Need answers or support?  Call 866-228-4673

Complementary Therapies and Healthy Eating

Originally published on November 10, 2009
Most recently updated on April 14, 2015

As a parent there may be times where you want more for your child than what is being offered by your child’s clinical team through standard medical care. When used in addition, or as a compliment to, traditional treatment and surgery, complimentary therapies and nutrition counseling may improve your child’s ability to cope with and tolerate treatments as well as improve physical well-being. It is critical to always discuss with your child’s team any additional therapies you may be considering.

Anyone who practices complimentary medicine should be licensed and certified.

As complimentary therapies begin to be more widely used and accepted, many of these modalities are being offered within hospital settings as part of their treatment plan. Insurance coverage for complimentary therapies is not widely offered. Some policies cover a portion of these treatments, but many do not. The complimentary therapies can be large out of pocket expenses. We recommend speaking with your team as to including your child’s individual complimentary treatment plan within their protocol in hopes to standardize fees.


Acupuncture is a common practice in Chinese medicine, dating back more than 2500 years. Specially designed hair-thin needles of different sizes are inserted into acupoints, areas along the body that when manipulated help correct and rebalance the natural flow of energy in the body. Acupuncture is a painless method of reducing the nausea, fatigue, and anxiety that may be involved in the treatment of brain tumors. It has also been shown to improve blood-counts. Some children can have a fear of needles, but if your child is willing to try one acupuncture needle, they may be relieved to realize that an acupuncture needle does not hurt a bit. You are your child’s best advocate and will be able to determine the balance between the possible anxiety of starting acupuncture for your child and this therapy’s proven positive effects.

“Acupuncture is a very effective therapy to minimize the side effects of treatment. It can help children to educe nausea, anxiety and improve their energy. It is a non-pharmacuetical option to improve your child’s quality of life. If used appropriately, acupuncture can be painless.”

Weidong Lu, LICAC

“Before I had acupuncture on Thursday’s (after treatment) I used to just lie on the couch and rest. Now on Thursday’s I can go to school and do everything. The needles do not hurt one bit.”

9 y/o survivor


Aromatherapy means “treatment using scents.” It is a holistic treatment of caring for the body with pleasant smelling botanical oils such as rose, lemon, lavender and peppermint. Essential oils are added into the bath or are massaged into the skin, inhaled directly or diffused to scent an entire room. Aromatherapy is used to relieve pain, care for the skin, alleviate tension and fatigue, and invigorate the entire body. Essential oils can affect the mood, alleviate fatigue, reduce anxiety, and promote relaxation. When inhaled, they work on the brain and nervous system through stimulation of the olfactory nerves. Your child may be sensitive to hospital sounds and smells while receiving radiation and chemotherapy treatment. Some bone marrow transplant units are using aromatherapy during bone marrow infusions to alleviate anxiety. This may be an easy and helpful way to help your child at the hospital, but experts suggest your child may not like the smell used while at the hospital in the future, so it is important to keep that in mind when picking an aroma.

Guided-Imagery and Visualization

Guided-imagery uses the power of a soothing voice and your child’s imagination to help your child’s coping with potentially anxiety producing or painful procedures. Using a peaceful image; such as lying in the warm sun, on a beach, while listening to lapping water and waves in the background while you softly stroke your child’s hand and arm, can lead your child into a calm state of mind, drawn completely into the image you have provided for them. Some children report guided-imagery can help them with nausea, anxiety, and lengthy MRI scans.

You can work with your child daily on visualizing their good cells over taking any brain tumor cells or the chemotherapy gobbling up the “bad cells” like within the pac-man game. Some children report feelings of empowerment and self-determination when using this technique, while other children have a hard time focusing on this activity on a daily basis. You will quickly learn what works for your child and what may be something that may cause more stress.

Healthy Eating

*Seek the advice of a trained nutritionist or homeopathic practitioner who has experience working with patients diagnosed with cancer.

