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  • 2009 Spring/Summer Paths of Progress

    Zakim Center marks progress and promise of integrative therapies for cancer patients
    By Saul Wisnia

    hand massageA therapist gives a hand massage to a young patient undergoing chemotherapy in the Jimmy Fund Clinic. 

    Ten years ago, most Dana-Farber patients had never heard the term "integrative therapy." Now, an ever-growing number of people are using acupuncture, massage, nutritional consults, and even music therapy as part of their cancer treatment.

    Dana-Farber has become an international leader in this emergent field, thanks in large part to the foresight of a man whose legacy lives on in the center that bears his name.

    Since opening at Dana-Farber in fall 2000, the Leonard P. Zakim Center for Integrative Therapies has been providing cancer patients and their families with the opportunity to take a more active role in their care.

    Research at Dana-Farber and elsewhere has proven the efficacy of integrative therapy in helping alleviate the symptoms of the disease and side effects of conventional treatment, as well as in improving the quality of life for individuals facing a variety of cancers.

    And as more caregivers and scientists embrace this approach – also known as complementary therapy – the appeal is increasing accordingly.

    Ramel RonesQi Gong Master Ramel Rones holds regular classes for Dana-Farber patients, staff, and families. 

    Patient visits to the Zakim Center have gone from 778 during its first year of operations in 2000 to more than 4,000 visits in 2008, and its staff from three practitioners (then all working part-time) to 20. Offerings include the therapies mentioned above, as well as meditation and mind-body practices like Reiki and Qi Gong. Many are available to both pediatric and adult patients.

    Individuals relish the chance to exert some control over how they exercise, eat, or otherwise help themselves during cancer treatment, but winning over the medical establishment to a comprehensive, holistic approach to health care – one that blends the best practices of Eastern and Western medicine – has taken time.

    Initial acceptance came when Zakim Center staff pushed early on to have an official policy put in place so that Dana-Farber could hire acupuncturists with full hospital privileges, rather than as consultants.

    "It had to go through our Medical Staff Executive Committee, and the fact our leadership was open to this was a huge step," says center Associate Director Anne Doherty-Gilman, MPH. "It put Dana-Farber way ahead of the curve, and every hospital in the area has since come to us asking about our policy so they can create their own."

    An international leader

    Stephanie MeyersNutritionist Stephanie Meyers, MS, RD, LDN, shares tips for healthy eating. 

    The Institute further enhanced its reputation in the field as a founding member of the Society of Integrative Oncology (SIO), an international consortium of more than 400 health professionals through which evidence-based studies are presented.

    Medical Director David S. Rosenthal, MD, the Zakim Center's co-clinical director since its inception and a former president of the American Cancer Society, has served a term as the SIO's president.

    The Zakim Center continues to stay in the forefront of complementary cancer therapy by hosting the Lenny Zakim Lecture each fall. This event allows patients, families, and staff to try out integrative therapies and hear from an expert in the field.

    Throughout the year, Rosenthal and center practitioners also make presentations to Dana-Farber clinicians, and a fundraising committee co-chaired by Zakim's widow Joyce Zakim hosts spring events centered around her late husband's love of music. In addition, Team Lenny participates annually in the Boston Marathon Jimmy Fund Walk and Pan-Massachusetts Challenge bike-a-thon.

    Research findings at Dana-Farber and elsewhere are proving direct benefits of integrative therapies when used in conjunction with conventional cancer treatment. One study involving Dana-Farber investigators showed the value of acupuncture in alleviating pain in end-of-life patients, while another found that Reiki or relaxation response therapy given to patients with prostate cancer improved their tolerance for radiation therapy.

    Such progress and popularity is fulfilling the dream of the center's namesake. Whether Lenny Zakim was bringing together Jews and African-Americans for Passover Seders or thousands of teenagers from all backgrounds for anti-bigotry programs, the Newton, Mass. attorney and New England region director of the Anti-Defamation League devoted his life to helping others by breaking down the barriers between them.

    It was no different after his 1994 diagnosis with multiple myeloma, a cancer that develops in white blood cells. Once Zakim discovered the benefits of acupuncture, meditation, and other integrative therapies, he worked to ensure all Dana-Farber patients could gain easy, affordable access to them from caregivers who were receptive to their benefits.

    "A sea change in attitude"

    z-Zakim FamilyLenny Zakim with his family at a 1999 benefit event for the Zakim Center 

    "The last 10 years have been as much about educating our health care providers as about the provision of care or the researching of the latest evidence," says Carolyn Hayes, PhD, RN, co-clinical director of the Zakim Center. "Lenny was committed to a sea change in the national attitude toward integrative therapies, and we've been a part of that cultural shift toward acceptance."

    Lenny Zakim died of multiple myeloma at age 46 in December 1999, shortly after learning that his dream of the center's establishment would become a reality.

    "This gives us at least a sense that we're not just going to lie there and wait for something to happen to us," he had said when the announcement was made. "There will now be a place … where we patients can get the type of assistance necessary to help us through conventional treatment. This will give us some of our life back."

    Nearly a decade later, Joyce Zakim looks at a photograph of the couple and their three teenage children taken that night and recalls with a smile how her husband went about gaining support for the center. "He would go into meetings at Dana-Farber and say, 'This is our idea, these are our plans,' and opposition never slowed him down," she says. "That was the activist in him – he was passionate about making it happen.

    "It's a wonderful part of his legacy."

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