The Big Picture
What Is Possible and How
It is a great feeling to have recovered from cancer—to have been through it all and to be living a full, happy life again. I have done it. I have seen others do it and know many more will repeat the process in the future. This book, then, is offered with a sense of excitement and joy—the joy in having done it and the excitement of being able to help others to do it.
We all share a common goal. We all want to enjoy good health along with long, happy and meaningful lives. And we can. However, when a diagnosis of cancer comes into a family, all this is severely threatened. There is the real threat of life cut short, along with fear, distress and potential suffering.
Good news. We can turn all of this around. I have done it myself and I have seen many, many others do it as well. You can conquer cancer. That is a fact. It is possible. There is a process by which you can combine your own resources with those of the medical and allied health professions so that you can transform the experience of cancer and recover. This book examines the patient’s role in disease and healing. It is intended as a self-help manual that provides the signposts along the path to well-being and long-term health.
Currently, of all the people diagnosed with cancer, Western medicine helps around 65 percent to be alive five years later. For someone whose prognosis predicts they are likely to be in that 65 percent, this approach will mobilize your own inner resources, along with those who support you, and give you every chance of becoming a long-term survivor.
For those with a poor prognosis from the medical point of view, take heart. You too can do it. I did. At my lowest point in 1976 my surgeon thought I would only live for a few weeks. So it is wonderful not only to still be alive, but to have raised a family, had the good fortune to be able to help many thousands of others and, importantly, to have seen many, many others recover using these methods.
For more than thirty years now, people have continued to ask me the same question. It is a good question and it is as relevant to the start of this book as it is to every person who asks it.
“When it comes to cancer, what is the most important thing that will help me, or the person I love, to recover?”
I never tire of this question. Is it the food? Is it all in the mind? Is it some new medical breakthrough or some ancient herb? Is it the meditation? What is it? What is the thing that helps the most?
Well, in my experience it is a combination of things. You need the best of all that is available.
You can conquer cancer. But you do need to work at it. This is not a casual business. You need to learn what to do and you need to do it. And when you do, you are bound to feel better in ways that right now you may not even imagine. There is the real prospect of becoming cancer free and enjoying a whole new phase of your life.
WHERE THERE IS A RHYME, THERE IS A REASON
My right leg was amputated with osteogenic sarcoma (bone cancer) in January 1975. While there were no signs of the cancer anywhere else in my body at that time, I was told that only 5 percent of patients could expect to be alive five years after such surgery. If my cancer reappeared, it would be expected to be rapidly fatal. In those days, most people died within three to six months of developing secondary growths of this form of bone cancer.
In fact, my cancer did reappear in November 1975. By March 1976, my specialist thought that I would live for only two more weeks. My subsequent recovery ran the full gamut of available treatments and, in June 1978, I was declared free of active cancer.
Over the next few years, my former wife, Gail (who later changed her name to Gayle and then Grace), and I had four children. I began a new veterinary practice, took up a thirty-seven-acre farm, developed vegetable gardens and orchards, and built a new house.
In 1981, Grace and I initiated the Melbourne Cancer Support Group. This lifestyle-based support group was one of the very first of its kind anywhere in the world. It began with an initial urge to pass on the benefits of my own rather extraordinary experience of recovering against the odds. Having been through it all myself, I understood the problems cancer patients face. Furthermore, being a rather pragmatic veterinarian, I had enough medical knowledge to understand my own position at the outset, evaluate my progress, and assess critically the wide range of treatments considered. Fortunately, I was blessed with an open mind, so I was ready to consider anything that worked toward my aim. That aim was to create the right environment in which my body would heal itself. To think that the body can play a major part in healing itself was a novel approach way back in the mid-seventies, but is one that we now know to be full of possibilities.
When my cancer had recurred and the situation looked hopeless from the medical viewpoint, I remained confident that there was another way. Already I had been introduced to the idea that cancer involved a state of immune deficiency, a weakness in the body’s healing defense system. To explain: it is known that throughout the lifetime of every healthy person, cancerous cells develop in their body. This is a medically accepted fact. It also is accepted that the body normally recognizes these abnormal cells as a potential threat to its health and acts quickly to isolate and destroy them. It does so before any physical symptoms become apparent. However, in people who go on to develop cancer this does not happen and the growths continue unopposed. The body offers no resistance and symptoms of cancer are the result.
So I began with the attitude that it was possible to restimulate the body’s natural defenses—in particular, the immune system. This being so, it followed that the body itself could destroy and remove all traces of the cancer. As an extension, if the immune system remained intact and functioning properly, there should be no worry about the cancer reappearing. An exciting prospect!
That attitude was my starting point, my basic premise. All I did was directed toward that end. So, while I explored many avenues of treatment, every one was a part of the process of finding the right balance for me. Now more than thirty years later, and having worked with many thousands of people intent on dealing with their own cancer challenges, what this book is able to present are the key principles that will be helpful, as well as exploring some of the more peripheral options.
This attitude of being empowered and learning how to overcome the many challenges cancer can present is so very different to the fear that normally surrounds the word.
FEAR AND THE FOUR MISCONCEPTIONS OF CANCER
Probably no other word strikes as much emotional fear in the community today as does cancer. While over the years the intensity of this fear may have lessened to some degree as more people have come to realize there is something constructive they can do in response to cancer, for most the fear is still very real.
When You Can Conquer Cancer was first published in 1984, it was regarded as somewhat provocative and revolutionary. First, there was the title, You Can Conquer Cancer. Conquer? Maybe “get help with,” maybe “manage,” maybe “live with” would have fitted the expectations of the day better. But “conquer” and “you can” in the same sentence? You can conquer cancer? Is that for real?
Actually the title was quite deliberately chosen to confront what many people believed back then and what some people still do believe: you get cancer and you die. This of course is the primary fear cancer engenders. But there is more to it. The fear of cancer is based on four basic misconceptions:
1. The cause of cancer is unknown.
2. Cancer is generally associated with pain and an untimely death.
3. There is nothing patients can do to help themselves except hand over responsibility for their well-being, and indeed their lives, to a doctor.