There can be a difficult balance between creating healthy eating habits for your child and your child’s refusal to eat any food choice that is not their own. Dramatically changing a child’s diet or lifestyle after their diagnosis of a brain tumor may result in resistance to eating at all. Lack of food consumption could be counterproductive to your child’s overall health and wellbeing. You know your child best. There may be times where you will need to give your child any food to maintain calorie intake rather than healthier choices. If you are interested in a healthy living approach to nutrition during and after your child’s treatment, you may want to explore some of the colorful and creative cancer cookbooks such as Betty Crocker’s “Living with Cancer Cookbook” which contains helpful nutritional information. Engaging your child in choosing and cooking meals may go a long way in establishing compliance with a healthier diet. Good nutrition is important for a healthy immune system. Explaining to your child that chemotherapy and radiation therapy help to treat their brain tumor but may take a toll on their immune system, may engage your child’s interest in their own health and wellbeing, empowering them to make healthier choices.

If you are interested in adding vitamins and supplements that may help your child’s immune system through treatment, we advise you always consult your medical team.

You may also want to ask that a trained nutritionist be part of your child’s ongoing treatment team.

Laughter and Humor

The average child laughs 400 times a day. Humor has both positive psychological and physical affects and may serve as a coping strategy for your child by reducing feelings of anxiety, nervous tension, anger and pain.

Some hospitals offer Clown Care Units in which the old adage “laughter is the best medicine” may ring true. Some clown care units utilize magic tricks, bubbles, laughter, and music to entertain, distract and heal.

Massage Therapy

Massage therapy can play an important role in supporting the well-being of your child through illness and recovery. Massage therapy involves touch and different techniques of stroking or kneading the muscles of the body. In can involved only part of the body or a full-body massage. A foot massage by a trained massage therapist while receiving chemotherapy may be extremely relaxing and can immediately reduce feelings of nausea. Research has shown that massage therapy can help decrease anxiety, depression, insomnia, physical discomfort and pain, and help with symptoms of illness or side effects of medications.

Music Therapy

Music has the ability to assist with emotional, physical or spiritual health and to enhance quality of life. Music and sound promote relaxation and may assist in pain management as well as decrease anxiety, depression, and fear. It has also been shown to reduce nausea and vomiting during chemotherapy administration. The empowering experience of music therapy could prove to be the best part of your child’s day at the hospital. Learning a new musical instrument, singing along with a favorite CD, or playing in a band with other children receiving treatment are all possibilities in the realm of music therapy.

“Children and adolescents going through treatment for cancer need to have moments of normalcy, empowerment, and opportunities to increase their self-confidence and self-expression. The universality of music can help these patients find that place and just be a kid.”

-Lorrie Kubicek, MT-BC


Reiki, or otherwise known as healing touch, is a gentle but powerful source of relaxation. This modality may prove helpful in stimulating your child’s immune function, enhancing post-surgical healing, and relieving physical and emotional symptoms.


IIn the ancient Sandskrit text of India, “Yoga” is defined as the union of the body and the mind. Yoga is a good kind of exercise for children as it is gentile, non-competitive, and works not only on the entire body but also the mind and the spirit. Children of all ages and physical abilities can practice yoga. Children can learn to stretch, breathe deeply, relax and concentrate. Yoga builds stamina, stability and balance. It helps to improve digestion, elimination of toxins, and to keep them healthy and happy.


1 (888) 644-6226

“Not only can complimentary therapies improve your quality of life, but they can empower you to feel more in control and pro-active in your own care. I have first hand experience of the use of complimentary therapies improving the quality of my life and reducing my medical symptoms. It also gives the patient an opportunity to use every resource at their disposal for times when they are feeling their worst. “

Rebecca Wark, Liaison for the Jimmy Fund Clinic and the Zakim Center for Integrative Medicine


©2009 Children's Brain Tumor Foundation.    1460 Broadway, New York, NY 10036    (866) 228-4673

Privacy Policy   |   Site Map