The 2022 World Cancer Day’s theme—closing the gap in cancer care—focused on disparities in access to treatment, which served as a great step forward to ensure that patients receive direct therapies for their cancer. However, another crucial piece of the equation comes from complementary therapies, like nutrition, counseling, or yoga. Integrative care combines medical treatments with supportive therapies to provide a patient with physical and emotional healing. 

Considerable research shows the benefits of adding supportive therapies to clinical cancer treatments. Scientists at Thomas Jefferson University, for example, reported: “Yoga has a potential therapeutic role in the symptomatic management of breast cancer patients, enhancing quality of life during treatment as well as improving adherence to treatment.” In addition, a study led by scientists at the Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center found that patients with breast or ovarian cancer “who participated in yoga practice demonstrated improvement in objective cognitive function over time.”

Combining physical activity with another supportive therapy, like improved nutrition, provides an additional boost for cancer patients. As an example, scientists in Spain studied cancer survivors and reported: “There was evidence that dietary interventions, generally combined with physical activity, improved overall quality of life.”

Beyond helping cancer patients live better, they might even live longer when integrative care makes up part of their treatment. For example, a study from IQVIA, a global healthcare analytics company, found that 5-year survival odds can increase by three times in breast cancer patients treated at an institution that puts high value on integrative care.

As these studies show, supportive therapies are an important component for improving outcomes for cancer patients. After my own cancer diagnosis and finding that some cancer patients lack access to or can’t afford supportive therapies, I founded Unite for HER, a Pennsylvania-based nonprofit providing care and support for patients with breast and ovarian cancer.

Giving patients options and control

Founded in 2009, Unite for HER strives to make supportive care increasingly available to those with breast or ovarian cancers. Starting with just a few hundred patients, we have grown to nearly 4,800 in 2022—all receiving supportive therapies for free. Plus, Unite for HER makes it easier for patients to receive supportive therapies, many of which are delivered directly to homes or virtually.

These therapies include cooking and nutrition classes, counseling, meal delivery, meditation, medical acupuncture, oncology massage, Reiki, yoga, and even support for care providers. Each patient receives a HER care box, filled with educational resources, safe home and beauty products, and a signature Unite for HER Wellness Passport, which is worth $2,000 of supportive therapies and services through the Unite for HER provider network and Wellness Program. A patient can even select a six-week subscription to FarmboxRx for a weekly delivery of seasonal, farm-fresh vegetables. 

To make use of this program, patients need easy access. For example, the Unite for HER website allows patients to apply for services online, connect directly to a wellness program manager, and access free educational information, including videos about how to use our Wellness Passport, learn about therapies and services directly from medical and wellness experts, and more. When an organization wants to reach as many people as possible, the key is making every step as easy as it can be while maintaining the value of the service.

By offering a menu of supportive therapies, Unite for HER helps patients gain another, perhaps unexpected, benefit—control. As the U.S. National Cancer Institute points out: “When you first learn that you have cancer, it’s normal to feel as if your life is out of control.” Letting a patient choose from a variety of supportive therapies offers a bit of power at a complicated time.

Feedback from patients indicates that Unite for HER’s approach is effective. A survey from November 2020 found that 80% of the Unite for HER patients reported significant improvement in their side effects, and 93% replied that they experienced a reduced level of stress.

Reaching a diversity of patients

In 2020, we expanded nationally to continue to serve patients during the COVID-19 pandemic. This included developing a virtual option for attending Unite for HER Wellness Conferences. As Unite for HER expands to support patients throughout the country, the organization emphasizes underserved groups. 

Unite for HER prioritizes people of color and those in underserved areas in our national programming. To focus on the Latino community, we developed a Spanish language wellness program because we wanted to make sure we reached patients in their native language and honored their culture. To reach more Black patients, Unite for HER partners with other nonprofits, including Touch BBCA-the Black Breast Cancer Alliance, Black Health Matters, and The Chrysalis Initiative

To ensure that no person is left behind, Unite for HER takes a patient-centric approach. We know that we cannot build and deliver a program without the voice of the patient—front and center. So, we work hard to incorporate that in all that we deliver. Patients’ voices are the guiding light of Unite for HER; every decision is based on patient feedback to ensure that we provide the supportive therapies with the greatest benefits to patients, and that will always be our goal.

A cancer diagnosis is not just a physical diagnosis, but an emotional one as well.  Integrative therapies can be a powerful way to complement medical treatment by focusing on wellness initiatives that will positively impact one's health.

Bio: Sue Weldon is the CEO and Founder of Unite for HER, an integrative care and wellness advocate and speaker. After her own experience with breast cancer in 2009 and fueled by the powerful impact that integrative therapies had on her, she founded Unite for HER to bridge the gap between the medical and wellness communities, bringing complementary therapies to all patients with breast and ovarian cancer, regardless of income. Over the past 13 years, what started as a small program at Paoli Hospital has grown to partnerships across the country, serving more than 13,000 patients with breast and ovarian cancer nationwide. She is dedicated to being an advocate for whole patient care, fully funding integrative therapies to improve patient well-being during treatment and beyond.

US-69926 Last Updated 10/22