4. Treatments are unpleasant and probably will not work anyway.
It is the work of this book, of the Gawler Foundation and of other like-minded practitioners and groups to dispel these fears, to replace them with a positive attitude, and then to show how people can make a decisive contribution toward restoring their own health.
GOOD NEWS • Cancer Is a Process That Can Be Reversed
This book presents the good news on cancer. It is not a book about dying gracefully with cancer. It is about a process of living—living to the fullest.
The starting point is seeing cancer as a process. We must realize that most of the causes of cancer are now known and that cancer is not a chance happening of random fate. Once the causes are identified it becomes possible to plan appropriate action. To do this satisfactorily we need to expand our horizons. We need to consider the roles of those three aspects of our human condition that we know as physical, psychological and spiritual.
While personally I recognize the overriding importance of spiritual factors, I do not confuse these with religious issues. Religious preference is something different and personal to the individual, and therefore I talk little of this. Some prefer to leave religion alone, others take their religion seriously indeed, and it is my experience that whatever their choice, people explore that avenue for themselves. The techniques talked about in this book have no religious loadings, nor do they interfere or impose on patients’ preferences in any way. However, the majority of people do find the techniques an aid in their search for their own spiritual reality.
Most people, and people diagnosed with cancer in particular, are concerned with the basic questions: Who am I? Where did I come from? Where am I going? These fundamental spiritual questions are often prominent in the mind of someone diagnosed with cancer and are certainly worth exploring later in the book.
In these pages we shall consider also the role environmental and psychological factors play in the causation and treatment of cancer; for herein lies the key to success. We can identify the majority of the causes of cancer. I contend that there are techniques which provide effective antidotes to those causes. The techniques center on appropriate diet, exercise, positive thinking, stress management and meditation—all in conjunction with suitable specific therapies. By utilizing all these means, the body’s natural healing urge can be helped to reassert itself.
A body with properly functioning defenses cannot have cancer.
WHAT IS POSSIBLE?
I have experienced the pleasure of working with other people who have been able to repeat the process I went through and become free of a supposedly terminal illness. But just as exciting and pleasing is the fact that these techniques have consistently produced a deeper love for life coupled with a profound acceptance of the outcome of that life.
So, while I have seen and continue to see many recoveries, I accept that not everyone is going to become free of their physical problems. Sadly, some may die of their illness. But it has been part of my joy to know that the great majority of those who used these same techniques and did not recover were able to die with great dignity, and a poise that often surprised and always impressed themselves and their families. In this way, too, cancer was truly conquered. So, although the aim is always first and foremost to help people back to full health, this approach is of great value to those who face dying.
While in general the earlier in the course of the illness a person begins using this approach, the easier they will find it and the better their result, for those making a later start there is still the real prospect of overcoming cancer. There are always genuine grounds for hope, plus the bonus of overcoming fear and the problems associated with the disease. For many others there is the exciting prospect of using this approach to prevent cancer. I have found that, indeed, you can conquer cancer.
A COMMITMENT TO WHAT WORKS
This is a book about what works. The essence of this book has been distilled in the cauldron of major disease. People faced with cancer take life seriously—very seriously. They want answers. They want to know what works. They need to know what works.
What you are reading in You Can Conquer Cancer represents the accumulated wisdom of thousands of people over several decades who were all focused on these question: What are the best things to do? How best to respond to the many challenges cancer presents? How to recover physically? How to transform what for many at first diagnosis was shock and fear? How to transform the potential suffering of this illness into good health and long-lasting well-being?
The reality is that between the thousands of people I have worked closely with, we have tried many things. In fact, between us, we have tried most, if not all, the things you could think of, and probably quite a few you could not! My job has been to collect, distill and communicate the lessons learned from all this experience—this experience of what works. It is presented here in the hope that you too will benefit from the experience of so many others, and from the knowledge that comes out of it.
Of course, both myself and the many people I have worked with as group participants and colleagues value science and its evidence base. I love research, read lots of it, take it into account, and highly value it. But then science needs to be tested in the real world. So in this book, the focus is on what works in practice, what I can share with you based on so much practical experience. As such, I have deliberately chosen not to attempt to document what I present with more than rudimentary research evidence. This book is not intended for research scholars it is intended for practical use.
I first wrote this book back in 1984, and have thoroughly rewritten it in 2012. On both occasions I had in mind what I would say if I was speaking personally to the most valued person in my life. What follows is the best I can offer. It is informed by research; much of the book is validated by research. But unashamedly I suggest its real strength is that it is the product of shared human experience.
The accumulated experience of all the people I have been blessed to work with, gathered together here in this one book, can save you a lot of time. It may even save your life!
This book, then, focuses upon the principles of self-healing. What you can do to restore natural health, what you can do to help someone you love and care for. As a bonus, for those still well, the book can guide you directly with how you can prevent illness and experience lasting good health.
You Can Conquer Cancer presents an integrated approach, a guide to health and well-being.
There is nothing like sitting and talking with a room full of people whose lives are on the line to clarify what is important and what works. This book is a tribute to all the thousands of people affected by cancer who over three decades have helped to test, trial and debate the possibilities. The strength of the book resides in the fact that what it presents has been tested in the crucible of human experience, intense human experience, the intensity of aiming to overcome cancer and all the challenges it presents. So my gratitude, and respectfully I would suggest, your gratitude as the reader, needs to go to those people whose experiences the book reflects. This book stands as testament to their commitment and achievements.
