It’s a word so full of fear. It’s a word so dreaded. But it’s a diagnosis which can be prevented, managed, learned from and overcome.
My first experience with cancer patients was at Yale Medical School under the tutelage of Dr Bernie Siegal. It was a surgery rotation I will never forget. His hand, holding the patient’s hand before she went under anesthesia. His telling her all is well during surgery. His conviction that unconditional love heals. All are precious to me. The “exceptional patients” group meetings that I was privileged to attend changed my feelings about oncology, and the art and beauty of its treatment. Thus, years later, I cherish the many cancer survivors in my practice. They have a certain wisdom and a deep beauty, they are truly exceptional.
It’s hard to write about cancer. You may think about it as one disease which strikes this or that part of the body. In reality it is many different diseases, each with its own set of preventions and treatments. Progesterone prevents uterine cancer, smoking cessation prevents lung cancer, sunscreen stops skin cancer, and a vaccine blocks even the beginnings of cervical cancer. Then the spice turmeric can prevent a host of cancers. What do a hormone, toxin avoidance, a cream, a vaccine, and a spice have in common? Not much. Only in each case you are respecting your body’s needs and shielding it from harm in our toxic world. Within this complex variety of cancerous conditions, some run in families, others do not. So just because your uncle had cancer doesn’t necessarily put you at risk. Perhaps it was his asbestos exposure, or his cigar. Prevention needs to be individualized here. And most fears are unfounded.
You may think that your body has always been cancer free. But in reality, we make cancers all the time. Mistakes in replicating our DNA set up colonies of cells which go astray. These form precancerous clusters and microcancers. But don’t worry. Our bodies are inherently self healing. We have our own army of cancer fighters, where branches of our immune system respond to specialized “tumor suppressor” genes. They eliminate the cancer cells and you stay healthy. Thus we are all survivors and our bodies are already experts. So your best protection against cancer, either an insignificant precursor or a larger more serious tumor, is to respect and nourish the body you have.
If you’ve just been diagnosed with cancer, take a deep breath. Don’t let fear and panic take you. You have time to make the right decisions, and to pick the right doctors. You have time to get a second opinion. You may not know it, but you already have a full TEAM of doctors – radiologists, oncologists, pathologists, and surgeons. They routinely get together, tell your story, show their “pictures” of your problem, and come up with a consensus as to your best course of action. Their suggestions are yours to consider. They are called Tumor Board.
Choose well who you initially tell of your diagnosis. Don’t try to go it alone but consider carefully who you take with you. Some loved ones just make it worse; too many friends with too many opinions just make it confusing. But DO take a trusted loved one with you to your doctor’s appointments. When it’s you, it’s hard to hear everything. You just remember bits and pieces. Your loved ones will fill you in when you are ready. They will be your own personal “home tumor board” allies, your special friends. They are extremely important. I’ll help you too. Just ask. It’s a pleasure and an honor. Thanks to Bernie Siegel and many others since, I understand, embrace and value any service I may provide.
I practice integrated oncology not alternative medicine. I work with the oncologists, the radiologists and the cancer surgeons, not against them. I want to be part of the team. I see my role as helping you navigate through this journey with the fewest bruises and bumps possible. I help you center yourself, sleep, eat nourishing food, prevent side effects of treatment protocols and embrace the right team of caregivers for you. Remember, your body wants to fight this. It knows how to fight this. We are here to give it some help. And help starts with centering, not sleep deprivation, hypervigilence and overdrive. That path just leads to exhaustion. And how can an exhausted body heal itself?
I love the Buddhist Metta Meditation. I hope it will help you too. Here it is. Just take a deep breath, center your self, close your eyes and repeat it. Say it so you MEAN it. Then say it again.
“May I feel safe. May I be at peace, May my heart remain open. May I awaken to the light of my own true nature. May I be healed, May I be a source of healing for all beings.”
Help your body do its part. It wants to heal, it was made to heal. Trust your team of doctors and your special friends to do their part. They will. We’re all here.