Return to Wholeness: Embracing Body, Mind, and Spirit in the Face of Cancer

Overview

Return to Wholeness is a revelation. David Simon breaks new ground with the innovative, holistic mind-body approaches developed at the Chopra Center for Well Being. The guiding theme in this book is wholeness, as Dr. Simon demonstrates to readers the value of integrating the best of traditional and alternative medicines with ancient Eastern, Ayurvedic principles and practices in order to forge the most effective path to wellness.

Return to Wholeness features advice and ...

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Return to Wholeness: Embracing Body, Mind, and Spirit in the Face of Cancer

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Overview

Return to Wholeness is a revelation. David Simon breaks new ground with the innovative, holistic mind-body approaches developed at the Chopra Center for Well Being. The guiding theme in this book is wholeness, as Dr. Simon demonstrates to readers the value of integrating the best of traditional and alternative medicines with ancient Eastern, Ayurvedic principles and practices in order to forge the most effective path to wellness.

Return to Wholeness features advice and recommendations on every aspect of living with illness, including designing a simple nutritional program to purify, rejuvenate, and provide balance; benefiting from the healing properties of vitamins, minerals, phytochemicals, and herbs; facing the toll exacted by chemotherapy and other medical techniques; incorporating various kinds of meditation, creative visualization, and aromatherapy into the larger Return to Wholeness program; and weathering emotional cycles through art therapy, journaling, laughter, and music.

"...offers patients a comprehensive mind-body approach to dealing with cancer...combines conventional and complementary medicine and includes tips to alleviate mental stress using art therapy, journaling, music, etc."

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Editorial Reviews

Library Journal
Simon, medical director for the Chopra Center for Well Being, has developed an excellent program that will prove valuable to many people--not just those confronted with a diagnosis of cancer. He presents strategies and therapies that can assist traditional Western medicine (surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation) and help improve the outcome for the patient. He presents compelling evidence concerning the connections among mind, body, and spirit and demonstrates how these connections can be used by patients, whether they recover or not, to improve the overall quality of their lives. Among the practices Simon discusses are therapeutic touch, meditation, healing sights and aromas, stress reduction, self-talk, journaling, and many others. Although geared specifically to the person who is ill, the program does not focus on the disease, and, except for some early sections dealing with terminology and definitions concerning cancer, Simon concentrates on healing techniques that could be used by anyone facing life's challenges. Expertly delivered by the author, this production is highly recommended to all libraries whose patrons want to know more about the full array of health options open to them.--Kathleen A. Sullivan, Phoenix P.L. Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780471295778
  • Publisher: Turner Publishing Company
  • Publication date: 1/28/1999
  • Edition description: First Edition
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 288
  • Product dimensions: 6.42 (w) x 9.57 (h) x 0.98 (d)

Meet the Author

DAVID SIMON, M.D., is Medical Director of the Chopra Center for Well Being. He was formerly chief of staff at the Sharp Cabrillo Hospital in San Diego and is a frequent speaker throughout the country.
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Read an Excerpt




Chapter One


Understanding Cancer


Through the Windows of Modern Science and
the Timeless Healing Traditions


The merging of intuition and reason will provide wisdom for the resolution of the struggle in which we are engaged.—Jonas Salk


As a young child, I used to imagine a bogeyman living under my bed. I was certain that this beastly troll waited to materialize until my parents turned off my bedroom lamp. I envisioned him hungrily anticipating my placing one foot onto the floor, eager to devour my tender, though meager, body. If I needed to empty my bladder after I had been officially tucked into bed, I would go to elaborate extremes to avoid touching the floor, climbing over dresser tops and bounding across cushioned chairs to the doorway. I could not even consider the idea of looking under the bed to see if there was really something there to stoke my fears. On some level I enjoyed the danger and the challenge of outwitting my fearsome goblin.

    It would be wonderful to believe that cancer could be avoided if we were only clever enough to sidestep its underhanded ways. Although cancer is in many ways the bogeyman of our society, this disease cannot be evaded by illusion or delusion. Cancer challenges us at every level of life—environmentally, physically, emotionally, intellectually, and spiritually. If we are to understand and move beyond cancer, we must be willing to look into its face and resolutely commit to hearing its message.

   Cancer is a disease of our age. Every time I release exhaust fumes from my car, purchase a tomato that does not have a trace of insect damage, or fail to recycle a plastic container, I contribute to our collective risk for cancer. It has been estimated that over 80 percent of cancers are environmentally influenced. This includes not only obvious environmental factors such as tobacco, asbestos, and ultraviolet radiation but also takes into account the risks of the high-fat diet that is the staple of most Americans. And it is almost impossible to account for the harmful effects that modern stress has on our immune system's ability to recognize and eliminate malignant cells.

    Cancer is a complex process, which involves some factors that we can control and others that we cannot. Like the prayer for Alcoholics Anonymous, it's helpful to know which things we can change, which things we can't, and how to tell the difference. The foods we eat, the toxins we knowingly ingest, the ways we use our five senses, and how we express our emotions—all are under our control. We can choose to accept only life-affirming influences and eliminate toxic ones.

    Our genetic constitution, which includes our inherited vulnerability to illness, is beyond our conscious control. Similarly, the air we breathe, the water we drink, the chemicals in our soil, the toxins in our workplace, and the electrical fields that surround us are for the most part not within our personal control but represent our collective tolerance for toxicity in our environment. Awareness of our intimate relationship with the ecology of our earth is reawakening, and soon we will have a critical mass of people committed to improving the quality of life on our planet. As this unfolds, our standards for personal and environmental purity will be transformed, and cancer will be understood in a new light.


Discovering Cancer


My brilliant friend, Dr. Candace Pert, one of the pioneers in the field of mind-body medicine, uses an amusing slide in her medical presentations. It features the tombstone of a person who lived for ninety-five years, with the inscription "You see, it wasn't psychosomatic!" I see many people each year whose fear of cancer erodes their day-to-day quality of life. A woman who watched her mother's battle with breast cancer believes it is only a matter of time before she suffers a similar fate. A man whose older brother had colon cancer becomes obsessed with his bowel function, certain that every episode of constipation portends a malignancy. People who have a heightened fear of cancer seem to take one of two routes. In one, they torment themselves about every bodily symptom, certain that it is heralding a serious problem. They frequent their physician's office, convinced that this time they will receive the bad news they have been anticipating.

    The other approach is to deny the problem, hoping that by ignoring a symptom it will disappear. A woman with fibrocystic breast disease feels a small swelling but refuses to bring it to the attention of her doctor. She worries about it constantly but avoids dealing with it directly. Much more often than not, the mammogram she finally agrees to is completely normal, and she realizes she has expended months of needless anguish.

    The anxiety associated with this illness can be as devastating as the illness itself. I recently saw a woman at the Chopra Center who was convinced that she had thyroid cancer. She tearfully told me that ten years earlier her family doctor had noticed a slight swelling in her neck. Although he had not raised the possibility of cancer, she became convinced that this was her problem and avoided any medical care from that point on, terrified that her fear would be confirmed. When I examined her, I could not find any problem. When I asked her how long ago she had last felt the lump, she stated that it had been almost ten years ago! Despite the complete absence of any physical abnormality, this woman had lived her last decade in misery, afraid that her life was going to be shortened by cancer.

    Throughout this book I will be advocating a middle path. As we enter the twenty-first century, denying the value of modern medical advances is as regrettable as denying the healing value of herbs. Although this book is dedicated to using holistic approaches to help people who are directly facing cancer, I fully support the use of the early detection technologies we have available. Regular physical examinations, mammography, prostate specific antigen (PSA) levels, cervical Pap smears, skin examinations, and rectal examinations with tests for occult blood are important tools for detecting cancers at earlier and more treatable stages. If you notice a change in your body, pay attention! Denial and delay do not ultimately serve the healing process. If something is awry, find out what it is and what therapeutic options are available to you. Most important, find a health care advisor you can trust to guide you compassionately and expertly through the thicket of choices available. Despite how scary it may feel to face our challenges directly, it is ultimately the only path to true healing.


Looking at Cancer from a Consciousness-based Mind-Body Approach


Later in this chapter, I'll explain the current scientific understanding of what cancer is, how it develops, and what is usually done in modern medicine to combat it. First, I'd like to look at cancer in a different way. This new approach seeks to understand the message cancer is bringing to us as individuals and society. This perspective generates a series of questions that we need to explore openly if we are to move beyond the suffering that cancer brings.

What is the deeper meaning of this illness that creates so much anguish? What is cancer telling us about the way we are living our lives? What can we do to change the impact cancer is having on us, as individuals and as a community?

    These are big questions without easy answers. However, searching for the meaning of cancer is a worthy quest that offers potential treasures that may be unimaginable to you at this time. My hope is that throughout this book, the questions raised will motivate you to look deeply into your own mind, heart, and soul to discover the meaning of the challenge cancer brings.

    Let's first explore what's happening when the body functions in a healthy manner. It's really a miracle that the trillions of cells in our body, all derived from a primordial fertilized egg, are able to carry out their millions of life-sustaining functions in a coordinated fashion. Each cell has a very specific role, while simultaneously contributing to the wholeness of the mind-body physiology. Our liver cells are capable of detoxifying our blood, storing and releasing sugar molecules, and metabolizing cholesterol while at the same time monitoring the levels of dozens of hormones, digesting hemoglobin pigment, and reproducing daughter cells. Just a short distance away, our colon cells are absorbing fluid, propelling the residue of yesterday's lunch along, and monitoring the concentration of bacteria. Throughout the body, our cells, the fundamental building blocks of life, are performing their myriad tasks in a coordinated manner that is beyond our conception of organizational power.