There is a need to acknowledge and thank my two main meditation teachers, Dr. Ainslie Meares and Sogyal Rinpoche. It is useful to be aware that it was only a few decades ago that medical innovators like Dr. Meares began to identify the health-promoting possibilities of the ageless forms of meditation and adapt them to modern, everyday problems. Dr. Meares’ first major contribution in this area was popularized in his international best seller Relief Without Drugs, first published in 1967.1 I was fortunate indeed that at the time when my cancer recurred in 1975, Dr. Meares was putting forward his hypothesis that intensive meditation may help people with advanced cancer to recover. I was then equally fortunate to meet the great Tibetan lama Sogyal Rinpoche in 1985 and I continue to learn from him. Rinpoche, as he is known, is the author of the international classic The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying2 and has been at the forefront of bringing the ancient wisdom of the Tibetans into a vibrant, modern context. What I can offer regarding meditation stems largely from these two great teachers, Dr. Meares and Sogyal Rinpoche, along with the many people who have taught me as I attempted to teach them.
You may be able to imagine that working in this field has its challenges. I have so much gratitude to my wife, Ruth Gawler, for all that she does to support me both professionally and personally. Ruth is an extraordinary doctor, a wonderful meditation and yoga teacher, and she has had a profoundly positive impact on so many people she has counseled. She has taught me what real love is and it is a delight to be married to her.
I have also been fortunate to work with many extraordinarily talented and compassionate colleagues. I think of the many people who volunteered to sit on the Gawler Foundation’s board and the many staff I have worked with. Of course things go up and down a little when you work with lots of people, but one thing that has been a constant is the clarity of purpose all the staff have taken to their work which manifests as their unfailing capacity to work together for the interests of those attending programs and to create a caring, nurturing, transformative environment. This capacity is truly wonderful.
As to the book itself, I am deeply grateful to the Brady Foundation for supporting me in a very direct way and providing the opportunity to concentrate on the writing. Particular thanks is due to Ross Taylor, himself a long-term remarkable cancer survivor, who has encouraged and inspired me personally, as well as a multitude of other people dealing with cancer.
Then to thank my publisher, Michelle Anderson, who has been a tireless advocate for the book and become a very supportive friend in the process. Robina Courtin brought her formidable skills as an editor to bear on the book and contributed significantly to the end result. Pam Cossins did great work transferring my handwriting into type, while David Johns did his best with his photography to make me look good for the front cover. Great photography at least! Ruth also made a significant contribution reading and assisting with many drafts, and thanks to Maia Bedson, Michelle Anderson, Professor Gabriel Kune and Rohan Erm for reading some or all of the book and offering useful feedback and suggestions. As with the first edition, John Simkin contributed the index.
Finally, a thank-you to the critics. Criticism provides the opportunity to reexamine what you take to be correct, to reconsider how you can express things more clearly or in a more accessible way, and to check how what you say resonates with others. While destructive skepticism has little merit, constructive criticism is always welcome.
THE BENEFIT OF THE YEARS
Given the years since the first edition back in 1984, I now have even more confidence in these principles because I have observed them at work for so long. They can transform your life! For many people, they have been lifesaving. For others they have sustained and prolonged life, then helped them with a dignified, honorable death. For all who do use them, these principles bring more inner peace, more joy, more happiness.
One of the personal delights in writing this new edition has been to reaffirm that the essence of what worked over thirty years ago is very similar to what it is today. While this new edition represents a very thorough rewrite when compared to the original, there is a fundamental truth here. Your lifestyle affects your health. Your lifestyle can produce disease and your lifestyle can produce healing. So while this new edition is updated, the language more current, the stories often more recent, the basic principles have stood the test of time and remain constant. The reason for this? What is presented here is how you can use your own resources to get the best from your body’s potential to heal. These things are constants: good nutrition, exercise, sunlight, healthy emotions, the power of the mind, meditation—your lifestyle. Do not be confused by the simplicity of the theory. What we will be talking of here are things you can control for yourself and apply in your own healing journey. They can be highly therapeutic. The book will explain how!
A FINAL WORD
There is no magic bullet in this book. No wonder drug or herb that can be taken three times daily and which, leaving all else unchanged, will offer you a cure.
You can conquer cancer using a process—a healing process that takes effort, perseverance and does require changes to be made. It is a process through which our natural state of health can be regained. For those prepared to walk this road, I know that cancer can be prevented or overcome. My wish is that more and more people will do it.
For the benefit of others, I offer this book.
The Yarra Valley, 2013
The First Step
How to Begin
What you do will make a difference. There is a compelling logic to this. If you, or someone you love, have been diagnosed with cancer, it makes good sense to get all the outside help you can. But then, as with everything else in life, how you respond, how you react, what you actually do—all this will affect the outcome significantly.
For those willing to take up the challenge that cancer has put to them, there is a road back to health.
What to do? There is so much information available these days. Advice from friends, opinions from medical and other health professionals, lots of great books and so much information on the Internet. This book will distill the benefits of years of experience and gathered knowledge, present it in logical, sequential form, help you to evaluate the many choices available, and then support and guide you along the way.
We will begin in the first two chapters by working through the options, from first diagnosis to long-term survival. Then come the details you will need to convert a good idea into a practical reality. You can conquer cancer. What follows spells out the process of how to do it.
HOPE IS REAL
The starting point is having hope. And hope has a compelling logic to it. No matter how dark it may seem as you start on this road, you need to be assured recovery is possible. It may not always be easy, it may well take a good deal of planning and commitment, but it definitely is possible.
At my worst I was expected to live for only a few weeks. That was early in 1976! After I recovered, Dr. Ainslie Meares said a very important thing: “It only has to be done once to show that it is possible.” But these days there are many documented cases of people who have recovered against the odds. I have helped to publish two books recounting the lives, the methods and the recoveries of some of these people. The first, Inspiring People,3 gathered the stories of forty-four people who had attended groups I ran in the early years and went on to become long-term survivors. Out of print now, that book was replaced by Surviving Cancer,4 which recounts the remarkable journeys of twenty-eight people. Written by Paul Kraus, himself one of the longest-known survivors of mesothelioma, his is a wonderful book to read and then dip into from time to time whenever inspiration is needed.
