the aromatherapist will be able to decide which essential oils are most appropriate for the client.

The chosen oils will then be combined with what is called carrier oil, normally vegetable oil, as the essential oils are very concentrated so it needs to be diluted. The aromatherapist will then massage the oils gently into your body. (6) The session normally takes from 60 to 90 minutes. Most people find aromatherapy massage to be very relaxing and soothing.

A Brief History of Aromatherapy

Aromatic or essential oils have been used for thousands of years as treatments for a wide range of disorders, as well as stimulants and sedatives. Historically essential oils can be linked to the Bible as infused oils and unguents as well as ancient Egypt, as remedies throughout the Middle Ages and the Renaissance.

In the 20th century the French chemist and perfumer Rene Gattefosse coined the term ‘aromatherapy’ and published a book of that name in 1937. Gattefosse and his colleagues in Italy, Germany and France spent 30 years studying the effects of aromatherapy but then it went out of fashion around the middle of the twentieth century. It was another Frenchman, Jean Valnet who was a physician, who rediscovered it and he published his book The Practice of Aromatherapy in 1982.

Today aromatherapists publish their own journal, the International Journal of Essential Oil Therapeutics.

Reflexology for Cancer

What is Reflexology?

Reflexology is a complementary therapy that applies hand pressure to specific areas of the feet to balance vital energy throughout the body and with the goal of relieving a variety of problems. There is early scientific evidence (1) that reflexology can reduce some types of pain and anxiety in patients as well as being good for relaxation.

Although reflexology can be performed also on the hands, practicing on the feet is the more common application of reflexology. The therapy is based upon the theory that reflex points located in the feet and hands are linked to the organs and body parts. Therefore stimulation of these points is believed to affect the connected organs or body parts.

Energy travels from the foot to the spine where it is released into the rest of the body. It is also said to release endorphins, which are the body’s own natural pain killers, as well as detoxifying by dissolving uric acid crystals in the feet. A reflexologist can feel these crystals upon touching and applying some pressure to the feet.

Reflexology and Childhood Cancer

Reflexology may help relieve symptoms related to cancer treatment such as nausea, stress and insomnia. The therapy is believed to have a generally beneficial effect on the patient’s well-being.

Reflexology is non-invasive and gentle and is one of the most appropriate techniques to use for children with cancer. It can be performed in a chair, bed, massage table, couch or crib. (2)

Lots of children and teenagers really enjoy it as it helps them forget about everything for a while and just relax.

One child patient said about his reflexologist: "It makes a big difference to me when she comes. When I was in the hospital getting chemo, the reflexology made me forget all the nasty stuff that was being put into my body. I just concentrate on the good feeling." he says. - Read the full article on Tommy Fund for Childhood Cancer newsletter

As part of a comprehensive medical care program (3) it is important to take into account not only the biologic dimensions of an illness but also the psychological and social factors which can affect the whole person. Reflexology as well as other complementary therapies fits well into a more comprehensive approach.


When it comes to research we are still in the relatively early days and it is difficult to find much child specific research. However reflexology is being used more and more in UK hospitals as part of massage services for cancer patients including children. Some practitioners put on nice music and dim the lights in the room to enhance the relaxing atmosphere.
1. 87 patients took part in a study where each received just 10 minutes of reflexology, 5 minutes per foot, and the results showed that the treatments produced immediate and significant effects on the patients’ perception of pain, nausea and relaxation when measured on a visual analogue scale.
2. Another study which took 12 British hospitalized cancer patients with different types of tumours and assigned 6 to a placebo group and 6 to a reflexology group. Patients completed a visual analogue scan (VAS) 24 hours before commencing the treatments and again within 24 hours of completion.

Both groups received 40 minutes of treatment every other day over a 5 day period. The VAS measured quality of life components such as: appetite, appearance, nausea, pain, sleep and tiredness, fear of future, diarrhoea, constipation, concentration, communication with doctors and family, isolation, mobility, mood, micturition and malnutrition.

The results concluded that all participants received some comfort from the treatments whereas in the placebo group only 33% of them felt some benefit.

This study is: “Hodgson, H., “Does reflexology impact on cancer patients’ quality of life?” Nursing Standard, (England) 14, 31, 33-38.

Click here to see more information about reflexology and cancer and click here to see information about reflexology and chemotherapy.

The Reflexology and Cancer Symposium

In October 2008 the first Reflexology and Cancer Symposium was held in Israel. There were 130 delegates from around the world and 17 speakers during a four day period.

One of the speakers, Dr. Faure-Alderson (4) told the delegates that the body cleanses itself from inside to outside, top to bottom and present to past. She is emphatic in her belief that in order to treat the cause of cancer, like any other disease, we must reach the initial stressor. She says that reflexology works on the somato-emotional approach to disease and therefore has its place in treatment before, during and after cancer. Her Research Study goals are to prove the relief of symptoms in cancer patients and find positive results in reduction of anxiety, depression and pain, nausea, fear, needle phobia, tumour markers and enhance calmness.

What Happens in a Reflexology Session?

The reflexologist will ask some initial health questions before the first session with a patient. The practitioner will then gently examine the child’s feet and apply some pressure onto selected reflex points. Some children can feel tingling sensations in other parts of the body during the session and some parts of the feet may feel tenderer than others.

The session can take from 30 minutes to an hour. Many children find it extremely relaxing.

A Brief History of Reflexology

Reflexology traces back to China, India and Egypt. There is a pictograph in the tomb of an Egyptian Physician Ankhmahor at Saqquara near Cairo, dating back to 2500-3000 B.C. where there are two men working on the hands and feet of two other men.

