Mind-Body Medicine for Cancer
Using mind-body techniques can enhance your quality of life, lessen pain, and may extend your longevity, say proponents.
Cancer is one of the most feared words in the English language.
A word that, as one cancer patient put it, is thought of by everybody in
"There are an enormous amount of reactions and emotions
associated with having cancer," says Timothy C. Birdsall, ND, vice
president of integrative medicine at Cancer Treatment Centers of America in
Zion, Ill. "And many people are uncomfortable dealing with those
Because a growing body of research has shown that our mind has
a powerful effect on our body, it's important to find an appropriate way to
"access those emotions, release them, and reap the positive benefits on the
immune system," says Birdsall.
That's the theory behind mind-body medicine and an increasingly
important part of cancer treatment. Mind-body specialists, however, are quick
to point out that mind-body medicine does not guarantee a cure. But it can
affect what happens in your body, says Katherine Puckett, LCSW, director of the
department of mind-body medicine at Cancer Treatment Centers of America's
Midwestern Regional Medical Center.
"Using mind-body techniques can enhance your quality of
life and may extend your longevity," says Puckett. "Having less pain,
being more comfortable, that's a huge thing."
Treating the Effects of Chemo
Cancer patients face many challenges, says Dan Johnston, PhD,
assistant professor of psychiatry and behavioral science for Mercer University
School of Medicine in Macon, Ga. One of them is coping with the stress of
treatment. "Whenever we are under stress," says Johnston, "our
bodies react with tense muscles, a rapid heart rate, elevated blood pressure,
fast breathing, and a tight belly. We also feel tense, apprehensive, irritated,
When facing new treatment procedures, such as chemotherapy and
radiation, stress levels may rise and can then aggravate some of the potential
side effects of treatment such as nausea, fatigue, and low energy, says
Johnston. "If, however, you approach your treatment procedure in a relaxed
state of body and mind, you will lessen the likelihood of such side effects.
You will create a sense of control over your situation and your emotional state
will be more peaceful."
Examples of mind-body medicine that Katherine Puckett
recommends to cancer patients include deep breathing, progressive muscle
relaxation, guided imagery or visualization, meditation, yoga, tai chi, and
even listening to music or enjoying nature.
"When you have cancer, or when a loved one has cancer, you
have a lost sense of control," Puckett says. "By doing whatever you can
to take care of yourself, you're gaining back some control." Many mind-body
techniques, such as deep breathing, visualization, and meditation, can be done
by individuals on their own. "When you have the tools to do some of these
things by yourself, it's very empowering," says Puckett.
Using mind-body techniques does not necessarily mean having to
be "positive" all the time, Puckett say. "It's important to make
room for all the feelings you're having. It's important to cry as well as to