    In every timeless healing wisdom tradition is the recognition of a life force that unifies and coordinates biological intelligence. In Traditional Chinese Medicine it is referred to as chi and is described as life energy that circulates through subtle channels known as meridians. This is the basis of acupuncture treatments designed to remove obstacles to the free flow of this vital force. In Ayurveda, the primary energy that creates and sustains life is known as prana, meaning "the primary impulse." As long as prana is flowing, life is maintained. When the body is no longer capable of functioning in the coherent way that supports the flow of life force, the individual life ends. A body immediately before and after death is composed of the same set of biochemicals, but life contains the unifying vital force that animates our molecules into a living, breathing being.

    What is this unifying force that organizes a complex set of biochemicals into a human being with awareness and the ability to think, feel, and act? This question is at the heart of the new paradigm of life and health that is blossoming in our society as we undergo the transition from a material to an information- or consciousness-based perspective. After two hundred years of a worldview that considered only physical reality to be worthy of attention, the dawn of the information age is heralding a new vision that embraces consciousness as a real force. As these new principles permeate society, a new approach to health and illness is emerging.

    On my first day of medical school almost twenty-five years ago, I began my study of health by dissecting a human cadaver. The implicit message that my colleagues and I received was that the key to understanding health begins with the understanding of death and illness. I say implicit because in most modern medical schools there is only limited discussion of the basic philosophy of life and death, health and disease. Rather, most institutions make the assumption that future doctors of medicine understand their role to be master technicians of disease. According to the prevailing model taught in medical colleges, life is the product of complex chemical reactions that generate awareness, ideas, and emotions as by-products of molecular reactions. Death is then viewed as the inevitable end of a faulty biological machine (the human body), similar to the breaking down of an old automobile.

    The problem with this material approach to life is not so much that it is wrong, but that it is incomplete. The most brilliant scientists of our time tell us that the world is not as solid as it may seem. Through the insights of the great physicists of the twentieth century, we now understand that underlying the facade of matter is a very mysterious nonmaterial world. Although to our senses the environment appears as a collection of individual solid objects, we now know that the atomic building blocks that comprise this domain of forms are mostly emptiness. The relative distance between an electron and the nuclear core of an atom is as vast as the distance between stars in our galaxy. Even the subatomic particles that make up atoms are ultimately nonmaterial, for as soon as we try to precisely locate them in space, they vanish into a cloud of probability. According to the timeless tradition of Ayurvedic science, the entire universe of forms and phenomena is a temporary consolidation of a nonmaterial field of energy and information. All this matter is ultimately nonmatter.

    The Ayurvedic message and the message of modern physics are remarkably resonant with one another. Albert Einstein cognized the formula E = [mc.sup.2], convincing the world that matter and energy are interchangeable. As scientists continue delving into the quantum soup that underlies the world of perception, we are learning that an invisible potential reality gives rise to the building blocks that structure our universe. The womb of creation is beyond the limits of time and space, but its nature is to give birth to time and space. Physicists have referred to this nonmaterial field of potential energy and information that gives rise to the world as the unified field, or the vacuum state. Ayurvedic scientists call it the field of pure potentiality, the field of pure consciousness, or in Sanskrit, Brahman. We can also call it the field of infinite possibilities, because all that was, is, or will be arises from this field.

    A consciousness-based approach takes another step here, suggesting that the same field of intelligence that underlies the world around us is the basis of our own awareness. The steady stream of thoughts and feelings that we experience consists of impulses of intelligence emerging from a nonlocal field of awareness. The field of pure potentiality that gives rise to subatomic particles, rainbows, and galaxies gives rise to our creativity, ideas, and emotions. Rather than consciousness being the byproduct of molecules colliding in our brain, our thoughts and cells are both expressions of this underlying field of intelligence. Our physical body is a field of molecules; our mind is a field of ideas, but underlying both our mind and body is a field of consciousness that gives rise to both. In the timeless wisdom traditions, this field of consciousness is also referred to as spirit.

    Our life force is the expression of the infinite organizing power of spirit that provides the unifying coherence to the cells of our body. Our connection to the universal field of intelligence enables each of our cells to express its unique properties while simultaneously supporting the wholeness of our physiology. However, when there is some interference in the free expression of the intelligent vital force within us, the coherence between our cells becomes disrupted. The memory of wholeness is forgotten, and individual cells begin acting as if they are disconnected from the body as a whole According to a consciousness-based model, this is the origin of cancer. Due to the accumulation of toxic influences or cellular misunderstandings, an individual cell assumes a level of self-importance that disregards its cellular community. The cancer cell reproduces, failing to recognize that in its uncontrolled expression of power it is sowing the seeds of its own destruction.


Searching for Meaning


Let's revisit the first question raised earlier, "What is the deeper significance of this illness that creates so much anguish?" I suggest that all persons who are affected by cancer—whether as patient, family member, friend, or health care provider—ask this question in their own minds and listen to the answers from their hearts. At the Chopra Center, the procedure we have found most helpful is to have people close their eyes, allowing their attention to go inward to their heart. Then the question is quietly asked and each person silently listens to the response that emerges from within his or her own awareness. Ideally, try this exercise with someone who is going through your journey with you. Sit quietly with your eyes closed, centering your awareness in the region of your heart. After a minute of silence, have your partner softly whisper in your ear, "What is the deeper significance of this illness?" every fifteen or twenty seconds. Listen without preconception to the information that emerges. The more innocent you can be in listening to, rather than forcing, a response, the more your inner wisdom will emerge. After hearing the question and listening to your inner message several times, take a few minutes to write down what you learned.

    Your first thought may be that there is no deeper significance to this terrible disease and that you simply want it to vanish from your life as rapidly as possible. This is fully understandable, for no one consciously chooses to incur an illness. However, most people who perform this exercise receive some insights that begin the process of regaining meaning and wholeness in life. Often, people with cancer, as is true with most people on this planet, can identify some aspect of their life that is incomplete in some way. That is, they know that there is something missing but they have been unable or unwilling to address this lack directly and make the necessary choices to improve the situation. It may be that you are languishing in a job that provides little nourishment or challenge. It may be that you are harboring resentment or bitterness from a past or current relationship. It may be that you have a desire to spend more time with your family members but other priorities always seem to win out. Perhaps a change in diet or a new exercise program has been calling you, but you have done everything in your power to tune out the message. It may simply be some hobby such as painting, writing, or dance that always brings you great joy, yet you never seem to have time for it. Almost all of us would make different choices if we really believed that our time here was limited. For many people, learning that they have a serious illness offers the opportunity to look honestly at what is missing and to begin choosing to fulfill that need.

    About one and a half years ago, a frightened woman with breast cancer came to see me, understandably distraught because her cancer had recurred nine months after a malignant breast mass had been surgically removed. After her operation, her surgeon told her that her chances for a cure were excellent, and she declined further treatment. Unfortunately, a lump that was at first felt to be scar tissue from the surgery continued enlarging, and a repeat biopsy showed more malignant cells. After her first round with cancer, she did her best to put the experience behind her as quickly as possible, treating the whole episode as a bothersome inconvenience. She continued to smoke cigarettes, made no changes in her fastfood diet, and remained in a less than nourishing relationship with her boyfriend, even though he was unable to provide emotional support for her when her illness was discovered. When she discovered that the cancer had returned, her emotional defenses were overwhelmed, and she was terrified that she was going to die. She was prepared to do anything that might improve her chances. Working with her oncologist, she began a program of radiation, chemotherapy, and hormonal therapy, along with several mind-body approaches. She learned meditation, improved her diet, and gave up smoking. When she asked herself what was the deeper significance of her illness, her quiet inner voice told her that her cancer represented a lack of love for herself. Recognizing a long-standing pattern of one-sided relationships, she made a commitment to herself that she would no longer tolerate emotional toxicity in her life. A year and a half later, she is disease-free, in a healthy relationship with a wonderful man she met at a cancer support group, and happier than she has been in many years. In retrospect, she sees her cancer as a gift that impelled her to make choices honoring her spirit.

    I will be reminding you throughout this book to give yourself permission to nurture your innermost desires and live your life as if every moment was a gift. We each have a responsibility for our own well-being, and in order to create health, we need to restore the wholeness that is our birthright. Responsibility is not the same as blame. We often hear from people with cancer that well-meaning friends attempt to convince them they are choosing to create their illness, implying that if they simply chose differently, they could spontaneously eliminate their illness. This is neither useful, compassionate, nor accurate. Regardless of the specific choices we make in our lives, one thing is certain—no one chooses to suffer. Even people who smoke two packs of cigarettes a day are not choosing to get sick; rather, they are choosing a behavior that fulfills a need they have not found another way to satisfy. People are often willing to dispense with life-damaging habits when life-supporting alternatives are offered.