In China the evidence of some form of foot and hand therapy goes back as far as 4000 B.C. In the West it was an American Ear, Nose and Throat Surgeon, Dr. William Fitzgerald (1872-1942) who was the founder of Zone Therapy which is the predecessor of reflexology.

He found through research that by exerting pressure on the tips of the fingers or toes a corresponding body part would be anaesthetised. He then divided the body up into 10 equal zones running from the head to the tips of the toes. He was the author of publications such as "To stop that toothache – squeeze your toe."

Eunice Ingham (1889-1974) was known as the Mother of Reflexology. She travelled throughout America practising and teaching and practiced until she was 80 years of age. She was a Physiotherapist. She was the author of two well know books: "Stories the Feet Can Tell" and "Stories the Feet Have Told."

Her work is carried on today by the International Institute of Reflexology.

Art Therapy for Cancer

What is Art Therapy?

Through the use of art materials within a safe environment art therapy gives people the chance of coping with symptoms, emotions, stress, traumatic experiences, enhance cognitive abilities, while relaxing and enjoying the life-affirming activity of making art.

When a person engages by reflecting on the art products and processes it brings them into a different space. Art therapists are trained both in art and therapy so they are able to enhance the experience for the art therapy client. Their knowledge encompasses clinical practice, psychological theories, healing potential of art as well as multi-cultural, spiritual and artistic traditions.

Art therapy gives the freedom to express emotions with art materials that otherwise may be difficult to express. Arts and creativity influence health positively (1) through their psychological and psycho-social impact which strengthens the emotional and mental well being of the individual.

It is important to know that art therapy does not require artistic skills. The vast majority of children stop painting or drawing around the age of ten due to their feeling that their artwork may be inferior (2). In art therapy clients are encouraged to follow their intuition and choose the art materials that appeal to them. They are made understand that there are no rules in art making.

Art Therapy and Childhood Cancer

In Italy a study of 32 children with leukaemia (2) who had to undergo painful procedures such as lumbar puncture and bone marrow aspiration had positive results. Children who were hospitalised before and were not part of this study showed anxiety and resistance during and after these painful procedures.

However the 32 children (aged 2-14 years) showed collaborative behaviour from the first hospitalisation. If the intervention had to be prevented either they or their parents asked for the Art Therapy again. The parents declared that it made them better able to manage the painful procedures.

Art therapy can work very well for children with cancer by giving them a safe way to communicate their anxieties. As children and adolescents do not always have the words to express what they are going through and are by nature creative, then art therapy can be a wonderful outlet for them.

It can:

  • Help express buried emotions
  • Give a feeling of self confidence and freedom
  • Help cope with grief, fear, anxiety and depression
  • Distract from pain and discomfort
  • Feel more positive


1.A study which was carried out on 50 adult cancer patients which used the Edmonton Symptom Assessment Scale (ESAS) (3) and the Spielberger State-Trait Anxiety Index showed positive results.

The patients who took part in the study had been diagnosed with leukaemia, lymphoma, breast cancer, GI/colorectal cancer, gynaecological cancer as well as a range of other malignancies.

Eight out of nine of the symptoms were significantly reduced (4) as measured by the ESAS. Nausea was the only symptom which did not change as a result of the art therapy.

2.The Cochrane Report which has the objective to assess the effects of interventions for improving communication with children and/or adolescents about their cancer, the implications and treatment. It includes one study of art therapy as support for children during painful procedures which reported an increase in positive, collaborative behaviour (5).

What Happens in an Art Therapy Session?

An Art Therapy Session can begin with some form of relaxation technique in order to help the people relax and attune to their inner selves.

The art materials are supplied and the art therapist encourages the unique creativity of each individual. The art image itself can be considered to be an entity in itself taking on meaning as it develops and connects to the person’s inner experiences.

It brings a connection between the mind, emotions, body and disease and is a form of release for unwanted emotions. Talk therapy can happen during the session but as it is intertwined with the creative space it is a natural development and therefore less invasive for some people than formal counselling/talk therapy forms.

A Brief History of Art Therapy

In the 1940’s artists who were working in psychiatric hospitals began to notice that forms of artwork could create a basis of a therapeutic relationship between the therapist and patient.

What the patient created gave the therapist a better understanding of the patient while being an important medium for communication.

Although this explanation relates to art therapy as we know of it today, in reality it has been used as a tool for communication as well as a way to capture the inexpressible in an image. Art has being considered by many for a long time to have healing power and even today Navaho medicine men continue to heal with sand paintings.

Music Therapy for Cancer

What is Music Therapy?

Music therapy is based on the belief that whatever a person’s condition they can respond to music letting it extend its therapeutic benefits and improve their quality of life.

This therapy is an interpersonal process between the therapist and the client where a trained music therapist uses all the different facets of music (physical, emotional, mental, spiritual, aesthetic and social) to help clients to maintain or improve their health.

Music experiences such as taking part in music, singing, moving to music, song-writing and listening to music are used to help clients improve their quality of life as well as their level of functioning.

Music therapists’ practices can include developmental work with communication or motor skills with individuals who have special needs. This therapy is widely used throughout the helping professions across people of all ages with a huge variety of conditions.

Music therapy is used for medical problems, developmental disabilities, psychiatric disorders, physical handicaps, communication disorders, substance abuse, aging, interpersonal problems, sensory impairments and much more.

