Patient Stories

Maja’s Story: Leaning on Cancer Supportive Services After a Triple Diagnosis

Nov. 8, 2023

Receiving a cancer diagnosis can be frightening, but with the proper support and a personalized treatment plan, there is hope for a brighter future. Maja Flannery—a patient facing three different types of cancer—found hope in the University of Cincinnati Cancer Center.

Maja’s Story: Leaning on Cancer Supportive Services After a Triple Diagnosis

Maja was living with a rare lung disease when she received an endometrial cancer diagnosis in 2021. A successful surgery eliminated the visible endometrial cancer from her body, but it also revealed cancerous cells in Maja’s bladder.

Following her surgery, Dr. Thomas Herzog, Maja’s gynecologic oncologist, recommended additional chemotherapy to eradicate any remaining undetected endometrial cancer cells—he also referred her to Dr. Abhinav Sidana, urologic oncologist and surgeon, for help with her noninvasive-bladder-cancer.   

“Because of my existing lung condition, each step in my cancer journey has to be taken with extreme carefulness,” says Maja. “Dr. Herzog, the anesthesiologists, the pharmacists, Dr. Sidana, the nurses—my entire care team at the University of Cincinnati Cancer Center—understood my complex medical history and took the time to walk me through my options and help me think through the best decisions for me.”

Given her lung condition, Maja was afraid her body could not handle the harsh realities of more treatment—which would include chemotherapy and brachytherapy radiation. Luckily, she chose the University of Cincinnati Cancer Center as her trusted partner. Throughout her treatments, she experienced how a collaborative, supportive care team and integrative health therapies helped strengthen her body for her remaining treatments so she could return to her life.

Integrative Health: A Beacon of Hope

While grappling with her fears about chemotherapy and radiation, a friend introduced her to integrative health. This approach to care compliments traditional medicine with evidence-based therapies, offering patients a comprehensive plan that promotes overall wellness and supports their physical and mental well-being during and after cancer treatment.

In search of learning more about integrative health, Maja found Dr. Mlladen Golubic, Medical Director of the Osher Center for Integrative Health at the University of Cincinnati, who closely partners with the University of Cincinnati Cancer Center.

“At the Osher Center for Integrative Health at the University of Cincinnati Cancer Center, we provide evidence-based, time-tested, low-tech complementary therapies,” Dr. Golubic says. “These include acupuncture, culinary medicine, mindfulness meditation, massage, music, Tai Chi, and Yoga therapies – and they aim to support cancer patients in achieving longer, healthier lives while minimizing the side effects associated with advanced, high-tech cancer treatments.”

Following a consultation with Dr. Golubic, Maja felt she had discovered the missing piece in her cancer treatment puzzle. Based on her medical history and upcoming treatments, Dr. Golubic and his team developed a personalized plan for Maja with a range of integrative health therapies, including acupuncture, yoga, and meditation courses. Each form of therapy is designed to mitigate the common side effects of cancer treatments and enhance her recovery process. Maja says, "The positivity, support, and path forward I received from the integrative health team was life-changing."

Maja's story highlights the significant impact of integrative health in enhancing cancer outcomes during treatment. The integration of these therapies—like acupuncture, yoga, and mindfulness meditation—alongside standard treatments offers patients like Maja a comprehensive approach to:

  • Managing symptoms.
  • Improving quality of life.
  • Supporting overall well-being.

These therapies combine seamlessly with traditional treatments, like chemotherapy, to provide a whole-person and patient-centered approach to cancer care. 

The Power of Acupuncture

Maja's journey with integrative health began with acupuncture sessions with acupuncturist Angela Lai, Acu. These sessions played an instrumental role in preparing Maja’s body for imminent chemotherapy treatments. The National Cancer Institute has recognized acupuncture for its potential to alleviate cancer symptoms such as nausea and vomiting, fatigue, hot flashes, neuropathy, anxiety, and depression.

“Maja was fortunate enough to start her acupuncture treatments before she began her chemotherapy regimen,” says Angela. “The extra time I worked with her helped fortify her body for the oncology therapies to come. 

This can minimize side effects and increase recovery between treatments quicker.”