FEATURES OF LONG-TERM SURVIVORS
There are two important features I observe in the many long-term survivors I have worked with and come to know well. First, they really applied themselves—they did many things. Second, the main things that they did they had in common, while many varied some of the minor details.
Let me explain. Some years back, I surveyed thirty-five long-term survivors. These were all people who had been given short-term prognoses by good medical people. But they went on to turn their difficulties around and were alive many years later. In the survey, they were asked to consider all the things that may have helped them to recover and to rank their importance on a sliding scale. They were asked to reflect on the importance any medical treatment had played, any natural therapies, overcoming fear of dying, forgiveness, nutrition, meditation—all the options you could think of.
The first thing that stood out in this survey was that most people valued most things highly. What this indicated was they did do a lot. Turning around a major illness is not a casual affair. It does take work. These people were committed. They did a lot, and they rated highly the value of many things that they did do.
These people were then asked to think back over their recovery and to identify what they considered to be the three most helpful things they did. Interestingly, quite a number took the trouble to write on the survey that they did not like the question! They had done so much, and found so many things to be helpful, that choosing just three was quite challenging.
Anyway, they did choose three, and the results were fascinating and important. Three things stood out way and above the others. They were the diet, the meditation and the development of their spiritual life.
Now, many of these people were alive ten years after they had initially been predicted to die. So next I asked them what they would recommend to people newly diagnosed. Here four things stood out. The diet and meditation again, but then the advice was to attend a well-run, lifestyle-based self-help group (presumably to learn these techniques and be supported in applying them) and to aim to find meaning and purpose in life.
So what is it with the spiritual life and the meaning and purpose? What our survivors are pointing out is the importance of the mind and its key role in all we do. What inspires you? What motivates you? Why do you want to get well? How important is getting well to you? How much are you prepared to do? How much effort do you want to make? What can you learn through this illness? What meaning and purpose does it clarify for your life? What will you do with your good health? What will you do with your life once you are well again?
These are all questions for our mind. They come under the heading of spirituality, meaning and purpose. It is well said that if you have a “reason” to do something, you will find a “how.” If the desire to live is strong and you follow a logical approach, there is every reason to expect a good outcome.
Have enough courage to believe in the possibilities. Then take the next step.
THE FIRST BIG QUESTION • Do I Really Want to Get Well Again?
You may say I am crazy to ask a question like this. However, the fact is some people diagnosed with cancer do accept their condition as terminal and cannot imagine themselves getting well again. For many of these people, this reflects their lack of any real hope. In some cultures there is still a pervading belief that you get cancer and you die. Some families, some individuals still hold this view, either as a result of some morbid fear or maybe as the product of experiences they have had with people they knew who did not do so well.
The antidote? Hope. People in this situation need inspiration—they need to realize the possibilities. This is where groups can be helpful, especially if they contain long-term survivors who can be met, seen, and touched! Even hearing stories of recovery or reading of them in Inspiring People or Surviving Cancer can help reawaken lost hope and help people to move forward.
However, there is a deeper issue. Some of the people whom I have known had given up on life itself. Some of these people had enough clarity to tell me that life was just too hard. We will examine this possibility in more detail in the chapter on the causes of cancer, but some people, when you come to know them really well, confide that they have lost their zest for life. Perhaps through past trauma, maybe through a variety of accumulated reasons, the future just seems too difficult. It is almost as if they have had enough of life and if cancer is the way to go, then they are not going to fight it.
The antidote? Like our survivors said, find the meaning and purpose in life. What ignites your passion? What inspires you? What have you got to live for? Is there something from years gone by that you put aside that now can be rekindled? Could you change your circumstances to make life seem worth living again? It is so extraordinary to be a living human being. Even the tough times are extraordinary. When we reflect on it, there really is so much to live for.
But what to do right now? If you are clear you want to recover, then no problem, go for it. Move on to the next step, the next question. If you have doubt, if you are unsure about survival, first examine the question of hope and seek inspiration. If there are deeper doubts or fears, or a lack of motivation, look into your heart, seek inspiration, and seek solutions. This may well be the time to talk to a trusted friend or an experienced counselor who can assist you to reach a point of clarity.
So while there is nobility in a good death and while the prospect of a good death is important for all of us as certainly we will all face it one day, the majority of You Can Conquer Cancer focuses on the process of getting well and being well.
THE SECOND BIG QUESTION • Who Is Responsible for My Decisions?
This question is best characterized by imagining a visit to your doctor. Do you go to them and say, “Here is my diseased body. You fix it. You tell me what is wrong. You decide what treatment I will have. I will accept whatever you say. The responsibility is yours.”
Or, do you go to them and say, “Here is my diseased body. What can we do to get it better again?” With this latter approach, the relationship becomes a more equal one. Instead of handing responsibility for your well-being—and your life—to someone else, you are embarking upon a shared quest for health, a collaborative venture.
Now, in all probability, as time goes on, you are likely to work with a range of health professionals. Their technical skills and their communication skills are bound to vary. Some will be excellent; however, whether through lack of time, lack of aptitude, interest or training, some may well be poor communicators. For the same reasons, some may have a narrow range of expertise. Being practical, it may well serve you best to use some doctors and other health professionals almost mechanically. You take advantage of their technical skills, you take their treatment while accepting that to attempt a deep and meaningful discussion may be rather futile.
What is paramount is to identify the key person in your healing team. I suggest the ideal person for this could well be a general practitioner (GP) or family physician. This implies the need to find and work with a broadly trained, open-minded doctor you can respect and trust. Someone you can talk with freely. Someone who is interested in and takes account of your own, unique situation. Your hopes and your beliefs. Someone who is prepared to set out your options, explain the possibilities and the risks and then give time for questions. Someone who is not afraid to offer a considered opinion, to tell you what they would recommend if you were their own partner, parent or child. And then encourages you to make your own choices and supports you in them.