Music Therapy and Childhood Cancer

When Music Therapy is used in childhood cancer it aims to stimulate communication as well as reduce some of the symptoms associated with cancer and cancer treatment such as pain, anxiety, mood disturbance and depression. It can also help children cope better with hospitalisation. Trained music therapists can effectively reduce both patient and family anxiety and depression. (1)

Music can create an atmosphere of play helping children to release tension and encouraging self-expression. Music therapy aims to provide emotional support, increase self-esteem, provide a medium for creative self-expression, give an opportunity for control and independence, encourage relaxation and maintain age appropriate development. (2)


1. Leo is battling Rhabdomyosarcoma, a relatively rare soft tissue cancer. Leo has told Beth Collier, RAC (Rock Against Cancer) on several occasions that singing and playing music makes him forget about his pain.

Beth Collier also mentions using an electric guitar and amp with a 10 year old who has had a brain tumour for several years. She has a lot of trouble voicing but when a microphone was pulled out she sang along with the music. (3)

2. In a study of 4 to 7 year old cancer patients, children whose care included music based activities showed a greater frequency of positive coping behaviours than children did not. The study compared children who played handheld instruments or sang action based songs to children who simply listened to music or audio storybooks.

The group of active music children were more likely to laugh and smile, initiate a comment, question or request from a parent or other person, or to fix their eyes on an activity. These types of actions illustrate that these children are less stressed; as children under stress will typically withdraw and shutdown. (4)

For further research studies also see: Integrative Therapies from Columbia University, cancernetwork,, BBC News.

What Happens in a Music Therapy Session?

At the first session a therapist will assess the individual’s needs but if it is a group session this does not normally happen.

Different therapists can have different approaches and the therapist will normally assess the feelings of the group or individual on the day. In a group session there often is a ring of chairs and a selection of instruments which can include percussion, guitar and keyboards. The session can contain free improvisation or structured musical activities, or a combination. There may be swapping over of instruments and a period to reflect upon the group’s music.

If an individual is working one on one with a therapist then it is possible to identify the aims and personal aspects which would be good for the patient to explore.

Music therapy is practiced with therapeutic guidelines in order for the patients to feel safe, such as the use of the same space or room and same time of the week/day when possible. (5)

A Brief History of Music Therapy

It was an ancient practice to use music in healing ceremonies as these primitive people viewed illness as originating from magic-religious forces. They believed that music combined with dances or words, as well as songs and music producing instruments were effective in exorcising disease or healing wounds.
During the Middle Ages illness was seen as a punishment which led to the mentally ill being considered to be possessed by evil spirits which in turn led to cruel torment as well as the murders of thousands of men and women.

However by the end of the 18th century scientists has begun to investigate the effects of music on the human body. By the end of the 19thcentury there was a growth in the amount of researchers looking into the effect of music systematically. They were also looking at the relationships between music and physiological or psychological responses. (6)

As a profession, music therapy was believed to have been a hospital developed practice originally in psychiatric hospitals. A great deal of the popularity and establishment of music therapy originated from wars, as wars had a big influence in bringing mental illness to the fore.

Counselling for Cancer

What is Counselling?

Counselling is when a counsellor will see a client in a confidential setting to explore a distress or a difficulty that the client is experiencing. Counsellors do not give advice or judge the client; their role is to listen and a counsellor acts rather like a sounding board for the client.

A counsellor will encourage clients to talk very freely about their feelings so that difficult, suppressed feelings can be aired safely in this environment. The counsellor is always respectful and accepting of the client and over time a deep trust can develop. As the confidence and trust of the client grows so too does the depth of exploration of feelings with their counsellor.

The counsellor may facilitate progress within clients by helping them to identify and examine situations or behaviours which are difficult and finding alternative coping mechanisms. (1)

Counselling and Childhood Cancer

Depending on the age of a child their understanding of their cancer diagnosis and their way to deal with the road ahead will differ. Different personalities will react and cope differently and children will also be affected by how their parents and siblings behave.

As a child with cancer requires all their available energy to fight the disease, it is crucial that they do not have to focus extra energy on bottling up feelings which they cannot share easily with family or friends sometimes. This is where counselling can be of great help.

The parents and siblings can also benefit greatly from counselling. Each family member will have their own personal reaction to the situation and the stress put on the family unit can be difficult. Parents can be assisted by an experienced counsellor to understand their own feelings better as well as understanding the journey of their sick child. Siblings can express their worries, frustrations and other feelings in a safe environment with a counsellor at a time when their parents may be less able to help them.

Both for a child and family members counselling can be beneficial at the outset to help firstly with acceptance and understanding of the child’s cancer and then can be continued throughout the treatment period.

To name just a few potential feelings – (2)

As the child is adjusting to their cancer they can experience:

  • Loneliness
  • Low self-esteem
  • Withdrawal
  • Loss of control
  • Aggressive behaviour
  • Spiritual alienation

As the parents and siblings adjust they can experience:

  • Acute depression
  • Loss of control
  • Sleeplessness
  • Irritability
  • Work difficulties
  • Marital tensions
  • Fatigue
  • A sense of helplessness and isolation
  • Overeating
  • Poor school performance

Counselling can (3):

  • Decrease feelings of isolation for both the patient and family
  • Provide an opportunity to ventilate feelings to someone who is accepting and respectful
  • Improve individual coping abilities
  • Improve socialization skills
  • Improve interpersonal relationships with medical personnel and family members
  • Provide a sense of control and mastery that may otherwise be lost while involved in ongoing treatment

A counsellor can help the child and family express feelings of anxiety over the long-term effects of the illness and treatment. They can listen impartially to a whole spectrum of feelings that the child and family members desperately need to express at this time and through a non-judgemental attitude and facilitation help them understand and deal with their emotions making the journey a little easier. (4)

With a counsellor the child or any family member has someone they can talk openly to and cry their hearts out to who understands and supports them through this process. (5)


1. A study was published in the British Journal of Guidance & Counselling, in January 1990 where a case is made for skilled, independent counselling service to be made available to children with cancer, and their families.