    Whenever my patients raise the issue of what they did to cause their cancer, I feel a tremendous amount of humility and compassion. First, they may not have done anything on a conscious level to incur their illness. Children of Hiroshima who developed leukemia, adults with thyroid cancer who were radiated for swollen tonsils as children, and women with vaginal cancer exposed in their mother's womb to the hormone diethylstilbestrol (DES) can hardly be held personally accountable for their cancers. These reflect our collective choices more than any one individual's. Second, there are many types of cancer for which we do not understand how any of our conscious behaviors contribute to their development. Although there may be statistical correlations between certain types of environmental influences and specific cancers, for many malignancies we simply don't have the "why" answers. This is certainly the case for the many people I see with brain tumors. Third and finally, there is no value in creating any sense of blame in people who are now facing the most important challenge of their lives. I suspect that by assigning a simplistic cause to an effect ("Of course he got colon cancer, he ate red meat!") we protect ourselves from the fear that serious illness raises in us. If my friend who works too hard gets sick, I can feel some security that since I do not indulge in that behavior, I am protected from a similar fate. In my experience, humility and compassion are the qualities that truly benefit friends when someone is facing cancer or any other serious life challenge.

    More important than assigning blame is assuming the responsibility to create an opportunity for healing. By responsibility I mean the ability to respond in a creative way that is different from the past and open to new possibilities. Only through escaping the limitations of the past can we access our full creative potential. This means looking at every aspect of our lives and honestly evaluating whether we are maximizing nourishment or tolerating toxicity. Through honest self-evaluation we gain the power to make the changes that will bring about greater happiness and well-being in our lives. This is true whether or not we are currently facing a serious illness. Acknowledging our limitations or weaknesses does not mean that we are flawed; rather, the recognition that we are multifaceted human beings allows us to embrace the paradoxical aspects of our nature. Cancer can be viewed as a dramatic wake-up call to us as individuals and society. In our reawakening, we can restore wholeness to our lives.


What Is Cancer?


Since I will be using medical terminology throughout this book, I'd like to familiarize you with a few basic definitions. Recognizing that the language we use to describe something determines our relationship to it, I will be introducing new ways of describing cancer that will help shift our interpretation of cancer. But I think it is useful to understand the prevailing terminology of this illness.

    Let's consider a common scenario. You become concerned about a swelling under your arm and see your doctor about it. He examines the lump and labels it a tumor, which simply means a swollen collection of cells. The question in both your and your doctor's minds is whether the tumor is benign (most likely harmless) or malignant (potentially serious). If your doctor is unable to confidently determine the nature of the swelling by feeling it, he will probably recommend a biopsy—an operation to take all or a piece of the tumor so it can be examined under a microscope.

    You obviously hope the lump is benign. Benign tumors are usually slow-growing, don't spread throughout the body, and are unlikely to shorten life. They have well-defined boundaries, separating them from surrounding healthy tissue. When an operation is performed to remove a benign tumor, none of the cells in the lump are usually left behind.

    You fear that the tumor is malignant. This implies that it is more rapidly growing, has a tendency to invade healthy tissue, can spread, or metastasize, and may be threatening to life. Because malignant tumors do not heed the normal boundary rules of the body, it may be more difficult to determine where the lump ends and normal tissue begins.

    If the biopsy shows only an increased number of normal cells, the lump is declared benign and no further treatment is required. If, however, the microscopic examination shows cells that seem to be multiplying beyond normal controls, the scary diagnosis of cancer is applied. The term cancer is derived from the Greek word karkinos, meaning crab, because malignant tumors tend to hold onto surrounding tissues like a stubborn crab.

    If the tumor is malignant, you will probably be referred to a doctor who specializes in the treatment of people with cancer, known as an oncologist. Most modern treatment offered by an oncologist falls under one of three categories: surgery, chemotherapy, or radiation therapy. The goal of a surgical procedure is to remove as much of the cancerous tissue as possible, minimizing the damaging effect it has on surrounding normal tissue. Chemotherapy involves the use of potent medicines that damage cells that are rapidly growing. Since cancerous cells tend to reproduce more quickly than normal healthy cells, chemotherapy drugs are designed to affect malignant tissues more than normal ones. Because there is not an absolute distinction between the way normal and cancerous cells grow, it is normal for people receiving chemotherapy to experience some side effects. Radiation therapy involves directing beams of energy at cancerous tumors, which alter their genetic material, leading to cell death. As with chemotherapy, the goal with radiation treatments is to maximize the effect on cancer cells while minimizing injury to normal cells. Two modalities that hold promise for the future are immune therapies that enhance our body's ability to identify and dispense with cancer cells and genetic treatments that seek to correct the abnormal signals that stimulate cancer cells to grow. The newest approach on the horizon uses substances known as angiogenesis inhibitors that may treat cancer by preventing the development of new blood vessels. If a tumor cannot augment its blood supply, it cannot grow. Preliminary research in animals using these agents is promising, and the cancer community eagerly awaits studies in human beings.

    Many cancers are effectively treated with modern medical approaches, but because medical doctors are reluctant to use the term cure, people who have a good response to treatment are usually referred to as going into remission. In complete remission, all evidence of cancer is gone; in partial remission, the cancerous tissue may be lessened but still detectable at some level. A tumor that seems to have stopped growing or is growing much more slowly than expected may also be considered to be in partial remission. By reducing the burden of cancer cells with modern medical treatment, your body's natural healing system has a better chance of taking care of the remaining malignant cells.


Environmental Agents


Over the past several decades scientists have tried to understand how toxic substances can lead to cancer when they enter our bodies. The term carcinogen is applied to an agent from the environment that may stimulate the uncontrolled growth of cancer cells. For most carcinogens, a minimum exposure is necessary before a person develops cancer. For example, many soldiers fighting in Vietnam were exposed to Agent Orange, a poison used to destroy forests. Limited exposure to the chemicals contained in Agent Orange, known as dioxins, rarely led to cancer, but workers heavily exposed to the herbicide where it was produced have shown a higher risk for a number of malignancies. Even with the same carcinogen exposure, human beings demonstrate a wide range of susceptibility to developing cancer, based upon both our genetic makeup and our overall state of health. We can't do much about our heredity, but we can do a lot to improve our overall health.


Cancer, Lifestyle, and Culture


As a life insurance actuary, Thomas knew that his pack-per-day cigarette habit was placing him at some health risk, and each year he made a resolution to stop. However, his day-to-day life stresses always provided a good reason why today was not the right day to begin enduring the anticipated nicotine withdrawal symptoms. Although annoyed by his chronic cough, he avoided seeing his doctor until one morning when he was startled to see his urine appearing pink in the toilet bowl. Anxiously describing his discovery to his family doctor on the telephone, he was scheduled to see a urologist that afternoon. After a series of studies, he was given the diagnosis of bladder cancer. Fortunately, it was small, localized, and very treatable.
A year later, Thomas is a changed man. He smoked his last cigarette on that fateful day, lost thirty unwanted pounds, now exercises four times a week, and regularly enjoys family vacations. He looks back with a sense of gratitude on the experience that helped him reset his physical and emotional priorities.

    Almost any tissue in our body can be the site of cancer, because everywhere our cells grow there is the potential for them to lose normal control and reproduce in a disorganized manner. The most common tumors in any given culture or community reflect the prevailing popular lifestyle. For example, lung cancer is the most common malignancy in the United States because of our society's addiction to tobacco. If no one smoked cigarettes, lung cancer would be a rare disease. Unfortunately, as more women in our society choose to smoke, what was previously a rare malignancy in women is now common. Equally tragic, the incidence of tobacco-related cancers is growing worldwide as citizens of developing countries emulate our Western lifestyle.

    Our digestive system is almost continuously exposed to carcinogens in our environment through the food we consume. Nearly half of all cancers in the United States arise within the digestive tract, with the large intestines the most common site. High dietary fat intake and low fiber consumption are associated with slower movement through our gut, which seems to increase the exposure of our colon to potential cancer-causing substances. Diet has a major effect on this type of cancer, as shown by the fact that the rate of colon cancer in North Americans and Western Europeans is as much as ten times higher than in natives of Asia, Africa, and South America! In Seventh-Day Adventist communities, where members tend toward vegetarianism, the incidence of colon cancer is much lower. Native Japanese have a high incidence of stomach cancer, apparently related to the large amount of salted, pickled, and smoked foods that comprise the typical Japanese diet. Japanese people who move to Hawaii or California and change their diet to a more characteristically American one show a decrease in the incidence of stomach cancer but a rise in their risk of colon cancer.

    Our modern lifestyle not only raises the risk of some cancers; it lowers the risk of others. Liver cancer is relatively rare in North America, where it is usually related to long-standing alcoholism. However, developing countries in Africa and Asia have a very high incidence of liver cancer. Malnutrition, exposure to toxins produced by food contaminated by fungus, and a variety of viral and parasitic infections may all contribute to the phenomenal 8 percent incidence of deaths due to liver cancer in southern Africa. We can fairly easily reduce the risk of liver cancer through lifestyle choices in North America. The societal changes required in the poorest developing countries are much more challenging.

    Breast and prostate cancer are of major concern in North America. Although we do not understand why we are having epidemics of these cancers, they seem to be related to our lifestyle. Both breast and prostate cancer are much less common in Asia. As with colon cancer, when women move from Japan to America, the risk of breast cancer rises, as does the risk of prostate cancer in Asian men who move here. The rising rate of breast cancer in America has been tied to a diet rich in animal fat, and this has also been confirmed in studies on animals. We know that women who never have children or who have their first child after the age of thirty have a slightly higher risk of breast cancer. Women on estrogen replacement therapy are also at mildly increased risk. These trends are more common among Western women, accounting in part for the increased breast cancer we see here. There has also been recent concern about toxic chemicals known as endocrine disruptors. A variety of environmental agents may mimic or alter our natural sex hormones, possibly contributing to breast, prostate, and testicular cancer. The Environmental Protection Agency is sponsoring studies to more carefully assess the role of these common chemicals in our most common cancers.

