Dr. Joshua Harris Talks Importance of Spiritual Wellness in Cancer Care

Calm Mindful Woman Meditating On Beach Faced Towards Majestic Sunset
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New York Cancer & Blood Specialists provides vital care to patients on Long Island, including offices in Southampton. Dr. Joshua Harris, who treats patients in both their Mount Sinai and New Hyde Park Medical Oncology location, explains why it’s important that treatment plans include programs related to mindful and spiritual wellness.

What’s a mindful practice that most people can take advantage of?
From my experience, it’s being present in the moment and being aware of what it is, I believe, you’re experiencing at that particular time. A lot of patients tend to not be as mindful in the sense that they look at the what-ifs and long-distance outcomes. A lot of it is being grateful for the time [we have].

How important is mind and spirit awareness to the healing process?
I think it’s tremendously important. When we embark on the journey of chemotherapy there’s a wholeness of the experience that, if you’re not cognizant of it, can really escape you. Some people aren’t particularly religious but you can still be spiritual and that can help you get through the days.

As a doctor, what can you say about the relationship between mind and body?
The mind can do a lot in the sense that it can definitely dictate how you’re going to tolerate your side effects. At New York Cancer & Blood Specialists we integrate having a psychologist. We have [a lot to do] with wellness, including physical therapists. We make sure the whole patient experience is really addressed. Patients who are better mentally fare better.

Can you tell us about a breast cancer patient who clearly benefited from mindful and spiritual positivity?
We have examples of this on a day-to-day basis. One may have anxiety or have a lot of fears. Here, we have this stuff well thought-out before beginning treatment. I’ve had patients who were starting on therapy and the biggest barrier was getting over the anxiety of acceptance of the disease process.

What major advances have you seen in the integration of wellness with medicine over your career?
There are a lot of things, especially physical therapy, for patients who are going to be high risk. As far as some advances, our center has adapted in a holistic way. We not only look at the disease but at the patient. A lot of times they’re focused on the disease, but there are so many ancillary things, such as the integration of palliative care and physical therapy and psychology.

We have grown to recognize that there are more emotional components to cancer treatment. In school, I was fortunate to actually have simulation where I worked with trained actors…knowing how to deal with breaking the bad news and adapting to the various clinical situations, where emotionally our patients—as expected—can be very distraught. If you go back 25–30 years, that was not the foremost priority, but it’s found its way into training and what’s really important for patients.

Can some mind-and-spirit practices reduce the need for pharmaceuticals?
I think it’s always in tandem. By no means do I think that either of them is [effective without the other]. I really feel it’s one of those things where they complement each other. Decreasing risk of body weight and such, those are definitely things that work together.

How has New York Cancer & Blood Specialists expanded on maintaining mind and spirit well-being in its patients?
New York Cancer & Blood Specialists is really excited about it, we’ve been very fortunate to come into Suffolk and Nassau counties and be able to supply all those ancillary resources compared to other sites. Having all the resources in play, to look at the person, individual, their social situations, as well as their mental well-being—we’re a warm, welcoming environment.

For more information on New York Cancer & Blood Specialists, visit nycancer.com.

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