The study presents evidence from a selected review of recent literature, and the stated needs and views of a small group of parents obtained by counsellors' in-depth interviews.

The evidence shows the stresses imposed as well as the inability of medical teams to fully address these needs concurrently with treating the illness.
Skilled, long-term counselling for patient and family is seen to be an important aspect of a comprehensive childhood cancer service. (6)

2. “Psychosocial support of the pediatric cancer patient: Lessons learned over the past 50 years” published in 2008 explores the benefits of counselling amongst other supportive programs. (7)

What Happens in a Counselling Session?

A safe space is created in a counselling session to explore your feelings and thoughts. The counsellor will encourage you to express any bottled up feelings which will be met with understanding and acceptance. A counsellor is trained to listen in a different way so they put themselves aside so they can feel and understand your experience.

You will be listened to, facilitated and this will help you relax in a way that you can make sense of your feelings.

A Brief History of Counselling

Counselling has been practised throughout many cultures in the past but has only become formally recognised as a profession for just over a century.

Research into counselling began with the work of Sigmund Freud in the late nineteenth century who went on to become one of the most revered and influential names in the fields of Counselling and Psychology. Others such as Carl Jung and Otto Rank went on to develop their own techniques and gain recognition in their individual fields.

During the 20th century developments continued at a steady pace with different schools of thought and theories emerging. In the 1950’s Carl Rogers gained recognition for his work on the person centred approach and publishing Client Centred Therapy. His work forms the basis for many approaches to counselling today. (8)

Massage for Cancer

What is Massage Therapy?

Massage therapy is a touch therapy where techniques such as kneading, rubbing, stroking and tapping are performed on the soft tissues of the body. Massage is thought to help people feel more relaxed, and may relieve pain and stress. It can improve circulation and lower blood pressure. (1)

It relieves muscular tension, helps clear lactic acid and other waste substances. As these are cleared this helps reduce pain and stiffness in the muscles and joints. It helps increase mobility and flexibility.

Massage and Childhood Cancer

Massage therapy can be used for both the child and the parents. (2)

For any cancer patient and especially a child, a little relief can mean a lot. Extra benefits which occur during a massage are that levels of feel-good neurotransmitters such as serotonin and dopamine spike, oxytocin (which is the nurturing, cuddle hormone) are increased, as the stress hormone cortisol levels reduce. (3)

Given that 15-20% of cancer patients become clinically depressed at some stage during their illness, the release of these feel-good neurotransmitters can be very important. Even for those who do not reach the stage of clinical depression, hospitalisation, ongoing treatments and dealing with stress can make massage an ideal therapy for many.

If one or both parents also receive massage treatments this can be very helpful for both the parents and child, as anxiety in a parent can be contagious to the child.

Some of the common reason to use massage as part of a holistic treatment for childhood cancer:

  • Both the parents and the child can easily avail of massage, which helps the individuals as well as the family unit
  • To manage anxiety
  • To manage stress
  • To improve well being
  • To reduce pain
  • To feel the detoxifying benefits of massage
  • To feel the benefits of an increase in feel-good neurotransmitters
  • To take control of some aspect of their treatment


1. A study which has been part funded by NCCAM (National Centre For Complementary and Alternative Medicine) researchers has investigated the benefits of massage versus simple touch therapy in patients with advanced cancer.

The results of this study show that both groups experienced significant improvements in pain relief, physical and emotional distress as well as quality of life. However the immediate improvement in pain and mood was great in the group receiving massage.

The conclusion of the study was that massage therapy can provide some immediate relief for patients with advanced cancer. The study also said that it was beneficial for family members or volunteers to administer simple touch, as it may provide relief and can be performed by untrained family members. (4)

2. In the International Journal of Therapeutic Massage and Bodywork, the results of a study called “Children with Cancer and Blood Diseases Experience Positive Physical and Psychological Effects from Massage Therapy” were published in 2009.

The background for the study was that previous research had shown positive effects from massage therapy had been demonstrated for premature infants and also children with asthma, arthritis and other illnesses. This led to the need for a study which focused on children with cancer and blood diseases.

Thirty children with cancer or blood diseases, between the ages of 6 months to 17 years of age, participated in the study. Physical health and mental well being were measured before the study commenced.

The treatment group received 20 minute sessions of Swedish Massage Therapy once daily for approximately 4 days.

The results indicated significant psychological improvements on state anxiety, trait anxiety, and emotional state. It also indicated significant physical improvements on muscle soreness, respiratory rate and overall progress.

The conclusion of the study was that Massage Therapy can reduce psychological and physical distress and can have a positive effect on quality of life in children with cancer and blood diseases. (5)

What Happens in a Massage Session?

It should be noted firstly that paediatric massage is a natural extension of working with the whole family yet the technique differs to enhance the child’s experience.

Many massage therapists find that children respond very differently to touch and are often willing and excited recipients. (6)

Children at different stages of growth and development have different emotional, physical and psychological needs. Therefore simplistically paediatric massage can be divided up into massage for toddlers, pre-school, school age children, adolescents and young adults. However a good massage therapist will adapt quickly to whatever the current needs of the child whatever his or her age.

Massage sessions can last from 15 to 90 minutes. The first treatment follows a case history being taken, which is usually relatively short compared with some other complementary therapies. In the case of child massage a parent may accompany the child.

