After losing his father to esophageal cancer in 2000, life for Werner Absenger was different.
"As you can imagine, the experience was quite moving," says Absenger, the former Chef de Cuisine at Amway Grand Plaza's Cygnus 27
. "One of the things my dad always talked about was about reaching my potential or that anyone should be able to reach his potential, and that really was working on me after he passed away and I tried to figure out, well, what could my potential be?"
It may have taken one bachelor's degree in alternative medicine, one master's degree in human nutrition, a doctorate's in mind-body medicine, and a little over a decade of balancing research with a full-time career as a chef, but Absenger has finally found his potential in the creation of his new nonprofit, The Absenger Cancer Education Foundation
Named in honor of his father and his family's cancer journey, ACEF opened its Spring Lake offices this month, dedicating the space to helping cancer survivors – a term which for his practice includes the patients, their families and their friends – restore a kind of balance to their lives with mindfulness practices like yoga, meditation, music therapy, and nutrition counseling, to name a few.
"The National Institute of Health just reported in August that we have not done enough for people with chronic conditions to address the need of the whole person," says Absenger, who refers to the whole person as not only the physical, but the psychosocial and the spiritual, too.
ACEF classes, taught by six different specialty instructors, teach self-care in cancer survivorship with three foci – education of public and health care providers, integrating mind-body medicine and survivorship, and advancing mind-body medicine research in West Michigan.
Absenger himself recently authored his findings from a study he conducted on cancer-related sickness behavior during and after cancer treatment and the negative impact it can have on the quality of life of patients in cancer survivorship. He hopes that, along with offering holistic services to the community of cancer survivors in West Michigan, he can usher in a new wave of cutting-edge research on the benefits of mind-body medicine used in tandem with traditional treatments.
ACEF doesn't seek to denounce traditional methods of treatment, but rather to call attention to the spiritual, emotional and psychosocial baggage acquired along the cancer journey that often goes unattended to by traditional medicine.
"Doctors are really good at the physical, but doctors are not so good in addressing the psychosocial aspects," Absenger says. "Cancer affects people tremendously and not only the cancer survivors, but also the caregivers and the loved ones.... What mind-body medicine can do (yoga, meditation) against stress management, those things actually can help with the crisis cancer survivors are facing and it makes it easier for them to try and figure out what path they're on and get them to know their new emerging self. It helps them grow into the experience."
Memberships are not required to enroll in any of the classes offered at ACEF, however individual memberships run $29 per month and two-person "caregiver" memberships cost $39 per month.
For more information on ACEF, available classes, instructors and mind-body medicine techniques, visit www.amacf.org.
By Anya Zentmeyer, Development News Editor
Images Courtesy of Werner Absenger