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Ancient Art of Acupuncture Helps Survivor Cope

CancerWise - July 2008

By Dawn Dorsey

M. D. Anderson's Meide Liu, M.D., used acupuncture to treat Nannette Goddard's side effects from cancer treatment.

After chemotherapy for ovarian cancer, Nannette Goddard was at her wit’s end because of neuropathy, a nerve disorder that caused bothersome tingling and numbness in her arms and legs.

Then a doctor suggested she try acupuncture. This form of Chinese medicine involves inserting fine needles into parts of the body to unblock energy, also called qi (pronounced "chee"). It worked. From then on, she had a new tool for dealing with other side effects of cancer and cancer treatment as well.

Painful journey began saga

In February 2006, Goddard was flying to Florida to see her retired parents when she developed excruciating abdominal pain. Not wanting to worry her parents, she popped Tylenol® the entire week until she could get back to her doctor in Houston.

“I felt as though I had a burst ovary, but I didn’t have any symptoms that warranted a trip to the emergency room,” says Goddard, a nurse consultant. “When I finally got to my doctor, I found out my CA-125 level was five times the normal highest value.”

Cancer antigen 125 (CA-125) is a protein found on the surface of many ovarian cancer cells. A blood test that measures CA-125 sometimes can help detect the presence of cancer.

Goddard had been having annual gynecological checkups, periodic ultrasounds and routine CA-125 tests for several years because an aunt had died of ovarian cancer. Her CA-125 levels were always on the high end of the normal range.

Grateful for the pain

Goddard was diagnosed with stage III-C ovarian cancer in two primary sites, the left ovary and right fallopian tube.

“Thank goodness for the terrible pain,” she says. “A lot of women don’t experience any symptoms at all.”

After a complete surgical hysterectomy, Goddard began treatment at
M. D. Anderson that included receiving chemotherapy drugs through the skin directly into the abdomen.

“At that time, it was such a new protocol that I had to be hospitalized overnight for each of the six treatments,” she says. “Half the women who have the treatment are not able to finish all of the six cycles because of negative side effects.”

Chemotherapy caused problems

One of her side effects was neuropathy, sometimes caused by chemotherapy.

As soon as treatment was completed, Goddard went on an Alaskan cruise. Then she came home and got back to work. However, she continued to experience neuropathy.

“It was causing numbness and tingling from my knees to toes and elbows to fingers,” she says. “I fell a couple of times, and it was driving me crazy.”

When she mentioned her discomfort to Moshe Frenkel, M.D., associate professor and medical director of M. D. Anderson’s Integrative Medicine Clinic, he suggested she visit Meide Liu, M.D., L.Ac., an acupuncturist in M. D. Anderson’s Place … of wellness.

“I don’t have any qualms about needles, and so I said, ‘Bring it on,' ” Goddard says. “I don’t like to resort to any drugs unless they’re absolutely necessary.”

Within a week after her first treatment, the tingling sensation began to go away. After several weeks, her fingertips and toes were no longer numb.

Acupuncture leads to fewer drugs after recurrence

Everything was going fine until the familiar abdominal pain reared its ugly head again.

The cancer was back, this time in Goddard’s left lower abdomen, just outside her colon. Doctors suspected it had been there all along, hiding during her tests, shrinking during chemotherapy, then coming back just when she thought she was free and clear.

Goddard knew the drill: surgery, chemotherapy, losing her hair. But this time, she used acupuncture to help deal with the nausea, fatigue and pain. As an added bonus of using acupuncture, she made it through treatment with fewer drugs.

Now an acupuncture advocate

Now cancer-free, Goddard continues to see Liu on a regular basis to treat hot flashes and abdominal pain due to small-bowel adhesions caused by surgery.

She also spreads the word to friends, family and other cancer patients. “I tell everyone I know about acupuncture and Dr. Liu,” she says. “It’s amazing what it can do. I’m a firm believer now.”

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© 2015 The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center