As the massage starts the therapist will feel areas of the body which are holding more stress and work with them. The massage techniques employed will be adapted by the therapist to suit the patient. (7)

A Brief History of Massage

There is a biblical reference from around 493 B.C. which documents daily massage with olive oil and myrrh as part of the beauty regime for the wives of Xerves.

Massage was recorded in the 2nd century B.C. in the Yellow Emperor’s Classic of Internal Medicine, where it was recommended as a treatment for certain ailments. The Indian ancient traditional system of Ayurvedic Medicine also prescribes massage for various ailments. In Greece and Rome physicians used it as a primary method to treat pain.

The word comes from the French massage "friction of kneading", or from the Arabic massa meaning "to touch, feel or handle" or in Latin massa meaning "mass, dough.

As human beings we still have the instinct to touch or rub an area of our body which has pain, however as a therapy it seems that massage techniques did not develop further until Per Henrik Ling (15 November 1776–3 May 1839), who was a Swedish medical-gymnastic practitioner, took it to the next stage.

Ling had been travelling abroad after university and became friends with a Chinese fellow called Ming, who was a martial artist and tui na (a Chinse manipulative therapy) practitioner. They became exercise partners and years later when Ling returned to Sweden with injuries and rheumatism he healed himself by applying these pressing-pulling and squeezing exercises he had learnt. This was why he turned his attention to applying his experience for the benefit of others.

Up until the 1960/70s massage was used to in America by nurses to help patients to sleep and ease their pain. Today massage is growing in popularity and is used by individuals for relaxation, to maintain health, as well as sports people, those with illnesses and some businesses use it for their staff.

Play Therapy for Cancer

What is Play Therapy?

Children communicate naturally through play. Play therapy is a form of counselling which allows children to communicate their feelings, through playing with toys and play materials, and this becomes their form of language. The trained therapist is able to hear and understand what children say, by their way of playing.

As children develop their cognitive skills before their language skills, play therapy can give them a safe place to express their feelings, and as the therapist listens to their “play language” the children can work their way through difficult emotions and fears. In this way play therapy can alleviate stress and give children a feeling of having more control over their emotions.

For children play therapy is a form of play, as well as an exploration of their inner world, which may otherwise be difficult to assimilate. It gives the opportunity to explore this inner world, in a language that they are fluent in (play), as opposed to feeling pressurised and frustrated as they try to express and explore in a language that they are not yet fluent in.

The trained therapist will observe how and what the child plays with in order to diagnose their mental and emotional health. Whilst a family member can play with a child, a trained therapist will allow children to “play out” whatever the children need to express.

The room is a safe space for the children and the toys are specifically chosen to allow them to:

  • Explore real life situations
  • Express their feelings in the way most comfortable to them
  • Express their needs
  • Deal with inner conflicts

Play Therapy and Childhood Cancer

Apart from the medical treatments, another important aspect of the healing process for children with cancer is to be allowed to heal, by being children again. It has been revealed by research that children need more than only medical care to heal and recover, as wholly as possible. They need to be able to “play.” This is one way to help them psychologically and emotionally, whilst they undergo the physical treatments.

Research done in the late 1970s revealed that 59% of childhood cancer survivors with a mean age of 5 years, 7 months were considered to be impaired psychologically.

The areas where most difficulty was evident were:<.p>

Internalising problems:

  • Feelings of loss of control
  • Hopelessness
  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Frustrations

Externalising problems:

  • Withdrawal
  • Aggression
  • Non-compliance

Other common difficulties

  • Poor self-esteem
  • Poor self-image
  • Changing sense of identity, more negative
  • Decreasing social competence
  • Learning problems

Play therapy can help children with cancer express their trauma, negative emotions and then integrate their experiences in a healthier way. It can enable children to move beyond the crisis of childhood cancer, helps children deal psychologically as well as physically with cancer and build resilience.


Below are some samples of research done about the efficacy of play therapy and the importance of play to children.

1.The authors conducted a meta-analysis of 93 controlled outcome studies, published 1953 to 2000, to assess the overall efficacy of play therapy and to determine factors that might impact its effectiveness.

The overall mean treatment effect was 0.80 standard deviations, considered a large treatment effect. Further analysis revealed that effects were more positive for humanistic than for non-humanistic treatments, and that utilizing parents in their child’s play therapy produced larger overall treatment effects than play therapy conducted by a professional.

Play therapy appeared equally effective across age, gender, presenting issue, and clinical vs. psychotherapy, and further suggest that doubts about the efficacy of play therapy can be laid to rest.

2.Gestalt Play Therapy can assist in restoring a sense of wholeness as part of the healing process for oncology child patients. It can benefit a hospitalised child in ways such as allowing the child to rehearse his medical experience and gain a feeling of mastery over procedures, while allowing him to strengthen the self concept and increase self esteem.

3.Research carried out at Case Western Reserve University shows that observing children as they play can give a good indication of how emotionally charged their memories will be. The research shows that playing out emotions during therapeutic play can help children who are experiencing traumatic situations. It can also help them process their emotions more easily.

4.The number of long-term, adult survivors of childhood cancer therapy will continue to increase, and almost 75% will have a chronic health problem resulting from their cancer therapy, whereas 40% will have a severe, disabling, or life-threatening condition or death caused by a chronic condition that resulted from their therapy.

In addition to being followed by their primary care physician, all long-term survivors of childhood cancer therapy should attend a specialised late effects clinic yearly and be evaluated by a member of the oncology team, either the physician or the pediatric oncology nurse practitioner, who initially treated them.

A psychologist and social worker should always be present, and subspecialists should be available on or near the site as needed.

What Happens in a Play Therapy Session?

