You can do everything right from a physical standpoint, you could eat all the right things, take all the right supplements, exercise, and do all manner of positive improvements, but still not heal. The key is to get the body, mind and soul all aligned and working together.
I've been busy re-reading several pivotal books that I discovered when I was cancering the first time in 2001. One of these is Timeless Healing - The Power and Biology of Belief by Herbert Benson. Dr. Benson is an MD, Harvard professor and pioneer in the field of mind-body medicine. I highly recommend not only this book, but everything he's written. We'll talk more about Dr. Benson when we discuss his relaxation response in a subsequent post.
A note about belief and why a positive attitude is not enoughI have always been a "glass half full" kind of girl. It is not unusual to have people comment on my positive attitude and how it would help me beat cancer. I thought it was enough. I thought a positive attitude was the same as mind-body alignment. It's not. The missing element is belief!
The first time through cancer I was 100% certain that I would beat it. So were my doctors and my support system. This time, something subtle changed. Looking back on it I can tell you exactly when it happened. It was a year ago. My CA 27-29 tumor marker numbers were at 40 (30s are normal) and my PET scan showed amazing reduction of cancer (difficult to find anything) and rejuvenated bones. I was doing the happy dance as you can imagine and I said to my oncologist. So I'm close to being done with this, right? In remission!
To which my kind and well meaning oncologist said, "Oh no sweetie. It's in your bones. You'll always have it. The meds just sort of keep a lid on it. The meds stop working after awhile and we have to give you new meds. If we stop the meds and let the lid off, you'll be right back where you were."
I didn't realize it at the time, but this was the day my life changed. Up until that point, I thought I could be cancer free. Something changed in me that day. I believed the doctor and I stopped believing I could ever be cancer free.
I had a great, positive attitude mind you and believed there would always be new drugs and I could still have a great quality of life, but deep down inside I didn't believe I could beat it. This is a subtlety, but for me a very important one. What happened that day is I turned over control of my cancer and my healing to the medical establishment. And for me, there was no way I was going to beat cancer without feeling like I had the power.
Three Components of Remembered WellnessDoctor Benson talks a lot about the notion of expectations and beliefs. What you expect from a drug, you get. What you believe will happen, will happen. We have mountains of research on the placebo effect to back that up. What is especially interesting, however, is that it's not just what you, the patient believes, but it is also what your doctor and caregivers believe that make the difference. Benson refers to these as the Three Components of Remembered Wellness:
- Belief and expectancy on the part of the patient.
- Belief and expectancy on the part of the caregiver.
- Belief and expectancies generated by a relationship between the patient and caregiver.
Think about that for a minute. Even if your doctor and your caregivers are positive, if they don't truly believe you can beat it, it will be difficult (though not impossible), for you to win. So what should you do in a situation like mine where your oncologist doesn't really believe it is a winnable war?
For me, the answer was to find another oncologist, an integrative oncologist who believed in a more holistic approach, as I did and who also believed there was a way to live cancer-free, regardless of where in your body today's cancer resides.
If you can't switch oncologists or caregivers, you can at least be aware of the power of beliefs and not let those of your doctor or caregiver infect your own personal beliefs. It's not easy, but awareness is the first step.