Currently, many hospitals are working in a more integrated way. They are setting up teams of doctors and allied health professionals who can come together to discuss individual cases and make specific recommendations. This is all to the good, but the questions still remain, who do you talk to? Who coordinates your management? Who is the focal point?
While encouraging you to take ultimate responsibility for your own decisions, the key question remains, who will be your chief adviser?
You may be fortunate and find a cancer specialist who can fill this role. However, experience tells us this is not so common. While I regard the role of doctors as pivotal, it is a sad fact that many patients and their families bemoan the communication skills of their specialists. This criticism has been around for many years and while it does take good training and committed practice to be able to give bad news well, one would hope the quality of communication improves soon.
In some hospitals, nurse-practitioners fill this coordinating confidante role. However, maybe a GP who is trained in and enthusiastic about the integrative approach remains the best choice.
Statistics tell us the average GP sees around three new people diagnosed with cancer each year. Only three. So it is a big thing for them when it happens. However, GPs are very well placed to understand both the medical treatments and your other options. They can provide time for discussion, and they may be specifically trained and experienced in counseling.
You may well have a long-standing relationship with a GP who can fill this role. Unfortunately, what often happens for many people is that they go to the GP with the initial complaint and have their help during diagnosis. Then often they will be referred to specialists, spend plenty of time with them and not revisit the GP. So you may need to remember to go back to your GP for this coordinating role, or you may need to seek a doctor who is more suitable for your current needs, and make ongoing appointments.
Do make it a priority to identify the coordinator of your healing team. Then tell them everything. Tell them about any other treatments you are having. Any and all the supplements or herbs you are considering or taking. Seek their advice to ensure you avoid doubling up or using things that conflict with each other. And seek their support and encouragement. A good GP in this situation can be invaluable, providing clarity, confidence and stability. They can be like a life coach, a healing coach. It is well worth keeping in regular touch with them.
So assemble a good team, seek their advice and support, and make your own decisions.
THE THIRD BIG QUESTION • What Is Most Likely to Heal Me?
Essentially there are three main sources of healing: conventional medicine, natural medicine, which has three components, and your own resources, best expressed here as lifestyle medicine.
Conventional or Orthodox Medicine
Conventional medicine generally describes medical interventions that are taught at medical schools, generally provided at hospitals and meet the requirement of peer-accepted mainstream medicine and standards of care.
Natural Medicine—Made Up Of:
Complementary medicine refers to a medicine or therapy that is used in addition to, or complements, conventional medicine. Complementary medicine is increasingly taught in medical schools and practiced in hospitals and is steadily gaining widespread support. More research is needed to better evaluate it.
Traditional medicine includes well-documented or otherwise established medicine or therapies that are based upon the accumulated experience of many traditional health care practitioners over an extended period of time.
Traditional therapies include traditional Chinese medicine, traditional Ayurvedic medicine, Western herbal medicine and homeopathic medicine. These traditional medical systems represent a different paradigm of health care when compared to conventional Western medicine.
Alternative medicine is the term widely used by many medical authorities to describe modalities that they regard as being on the periphery, being unproven and unwelcome. We will investigate what all these different modalities have to offer in the later chapter on healing.
What is helpful to understand now is that all four—conventional, complementary, traditional and alternative medicine—generally involve seeking help from the outside and having things done to or for you. This makes good sense. You go to a surgeon, massage therapist or acupuncturist for the help they can provide. You take the drugs, herbs or supplements recommended for you and receive their benefits. You have things done to or for you. But then there is another completely different possibility—what you can do for yourself.
Lifestyle medicine focuses on what you can do for yourself in the context of your daily life. This is what we focus upon in this book. Lifestyle medicine can be highly therapeutic. It can improve your quality of life and increase your chances of long-term survival dramatically.
Lifestyle medicine involves attending to physical, psychological, social and spiritual factors. The actual techniques include nutrition, exercise, sunlight, stress management, social support, emotional health, the power of the mind, relaxation, imagery, mindfulness and meditation.
It is strongly recommended that anyone diagnosed with cancer attend to their lifestyle right from the start. If you have conventional treatment, lifestyle medicine is likely to minimize any side effects and maximize the benefits. If no curative conventional medical treatment is available, then lifestyle medicine still offers real hope.
INTEGRATIVE MEDICINE • Finding a Suitable Doctor
It is worth emphasizing one more term: integrative medicine.
Integrative medicine refers to a style of medical practice that is holistic and integrates the best and safest of conventional medical care with lifestyle advice and evidence-based complementary medicines and/or therapies. It aims to use the most appropriate of all available modalities and to help each individual patient make informed choices. Integrative medicine is an umbrella term that aptly embraces all styles of medical practice, including lifestyle medicine.
Integrative medicine is becoming a major specialty and many doctors now describe their approach to health, healing and well-being as being integrative. Simply put, perhaps this is what good medicine has always been—taking full regard of the patient as a whole and working collaboratively with a comprehensive range of allied health professionals.
When seeking a medical practitioner to head your healing team, a good starting point would be a doctor who is an advocate of integrative medicine, and preferably a member of an integrative medical association.
Most people start their cancer journey by consulting a doctor. So now, let us take a logical approach and consider how to manage diagnosis, prognosis and treatment options.
START AT THE BEGINNING • Seek an Accurate Diagnosis
Diagnosis is something modern medicine is very good at. Establishing whether you have cancer or not, what type it is, where it is, how extensive it is—all these facts modern medicine generally gets right. Sure, as in anything, mistakes sometimes are made, and particularly in unusual cases second opinions may be worthwhile, but generally the diagnosis can be taken as a fact and as such warrants being accepted.