The chemotherapy and radiation concerned Maja—she doubted her body’s ability to endure the treatment due to her underlying lung disease. However, with guidance from her integrative health providers and the University of Cincinnati Cancer Center, Maja discovered she could prepare her body for chemotherapy—both physically and mentally—through therapies like acupuncture.

Angela adds, “Because Maja had all her treatments at the University of Cincinnati Cancer Center, I was able to monitor her labs and adjust the acupuncture treatments to fit her needs from week to week. We continue to work together to support her body and help her achieve her health goals.”  

Before treatment, acupuncture sessions with Angela helped support Maja's lung function. As she continued with acupuncture in the recovery phase of treatment, Angela helped minimize Maja's radiation side effects, fatigue, and the recovery of blood cells affected by chemo. She also provided Maja with supportive guidance on nutrition, vitamins, and food prep.

Maja says, "Every acupuncture treatment has improved how I feel and my body functions. I have had the experience of breathing as if I were using parts of my lungs that have not been used in years."

Maja Flannery using Yoga as an integrative cancer therapy.

Navigating the Journey with Movement and Mindfulness

Along her journey, Maja also discovered the amazing benefits of movement and mindfulness. Maja says, "As I was experiencing the wonders of acupuncture, I was also learning about yoga—and how a simple moment can help with cancer recovery."

Yoga sessions with yoga therapist Tina Walter helped Maja relax during her chemotherapy, providing her with an escape from the physical and emotional turbulence of treatment and recovery. She says, "I never miss a yoga class because I find that even during the most difficult days right after chemo treatments when I'm at my weakest point, movement always makes things better."

High-quality evidence and national guidelines support yoga as a complementary therapeutic option to help improve physical and psychosocial symptoms, including cancer-related fatigue and overall quality of life.

“What’s amazing is Maja’s regularity with yoga,” Tina says. “She’ll even virtually attend class from her car between appointments to do the pranayama, and breathing practices. I’ve watched her flourish in these classes because I think she has a great mix of curiosity, perseverance, and humor.”

In addition, Maja's care plan also included mindfulness meditation with Dr. Barbara Walker, which proved to be a valuable tool in managing stress and promoting mental resilience. When describing her experience in Dr. Walker's classes, Maja says, "I learned so much from her and had a wonderful experience sharing with my fellow patients during her virtual classes."

Beyond Cancer Treatment and Into Survivorship

Thanks to the personalized and comprehensive care provided by her integrative health providers and the University of Cincinnati Cancer Center, Maja could not only endure the acute phase of cancer treatments—she could also navigate the recovery phase with strength and optimism.

"I cannot express how much my experiences through Integrative Health have enriched my life. I found the tools I needed to make it through the acute phase of cancer treatments, the recovery phase, and now through the survivorship phase," says Maja. "I have experienced nothing but kindness, thoughtfulness, and support from a knowledgeable team of dedicated professionals."

Today, she is confidently moving through survivorship with the help of the Survivorship & Supportive Services team at the University of Cincinnati Cancer Center. “Cancer treatment doesn’t stop after your final dose of chemotherapy or radiation,” says Maja. “I will continue to pursue supportive programs because the reality of radiation and chemotherapy side effects will continue to live with me, and I know these services will help me make it through.” 

Find support at the University of Cincinnati Cancer Center

At the University of Cincinnati Cancer Center, we understand cancer patients' experiences and strive to improve patients' quality of life and wellness through personalized and supportive care. Many cancer patients and survivors, like Maja, face unique challenges, including significant side effects from cancer treatments.

From diagnosis onward, our Survivorship and Supportive Services team is here to provide evidence-based interventions, disease surveillance, healthy lifestyle promotion, support, and resources for patients and their loved ones.

Throughout this program, patients and care partners work closely with our providers to create individualized treatment plans based on their cancer treatment and current medical concerns. Patients and survivors have access to specialized integrative health providers like Dr. Golubic, Angela, Tina, Dr. Walker, and more. Our supportive services range from counseling and emotional support, exercise wellness, nutritional guidance, and integrative health to medication management of treatment-related issues.

For patients in active treatment, schedule a Supportive Services visit to see how we can support your treatment plan and journey.

Patients who have completed their cancer treatments can connect with our Survivorship experts to plan for their future—including disease surveillance and overall well-being promotion.

For more information or to schedule an appointment, connect with one of our Survivorship and Supportive Services experts at 513-585-UCCC.