    Although environmental factors have been identified in many cancers, there is still much we don't understand. A thousand people may be working in the same chemical plant, but only a handful will develop cancer. Millions of people smoke packs of cigarettes each day, but not everyone develops lung, mouth, or throat cancer. This is where two other important issues come into play: genes and immunity.

(Continues...)

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Table of Contents

Foreword
Acknowledgments
Introduction 1
1 Understanding Cancer 7
2 Eavesdropping on the Mind-Body Conversation 25
3 Nutritional Healing 37
4 Heroic Biochemicals 61
5 The Wisdom of Herbs 71
6 Contending with Cancer 86
7 Envisioning Wholeness 101
8 Sensual Healing 115
9 A Time to Every Purpose 142
10 Emotional Healing 153
11 Healing through Expression 173
12 The Best Medicine 186
13 Weighing the Options 195
14 Holistically Specific 211
15 The Unknown Destination 237
Postscript 254
Appendix: General Ayurvedic References 255
Notes 257
Index 269
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First Chapter

Return to Wholeness Embracing Body, Mind, and Spirit in the Face of Cancer

David Simon, M. D.
ISBN 0-471-29577-9

Foreword by Deepak Chopra
Life is a magnificent paradox. We are ultimately spiritual beings vibrating as conscious energy while appearing as physical entities made of flesh and blood. When we primarily identify ourselves with our physical bodies, localized in time and space, subject to the laws of entropy and decay, we are susceptible to fear, anguish, and disease. When we remember our true nature as Spirit, the veil of ego-based ignorance is parted and we glimpse our essential Self as eternal, boundless, and whole. Whether you think of yourself as physically fit or are in the midst of a life-threatening illness, the most valuable gift any loved one or healer can provide you is the reminder that the real you cannot succumb to illness and cannot die.

In this beautiful book, Return to Wholeness, written by my dear friend and colleague Dr. David Simon, readers are inspired and encouraged to awaken their inner healer, which is the basis of all personal transformation. With love, compassion, and sensitivity, David reminds us that facing our mortality offers a window into our immortality. A reservoir of energy, creativity, and vitality resides within us all, and the very practical tools offered in this book enable us to tap into its healing waters.

The approaches in this book have been demonstrated to have powerful life-affirming effects at the Chopra Center for Well Being in La Jolla, California. Dr. Simon has helped guide many hundreds of people with cancer along their healing journey in our Return to Wholeness program, which is now being offered in health care institutions around the country. It is my fervent hope and belief that this book will help catalyze a genuine transformation in our approach to illness that integrates the best of Western medical technology along with a reverence for and understanding of our profound natural healing forces. If you are facing cancer or any other serious illness, I encourage you to allow the wisdom contained within these pages to nurture, guide and support you. I am grateful that David has written a book that so clearly helps shepherd us back to our source- our birthright of wholeness.

Introduction

In the clarity of a quiet mind, there is room for all that is actually happening and whatever else might also be possible.- RAM DASS

You learn you have cancer, and in that moment, your life changes. A torrent of feelings is unleashed into consciousness. Disbelief, dismay, anguish, and dread grapple for dominance in your awareness- one distressing emotion transforming into another without clear boundaries. Each of these feelings is the mask of a more primordial emotion: fear. Fear of pain, fear of disfigurement, fear of dependency, fear of regret, fear of loss, fear of death. And with the activation of this most basic emotion, a chemical cascade of stress hormones- the result of millions of years of evolution- floods your body, inciting you to fight or run.
Unfortunately, unlike a furtive stranger in a dimly lit alley, the provocateur of your panic is not outside of yourself, and there is no place to escape this threat. Rather, you feel betrayed by your own cells, and this disloyalty adds another level of anguish and despair. Core questions arise in your agitated mind: How could this be happening to me? What did I do to deserve this? What's going to happen to me? Who will take care of my children? Am I going to die?
These reactions to learning you have cancer are natural. Although we intellectually accept that our physical bodies will eventually break down, it is invariably a shock when we learn we are facing a serious illness. It is a rare person who is able to casually navigate the turbulent sea into which cancer casts us. And yet, in the midst of this unwanted storm lies an opportunity for deep insight into life. I hope to inspire and encourage you with the thought that through the power inherent in your heart and mind, you can steer a course to a place of profound healing.
Almost immediately upon learning of your condition, you must en-gage in the process of delineating your illness and plotting a therapeutic strategy to address it. With this, a new series of questions often arises: What more can I do to improve my outcome? How can I stimulate my inner healing response to maximize the benefit of my medical treatments? How can I be an active partner rather than a passive participant in my therapeutic journey?
This book, Return to Wholeness, is written for those who are asking these questions. It is dedicated to educating and empowering people facing cancer so they can improve the quality, and quite possibly the quantity, of their lives. It is not a book promoting alternative approaches for cancer as a substitute for the best of Western medical care, for I deeply believe that appropriately utilized medications, surgery, and radiation treatments are as much a part of holistic cancer care as good nutrition, herbal medicines, and guided imagery. However, it is clear that many people facing cancer have physical, emotional, and spiritual needs that are not being addressed in modern oncology programs. Return to Wholeness seeks to help fulfill these needs.
Discovering that you or a loved one has cancer is a life-transforming event. Cancer automatically and instantaneously thrusts you and your loved ones into a time of crisis. In Chinese, the word for crisis, Weiji, is a fusion of the symbols for danger and opportunity. Although no one consciously chooses to develop a serious illness, many people look back and see their challenge with cancer as the most important and meaningful experience of their lives. In view of the many distressing feelings coursing through you since hearing your diagnosis, the suggestion that this illness may at some point be seen as a gift may seem unimaginable. Yet, with a new perspective, this unintended journey may yield opportunities for personal growth and wisdom that nourish your body, mind, and spirit in unprecedented ways.
My goal in this book is to guide you along the unfamiliar terrain you will encounter in your therapeutic journey. By providing you with the understanding and tools to access your powerful reservoir of inner healing, I hope to offer you genuine encouragement that you can positively influence the course and meaning of your illness. Your thoughts, emotions, and life choices are capable of creating an inner and outer healing environment.
I am not suggesting that if you simply assume a mood of cheerfulness or repeat affirmations your cancer will magically evaporate. Rather, what is required is a genuine shift in perception that creates the opportunity for a new interpretation of the challenge facing you. An understanding of the mind-body connection supports the idea that our perceptions and interpretations of the world around us- the sounds, sensations, sights, tastes, and smells- are translated into the chemical codes that orchestrate our body's symphony of energy and information. Whatever we allow into our mind-body network- be it chemotherapy, nutritious food, balancing herbs, soothing music, or loving emotions- transforms the very sub-stance of our life and can mean the difference between well-being and suffering, between life and death.
Our interpretation of every event in our lives ultimately becomes our record of reality, and our expectations for the future are influenced by our memories and interpretations of the past. If we have watched friends or family members struggle with cancer, our expectations will be shaped by that experience. Yet, it is important to remember that there are as many different responses to cancer as there are people confronting this illness, and many have successfully navigated their way back to health.
The ability to learn new ways to perceive and interpret life's challenges is the great gift of being human. We can move beyond reflexive and reactionary modes of response and use our creativity to give birth to new solutions. If we are willing to make changes in our approach to life, we can incorporate new ways to enliven our healing response. The force of evolution embraces the possibility for solutions that have not been previously tried. Throughout this book I emphasize that our choices can make a real difference. We can be active participants in our recovery. We can learn to consciously invoke the wisdom of Nature- the ultimate source of all healing.