The Reaction to a Diagnosis of Cancer
Some people accept a cancer diagnosis quite calmly, but I have seen people of all ages and from all walks of life go into deep shock on hearing the fateful words: “You have cancer.” A strong emotional reaction is common, completely understandable and needs to be taken in context. Quite often the reaction is one of disbelief and numbness. Sometimes an outpouring of grief. Often confusion, uncertainty and fear. While any or all of these are understandable and common, none of them are good states of mind to be in when making important decisions.
A strong word of advice: Following a diagnosis, give time to adjust emotionally and take your time before making any major decisions. Contrary to common belief, there are very few decisions in cancer medicine where waiting to make them, waiting to act for a week or two, will affect the overall outcome. Many people think that the need to receive treatment for cancer is like when you are hemorrhaging—it needs to be done now, as soon as possible. While it is sometimes true that there can be medical emergencies involved that do demand urgent attention, in the main, a short delay of a week or two will not affect the long-term outcome. Taking your time could have you in a far better state of mind to make crucial decisions and to work well with the treatments you do accept.
This then is a time to be close to family and good friends, particularly those who have the capacity to stay present and offer their stability amid turbulent emotions. Here it is important not to be confused. Many people think the need is to be “positive,” which is true, but some think to be “positive” is to be unemotional, which is not true. I have met people who were so afraid of their emotions that they thought it was almost as if they were to cry even once, it would take a week or two off their lives. Of course if one were to cry all day, every day, that may well be a problem, but it would be perfectly natural and normal to have a few, tough emotional days as you take in a cancer diagnosis and what it means for your life and the lives of those around you.
What to Do with the Emotions
Healthy emotions are natural emotions. Unhealthy emotions are when wild emotions control you, or, as is often the case with people affected by cancer, when emotions are suppressed.
Everyone feels emotions. It is how we express them that is the issue. The observable fact is that people vary quite naturally in their range of emotional expression. Some are naturally very expressive, some quite reserved. This is influenced by a variety of factors. Some cultures are very emotionally expressive—Italians often come to mind in this regard. Some keep their emotions under pretty tight control—my culture of origin, the English, seem pretty good at this.
The point is, with emotions, as with all else, individuals do vary. Your aim is to be authentic. To allow yourself to be natural and to be comfortable with your own emotional expression.
Emotions are so important we have two specific chapters on them later, but for now, recognize that allowing your natural emotions to flow is natural, normal and healthy. While the emotions that result from a cancer diagnosis may be painful, do what you can to let them out, either on your own or in the company of those you trust. Once they have been released, it will feel like a real weight has lifted and you will be in a much better place to move on with treatment, using your own resources and taking the steps to recovery.
If you are in doubt about your emotions, if none come or if they seem to be going on forever, do be brave. This is a time to seek help, talk with a professional counselor or an experienced, trusted friend and check your situation out.
Experience says it is very difficult to think clearly, to make good decisions, to really commit to what you need to be doing, if your emotions are all over the place. Once the immediate emotional response to a diagnosis is felt, expressed, and showed, usually the intensity goes out of it. Maybe emotions will arise again in the future. Again that would be natural and normal. But be authentic. Be comfortable with your own degree of emotional expression and realize emotions are another natural part of a healthy life.
So do take time. Sit with those you are close to. Be with them. Maybe in silence. Maybe with tears. Maybe with talking and discussion. Take it in. Let it out. Allow yourself to settle. And then begin to plan. To move forward again.
Keeping Hope Alive
Prognosis and Looking into the Crystal Ball
While diagnosis is based on fact, prognosis is based on speculation. With a prognosis comes an attempt to predict the future, to give an informed estimate of what the diagnosis, along with any treatment, is likely to lead to.
The problem with a prognosis is that it can have power in its own right.
In the ancient culture of the indigenous Australian Aborigines there is a phenomenon called the “pointing of the bone.” This culture is the oldest continuous culture on the planet and its roots stretch back in time for at least forty thousand years. Many of the Aboriginal tribes lived in small nomadic groups that thrived amid extremely harsh environments. To survive and flourish they had quite strict laws that everyone recognized and generally adhered to. One of the ultimate penalties for transgressing these laws was the pointing of the bone. Here is how it works.
If a person broke a major law, they would be very aware of it themselves. They would know something serious was wrong and they would be aware of the likely consequences. Once the transgression was recognized by the tribe, the senior people would confer, and if all agreed, the punishment of pointing the bone would be carried out by the senior law holder. This person, often referred to as a man of high degree, would dress up in ceremonial garb and the instrument of the punishment literally would be a bone—a human thigh bone.
But there was no beating or physical assault with the bone. It was “pointed.” Amidst the ritual of the process, the bone was pointed at the transgressor along with the words—the curse, if you like—the threat, the promise, that the person would die.
Interesting things would begin to happen immediately. First, the law-breaker, the person who had been pointed, would go into a rapid decline. Then, all of the tribe would withdraw and avoid contact with them. The person would become depressed, lose all interest in life, then they themselves would withdraw and become listless, apathetic.
At this point there are frequent records of Western medicine attempting to intervene. No conventional treatment has been shown to prevent the ongoing decline toward death.
As death approaches, another significant observation. The tribe members, sensing the closeness of the end, gather around again. This time they go into pre-mourning rituals and, in the process, seal the fate of the wretched victim of this extraordinary punishment.
So the pointing of the bone is invariably fatal in this Aboriginal context.
Now let us make some unnerving comparisons. A person knows they are not well, that something serious is wrong. They go for help. Senior people confer. Then comes the consultation where the key figure dresses up in ritual garb, with white coat and stethoscope, and makes a pronouncement.
When bad news is given badly, there are all the hallmarks of the pointing of the bone.
“You have only three months to live and there is nothing we can do about it.”
In days gone by the message was often given this bluntly. These days, many doctors attempt to be more subtle and compassionate, but even so, many people get the take-home message: you have cancer, you will die.
