I guess I was not done with my previous post!!!
I really think that it is easier to see cancer as a verb when you are sitting “on the other side of the fence”. I have been there. As a psychologist, we often dig into the roots of someone’s pain and suffering to see if there are deeply rooted issues that could cause the symptoms. In my experience, it is often the case. So I too believed that the mind has a part to play into illnesses. I haven’t worked much with people who have cancer but I still believed, before I was diagnosed, that stressful and traumatic events could be at the origin of a cancer. In my own work with my mind-body therapist, I thought for sure my therapist would think that I was trying to hide some sort of trauma that could have caused my cancer. After four months of weekly sessions, I think it is clear in both of our minds that in my case, no external negative event caused my cancer. I have been reading Bernie Siegel’s work again after giving him the cold shoulder for believing that cancer is caused by traumatic/difficult situations. I actually even sent him an email about it and he took the time to respond and was very caring and thoughtful in his response. I am now eagerly waiting for his latest book to come in!
The notion that cancer is a verb implies, on some level, that people with cancer are responsible to some degree for their disease. If you smoke or never protect your skin from the sun, well I guess you may be asking for it but for all the other cancers it is harder to prove. The flip side of this notion, that one can contribute to their cancer, is that if we can cause the disease, then we should have the power to get rid of it. This part, I WANT to believe in, I want it to be true. I want the will to live, a positive attitude, and doing everything you can to be healthy (in conjunction with medical treatment) to be able to cure one’s cancer. I really want to believe that everything I am doing is going to work and that I will be one of those miraculous cases.
In his book “Love, Medicine, and Miracles”, Bernie Siegel describes 3 types of patients. His take is that 15 to 20% of patients are resigned and basically “ok” to die, 60 to 70% of patients just go with the flow and do what they are told, and 15 to 20% of patients are what he calls “exceptional patients”. The latter are the patients who refuse to see themselves as victims and basically become specialists in their care and do everything in their power to get better. I am so intrigued by these exceptional patients. There are so many cases of “spontaneous remission” and of people who defy the odds by curing themselves after being told they have months to live. What is it about those patients? He described how most of these patients have a high level of self-respect and self-acceptance, they are independent and self-reliant, creative, flexible (adapt well to changes), authentic, true to themselves, assertive and the list goes on. He describes how someone can learn to have a “survivor personality” and that it is not a matter or being born with it or not.
The sad thing is though, that I have seen extraordinary people who were true and true fighters, who did everything in their power to rid themselves of this disease and did not make it… Cancer is so unpredictable. Unlike diabetes where, if you keep your blood sugars in check and take your insulin accordingly, you should be fine. What about cancer, it seems like nothing is a given, it simply is a Russian roulette.
Nevertheless, there are plenty of research that supports the notion that stresses impede our nervous system which compromises our immune system. There is a whole field within psychology called psychoneuroimmunology which is connected to the mind-body approach. Simply stated, when our mind is stressed, our body is stressed and when our body is stressed, our mind is stressed. There is more and more evidence that being relaxed, less stressed, speeds recovery and strengthen our immune system. It took me a while to agree with the notion that “the body can heal itself naturally” but the evidence is there. When you cut yourself, your body knows what to do, your wound heals itself. When I was reading about this at first, I couldn’t help to wonder if my disease was too advanced – sure we can heal from a cut but what about from a Stage 4 cancer? I feel like I am absolutely on the right track with my good results so far. I want to fit into Dr. Siegel’s category of exceptional patients who beat the odds. One thing I really liked in his book is how he says we need to change the “why me” to “try me” – this is exactly what I said to my oncologist, “just watch me”. Yeah try me and watch me go, cancer you have no chance on me!