My interest in healing goes back a long way. Before I entered medical school, I studied anthropology in college, focusing on how healing was supported in societies around the world. I learned that in almost every culture on earth, illness was viewed as a loss of integration between body, mind, and spirit. Recovery of health required looking for the point of disruption in this continuum and reactivating the connection. The loving support of family and community, mythic reenactments to evoke emotional insight, and spiritual rituals to connect the patient with a higher power were as essential as medicines, nutritional support, and physical therapies. The doctor's expertise was not only in understanding the disease but also in guiding his patients in discovering the psychological and spiritual meaning of their illness.
When I entered medical school, I was disappointed to discover that this broader concept of illness and health was barely acknowledged in Western scientific medicine. Searching for ways to integrate the emotional and spiritual aspects of medicine, I investigated a vast array of alternative systems. Acupuncture, the Alexander technique, applied kinesiology, aromatherapy, Bach flower remedies, chiropractic, craniosacral therapy, herbal medicine, homeopathy, macrobiotics, Qi Gong, Reiki, Rolfing, sacrooccipital technique, Shiatsu, therapeutic touch, Traeger, and more- in each I discovered an acknowledgment of a vital life force that transcended material reductionism; still, I felt a need for a unifying framework that embraced all healing modalities.
When I discovered Ayurveda, the traditional medical system of India, I felt I had reached the Promised Land. Ayurveda, which means "life science," offers a holistic framework for healing that embraces body, mind, and spirit. It is not the specific Himalayan herbs or massage techniques that distinguish Ayurveda from other systems; rather, it is the all-encompassing perspective that enables us to integrate healing modalities ranging from psychic surgery to neurosurgery. A classic story about Jivaka, the Buddha's personal physician, illustrates the holistic nature of Ayurveda. While applying for a faculty position at an Ayurvedic medical college, Jivaka was given the assignment to find substances that could not be used medicinally. Several days later, he returned empty-handed, saying he could not find a single substance that had no potential therapeutic value. Every flower, tree, and weed, every mineral and creature, the wind, sun, and sea- all had potential healing properties when used appropriately.
"When the only tool in your toolbox is a hammer, everything looks like a nail" is an expression that can easily be applied to health care today. Medical doctors use medicines, acupuncturists use needles, chiropractors use adjustments, and each works in a certain situation. The value that Ayurveda brings is not so much as another alternative modality, but rather that it is a common language into which every healing discipline can be translated. Ayurveda sees life as the exchange of energy and information between individuals and their environment. If our environment provides nourishment, we thrive; if our environment offers toxicity, we languish. Therefore, learning how to transform toxicity into sustenance is the key to health and healing.
Throughout this book I will be using Ayurvedic concepts but have chosen mainly to avoid Sanskrit terminology, with the intent of eliminating any barriers to gaining the most benefit from these holistic principles. For those interested in diving deeper into this expansive body of knowledge, an Ayurvedic suggested reading list is provided in the Appendix. I deeply believe the ageless wisdom traditions can add tremendous value in our search for greater well-being, and I hope this book demonstrates the limitless benefits of integrating the ancient and modern healing traditions.
Although trained as a neurologist and not an oncologist, I have personally supported hundreds of patients facing cancer. Whether primarily directing the treatment of people with tumors of the nervous system or developing mind-body programs for people facing cancer at the Chopra Center for Well Being, I have repeatedly been impressed by the spiritual opportunity that serious illness affords. Cancer impels us to confront our mortality and, in so doing, to embrace our immortality. When we encounter the real possibility of death, our entire conception of time is altered. Unresolved issues from the past and material goals for the future lose much of their importance. Each day takes on new meaning and purpose as our priorities realign from material to emotional to spiritual issues. Those aspects of our life that have limited or transitory value fade in importance, while those core to our meaning rise to the forefront.
I commonly see estranged families reuniting when a member has cancer. I often see people who have recovered from cancer leave jobs they've been dissatisfied with for years and pursue dreams they've carried their whole lives. And, with rare exceptions, people facing serious illness strive to discover the deeper meaning of their lives, consciously stepping onto a spiritual path that offers the hope of eternity.
In Return to Wholeness, I hope to convince you of something very radical. You- the real you- do not have cancer. Your body may have malignant cells, your mind may be defining you as a "cancer patient" or "cancer survivor," but the essential nature of who you are is beyond illness. You are not a physical machine with the ability to generate consciousness, feelings, and ideas. You are a localized field of intelligence in a vast universe of consciousness. You are consciousness made manifest. . . . At your core, you are Spirit, and as such you cannot become sick and you cannot die.
A sacred song from the Upanishads declares:

In the city of Brahman is a secret dwelling, the lotus of the heart. Within this dwelling is a space, and within that space is the fulfillment of our desires. What is within that space should be longed for and realized. . . . Never fear that old age will invade that city; never fear that this inner treasure of all reality will wither and decay. This knows no age when the body ages; this knows no dying when the body dies. This is the real city of Brahman; this is the Self, free from old age, from death and grief, hunger and thirst.

Diane Connelly once said, "All sickness is home sickness." The simple truth of this statement suggests that healing is the process of coming home. Where is home? It is not our body and it is not our mind, for these aspects of ourselves are in constant and dynamic flux. Home is the source of all our thoughts and feelings, it is the basis of our being, it is the field of awareness that unites us with all existence. Our essential nature is wholeness and holiness. I hope that this book will help you rediscover your home, pointing the way so that you may return to wholeness.

C H A P T E R 1

Understanding Cancer Through the Windows of Modern Science and the Timeless Healing Traditions The merging of intuition and reason will provide wisdom for the resolution of the struggle in which we are engaged.- JONAS SALK

As a young child, I used to imagine a bogeyman living under my bed. I was certain that this beastly troll waited to materialize until my parents turned off my bedroom lamp. I envisioned him hungrily anticipating my placing one foot onto the floor, eager to devour my tender, though meager, body. If I needed to empty my bladder after I had been officially tucked into bed, I would go to elaborate extremes to avoid touching the floor, climbing over dresser tops and bounding across cushioned chairs to the door-way. I could not even consider the idea of looking under the bed to see if there was really something there to stoke my fears. On some level I enjoyed the danger and the challenge of outwitting my fearsome goblin.

It would be wonderful to believe that cancer could be avoided if we were only clever enough to sidestep its underhanded ways. Although cancer is in many ways the bogeyman of our society, this disease cannot be evaded by illusion or delusion. Cancer challenges us at every level of life- environmentally, physically, emotionally, intellectually, and spiritually. If we are to understand and move beyond cancer, we must be willing to look into its face and resolutely commit to hearing its message.

Cancer is a disease of our age. Every time I release exhaust fumes from my car, purchase a tomato that does not have a trace of insect dam-age, or fail to recycle a plastic container, I contribute to our collective risk for cancer. It has been estimated that over 80 percent of cancers are environmentally influenced. 1 This includes not only obvious environmental factors such as tobacco, asbestos, and ultraviolet radiation but also takes into account the risks of the high-fat diet that is the staple of most Americans. And it is almost impossible to account for the harmful effects that modern stress has on our immune system's ability to recognize and eliminate malignant cells.

Cancer is a complex process, which involves some factors that we can control and others that we cannot. Like the prayer for Alcoholics Anonymous, it's helpful to know which things we can change, which things we can't, and how to tell the difference. The foods we eat, the toxins we knowingly ingest, the ways we use our five senses, and how we express our emotions- all are under our control. We can choose to accept only life-affirming influences and eliminate toxic ones.

Our genetic constitution, which includes our inherited vulnerability to illness, is beyond our conscious control. Similarly, the air we breathe, the water we drink, the chemicals in our soil, the toxins in our workplace, and the electrical fields that surround us are for the most part not within our personal control but represent our collective tolerance for toxicity in our environment. Awareness of our intimate relationship with the ecology of our earth is reawakening, and soon we will have a critical mass of people committed to improving the quality of life on our planet. As this unfolds, our standards for personal and environmental purity will be transformed, and cancer will be understood in a new light.

Discovering Cancer My brilliant friend, Dr. Candace Pert, one of the pioneers in the field of mind-body medicine, uses an amusing slide in her medical presentations. It features the tombstone of a person who lived for ninety-five years, with the inscription "You see, it wasn't psychosomatic!" I see many people each year whose fear of cancer erodes their day-to-day quality of life. A woman who watched her mother's battle with breast cancer believes it is only a matter of time before she suffers a similar fate. A man whose older brother had colon cancer becomes obsessed with his bowel function, certain that every episode of constipation portends a malignancy. People who have a heightened fear of cancer seem to take one of two routes. In one, they torment themselves about every bodily symptom, certain that it is heralding a serious problem. They frequent their physician's office, convinced that this time they will receive the bad news they have been anticipating.

The other approach is to deny the problem, hoping that by ignoring a symptom it will disappear. A woman with fibrocystic breast disease feels a small swelling but refuses to bring it to the attention of her doctor. She worries about it constantly but avoids dealing with it directly. Much more often than not, the mammogram she finally agrees to is completely normal, and she realizes she has expended months of need-less anguish.

The anxiety associated with this illness can be as devastating as the illness itself. I recently saw a woman at the Chopra Center who was convinced that she had thyroid cancer. She tearfully told me that ten years earlier her family doctor had noticed a slight swelling in her neck. Al-though he had not raised the possibility of cancer, she became convinced that this was her problem and avoided any medical care from that point on, terrified that her fear would be confirmed. When I examined her, I could not find any problem. When I asked her how long ago she had last felt the lump, she stated that it had been almost ten years ago! Despite the complete absence of any physical abnormality, this woman had lived her last decade in misery, afraid that her life was going to be shortened by cancer.

Throughout this book I will be advocating a middle path. As we enter the twenty-first century, denying the value of modern medical advances is as regrettable as denying the healing value of herbs. Although this book is dedicated to using holistic approaches to help people who are directly facing cancer, I fully support the use of the early detection technologies we have available. Regular physical examinations, mammography, prostate specific antigen (PSA) levels, cervical Pap smears, skin examinations, and rectal examinations with tests for occult blood are important tools for detecting cancers at earlier and more treatable stages. If you notice a change in your body, pay attention! Denial and delay do not ultimately serve the healing process. If something is awry, find out what it is and what therapeutic options are available to you. Most important, find a health care advisor you can trust to guide you compassionately and ex-pertly through the thicket of choices available. Despite how scary it may feel to face our challenges directly, it is ultimately the only path to true healing.

Looking at Cancer from a Consciousness-based Mind-Body Approach

Later in this chapter, I'll explain the current scientific understanding of what cancer is, how it develops, and what is usually done in modern medicine to combat it. First, I'd like to look at cancer in a different way. This new approach seeks to understand the message cancer is bringing to us as individuals and society. This perspective generates a series of questions that we need to explore openly if we are to move beyond the suffering that cancer brings.

What is the deeper meaning of this illness that creates so much anguish? What is cancer telling us about the way we are living our lives?

What can we do to change the impact cancer is having on us, as individuals and as a community?

