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Meet Lisa Nicholson | Licensed Acupuncturist

Today we’re excited to introduce you to Lisa Nicholson. Lisa is a Licensed Acupuncturist and is also a content partner. Content partners help Voyage in so many ways from spreading the word about the work that we do, sponsoring our mission and collaborating with us on content like this. Check out our conversation with Lisa below.

Hi Lisa, so great to have you join us again. For folks who might have missed our earlier conversations, can you please take a minute to briefly introduce yourself?
I’m Lisa Nicholson, licensed acupuncturist for over 20 years, and owner of Balboa Park Holistic Wellness Center.

For the first 15 years, my practice focused on working with people with work injuries, sports injuries, and chronic pain. I’ve been working with the VA’s community care program since it began, helping veterans to manage chronic pain and PTSD. During this time, I was an avid ultra-distance road cyclist, well-known in the local and US randonneuring community. In 2015 I was one of 45 women to complete Paris-Breast-Paris, a 1200k (780 mile) ride across France.

In 2017, the direction of my life and my practice changed when I was diagnosed with breast cancer. Thankfully, the cancer was caught very early. But it was an aggressive cancer and I had significant genetic risk, so I went through all the treatment – surgery, chemo, radiation, more surgery. I’m still on hormone-blocking medication, and grateful to still be cancer-free.

I found it extremely challenging to find the supportive care I wanted while going though my treatment, and made a decision to dedicate my life and my practice to helping other people who are on this challenging journey. While I was going through my treatment and recovering, I threw myself into getting educated about cancer treatment, how to safely support people going through chemo and radiation, and use of cannabis for control of symptoms of conventional care. As I started working with more and more breast cancer patients, it became apparent that there were certain issues which nearly every patient experienced, and that the physicians have very little to offer in the way of solutions – symptoms like neuropathy during chemotherapy, skin burns and sensitivity during radiation, hot flashes and sexual side effects of hormone blocking medications. I started researching and looking for drug-free, evidence-informed solutions, and then started creating classes.

In addition to helping individual patients to manage all of these symptoms and more, I now offer monthly virtual community education classes on improving sleep, managing menopause symptoms without medication, relieving feminine dryness and atrophy without hormones, safe use of cannabis as medicine, and maintaining bone density after menopause. I’m constantly researching and adding more classes. I also run a breast cancer support group from my clinic which has been virtual since the start of the pandemic in 2020. I’m starting a monthly “Ask the Acupuncturist” series in September where people can get into a Zoom meeting and get all of their questions answered in real time.

In addition to working with breast cancer patients, I found through my research that prostate cancer patients experience similar issues from hormone blocking medication, and I’ve worked with a number of prostate cancer patients to support them through their treatment and beyond. While I work with anyone looking for supportive care through cancer treatment, I have the most experience working with patients going through treatment for breast and prostate cancers.

I still love riding my bike, but these days I’m doing more hiking than pedaling, and have been dedicating my free time to enjoying kitty snuggles with my furry companion, exploring the local canyons with my husband, taking photos of plants as they change with the seasons, and working my way through preparing my “bucket list of foods” (such as bean-to-bar chocolate, Pekin duck, and masala dosas) in my home kitchen.

Of course we remind our readers that they should always consult their medical providers prior to making any medical decisions and should view anything they read here as educational and not advice. That said, for discussion purposes, in your view, how can acupuncture be of benefit to people going through cancer treatment?
First and foremost, we do NOT treat the cancer. My role as an acupuncturist is to support the PATIENT going through treatment for cancer. In that sense, it’s not very different from treating any other patient. We do an intake, talk about what is going on, establish some treatment goals, and then provide acupuncture, nutrition recommendations, and supplements where appropriate.

One of the biggest challenges for people going through cancer treatment is the side effects. Chemotherapy is notorious for causing nausea, neuropathy, pain, fatigue, brain fog, and more. Radiation can also cause fatigue, pain, skin burns, and other symptoms. Surgeries can result in pain, which can lead patients to not move enough and have difficulty recovering full strength and range of motion.

