Integrative Medicine Program bridges cutting edge medical treatment with alternative care | TheUnion.com

Integrative Medicine Program bridges cutting edge medical treatment with alternative care

Brandy Kolmer
Special to The Union

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"I believe there is always a gift in a cancer diagnosis," says Justine Corbett, OMD, Director of the Integrative Medicine Program for breast cancer patients at Dignity Health Sierra Nevada Memorial Hospital.

As a breast cancer survivor herself, Corbett has more than firsthand knowledge on the subject.

"It's natural to say, 'How and why did I get this? What changes can I make to prevent this from recurring? How can I beat this and become healthier?'" Corbett said.

For the past year, Corbett has devoted herself to answering these questions and more for breast cancer patients at SNMH through the new grant-funded Integrative Medicine Program.

Corbett works collaboratively with the oncologists of the SNMH Community Cancer Center and licensed local practitioners of complementary medicine.

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Patients referred to the program receive an in-depth assessment of their medical history, including medications, surgeries, lab work and diagnostic tests, family history, and lifestyle.

Corbett then suggests supplemental care and practices to enhance their cancer treatment plan at the cancer center.

"Cancer isn't the whole picture. Diseases rarely occur without other underlying health problems. I work with patients to look at their total health, and try to identify causative factors or patterns," Corbett shares.

She says she might suggest complementary healing approaches or mind and body practices like acupuncture, massage or yoga to help with pain, stress, or other side effects of treatments.

During the consultation, health and lifestyle changes are emphasized.

"Cancer is complicated. Poor diet, genetics, unresolved stress, environmental toxins — the causes of cancer are still a mystery, and there are many possible factors. I try to focus on patterns in the medical history to find the root of the problem."

Corbett's experience as a health practitioner includes 24 years as an Oriental Medical Doctor, a degree specializing in acupuncture and Chinese herbs.

For the past 15 years she has studied Functional Medicine.

Today, Corbett focuses almost exclusively on cancer patients.

"This is the gift that cancer brought to me. I'm now able to help other women with cancer to find an easier path. That is the gem I found in my personal experience," she says.

Corbett was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2011. She opted to receive all of her care at SNMH Community Cancer Center

"I was so impressed by the treatment I received locally — from the oncologists, surgeons and hospital staff," Corbett says.

Once her cancer was treated, however, Corbett found unexpected challenges. Her cancer was gone, but a double mastectomy affected her physical mobility.

"I didn't have strength in my arms and it didn't feel like my own body anymore. I had to learn a new way of moving and re-integrating," Corbett says.

It was this initial challenge of finding a physical therapist sensitive to her post-surgery body that gave birth to the idea of the IMP. Corbett's oncologists began encouraging her to create a program which would supplement their clinical care with complementary health care practices such as her own.

After several years of research and fundraising through the SNMH Foundation, the program launched one year ago. Approximately 100 patients have received services so far.

"Our goal was to identify highly experienced, licensed practitioners who appreciate working alongside the medical community rather than outside of it," Corbett continues.

According to Corbett, Western Nevada County is home to a large complementary medicine contingency. The IMP utilizes local expertise to bridge the gap between traditional cancer treatment and "alternative" health care.

"The best results I see are from patients who follow the advice of their doctors while also supplementing their care with other modalities. Together, we coordinate more comprehensive care for cancer patients," she says.

Corbett has formed an advisory board of local medical doctors, oncologists, nutritionists, naturopaths, acupuncturists, physical therapists and other health care practitioners.

"An integrative medical approach means understanding that the complex collection of symptoms we see in a patient are interrelated," says Corbett. "We're all on the same team with the same primary goal: to provide excellent care to our patients."

For more information about the Integrative Medicine Program for breast cancer patients at SNMH, call 530-274-6635.

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