These are big questions without easy answers. However, searching for the meaning of cancer is a worthy quest that offers potential treasures that may be unimaginable to you at this time. My hope is that through-out this book, the questions raised will motivate you to look deeply into your own mind, heart, and soul to discover the meaning of the challenge cancer brings.

Let's first explore what's happening when the body functions in a healthy manner. It's really a miracle that the trillions of cells in our body, all derived from a primordial fertilized egg, are able to carry out their millions of life-sustaining functions in a coordinated fashion. Each cell has a very specific role, while simultaneously contributing to the wholeness of the mind-body physiology. Our liver cells are capable of detoxifying our blood, storing and releasing sugar molecules, and metabolizing cholesterol while at the same time monitoring the levels of dozens of hormones, digesting hemoglobin pigment, and reproducing daughter cells. Just a short distance away, our colon cells are absorbing fluid, propelling the residue of yesterday's lunch along, and monitoring the concentration of bacteria. Throughout the body, our cells, the fundamental building blocks of life, are performing their myriad tasks in a coordinated manner that is beyond our conception of organizational power.

In every timeless healing wisdom tradition is the recognition of a life force that unifies and coordinates biological intelligence. In Traditional Chinese Medicine it is referred to as chi and is described as life energy that circulates through subtle channels known as meridians. This is the basis of acupuncture treatments designed to remove obstacles to the free flow of this vital force. In Ayurveda, the primary energy that creates and sustains life is known as prana, meaning "the primary impulse." As long as prana is flowing, life is maintained. When the body is no longer capable of functioning in the coherent way that supports the flow of life force, the individual life ends. A body immediately before and after death is composed of the same set of biochemicals, but life contains the unifying vital force that animates our molecules into a living, breathing being.

What is this unifying force that organizes a complex set of biochemicals into a human being with awareness and the ability to think, feel, and act? This question is at the heart of the new paradigm of life and health that is blossoming in our society as we undergo the transition from a material to an information-or consciousness-based perspective. After two hundred years of a worldview that considered only physical reality to be worthy of attention, the dawn of the information age is heralding a new vision that embraces consciousness as a real force. As these new principles permeate society, a new approach to health and illness is emerging.

On my first day of medical school almost twenty-five years ago, I began my study of health by dissecting a human cadaver. The implicit message that my colleagues and I received was that the key to under-standing health begins with the understanding of death and illness. I say implicit because in most modern medical schools there is only limited discussion of the basic philosophy of life and death, health and disease. Rather, most institutions make the assumption that future doctors of medicine understand their role to be master technicians of disease. Ac-cording to the prevailing model taught in medical colleges, life is the product of complex chemical reactions that generate awareness, ideas, and emotions as by-products of molecular reactions. Death is then viewed as the inevitable end of a faulty biological machine (the human body), similar to the breaking down of an old automobile.

The problem with this material approach to life is not so much that it is wrong, but that it is incomplete. The most brilliant scientists of our time tell us that the world is not as solid as it may seem. Through the in-sights of the great physicists of the twentieth century, we now understand that underlying the facade of matter is a very mysterious nonmaterial world. Although to our senses the environment appears as a collection of individual solid objects, we now know that the atomic building blocks that comprise this domain of forms are mostly emptiness. The relative distance between an electron and the nuclear core of an atom is as vast as the distance between stars in our galaxy. Even the subatomic particles that make up atoms are ultimately nonmaterial, for as soon as we try to precisely locate them in space, they vanish into a cloud of probability. Ac-cording to the timeless tradition of Ayurvedic science, the entire universe of forms and phenomena is a temporary consolidation of a nonmaterial field of energy and information. All this matter is ultimately nonmatter.

The Ayurvedic message and the message of modern physics are remarkably resonant with one another. Albert Einstein cognized the formula E 5 mc 2 , convincing the world that matter and energy are interchange-able. As scientists continue delving into the quantum soup that underlies the world of perception, we are learning that an invisible potential reality gives rise to the building blocks that structure our universe. The womb of creation is beyond the limits of time and space, but its nature is to give birth to time and space. Physicists have referred to this nonmaterial field of potential energy and information that gives rise to the world as the unified field, or the vacuum state. Ayurvedic scientists call it the field of pure potentiality, the field of pure consciousness, or in Sanskrit, Brahman. We can also call it the field of infinite possibilities, because all that was, is, or will be arises from this field.

A consciousness-based approach takes another step here, suggesting that the same field of intelligence that underlies the world around us is the basis of our own awareness. The steady stream of thoughts and feelings that we experience consists of impulses of intelligence emerging from a nonlocal field of awareness. The field of pure potentiality that gives rise to subatomic particles, rainbows, and galaxies gives rise to our creativity, ideas, and emotions. Rather than consciousness being the by-product of molecules colliding in our brain, our thoughts and cells are both expressions of this underlying field of intelligence. Our physical body is a field of molecules; our mind is a field of ideas, but underlying both our mind and body is a field of consciousness that gives rise to both. In the timeless wisdom traditions, this field of consciousness is also referred to as spirit.

Our life force is the expression of the infinite organizing power of spirit that provides the unifying coherence to the cells of our body. Our connection to the universal field of intelligence enables each of our cells to express its unique properties while simultaneously supporting the wholeness of our physiology. However, when there is some interference in the free expression of the intelligent vital force within us, the coherence between our cells becomes disrupted. The memory of wholeness is forgotten, and individual cells begin acting as if they are disconnected from the body as a whole. According to a consciousness-based model, this is the origin of cancer. Due to the accumulation of toxic influences or cellular misunderstandings, an individual cell assumes a level of self-importance that disregards its cellular community. The cancer cell reproduces, failing to recognize that in its uncontrolled expression of power it is sowing the seeds of its own destruction.

Searching for Meaning

Let's revisit the first question raised earlier, "What is the deeper significance of this illness that creates so much anguish?" I suggest that all per-sons who are affected by cancer- whether as patient, family member, friend, or health care provider- ask this question in their own minds and listen to the answers from their hearts. At the Chopra Center, the procedure we have found most helpful is to have people close their eyes, allowing their attention to go inward to their heart. Then the question is quietly asked and each person silently listens to the response that emerges from within his or her own awareness. Ideally, try this exercise with someone who is going through your journey with you. Sit quietly with your eyes closed, centering your awareness in the region of your heart. After a minute of silence, have your partner softly whisper in your ear, "What is the deeper significance of this illness?" every fifteen or twenty seconds. Listen without preconception to the information that emerges. The more innocent you can be in listening to, rather than forcing, a response, the more your inner wisdom will emerge. After hearing the question and listening to your inner message several times, take a few minutes to write down what you learned.

Your first thought may be that there is no deeper significance to this terrible disease and that you simply want it to vanish from your life as rapidly as possible. This is fully understandable, for no one consciously chooses to incur an illness. However, most people who perform this exercise receive some insights that begin the process of regaining meaning and wholeness in life. Often, people with cancer, as is true with most people on this planet, can identify some aspect of their life that is incomplete in some way. That is, they know that there is something missing but they have been unable or unwilling to address this lack directly and make the necessary choices to improve the situation. It may be that you are languishing in a job that provides little nourishment or challenge. It may be that you are harboring resentment or bitterness from a past or current relationship. It may be that you have a desire to spend more time with your family members but other priorities always seem to win out. Perhaps a change in diet or a new exercise program has been calling you, but you have done everything in your power to tune out the message. It may simply be some hobby such as painting, writing, or dance that always brings you great joy, yet you never seem to have time for it. Almost all of us would make different choices if we really believed that our time here was limited. For many people, learning that they have a serious illness offers the opportunity to look honestly at what is missing and to begin choosing to fulfill that need.

About one and a half years ago, a frightened woman with breast cancer came to see me, understandably distraught because her cancer had recurred nine months after a malignant breast mass had been surgically removed. After her operation, her surgeon told her that her chances for a cure were excellent, and she declined further treatment. Unfortunately, a lump that was at first felt to be scar tissue from the surgery continued enlarging, and a repeat biopsy showed more malignant cells. After her first round with cancer, she did her best to put the experience behind her as quickly as possible, treating the whole episode as a bothersome inconvenience. She continued to smoke cigarettes, made no changes in her fast-food diet, and remained in a less than nourishing relationship with her boyfriend, even though he was unable to provide emotional support for her when her illness was discovered. When she discovered that the cancer had returned, her emotional defenses were overwhelmed, and she was terrified that she was going to die. She was prepared to do anything that might improve her chances. Working with her oncologist, she began a program of radiation, chemotherapy, and hormonal therapy, along with several mind-body approaches. She learned meditation, improved her diet, and gave up smoking. When she asked herself what was the deeper significance of her illness, her quiet inner voice told her that her cancer represented a lack of love for herself. Recognizing a long-standing pat-tern of one-sided relationships, she made a commitment to herself that she would no longer tolerate emotional toxicity in her life. A year and a half later, she is disease-free, in a healthy relationship with a wonderful man she met at a cancer support group, and happier than she has been in many years. In retrospect, she sees her cancer as a gift that impelled her to make choices honoring her spirit.