Acupuncture is extremely effective for managing nausea. There are some great studies showing that acupuncture is at least as effective as some medications for reducing neuropathy. Supplements and acupuncture can help to reduce fatigue, improve quality of sleep, manage treatment-related anxiety, and overall improve quality of life.

For patients who are nearing the end of what conventional care can offer, acupuncture can help with anxiety, make breathing easier, improve appetite, and relieve pain, making a patient’s final days and weeks more comfortable. Acupuncturists can (and should be!) a part of every cancer center’s supportive and palliative care team. A patient who is less miserable with side effects will be more compliant with treatment. A patient who is less anxious will typically have better outcome from their conventional treatment.

What is cannabis health coaching and how does it work?
Cannabis health coaching is a process of sitting down face-to-face with a patient who is interested in using cannabis to help with symptoms of a medical condition. Over the last 5 years, research on cannabis as medicine has exploded and we’re finding out that this plant can do incredible things when used correctly. Conditions cannabis can help with include pain, nausea, lack of appetite, weakness from MS, PTSD, anxiety, PMS, endometriosis, insomnia, and so much more. It’s no surprise to me as an herbalist – cannabis has been part of the materia medicas of China, Greece, India, and Iran for over 5000 years. It is one of the primary herbs in Chinese medicine for virtually all female symptoms from PMS to endometriosis pain to anxiety. The seeds are even used as a tea to relieve constipation, particularly when the patient is “dry”. Despite this, cannabis has not been legally accessible to us in the United States since 1937. I still can’t “prescribe” or recommend specific products because even though cannabis is a plant and technically an herb, it is classified as a drug in the United States. It’s now fully legal for both medicine and recreation in California where I live, but it will take legalization on a national level and declassifying it from a Schedule 1 drug with “no medical uses” for everyone to be able to access this particular herb.

In a coaching session, we review the patient’s medical history, talk about their goals for cannabis use, discuss their experience with using cannabis in the past, and obtain a detailed list of current medications. We provide education about cannabis and it’s active ingredients, ways to take it (inhale, edible, under the tongue, suppositories) and the advantages/disadvantages of each, discuss possible interactions with other medications, and create a plan. Then we recommend trusted dispensaries where patients can legally purchase products which will meet their needs. The plan includes types of products and active ingredient ratios/dosing for daytime and nighttime use, how to adjust dosage to optimize the effects, and may also include diet or other supplement recommendations to support the patient’s goals. We follow up at minimum every three months to adjust the plan, and the patient can always reach out with questions between meetings.

Patients are strongly encouraged to keep their physicians “in the loop” and informed about the products they are using, and to discuss possible interactions with their pharmacists. Cannabis health coaching is NOT a substitute for medical care, and is intended for symptom relief rather than as a treatment.

What services do you offer to cancer patients in addition to acupuncture?
In addition to acupuncture, we offer craniosacral therapy which is a very gentle osteopathic technique to release soft-tissue restrictions. It’s awesome for pain and very soothing and calming. Sometimes, it’s just the thing for relieving pain after surgery. We also offer nutrition counseling, supplements, Chinese herbs, Cannabis health coaching, and a breast cancer support group. The clinic offers monthly community education classes on a variety of topics which can be helpful to people going through cancer treatment.

Do you work with people besides cancer patients?
YES! We sure do. I’ve never stopped loving working with athletes and veterans, and many breast cancer patients have the same issues menopausal women experience so I work with a lot of women who are near or in menopause. My clinic will happily work with nearly anyone, and if we feel we can’t provide the right level of care, we’ll do our best to make a referral to someone who will be a better fit.

Alright, so before we go, how can our readers connect with you to learn more and show support?
The clinic website is balboaparkholisticwellnesscenter.com and the phone number is (619)772-4002. We take calls, texts, and even Messenger chats – we’re happy to communicate on any platform we know how to use!

We are on Google, Yelp, Facebook, YouTube, and Instagram, and we LOVE seeing comments and reviews.

Contact Info:

Image Credits
Lisa Nicholson All of the photography including the photos in the memes is my own – it’s a hobby. And I designed all the memes myself in Canva.

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