Parents firstly have the opportunity to voice their concerns about the child and/or the family unit. In some cases the therapist may also wish to get information from other significant adults or the child’s school.

The aim of a play therapy session is for the child to communicate about their feelings, behaviour and thoughts, using play as the tool. For this to be effective, an important focus is to build a trusting relationship between the therapist and child, as this relationship plays a vital part in the functioning of the therapy.

In the play room there will be a great selection of play materials so that the child has a wide choice to choose from. The selection may include puppets, art and craft materials, sand and water, clay, small figures, dressing up props, musical instruments and books.

The child is the one who leads the session, so the format in this sense is free and there is no pressure put on the child to talk about their difficulties. The trained therapist will use specific techniques in order to assess how the child reacts to the world, events and the people who inhabit their world. Gently the therapist will lead the child to help them gain an awareness of their feelings and allow them to express their feelings safely.

A Brief History of Play Therapy

Some of the great thinkers of all time, such as Aristotle and Plato, reflected on play and why it is so fundamental in our lives.

Some of the modern day roots of play therapy can be attributed to child psychotherapy pioneers Anna Freud, Margaret Lowenfeld and Melanie Klein.

Elements of play therapy emerged from child psychotherapy, whilst the theoretical foundations can be attributed to Humanistic Psychology. During the 1940s a client centred therapy was being developed by Carl Rogers. This person centred therapy approach was very different to the previously diagnostic and prescriptive model.

Influenced by Carl Rogers, in the 1940s, Virginia Axline began to develop non-directive play therapy. She established these 8 fundamental principles of play therapy.

  • The therapist must develop a warm, friendly relationship with the child, in which good rapport is established as soon as possible.
  • The therapist accepts the child exactly as he is.
  • The therapist establishes a feeling of permissiveness in the relationship so that the child feels free to express his feelings completely.
  • The therapist is alert to recognise the feelings the child is expressing and reflects those feelings back to him in such a manner that he gains insight into his behaviour.
  • The therapist maintains a deep respect for the child's ability to resolve his own problems if given an opportunity to do so. The responsibility to make choices and to institute changes is the child's.
  • The therapist does not attempt to direct the child's actions or conversation in any manner. The child leads the way; the therapist follows.
  • The therapist does not attempt to hurry the therapy along. It is a gradual process and is recognised as such by the therapist.
  • The therapist establishes only those limitations that are necessary to anchor the therapy to the world of reality and to make the child aware of his responsibility in the relationship.

A number of therapists have stood out since Axline’s time for advancing her formulations. These therapists include Moustakas, Schaefer and Landreth. They have also devised differing models which integrate elements of systemic family therapy, solution focused therapy, narrative therapy and cognitive behavioural therapy.

Reiki for Cancer

Our guest Dawn Fleming - Reiki Master, Medical Intuitive, Teacher, and Author, explains Reiki for parents with children with cancer

What is this mysterious energy technique called Reiki? It seems as if it is being talked about everywhere. Oprah and Dr. Oz both have raved about the benefits of receiving Reiki. Reiki originated in Japan in the early 1920s when it was discovered by Dr. Mikao Usui and it is currently being practiced and taught in every country. Reiki is an energy therapy that can be performed with hands on or above the body. The client always remains clothed. Reiki can accelerate the healing process, reduce pain levels, restore balance, release energy blocks, reduce stress, calm the emotions, and help the mind focus and find clarity.

How does Reiki work? The human body is not only biological (bones, skin, and organs) and chemical (blood and hormones), it is also energetic. Scientists have discovered that energy exists in every cell in the body as well as existing between the cells. This energy, also referred to as chi, ki or prana in eastern cultures, is necessary to maintain health and well-being in the body. Stress, poor life style choices, lack of rest, and many other factors decrease the body’s energy resources and over time will actually create an environment that allows disease to manifest in the body. When the body experiences stress or disease it is an indication that the body’s energy levels are low, blocked, non existent, or trapped causing an implosion of the energy. During a Reiki session the trained practitioner facilitates the flow of Universal energy into the client’s body to restore their energy and support the body's innate healing abilities. When the body’s energy is restored it supports the immune system and all the organs, glands, blood, bones, etc. in keeping the body in balance, thus restoring health.

Over the past few years Western medicine has acknowledged the benefit of energy therapies - Reiki being one of these recognized modalities. Reiki is being offered in many hospitals. Some cancer treatment centers offer Reiki as it has been shown to reduce the side effects of chemotherapy and radiation, restore energy, and assist the body to heal. Many sports medicine clinics are integrating Reiki into their treatments. Athletes are even requesting Reiki treatments. Reiki practitioners are offering sessions right before surgery and post op in the hospital. More and more doctors, nurses, physical therapists and occupational therapists are seeking Reiki training to integrate it with their allopathic treatments.

Reiki brings comfort, restores balance, and assists the body to maintain health and well-being. There are many clinical studies that have been done proving Reiki’s effectiveness. Many hospitals offer Reiki, but you have to request it in order to receive it. Even healthy people are partaking of monthly Reiki sessions in order to keep their energy stores in balance to support their body, mind, and emotions from getting out of balance and to help them to focus their energy to reach their goals.

Many people associate Reiki as being only for adults; however, children can also benefit from receiving and/or learning Reiki. Parents that have learned Reiki use it to help their children relax, focus, recover from surgery and other traumas, and improve their grades.

Let’s start with Reiki and babies. Nurses practicing Reiki in neonatal intensive care units in hospitals in the United States and Canada provide short Reiki sessions to preemies struggling to survive. The hands-on or above their body helps the preemies on all levels as they strive to gain weight and to breathe on their own. Reiki also helps the parents to relax as they undergo this stressful situation. As the baby returns home, Reiki is good to help soothe a colicky or fuzzy baby or one that just does not want to sleep. It is also good to do Reiki over the area where the baby received his or her shots.