I will be reminding you throughout this book to give yourself permission to nurture your innermost desires and live your life as if every moment was a gift. We each have a responsibility for our own well-being, and in order to create health, we need to restore the wholeness that is our birthright. Responsibility is not the same as blame. We often hear from people with cancer that well-meaning friends attempt to convince them they are choosing to create their illness, implying that if they simply chose differently, they could spontaneously eliminate their illness. This is neither useful, compassionate, nor accurate. Regardless of the specific choices we make in our lives, one thing is certain- no one chooses to suffer. Even people who smoke two packs of cigarettes a day are not choosing to get sick; rather, they are choosing a behavior that fulfills a need they have not found another way to satisfy. People are often willing to dispense with life-damaging habits when life-supporting alternatives are offered.

Whenever my patients raise the issue of what they did to cause their cancer, I feel a tremendous amount of humility and compassion. First, they may not have done anything on a conscious level to incur their illness. Children of Hiroshima who developed leukemia, adults with thyroid cancer who were radiated for swollen tonsils as children, and women with vaginal cancer exposed in their mother's womb to the hormone diethylstilbestrol (DES) can hardly be held personally accountable for their cancers. These reflect our collective choices more than any one individual's. Second, there are many types of cancer for which we do not understand how any of our conscious behaviors contribute to their development. Although there may be statistical correlations between certain types of environmental influences and specific cancers, for many malignancies we simply don't have the "why" answers. This is certainly the case for the many people I see with brain tumors. Third and finally, there is no value in creating any sense of blame in people who are now facing the most important challenge of their lives. I suspect that by assigning a simplistic cause to an effect (" Of course he got colon cancer, he ate red meat!") we protect ourselves from the fear that serious illness raises in us. If my friend who works too hard gets sick, I can feel some security that since I do not indulge in that behavior, I am protected from a similar fate. In my experience, humility and compassion are the qualities that truly benefit friends when someone is facing cancer or any other serious life challenge.

More important than assigning blame is assuming the responsibility to create an opportunity for healing. By responsibility I mean the ability to respond in a creative way that is different from the past and open to new possibilities. Only through escaping the limitations of the past can we access our full creative potential. This means looking at every aspect of our lives and honestly evaluating whether we are maximizing nourishment or tolerating toxicity. Through honest self-evaluation we gain the power to make the changes that will bring about greater happiness and well-being in our lives. This is true whether or not we are currently facing a serious illness. Acknowledging our limitations or weaknesses does not mean that we are flawed; rather, the recognition that we are multifaceted human beings allows us to embrace the paradoxical aspects of our nature. Cancer can be viewed as a dramatic wake-up call to us as individuals and society. In our reawakening, we can restore wholeness to our lives.

What Is Cancer?

Since I will be using medical terminology throughout this book, I'd like to familiarize you with a few basic definitions. Recognizing that the language we use to describe something determines our relationship to it, I will be introducing new ways of describing cancer that will help shift our interpretation of cancer. But I think it is useful to understand the prevailing terminology of this illness.

Let's consider a common scenario. You become concerned about a swelling under your arm and see your doctor about it. He examines the lump and labels it a tumor, which simply means a swollen collection of cells. The question in both your and your doctor's minds is whether the

tumor is benign (most likely harmless) or malignant (potentially serious). If your doctor is unable to confidently determine the nature of the swelling by feeling it, he will probably recommend a biopsy- an operation to take all or a piece of the tumor so it can be examined under a microscope.

You obviously hope the lump is benign. Benign tumors are usually slow-growing, don't spread throughout the body, and are unlikely to shorten life. They have well-defined boundaries, separating them from surrounding healthy tissue. When an operation is performed to remove a benign tumor, none of the cells in the lump are usually left behind.

You fear that the tumor is malignant. This implies that it is more rapidly growing, has a tendency to invade healthy tissue, can spread, or metastasize, and may be threatening to life. Because malignant tumors do not heed the normal boundary rules of the body, it may be more difficult to determine where the lump ends and normal tissue begins.

If the biopsy shows only an increased number of normal cells, the lump is declared benign and no further treatment is required. If, however, the microscopic examination shows cells that seem to be multiplying beyond normal controls, the scary diagnosis of cancer is applied. The term cancer is derived from the Greek word karkinos, meaning crab, because malignant tumors tend to hold onto surrounding tissues like a stubborn crab.

If the tumor is malignant, you will probably be referred to a doctor who specializes in the treatment of people with cancer, known as an oncologist. Most modern treatment offered by an oncologist falls under one of three categories: surgery, chemotherapy, or radiation therapy. The goal of a surgical procedure is to remove as much of the cancerous tissue as possible, minimizing the damaging effect it has on surrounding normal tissue. Chemotherapy involves the use of potent medicines that damage cells that are rapidly growing. Since cancerous cells tend to reproduce more quickly than normal healthy cells, chemotherapy drugs are de-signed to affect malignant tissues more than normal ones. Because there is not an absolute distinction between the way normal and cancerous cells grow, it is normal for people receiving chemotherapy to experience some side effects. Radiation therapy involves directing beams of energy at cancerous tumors, which alter their genetic material, leading to cell death. As with chemotherapy, the goal with radiation treatments is to maximize the effect on cancer cells while minimizing injury to normal cells. Two modalities that hold promise for the future are immune therapies that enhance our body's ability to identify and dispense with cancer cells and genetic treatments that seek to correct the abnormal signals that stimulate cancer cells to grow. The newest approach on the horizon uses substances known as angiogenesis inhibitors that may treat cancer by preventing the development of new blood vessels. If a tumor cannot augment its blood supply, it cannot grow. Preliminary research in animals using these agents is promising, and the cancer community eagerly awaits studies in human beings.

Many cancers are effectively treated with modern medical approaches, but because medical doctors are reluctant to use the term cure, people who have a good response to treatment are usually referred to as going into remission. In complete remission, all evidence of cancer is gone; in partial remission, the cancerous tissue may be lessened but still detectable at some level. A tumor that seems to have stopped growing or is growing much more slowly than expected may also be considered to be in partial remission. By reducing the burden of cancer cells with modern medical treatment, your body's natural healing system has a better chance of taking care of the remaining malignant cells.

Environmental Agents

Over the past several decades scientists have tried to understand how toxic substances can lead to cancer when they enter our bodies. The term carcinogen is applied to an agent from the environment that may stimulate the uncontrolled growth of cancer cells. For most carcinogens, a minimum exposure is necessary before a person develops cancer. For example, many soldiers fighting in Vietnam were exposed to Agent Orange, a poi-son used to destroy forests. Limited exposure to the chemicals contained in Agent Orange, known as dioxins, rarely led to cancer, but workers heavily exposed to the herbicide where it was produced have shown a higher risk for a number of malignancies. Even with the same carcinogen exposure, human beings demonstrate a wide range of susceptibility to developing cancer, based upon both our genetic makeup and our overall state of health. We can't do much about our heredity, but we can do a lot to improve our overall health.

Cancer, Lifestyle, and Culture

As a life insurance actuary, Thomas knew that his pack-per-day cigarette habit was placing him at some health risk, and each year he made a resolution to stop. However, his day-to-day life stresses always provided a good reason why today was not the right day to begin enduring the anticipated nicotine withdrawal symptoms. Although annoyed by his chronic cough, he avoided seeing his doctor until one morning when he was startled to see his urine appearing pink in the toilet bowl. Anxiously describing his discovery to his family doctor on the telephone, he was scheduled to see a urologist that afternoon. After a series of studies, he was given the diagnosis of bladder cancer. Fortunately, it was small, localized, and very treatable.

A year later, Thomas is a changed man. He smoked his last cigarette on that fateful day, lost thirty unwanted pounds, now exercises four times a week, and regularly enjoys family vacations. He looks back with a sense of gratitude on the experience that helped him reset his physical and emotional priorities.

Almost any tissue in our body can be the site of cancer, because everywhere our cells grow there is the potential for them to lose normal control and reproduce in a disorganized manner. The most common tumors in any given culture or community reflect the prevailing popular lifestyle. For example, lung cancer is the most common malignancy in the United States because of our society's addiction to tobacco. If no one smoked cigarettes, lung cancer would be a rare disease. Unfortunately, as more women in our society choose to smoke, what was previously a rare malignancy in women is now common. Equally tragic, the incidence of tobacco-related cancers is growing worldwide as citizens of developing countries emulate our Western lifestyle.

Our digestive system is almost continuously exposed to carcinogens in our environment through the food we consume. Nearly half of all cancers in the United States arise within the digestive tract, with the large intestines the most common site. High dietary fat intake and low fiber consumption are associated with slower movement through our gut, which seems to increase the exposure of our colon to potential cancer-causing substances. Diet has a major effect on this type of cancer, as shown by the fact that the rate of colon cancer in North Americans and Western Europeans is as much as ten times higher than in natives of Asia, Africa, and South America! 2 In Seventh-Day Adventist communities, where members tend toward vegetarianism, the incidence of colon cancer is much lower. 3 Native Japanese have a high incidence of stomach cancer, apparently related to the large amount of salted, pickled, and smoked foods that comprise the typical Japanese diet. Japanese people who move to Hawaii or California and change their diet to a more characteristically American one show a decrease in the incidence of stomach cancer but a rise in their risk of colon cancer.

Our modern lifestyle not only raises the risk of some cancers; it lowers the risk of others. Liver cancer is relatively rare in North America, where it is usually related to long-standing alcoholism. However, developing countries in Africa and Asia have a very high incidence of liver cancer. Malnutrition, exposure to toxins produced by food contaminated by fungus, and a variety of viral and parasitic infections may all contribute to the phenomenal 8 percent incidence of deaths due to liver cancer in southern Africa. We can fairly easily reduce the risk of liver cancer through lifestyle choices in North America. The societal changes required in the poorest developing countries are much more challenging.

