UA Nursing Professor and Breast Cancer Survivor Leads Project to Support Wellbeing in People Affected by Cancer

Nov 5, 2013

More than 1.6 million people are expected to be diagnosed with cancer in 2013, including more than 34,000 in Arizona, according to the American Cancer Society.

For many, the transition that follows the completion of medical treatment for cancer can be challenging. In 2001, Mary Koithan, PhD, RN, APRN, BC, associate dean for professional and community engagement and associate professor at the University of Arizona College of Nursing, faced the same challenge after she completed treatment for breast cancer.

“During cancer treatment, you’re followed very intensively on a weekly or monthly basis by a health-care team you trust,” said Dr. Koithan, who has been cancer-free for 12 years. “But after treatment is completed, cancer survivors often feel lost or at loose ends. When I think back to my own experience, I wish I’d known about a credible source of information that would help me navigate my options. No doubt my personal experience fueled my enthusiasm for leading our Community Cancer Connections project.”

For Community Cancer Connections, Dr. Koithan and her team have developed a web-based information source for people affected by cancer. Included is a compendium of cancer-related programs and support services, a list of qualified integrative therapy providers in Tucson and Phoenix and a cancer-centric Arizona events calendar. Also available are decision guides for the most commonly used integrative therapies for cancer survivors.

“From an integrative approach to health and wellbeing, there are a lot of therapeutic possibilities, but most people don’t know how to choose,” said Dr. Koithan, who used a combination of reiki, meditation and massage. “This online resource is designed to help people choose therapies that are a good fit for them.”

Currently, there are decision guides that provide evidence-based information about meditation, Bowenwork (an alternative form of bodywork), reflexology and acupuncture – therapies that have been recognized by the National Institutes of Health’s National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine as promoting healthful outcomes. Additional guides are being produced and will be released by the end of the year. All integrative therapy providers listed on the website have had their credentials, licensing and training verified, as well as their status with the Better Business Bureau screened.

“Cancer has to be incorporated into the context of people’s lives,” said Dr. Koithan. “We’re helping people find wellbeing beyond the medical treatments of pharmaceuticals or surgery or radiation. Wellbeing is something that you cultivate in yourself, and our goal is to help people discover there are a variety of ways to do that.”