The connection between mind and body is not lost on researcher and Director of the Office for Teaching Excellence Anne Belcher, PhD, RN, AOCN, FAAN, and Professor Fannie Gaston-Johansson, PhD, RN, FAAN. They are two of a growing number of faculty and researchers at the Johns Hopkins University School of Nursing who are integrating patient self-care, from visualization to meditation and from spirituality to laughter and exercise, into comprehensive treatments for cancer.
Gaston-Johansson and colleagues compared two groups of breast cancer patients who were undergoing chemotherapy, one of which had been trained in specific strategies to foster relaxation and positive thinking. The women who used their newly minted coping strategies experienced less depression and anxiety as well as less nausea and fatigue during their bouts with chemotherapy. As Director of the JHUSON Center on Health Disparities Research, Gaston-Johansson is also working to level the health care playing field for underserved populations, including African-American women with breast cancer. In a recent study, she found that the same spirituality and faith that influence African Americans’ general health practices, beliefs, and outcomes also have a positive influence on physical and emotional wellbeing during breast cancer treatment.
Gaston-Johansson’s suggestion that nurses can help make spiritual and faith-oriented coping strategies part of comprehensive breast cancer treatment plans for women of diverse ethnic and racial backgrounds resonates with Belcher, who has suggested in Oncology Nursing Society News that nurses should add expertise at the interface of clinical and spiritual issues as part of the skills they bring to the cancer treatment team. Belcher also adds a somewhat different take on the power of the mind-body connection. She prescribes humor in liberal quantities, which she says, “stimulates the release of endorphins that can help control pain and help people sleep better. There’s some evidence it boosts our immune system and, of course, it helps psychologically.”