All too often what happens next is that they go home in shock, they withdraw and then so do their friends. Often friends, even family, are unsure of what to do, how to respond, how to help. Many of these people, well-meaning, kind and considerate in their nature, have told me how they were deeply concerned about doing or saying the wrong thing and so they thought it safer to do nothing, to stay away.
However, if a person with cancer does decline and seems close to death, it is common for people to gather around to say their good-byes. This is natural and we will discuss how to do this in a healthy, constructive way in the chapter on death and dying, but here again, done badly it can fit exactly into the pointing of the bone process.
The message is simple. If bad news is given badly, if a prognosis is given bluntly and taken to heart, the person affected may well have two life-threatening conditions to deal with. The first is the actual illness. The second is the “pointing of the bone.” And we know both have the potential to be fatal.
Traditional Aborigines have survived the pointing of the bone. There are accounts where Aboriginal elders or today’s doctors have used their own rituals to persuade the person who has been pointed that the punishment has been countered or reversed. No medicine will do this. It all needs to come through the mind of the individual who has been pointed.
Therefore, we need to take heed of all this. For a start, let us use our logic again. In reality, offering a prognosis is a bit like setting the odds on a horse race. While in cancer medicine this process will involve high levels of technical skill and clinical expertise, setting a prognosis remains a process of making an informed guess. One takes into account all the factors one can and then makes the best estimate possible.
Now, we know that in horse racing the reality is that favorites win quite often. Yet we all know long shots get up from time to time. The only way to find out the result of a horse race is to wait until the race is run. Just the same in life. Just the same with cancer.
A prognosis is a bit like setting the odds. It can be helpful in giving all involved a sense of the degree of difficulty the diagnosis implies. Obviously, the odds of recovering from a cold are very high. No one who develops a cold takes it too seriously and fears dramatically for their future. The prognosis with a cold is usually pretty good and we can afford to treat it rather casually. If someone is diagnosed with a widespread aggressive cancer, obviously that is a vastly different matter and makes for a situation that requires the focused attention of everyone concerned.
YOU ARE A STATISTICALLY UNIQUE INDIVIDUAL
But let us go a little deeper. Here is some more good news. Human beings are statistically unique events. What does this mean and why is it so important?
Easy to explain. Consider a game of chance like Two-up. Two-up is where you take two coins, each with heads and tails on either side, throw them into the air, and bet on whether they land with two heads up or two tails. If they land with one head and one tail, you throw them again. Imagine now that two heads have come up five times in a row. Most people instinctively feel the next throw is now more likely to produce two tails. Surely, the odds predict this, we think. Not so. Each time you throw two coins, you have a statistically unique event. There is no connection, no link between one throw and the next! Statistically unique. Sure, if you throw two coins one thousand times you are highly likely to have around five hundred heads and five hundred tails. On average, over large numbers, statistics are relevant and work well. But individual events like tossing coins are unique.
So too with people. People diagnosed with cancer are statistically unique. On average, statistics are useful to predict what might happen, to set the odds. That has some validity and some use, but you will never know the outcome for a unique individual until time moves on and the race is run.
Before my own secondaries were diagnosed, I had been into the medical libraries and had not been able to find a record of anyone surviving my type of metastasized cancer (osteogenic sarcoma) for more than six months. If I had accepted this fact, accepted my prognosis, I could very easily have withdrawn, become passive, and died on time. What a blessing in retrospect that I was “crazy” enough to believe it was possible to recover—“crazy” in that to aspire to recovering I went against all the prevailing evidence of the day. However, there is real logic to what I did and how any other person with cancer needs to approach their prognosis.
When one looks at the range of outcomes for nearly all situations in life, they commonly vary quite a deal. In cancer it is just the same. The evidence is clear that faced with similar diagnoses, some people will live a long time and some not so long at all. This is often referred to as normal distribution and expressed graphically via the bell curve. The bell curve records how, if, say, a thousand people were diagnosed with a similar cancer, as time goes on, some die soon, most die in average time, and some do live on for a much longer time.
The Bell Curve or Normal Distribution
Where the numbers shown represent the percentage of the whole
The time factors will differ for different cancers and the exact shape of the curve may vary too. But the idea is clear. When a large number of people with a given cancer are tracked, most die around the same time. This is the statistic most prognoses are based upon. Maybe if the doctor is optimistic, it is pushed a little to the right; pessimistic, a little to the left. But the message is clear. This represents statistics.
If you or someone you love have been diagnosed with the same cancer as many other people, their history is interesting and points to what is possible, but not to what is certain. You are a statistically unique event. You could fall anywhere on the curve. That is a statistical fact. That is reality.
The big question then is, what affects where you end up on the graph? Is it simply a matter of statistics and random chance, or will what you do influence the outcome?
Back to horse racing again. If you were interested to back a horse in a race and you knew it was not being fed well, how would you feel? What if it was not well trained? How about if it was one of those horses that did not enjoy racing? Surely, these factors affect the outcome.
So too with cancer. If you embrace a good treatment, what direction will that head you in? If you eat well, will that take you right or left on the graph? Eat badly? If you remain filled with fear and dread, or if you develop a positive, committed approach, what is likely?
Given that everyone is a statistically unique event, everyone therefore deserves to be treated uniquely, to be regarded uniquely. Whether you have been diagnosed with cancer or are helping someone through cancer, your situation is unique. No one else has exactly the same situation as you. No one else has exactly the same body. Your emotions will be different, the state of your mind is bound to vary, and your spiritual realities differ. You are unique.
So two women diagnosed with breast cancer may be described as having the same disease, breast cancer. Just as two men with prostate cancer may both be said to have prostate cancer. Same label, very different situations, very different possibilities. Maybe it is more useful to say one woman by the name of Jane who is diagnosed with breast cancer has Jane’s disease, another Mary’s disease—they could well be that different.
Again, while statistics are useful to generalize, you need a large group for statistics to be useful. The key point is this:
Individuals do not behave statistically. Individuals behave individually.
