Integrative medicine provides a balance between alternative and conventional care
Cheryl Keely was tired of being tired. In July 2000, a few days after testing for her red belt in tae kwon do, Keely began experiencing exhaustion so severe that she would sleep between 18 and 20 hours per day. She spent the next six years seeking treatment from multiple physicians, trying to find a way to rid herself of her constant, debilitating fatigue.
In 2006, she finally had an answer. Physicians at the Cleveland Clinic diagnosed her with chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS), also known as chronic fatigue immune deficiency syndrome or myalgic encephalomyelitis. However, before receiving her official diagnosis, Keely had turned to alternative therapies for some relief.
“The fewer chemicals I put into my body and the less invasive the treatment options, the better,” Keely said.
According to Keely, treatment for CFS is based on relief of symptoms, as there is no cure.
“Much of the protocol for treating the illness calls for a combination of alternative and conventional medicine, so an integrative approach is the perfect fit,” she said.
Integrative medicine combines conventional treatment methods with alternative therapies such as acupuncture, massage and herbal supplements. There are holistic approaches to treating a broad range of ailments and illnesses, from the common cold and seasonal allergies to joint pain and acid reflux.
“I like to emphasize that integrative medicine is about the entire person and the physical, emotional, social and spiritual components of that person,” said Rachel Busse, M.D., Keely’s primary care physician.
Dr. Busse completed a yearlong fellowship in integrative medicine, focusing on herbs, vitamins, supplements, stress reduction, nutrition, homeopathy and other holistic modalities.
To treat her CFS, Keely rotates homeopathic treatments with prescribed medications. She maintains a vegetarian diet and monitors her activity level using a pedometer and timer. And because she can easily become fatigued from strenuous activity, she naps several times a day, from 30 minutes to three hours at a time, and limits her physical activity.
“I aim to keep my steps to no more than 5,000 a day,” Keely said. “The pedometer is a physical reminder to help keep me from overdoing it. If I get close to 5,000 steps, I know I have to stop everything for the day. If I go too far over, I know to plan extra rest periods over the next several days.”
While Keely is no longer able to compete in tae kwon do, she is learning new ways to adapt to the limitations her illness places on her life. She and her dog, Dagaz, compete in agility training competitions. To keep from wearing herself out, Keely’s agility instructor works with her to limit the amount of running she does between obstacles. During competitions, Keely brings a mat, pillow, sleep mask and headphones.
“Whatever I do, wherever I go, I must plan rest periods,” Keely said.
She and Dagaz are also certified as a Wonderful Animals Giving Support (WAGS) team and participate in local pet therapy programs.
“I find that giving back in such a way helps me keep my mind off my own illness and serves as a great reminder that no matter what you are going through, it is possible to make a difference for the better for others,” Keely said.
Dr. Busse feels that an integrative approach to caring for illnesses — whether common and minor or rare and chronic — can change her patients’ lives for the better. She emphasizes
the importance of a patient’s diet and physical activity level, and how these can greatly impact symptoms.
“I focus on what can bring you back to your natural balance,” Dr. Busse said. “I tell new patients that I live between the conventional and alternative worlds. If you have a major disease or potentially dangerous symptom, then I will recommend an evidence-based conventional approach. If you have a difficult-to-diagnose or stress- or lifestyle-induced condition, then I want to look at the whole person, the root cause, and find the most natural approach.”