Amy Comander, MD, laughs easily and often, finding humor in every nook and cranny: in ironies, in the workday and in herself. She’s a mom who revels in the rewards and challenges of motherhood. She’s a daughter who lost her own mom to cancer in 2011, and who has been encouraged and mentored by her physician father. She’s also a runner who believes endurance runs are good therapy and small adjustments in lifestyle can literally save your life. It’s the very ethic she embraced early in her career and by which she has built her practice.
“I was fortunate to inherit a passion for medicine from my parents,” she explains. She was inspired by her father’s all-purpose energy and how, as a physician, he applied himself to unpacking the latest medical conundrum confronting him — a patient presenting with a strange constellation of symptoms and who he ultimately diagnosed with severe hypothyroidism, or, in another case, a Vitamin B12 deficiency. Dr. Comander says her mother taught her to celebrate the passing moments every chance she got: birthdays, holidays, children and grandchildren. “She planted compassion in me as if it were a seed.”
As a medical student, Dr. Comander chose to specialize in oncology, with a focus on caring for individuals with breast cancer. This led her eventually to lifestyle medicine.
“Cancer remains a complicated disease with no simple, single explanation. But the evidence shows that the interventions of lifestyle medicine can reduce the risk of recurrence of breast cancer and improve outcomes for the long-term.”
Amy Comander, MD
“Lifestyle medicine is the therapeutic use of evidence-based lifestyle interventions [such as diet, exercise, good sleep habits, etc.] in a clinical setting to treat and prevent lifestyle-related diseases,” she says. “Lifestyle medicine empowers individuals with the knowledge and life skills to make effective behavior changes that address the underlying causes of disease.”
Lifestyle medicine also incorporates Dr. Comander’s passion for mind-body medicine, which uses meditation, yoga and other scientifically proven techniques to strengthen the natural healing capacities of body and mind.
“A breast cancer diagnosis is life-changing and can bring physical and emotional challenges,” Dr. Commander says. “In my breast oncology clinic visits, my patients often ask me, ‘How should I resume an exercise regimen?’ ‘What type of diet should I follow?’ ‘How can I get back to my healthy weight?’ They are often highly motivated to take whatever steps are necessary to improve their recovery. I love my work in lifestyle medicine because it provides me with the tools to educate and empower my patients to improve their health, well-being and outcome from their cancer.”
PAVING a Path to Wellness
Dr. Comander recently took over the directorship of the Mass General Cancer Center Lifestyle Medicine Program, and she is the director of the Mass General PAVING the Path to Wellness Program for individuals with a diagnosis of breast cancer.
Built upon the six evidence-based pillars of lifestyle medicine — nutrition, exercise, sleep, stress management, substance use management and social connection — PAVING the Path to Wellness is a 12-week program that educates breast cancer patients of all ages about these pillars and about the power of personal connections. The program features guest speakers on topics that include sexual health, physical therapy, behavioral health, nutrition and integrative medicine (the role of yoga, acupuncture and music therapy).
“Cancer remains a complicated disease with no simple, single explanation,” says Dr. Comander. “But the evidence shows that the interventions of lifestyle medicine can reduce the risk of recurrence of breast cancer and improve outcomes for the long-term.”
Only the Beginning
Dr. Comander feels that her work as a lifestyle medicine practitioner marries the passion and compassion she inherited from her parents with the scientific knowledge available at Mass General. She says this is what informs her healing strategies: a holistic approach to health maintenance that gives patients another chance at life and a good chance at being their best selves.
“More than 100 women have participated in the PAVING program thus far,” says Dr. Comander. “Last summer I collaborated with Dr. Naomi Ko, of Boston Medical Center, and Dr. Erica Warner, of Mass General, to offer the PAVING program to a group of underserved women at Boston Medical Center. We hope this expansion is only the beginning and we are excited about further collaborations.”
To learn more about the PAVING the Path to Wellness program, please contact us.