After spending a few minutes talking with Kathleen Wing, you might just want to call her a dedicated person who helps people heal.

Her work at The Patrick Dempsey Center for Cancer Hope & Healing at Central Maine Medical Center has her assessing the needs of patients and families who have been diagnosed with cancer. She charts out plans with standard medical care that might include chemotherapy, radiation, biological therapy and surgery.

But along the same path with standard treatments, she takes a total approach to care that involves the patient’s mind, body and spirit. It is called integrative care and it combines standard medicine with complementary and alternative medicine practices that have shown the most promise in healing, relaxation and overall wellness.

Wing is a licensed massage therapist, and a Maine native, currently living in Monmouth. She studied international public health, and while working at an HIV/AIDS clinic in South America, she discovered the power of complementary treatments.

“I worked with (religious) sisters at a clinic for two years,” explained Wing. “They introduced me to the idea of offering massage therapy for people diagnosed with HIV/AIDS.”

Wing learned that the massage therapy was not only beneficial to the patient, but it proved to be comforting for the family members as well. “When family members did massage, it reduced the stigma associated with the disease.”

When Wing returned to the states, she offered massage therapy in private practice and served as a volunteer in the Mercy Hospital Infusion Room.

She’s been working at the Dempsey Center for almost two years where her job expands the definition of what can be involved in treatment.

“What is supported in medicine is much broader now,” said Wing. She finds that while many physicians rely on standard medical care for treatment, many more welcome alternative treatments, especially as patients are starting to embrace them.

The challenge, for integrative medical practitioners, is how people define alternative treatments.

“Standard medical care has specific clinical measures. You take a pill and you see the results,” said Wing. “Alternative medicine can be much more subjective.”

Wing offers a few medical definitions that help.

“Complementary medicine is used along with standard medical treatments. It is designed to support the medical treatments,” said Wing. Examples of complementary medicine include nutrition consultation, guided imagery techniques, relaxation exercises, massage therapy, herbal remedies, and yoga.

Wing explained that many of these modalities cannot be measured by specific clinical results. Their use and effectiveness is much more subjective for practitioners and patients.

“Massage therapy can be shown to make patients feel good and help them to relax,” said Wing. “However, there is no way to measure its direct impact on healing.”

Anna Camire, of Andover, Maine, has severe rheumatoid arthritis and is always looking for something other than regular medicines to relieve some of her pain, stiffness and inflammation. She takes over 20 medications a day and didn’t want to add more pills, but was willing to try something natural that might lessen her symptoms.

“My husband, Leo, went moose hunting up in northern Maine and came back with a moose and a tree fungus. It is called chaga, a mushroom that grows on birch trees,” said Camire. “You make it into a tea and it eases some of my severe pain and stiffness. I still need my pain medicines, but chaga is soothing and doesn’t taste bad either.”

Camire also takes chia seed on the recommendation of an herbalist. She was skeptical, at first, because the seeds are the same ones that are used in the decorative Chia Pets that grow plants on ceramic characters.

“I take a teaspoon a day, usually putting peanut butter on a spoon and drizzling chai seed on it,” said Camire. “My inflammation has decreased, my fingers are less swollen and my hands and feet are less inflamed at the end of the day.”

Alternative medicine, according to Wing, is very much different from complementary medicine.

“Alternative medicine is used in place of standard medical treatments. It is often something that patients seek on their own instead of standard treatment,” noted Wing.

She cited one example in which a patient might use a special diet to treat cancer instead of one that a cancer specialist might suggest. Others might even pursue highly experimental treatments in foreign countries in hopes of finding cures and healing.

Wing’s goal is not to pass judgement on complementary or alternative treatments, but to package them in an overall plan that will bring comfort and healing to a patient. She serves as a bridge between the traditional and non traditional.

“If a person wants to take a pill (for treatment), they should … but one size doesn’t fit all,” said Wing, respecting the traditional approaches.

“Know that integrative medicine is safe and effective. It is a practice done with training and a desire to help,” said Wing. “If it brings comfort in healing, it is worth a try.”

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