Breast and prostate cancer are of major concern in North America. Although we do not understand why we are having epidemics of these cancers, they seem to be related to our lifestyle. Both breast and prostate cancer are much less common in Asia. As with colon cancer, when women move from Japan to America, the risk of breast cancer rises, as does the risk of prostate cancer in Asian men who move here. The rising rate of breast cancer in America has been tied to a diet rich in animal fat, and this has also been confirmed in studies on animals. We know that women who never have children or who have their first child after the age of thirty have a slightly higher risk of breast cancer. Women on estrogen replacement therapy are also at mildly increased risk. These trends are more common among Western women, accounting in part for the increased breast cancer we see here. There has also been recent concern about toxic chemicals known as endocrine disruptors. A variety of environmental agents may mimic or alter our natural sex hormones, possibly contributing to breast, prostate, and testicular cancer. The Environmental Protection Agency is sponsoring studies to more carefully assess the role of these common chemicals in our most common cancers.

Although environmental factors have been identified in many cancers, there is still much we don't understand. A thousand people may be working in the same chemical plant, but only a handful will develop cancer. Millions of people smoke packs of cigarettes each day, but not every-one develops lung, mouth, or throat cancer. This is where two other important issues come into play: genes and immunity.

Genes and Cancer

Richard was understandably concerned when during a screening examination, several small polyps were discovered in his colon, as both his father and older brother had died in their sixties of colon cancer. Fortunately, the biopsy report was benign for all the tumors removed. Wanting to do everything possible to avoid the fate that had taken his family members, he learned that he could reduce his cancer risk by making some changes in his diet. He stopped eating red meat and increased the fiber in his diet. Reducing his salt intake, he made certain to have several daily servings of fresh fruits and vegetables, rich in antioxidants and potassium. He also cut back on his alcohol intake. Although he could not change his genetic predisposition, he could improve his chances through regular examinations and simple nutritional changes.

Our DNA molecules contain millions of years of evolutionary information on how to create a living, working cell. Shortly after our father's sperm merges with our mother's egg cell, the genetic blueprints of our parents pair up, creating the biological map of our life. The script that describes the color of our eyes, the texture of our hair, the shade of our skin, and many of our personality characteristics is written in our code of life, waiting to be translated from the interwoven threads of our genes. The instructions for the essential proteins that form the building blocks of our cells and tissues unfold sequentially in a miraculous choreography of feedback loops. Genes affect every aspect of cellular function, including growth, maintenance, repair, and dissolution.

Normal cells follow orderly patterns of growth and development, responding to environmental influences in ways that maintain balance and health. They have well-defined boundaries and produce offspring only when necessary. Cancer cells, however, do not observe the regulations of the body. They do not honor the boundaries designed for harmony and order and instead reproduce without concern for the needs of surrounding cells and tissues.

Studies over the past twenty years have shed light on how the usual cellular control mechanisms can break down in cancer cells as a result of genetic alterations. When the genetic information of a cell is changed as a result of inherited or acquired damage, several possibilities arise. One possible consequence is that the cell is too changed to survive, in which case it systematically self-destructs. Another possibility is that the genetic alteration is so minor that the cell performs less efficiently, but not enough to cause either death or abnormal growth. Most of the time we will never notice these first two changes, since our overall health is not affected. However, if a genetic alteration affects growth-regulating proteins, the cell may stop listening to normal control mechanisms, signaling the onset of cancer.

The genes that are responsible for stimulating cells to reproduce are called protooncogenes. These are our growth-promoting genes, which are essential at various stages of a cell's life. During our earliest development from a single cell to a complex multidimensional being in the womb, our growth genes provide the driving force to produce the trillions of cells that comprise our bodies. Whenever there is an injury to a tissue, our growth genes are activated, stimulating cells to reproduce and repair the damage. Tissues that are normally rapidly changing, such as our skin and blood-producing cells, are under the constant stimulation of growth-promoting genes. The problem arises when these growth-promoting genes turn on but fail to turn off. When these blueprints for growth are altered through exposure to a virus or environmental toxin, they may continue to stimulate reproduction even though there is no healthy need for growth. When normal growth-promoting genes are altered so that they continue to stimulate uncontrolled growth, they are called oncogenes- genes that cause cancer.

Another important component of the cancer picture is a set of genes that are designed to shut off cellular growth. These are called tumor suppressor genes, because when they are altered, they become incapable of turning cell growth off. Both oncogenes that stimulate cells to divide and tumor suppressor genes that stop cells from dividing are often involved in cancer. It is now believed that most cancer starts with a single cell that undergoes two or more genetic alterations over many years before it begins growing uncontrollably. This "two-hit hypothesis" explains why it may take years of exposure to a carcinogen such as cigarette smoke before a person develops cancer. Because a cell's DNA must undergo at least two different mutations before it loses control, our body's repair system must be overcome twice in the same gene for cancer to arise. Considering the hundreds of thousands of genes in our cells and the trillions of cells in our body, the odds of this occurring are fortunately fairly low, but the longer we are exposed to a toxic substance, the higher the odds become. This also explains why it is still beneficial to stop after years of smoking, be-cause the likelihood of another cancer-producing mutation in our genes is then reduced.

As was true in Richard's case, certain forms of cancer run in families, suggesting that they carry an inherited susceptibility. One possible explanation for these families is that their inherited weakness is in the genes that repair DNA damage. We are all exposed on a daily basis to cancer-causing influences but we do not all develop cancer. This is because we have an elaborate genetic repair system that scans and repairs defects be-fore the cell is allowed to reproduce. It's as if we have a genetic spell-checker that identifies and corrects any misspelled DNA words before the story is printed. Families with inherited tendencies toward cancer seem to have weak repair systems so that over time, potential cancer-causing misspellings have a higher chance of showing up.

Cancer and Immunity

Our immune system is an elaborate network of cells and messenger molecules designed to identify and eliminate unwanted biological intruders. Although we will explore this area in greater detail in the next chapter, I'd like to present a few basic principles here. Each of our normal cells has identifying proteins that let our immune system know they are friendly. These proteins can be thought of as an identification card. If a foreign organism enters our system, our immune cells immediately ask to see its identification card, and if it cannot produce the right ID, an alarm is triggered, provoking our immune cells to respond. Whenever we inhale or ingest a virus or bacteria, it is identified as familiar or alien by comparing the trespasser's characteristics with those of prior invaders. If the alien is identified as unfriendly, chemical signals are released that mobilize the appropriate immune troops.

Our immune system has a variety of different cells designed to disarm and disable any biological invader that may cause harm to us. Some immune cells release protein antibodies that immobilize the foreigner, others secrete chemicals that disrupt its protective lining, and still other cells engulf the intruder like hungry crocodiles. In each case, the end result is the neutralization of the intruder.

Most of the time, our amazing system of immunity functions beautifully, providing us with a protective brigade from the horde of innumerable environmental challengers that surround us. Similarly, our immune system usually protects us from internal challenges by identifying and eliminating cells that have undergone genetic changes. This component of immunity is known as our cancer surveillance system. When a cell under-goes a gene change, it is usually noticed by our immune system and promptly deactivated. Many oncologists believe that each of us creates several potentially malignant cells each day that never develop further be-cause of our cancer surveillance system. However, cancer cells are normal cells that have been transformed, not foreign invaders. Because of this, they may not be as easily identified as potentially harmful by our immune system. In other words, cancer cells' identification cards may be altered, but our immune cells may have to look very closely to see that there is something false about them.

Malignant cells may also develop the ability to hide their distinguishing marks until they have reproduced for several generations. Once cancer cells have taken hold, it becomes more difficult for our immune system to deactivate them. Most people with cancer then require the more powerful treatments of surgery, radiation, and chemotherapy to reduce the burden of cancer cells so the immune system can regain the upper hand.

As we will be discussing throughout this book, one of the aims of mind-body approaches is to support the immune system so that it can be a stronger partner in the treatment of cancer. We now know that the immune system can be weakened or strengthened by our moods, emotions, and states of mind. Changing our perceptions and interpretations of the experience of cancer and its treatment can make a major difference in both quality and quantity of life. Understanding that our internal dialogue can profoundly influence our immune system opens new possibilities for healing.

Commitment to Wholeness
Our bodies are the end product of our experiences and interpretations. To change our bodies, we need to change our experiences. Make a commitment to change your life in the direction of greater love and caring for yourself and those close to you.

1. I consciously choose to eliminate toxic influences and to accept only nourishing influences in my life. I do not blame myself for choices that I made in the past, recognizing that I am doing my best at every moment.

2. I will ask what is the meaning of this illness and listen openly to my quiet inner voice. I will take action to increase the joy in my life.

3. I will consider all therapeutic approaches available and work in partner-ship with my health care advisor to create an optimal healing program.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 9, 2000

    Comprehensive and Encouraging

    Dr. Simon has shared a comprehensive and integrative approach to healing that incorporates multi-levels and multi-options of healing enabeling the reader to make an informed decision about his or her health care. This book shares how following our consciousness to the core of our being helps promote healing for the soul and the body. He does not make promises toward health that utilizes self-will; instead, the author shares how surrendering into the process of wholeness from the inner dynamics of one's being elicites a healthy spirit receptive to integrative and conventional care.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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    Posted November 8, 2008

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