top of page
AZP Physician Spotlights - Web - Rula 1.png

Physician Spotlight

Meet Heidi Rula, MD, Integrative Oncology and Medical Director of the Supportive Care Services Department at Ironwood Cancer & Research Centers as she discusses integrative medicine.
From Print Issue - Fall 2023
  • AZP TW
  • AZP FB
  • AZP IG

Q: How does integrative medicine apply to oncology?


A: I think it’s a great fit in that space of support, which is really what I do in integrative oncology. Cancer is something that creates a storm in somebody’s life. People who have cancer have incredible stress. From the stress around their work, their finances, their relationships to the fear of their mortality, huge stressors in which we help them navigate. Beyond stress, we work with patients on side effect management as many of our patients don’t want to just take another pill when they’re nauseated or if they can’t sleep. We bring in other tools to help them navigate some of the challenges of their conventional cancer treatment. These tools allow them to take a more active role post diagnosis. I think a lot of times when you get a cancer diagnosis, it’s a whirlwind, you feel like you’ve totally lost control of your ability to care for yourself. That’s where we step in, supporting patients in helping them understand areas in where they can take ownership of certain aspects of their care, which can be very empowering to them. We help patients build a foundation for care through optimal nutrition, sleep regulation, and helping them with digestive or nervous system issues. Finally, our team also helps restore health after some of the toxicities of their treatment may have caused some complications.

Q: What are the results that you’ve seen?

A: I hear from my patients over and over that it was just so important for them to get this level of support we provide. They don’t know how they would have gotten through their treatment without it. They feel like their side effects were less because we spend a lot of time on patient education by using an hour, hour, and a half by sitting with each patient and helping them understand how to manage their side effects. By teaching them different ways to eat, supplements to take, and mind/body approaches, it builds a different mental outlook in patients. They begin to see that their therapy is something that’s healing their body versus adding toxins to the body. Ultimately, I think the big piece is where patients become empowered as they feel like they have the tools and education to get through some that’s incredibly challenging, like cancer.

Heidi Rula MD.jpg

"I hear from my patients over and over that it was just so important for them to get this level of support we provide."

Q: Can you describe a typical oncology patient who receives these integrative medicine services?


A: One of our most common examples is breast cancer patients as they're starting their journey through chemotherapy, radiation and surgery. Patients come in very stressed because a cancer diagnosis is pretty overwhelming. So, we walk them through the steps they can incorporate in their nutrition, which may include supplements. Helping patients with their nutrition and exercise may help to lessen side effects of the chemotherapy. We also help patients with their mental outlook through mind-body guided imagery, learning new breathing techniques, and the importance of continued exercise. We also provide support post treatment by seeing what kind of residual side effects patients may have, as well as seeing if they have incorporated the lifestyle education changes we have shown them. This shows the patient what the integrative kind of support system looks like as they're going through treatment.

Q: What other complementary practitioners are in your integrative oncology team?


A: Our team includes dietitians, social workers, acupuncturists, and even a department coordina­tor. This allows us to provide many classes. In our Chandler office, for example, we offer Reiki. In our other locations, we also offer yoga and Tai Chi.


Q: Why does Ironwood offer integrative oncology and other oncology practices don’t?


A: I think supportive care is a big challenge in cancer care. The economics are challenging. Insurance doesn’t cover the cost of some programming that we run. So, this is kind of on Ironwood to identify as an important aspect of patient care. Even though financially, it may cost Ironwood more and not generate as much revenue, we do it because it provides the best care for the patient. Then, the word gets out that this is a place where you’re going to be supported as a whole person versus just delivering cancer care and not taking care of all the other aspects of your health. Patients are smart consumers. They seek out our elevated level of care.

bottom of page