Reiki can be done while holding the baby and just letting it flow wherever it is needed. You can hold the baby’s pillow, blanket, or stuffed animal and send Reiki into it, giving the baby a source of energy while they sleep. In the right amount (not more than 10 minutes for a baby), Reiki is great in helping the baby acclimate to the new world they are living in. It is helpful for the new mother to receive Reiki to support her to deal with the changes and added stress as well as the hormonal fluctuations.

Reiki for toddlers and school-aged children helps to accelerate the healing process for all the bumps and bruises as well as more serious conditions such as illness or broken bones. Since children are relatively new to the world, it takes less energy to have an effect on the body. They do not have preconceived ideas of whether healing is or is not going to happen and their openness allows the energy to work more quickly. Therefore, 10 to 20 minute sessions are all that is needed. Otherwise, the child could become hyper. Giving Reiki to a toddler may consist of having them sit on your lap and receive a treatment while they watch a video. Or having them lie on a table or sit in a chair with their favorite book while you do a short session. After the toddler stage the child can lie down on the table while you do a session. Music or a video can be used, if needed. Children will sometimes open up and talk about what is on their mind during a session. They might also discuss seeing colors around their body.

Teenagers benefit from Reiki as they go through the many changes caused by their hormones that have become more active. Reiki helps them to deal with stress, find balance in their changing body, and find clarity while studying for and taking tests. It also helps balance and calm the emotions when they are stuck in anxiety and or depression. Some teenagers are very open to receiving Reiki. Others are not all that excited about it. Those teenagers that are not excited about a session can lie on the table with their iPod in their ear and tune out. Reiki sessions on teenagers last between 30 to 50 minutes.

Reiki classes for children are offered around the world. These classes typical are for ages 7-14 and are usually shorter in length. The children are taught what Reiki is and how to use it. They are attuned to Reiki and have the opportunity to practice on themselves and on another child. It is really amazing to hear what comes out of their mouths when they begin to practice Reiki. On many occasions the children talk about seeing auras, colors, or light. Some children feel and sense heat or cold when working on another person. Children usually are more open and sensitive and the feedback that they provide is honest and heartwarming such as “Reiki feels like a big hug that lasts a very long time.”

Reiki provides a variety of benefits for children, especially those that have many challenges. As Reiki balances the body’s energy, pain levels are reduced, healing is promoted, and the side effects of chemo and radiation treatments as well as other toxic drug treatments are decreased. Children feel the loving effects of Reiki and respond with a smile when it is offered.

Dawn Fleming -Reiki Master, Medical Intuitive, Teacher, and Author. Dawn sees clients in her Chandler, AZ, office and has a very active distance Reiki practice.

Yoga for Cancer

What is Yoga?

Although in the Western World we identify yoga with stretching and postures, the real meaning of yoga is far more complex than this. Yoga, examined in both its classical and modern senses, holds great potential for anyone who wishes to feel more balanced and connected within themselves. It also has a range of possible health benefits.

Yoga means ‘union’ or ‘connection’. In Sanskrit, the word ‘yoga’ is used to signify any form of connection. Yoga is both a state of connection and a body of techniques that allow us to connect to anything. This connection may be experienced by regular practice of many different types of techniques, some of which involve the use of your body. Reaching the experience of yoga connection is to arrive at a blissful, fulfilling, joyful state.

The numerous physical genres of yoga aim to create harmony between your body, mind and spirit. This is achieved by working with pranayama (breathing) and asanas (postures) meditation and stretching exercises. Yoga is a whole body philosophy that can help you calm and clear your mind, but has a significant range of other benefits. Some of which have been studied in both cancer patients and cancer survivors.

Yoga and Childhood Cancer

Yoga has helped both childhood and adult cancer patients to cope better with their illness and its treatment. It can help reduce the expression of symptoms and the effect of side effects such as depression, anxiety and stress.

It can help you to feel good, generally enhancing well-being and lifting your mood. As mentioned by yoga teacher and co-creator of the Little Yogis program, Amie Koronczok, whom you can read about further below:

"I found it very significant that one child was given 45 minutes away from her illness — time to once again be the child she was meant to be, and not a cancer patient."

Yoga postures make joints and muscles more flexible, as well as stimulating the nervous system. Breathing is very much part of yoga practice, so these beneficial breathing techniques along with the exercises improve the oxygen supply to your bloodstream. This in turn triggers better quality breathing and circulation. All of this, of course, promotes better health.

Possible benefits overview:

  • Cope better with the illness (1)
  • Cope better with the treatment (1)
  • Reduce expression of symptoms (1)
  • Reduce anxiety (1)
  • Reduce depression (1)
  • Reduce stress (1)
  • Enhance well being (1)
  • Improve mood (1)
  • Stimulate the nervous system (1)
  • Improve strength (5)
  • Make joints and muscles more flexible (5)
  • Improve oxygen supply to bloodstream (5)
  • Increase hormone functions (5)

Research has shown that a single yoga session can help reduce anxiety in teens diagnosed with cancer (ages 13–18) and parents of children diagnosed with cancer. (2)

Yoga performed bedside has been shown to reduce pain in children diagnosed with sickle cell disease and tumors. (3)

Yoga may positively affect complex mental functions of the pre-frontal cortex, including execution of complex functions and planning abilities. (4)

Yoga for pediatric cancer patients during active treatment is feasible and potentially helpful in improving both patient and parent well-being (6)

Childhood cancer survivor & charity founder: Sierra's story

Sierra Preveza is a childhood cancer survivor and the founder of the charity Childhood Cancer Kids. In 2014 Sierra, then aged 7, was named America's Kindest Kid, by the NBC offshoot The Sprout Network, because of her work helping other children who are battling cancer.

