Eileen Eden, my 92-year-old grandmother, suffered from Lymphedema, resulting from complications related to cancer. She was embarrassed by the way she smelled. She struggled with her compression sleeve and endured trials of painful wound dressings and uncomfortable cleansing methods. My mother and I were troubled by this, so we committed ourselves to helping her through this final chapter in her life.
When we arrived in her small home in West Virginia, the holistic treatment began, and my grandmother finally had an opportunity for some relief.
Various cancers and treatments can lead to uncomfortable reactions of the skin, such as dry skin, sensitivity to the sun, ulcerating tumors, and lymphedema- like my grandmother had. As if cancer did not feel insufferable enough in the body as a whole, skin issues, visual manifestations of the internal infection, present complications that can be taxing on one’s emotional well-being.
It was my honor to have been able to practice massage therapy with my grandmother with essential oil blends and assist my mother in dressing my grandmother’s wounds with raw honey. We also incorporated dietary supplements and encouraged a special diet to aid in the healing and treatment of her wounds. The benefits we observed were remarkable and have inspired me to share some of these amazing holistic remedies for wound care with you.
Chemotherapy and radiotherapy, both have adverse effects on the healing of wounds in cancer patients. While these interventions have varying degrees of success
in localizing cancer cells, it damages adjacent tissues, in addition to attacking cancer cells. This furthers the body’s distress and struggle with wound healing.
Chemotherapy, for example, aims to interfere with rapidly multiplying cancer cells by interfering with the cell cycle. Though the cancer cells are the primary target, cells with high turnover rates like macrophages and fibroblasts are also susceptible to interference. Both macrophages and fibroblasts are actually involved in wound healing so this explicitly demonstrates why radiation therapies often prove harmful to the skin and to wounds in particular.
Nutrition & Wound Care
An estimated 40% to 80% of patients with cancer are clinically malnourished. These patients are increasingly susceptible to infectious complications and delayed wound healing, as found by Payne et al. in a literature review published in Eplasty. In order to promote proper wound care from a holistic approach, it is necessary to consider the foundation of holistic methods- nutritional health. After all, what goes inside- shows on the outside.
It is critically important to continuously drink water and to hydrate your system even when healthy. The at times inconvenient urge to urinate, is part of the body’s natural detoxifying processes, in order to help our bodily systems, maintain homeostasis. We should aid it in any way possible, e.g. hydration and frequent urination.
Nutritional compounds that aid the body in healing wounds:
Protein- a body in need of mending wounds and fighting infections needs energy in an effort to satisfy the metabolic demands.
Amino Acids- Payne et al, cite that essential amino acids, including arginine and sulfur-containing amino acids, are believed to be required for optimal wound healing and collagen deposition.
Vitamins A, & C- With collagen in mind, vitamins A & C are critically important to collagen synthesis and an increased rate of wound closure. Vitamin A also increases the recruitment of macrophages, which is an immune cell that can actually ‘eat’ cancer cells decreasing their survival rate. Macrophages are a class of cells that chemotherapy inadvertently destroys.
In an Experimental Study in Wound Healing in Vitamin C Depleted Human Subjects, Wolfer et al described a 50% reduction in the tensile strength of healing wounds in patients suffering from vitamin C depletion, proving the importance of vitamin C in wound care and healing processes.
Natural Remedies for Wound Care
For severe skin conditions, such as ulcerating tumors and lymphedema, there are two holistic methods of caring for these wounds in ways that will aid in managing the scent, comforting the pain, and managing oozing wounds. For anyone suffering from open wounds as a result of cancer, these methods should be discussed and considered with the guidance of a medical professional, nurse, or a licensed home health aide, in conjunction with previously discussed methods of treatment. Each individual has unique causes for their wounds, differing thresholds for pain, and differing severity in their condition. Only a healthcare professional can properly help one make important medical decisions.
The reason wounds smell is due to the bacteria in the wound. It can be very difficult to cope with the scent of a patient, and it is important to remain optimistic while dressing these wounds. It is critical to keep the wound as clean as possible while maintaining the comfort of the individual.
Wound debridement is the process of removing dead tissue from a wound. There are various methods of debridement. The autolytic form of debridement is the natural process of allowing both enzymes and moisture to break down tissues. This method is effective, easy, and less painful than alternative methods, but it does take a while for healing and does not consider the weakened immune system of cancer patients.
With my grandmother, we practiced a mechanical form of debridement, known as “wet to dry”. This approach utilizes a gauze wrap that is moist with a saline solution and is applied to the wound. The gauze is left for a few hours to dry onto the patient and then is removed and changed. This process causes discomfort because the dead tissue is pulled off of the wound. This is necessary to expedite the healing process, but can also result in the removal of living tissue as well. This process also required a lot of time and frequent dressing changes in order to prevent infection. In the effort to comfort a patient utilizing this method I would recommend applying aloe vera to the gauze. This will soothe the wounded flesh and allow for more time before the wrap is completely dry.
Essential Oils. I absolutely love and encourage the use of essential oils. My grandmother was delighted by the diffuser and benefited emotionally and physically from the application of these oils. We created a blend of renowned antibacterial, antimicrobial, antifungal, antiviral and relaxing oils. Some of the oils in this blend include frankincense, myrrh, tea tree, cinnamon, lavender, and bergamot. The anti-bacterial properties of these oils helped to eliminate the odor inducing bacteria. It also emitted a pleasant scent upon application. * It is equally important to mindfully seek a medical grade oil distributor as well as incorporate a base oil, like almond, to lessen the powerful properties of these purified oils. *
After my grandmother had showered, I would administer massage to encourage lymphatic drainage, while applying the essential oil blend. The mix of soothing aromas and gentle human touch provided her comfort and encouraged healing. From the holistic approach, reducing stress is especially helpful in treating and preventing cancer. Massage and oil application during the wound treatment process really helped my grandmother reduce her emotional stress.
Raw honey dressing. Most healthcare professionals would agree that pharmaceutical grade honey is an excellent agent for healing wounds. In a study published in Evidence Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine, honey proves to be “anti-inflammatory, antimicrobial, antimutagenic, and an antioxidant. Its anticancer activity has been proven against various cancer cell lines and tissues, such as breast, colorectal, renal, prostate, endometrial, cervical, and oral cancer.” If honey’s anti-cancer properties don’t excite you, maybe knowing that honey’s viscosity also aids in slowing bleeding and oozing of the wound, will!
As of 2008, the FDA approved active Manuka honey as a treatment for wound care. The Manuka tree is the tea tree which has antibacterial compounds as well, making this honey a strong salve against infections. Honey has been used to treat wounds throughout history and has ceased to amaze with its medicinal benefits. The molecular components of honey aid in debridement and fight inflammation.
It initially came as a great surprise to us that when we began applying the raw honey directly to the wounds on my grandmother’s chest, she experienced a stinging pain. Therefore, before using this method of treatment be sure to modestly apply the honey, and consider applying a coating to a gauze wrap and then to the skin, as opposed to applying directly to the skin.
With the multiple methods of debridement and natural plant-based dressings in mind, along with practicing discipline in nutritional health, even some of the worst wounds can be managed more comfortably.