Stress is an important part of the breast cancer equation. It’s a stressful topic for most women to even think about. Some studies even show that stress itself is a risk factor for developing breast cancer.
Most techniques for decreasing stress are disarmingly simple. You just have to do them. Meditation, guided imagery, breathwork, and learning to manage your emotions, have all been proven to be effective in reducing stress, and most cancer treatment centers now include these in their program.
It makes sense that these mind-body skills would be so effective because stress mostly originates in our minds. Stress has at least as much to do with our perception of what’s going on around us as it does with what’s actually going on.
The mind and the body are intimately connected. What goes on in our heads affects our physiology directly and immediately. Habitually negative, fearful thoughts have a negative impact on our health. When chronic, they result in diminished immunity, increasing our risk of all types of disease, including cancer.
The mind-body connection, however, can be just as healing as it is harmful, which is why meditation and imagery are often described as “mind-body medicine”. It seems we can be our own best physician or our own worst enemy, depending on what’s going on in our heads. By being purposefully and consistently positive in our thoughts and attitudes, we cause physical changes in our bodies that make it an inhospitable place for cancer to take hold, or to grow.
Many studies have shown the tremendous benefit these techniques can bring to breast cancer patients. One of the earliest was in the 1960s by Dr. O. Carl Simonton, a radiation oncologist, who demonstrated significantly longer than expected survival times in patients who used guided imagery techniques.
A study from Stanford, published in 1989 by Dr. Daniel Spiegel, showed that women with metastatic breast cancer who met in a group once a week, where they were taught guided imagery and encouraged to express their emotions, survived twice as long as women who did not participate in the group. If there were a drug that could do that, it would be malpractice not to prescribe it.
The Center for Mind-Body Medicine (CMBM), a non-profit organization in Washington, DC, offers a small group model where imagery, dealing with emotions, meditation, biofeedback, and more, can be learned and practiced. The groups can be healing in any area of life, not just breast cancer. They have been used in many troubled areas of the world, including Kosovo, Gaza, and New Orleans, to reduce stress and foster inner healing.
The small group model has also proven to be greatly effective in reducing post-traumatic stress in our troops returning from Afghanistan and Iraq, and the Center has also established a presence in Haiti in the aftermath of the earthquake.
These small groups are ideal for decreasing stress from any cause. Many describe them as life changing. For more information about groups in the Naples, FL area go to the contact Dr. Hudson page on this site, or visit CMBM.org for a list of certified practitioners across the country.