She received her kidney cancer diagnosis on 4th June 2012, and on 6th June her tumor was removed during an operation at the Boston Children's Hospital. The tumor was a Wilms’ tumor stage 2, which was the size of a grapefruit. It had grown rapidly over a period of two weeks. She spent a week in hospital, making a good post-operative recovery.

Afterwards her chemo sessions were scheduled on Mondays. Tuesdays, after her chemotherapy, Sierra felt extremely tired, emotional, nauseous and was throwing up. However as her Mum is a yoga instructor, she had been practising yoga since she was a baby. Here's how she has reported yoga to have helped her:

  • Yoga helped her to deal with the stress of needles
  • Yoga breathing helped Sierra to deal with the side effects of her chemotherapy
  • It also helped calm her intense fears of having her chemotherapy port accessed. She went from having to be held down to being able to breath and relax during the process
  • Sierra has also benefitted from yoga in dealing with the testing that follows on from cancer treatments

Central to her charity work is Sierra's mission to bring yoga to other children who are undergoing chemotherapy, as well as those who have finished surgeries and treatments, but still have to deal with medical procedures like "getting pricked with needles."

Yoga teacher & Little Yogis program co-creator: Amie's story

Amie teaches a special yoga program called Little Yogis, which was specifically designed for pediatric cancer patients. These childhood cancer patients are undergoing aggressive treatments, in Houston, at the MD Anderson Children's Cancer Hospital.

The Little Yogis Program was set up in response to requests from families who were seeking some form of integrative therapy, which had a more hands-on approach and could involve both the young patients and their loved ones. When the program started in the summer of 2014, the goals were to:

  • Alleviate physical pain
  • Alleviate stress
  • Make treatment more bearable both for the children and their families
  • Improve their quality of life


1. Cancer Research UK summarises a number of research studies in their section headed - Research Into Yoga In Cancer Care – on this page about Yoga As A CAM Therapy for Cancer. (1)

2. The Peaceful Play Yoga: Serenity and Balance for Children With Cancer and Their Parents study was published in the Journal of Pediatric Oncology Nursing 2010; 27(5) 276–284, authored by Thygeson MV, Hooke MC, Clapsaddle J, Robbins A, Moquist K.

The study examines different age groups and their parents in an in-patient setting for one yoga session (2).

3. Yoga for Pain and Anxiety in Pediatric Hematology/Oncology Patients: Case Series and Review of the Literature. Journal of the Society for Integrative Oncology, 2004; 8(3) (Summer), 2010: p. 95. The study was carried out by Moody K, Daswani D, Abrahams B, Santizo R.

This study concluded that further research on yoga as an effective intervention for pediatric hematology-oncology patients for pain and anxiety is needed. Patient quotes had suggested that yoga was beneficial, in pàrticular for relaxation. Literature review also offered preliminary support for the use of yoga for anxiety in children (3).

4. Improved performance in the Tower of London test following yoga, published in the Indian Journal of Physiology and Pharmacology, 2001; 45(3),351- 354. Authors: Manjunath N, Telles S.

The study concluded that yoga training for a month reduced the planning and execution time in simple (2-moves) as well as complex tasks (4, 5-moves) and facilitated reaching the target with a smaller number of moves in a complex task (4-moves) (4).

5. Role of yoga in stress management. West Indian Medical Journal, 2004; 53(3), 191-194. Author: Parshad O.

This study notes that yoga stabilises the autonomic nervous system with a tendency towards parasympathetic dominance. Physiological benefits follow (5).

6. Yoga May Help Kids with Cancer – Special Issue of Rehabilitation Oncology Highlights Physical Therapy for Pediatric Cancer by Wolters Kluwer.

This study concluded that yoga for pediatric cancer patients during active treatment is feasible and potentially helpful in improving both patient and parent well-being (6).

What happens during a yoga class

Because of the vast range of types of yoga, it is hard to be specific of what to expect in a class, much in the same way as this will also depend on the teacher, as well as the yoga style. However teacher Amie, mentions how she tailors her classes to what is needed of the families she has present. Therefore if there is a yoga teacher that your child and other members of the family feel comfortable to work with, this type of customised approach would be best, if possible. If there isn't someone like this in mind, why not talk to your medical team to find out if they could recommend someone.

Deepak Chopra's website has a good practical article about How To Prepare For Your First Yoga Class

Practising yoga at home

According to St. Jude's Children's Research Hospital, you should always be present when your child practices yoga. Additionally all doubts should be cleared with the doctor firstly. However practising yoga with your child is a wonderful way to spend quality time, and younger children may especially like to do animal postures.

St. Jude's have produced a very helpful document that includes some possible yoga postures for your child and you.

A brief history of yoga

Yoga’s history has been transmitted orally and has been further obscured because of the secretive nature of its earlier teachings. In fact early writing about yoga was carried out on fragile palm leaves.

Typically yoga is thought to be over 5000 years old, although some researchers believe it may be closer to 10,000 years old. Its development has passed through significant phases, which were: Pre-Classical Yoga, Classical Yoga, Post-Classical Yoga and Modern Period.

The opening of Indra Devi's yoga studio in 1947, in Hollywood, is considered to be the beginning of its increase in popularity in the Western World.

If you would like to understand the various phases of yoga, then go to the Yoga Basics – History of Yoga page.