We are all individuals. If you want an average outcome, do what the average does. If you want a unique outcome, an extraordinary outcome, be logical, regard yourself as you are, unique, and do something extraordinary!
What Treatments Will I Use?
Attending to Individual Needs
Moving on from diagnosis and prognosis, what about the treatment options? How do you develop a comprehensive treatment plan that is most likely to work and take account of your individuality, your personally unique situation? How to move beyond generalizations and standard treatments, to taking account of individual needs? How do you personalize the appropriate response for your particular situation?
Again, we rely on logic for the framework and then aim to draw on experience, wisdom and insight for the details.
Nearly everyone in the Western world will be diagnosed and consider initial treatment within the conventional Western medical framework. This makes good sense and is as it should be.
Given that the diagnosis and prognosis will be provided by the best medical people available, it is they who will recommend an initial treatment plan. This too makes good sense. Certainly if there were a simple, medical solution to cancer, one piece of surgery, one pill we could take that ensured a cure, we would all do it. You would be a fool not to. But it is not so simple.
DEFINITIONS • Curative Treatment, Palliative Care or Living with Cancer?
While the medical treatment of cancer tends to focus on one of two outcomes, to be curative or to be palliative, there is a third option. Let us be clear with the definitions.
Curative treatment involves more than what many people imagine it to be, which is to be free of cancer after five years. Actually, curative treatment aims to render the person clinically free of detectable cancer and restore the person to their normal life expectancy.
On the other hand, palliative care is an umbrella term for assisting those approaching death—a fundamental need and right. It is generally used in the context that death is imminent and inevitable and aims to make dying as easy and comfortable as possible.
PALLIATIVE TREATMENT—LIVING WITH CANCER
Palliative treatment is a specific but integral part of palliative care. Palliative treatment can be more interventionist. It is noncurative by definition but aims to extend life, ameliorate symptoms, and increase quality of life in situations where a cure is not medically feasible.
The lines between palliative care and palliative treatment can often be blurred, but these days, palliative treatment is often called living with cancer.
While overall survival rates in the conventional management of cancer may not have improved all that much, in recent years many people are living longer with cancer. This can involve significantly slowing the progression of the disease, minimizing any side effects and maximizing all the quality of life issues. Palliative chemotherapy often plays a significant part in conventional medicine’s management of palliative treatment.
WHAT TO DO WHEN A MEDICAL CURE IS LIKELY
Now the logic. If a person is offered medical treatment for cancer where there is a high probability of a cure, then, in my view, what to do is fairly straightforward. Embrace that treatment as your main focus while you go through whatever it entails. The common treatment options are surgery—which often comes first—then maybe chemotherapy and/or radiotherapy.
However, right at the start or even better still, before you start your treatment there is more to do. As soon as possible, review your lifestyle and do whatever you can to complement and support the treatment with your own efforts. The details of what this entails follow in the subsequent chapters. Lifestyle medicine will have your body and your mind in the optimal state to get the best out of any treatments and to minimize the potential for any side effects.
When it comes to the complementary, traditional and alternative options, there may well be useful things to consider that will support your body’s healing capacity, minimize or manage side effects and have other useful benefits. These options will be discussed in later chapters as well.
THE CHOICES WHEN A MEDICAL CURE IS NOT SO LIKELY
However, what if a cure is not so likely from the medical point of view? What if at first diagnosis, or further down the track, it becomes clear that a medically based cure is improbable? What if palliative care or living with cancer is all that remains medically? There are three options.
1. Acknowledge Death as the Likely Outcome
This is probably not the option you are opting for if reading this book. However, we do need to recognize and accept that some people do accept their prognosis and do acknowledge death as the likely outcome. They then may choose to focus on what can be done to garner the best from whatever time remains, to live with cancer as long as possible and to prepare for a good death.
Yes, prepare for a good death. Death is like everything else in life. We can stumble into it, hoping for the best, or we can prepare for it and, in all likelihood, have a good death. To be open about this, when I started working in the early eighties with others affected by cancer, I knew little of death and I was preoccupied with the desire to help people to recover. I admit to being apprehensive about what would happen if and when people died of their cancer. While many did recover, others did go on to die of their disease. Over the years I have worked closely with many of these people and it has been incredibly heartening to observe how consistently the people I have known who prepared for death were able to die well. What they learned and what they did stood them in good stead, and the quality of their deaths was exceptionally high. We will speak more of this in a later chapter.
For now, it needs to be said that some people faced with the situation where there is no medical cure on offer do accept death. Some are content to focus on living with cancer and are keen to utilize palliative care when the time comes. Again, that is a perfectly reasonable and logical choice. However, if for whatever reason you are not ready, if you do not accept death, and if you are still intent on getting well, you need to be logical. If medicine cannot cure you, what will? Can anything?
2. Seek a Cure from the Nonconventional Medical Options
Remember the different styles of medicine: conventional, traditional (TM), complementary and alternative (CAM). If conventional medicine says a cure is beyond them, do any of the others have a solution? I have the personal knowledge of many individuals telling me that individual TM or CAM therapies were very significant in their recoveries. But I do not have the experience of consistency in this. It seems that from time to time, for some individuals, individual TM and CAM modalities fit really well with that particular person and are highly effective. But I am not aware of a TM or CAM therapy that reliably will be of major benefit to a wide range of people. I do not know of a magic bullet in the realms of traditional, complementary or alternative medicine.
3. Seek a Cure Within—Recovering Against the Odds
Even when conventional medicine says there is nothing more we can do toward a cure, I do believe there still is real hope on offer. Where the “magic bullet” actually does reside is within you. In the face of difficult odds, a cure may be much more likely through mobilizing your own inner healing than through chasing after some elusive external TM or CAM treatment.
Remember, it only has to be done once to show that it is possible. You only need one person to use their own inner resources to recover without the aid of external, curative medical treatments and you know that it is possible. Just one case demonstrates that there is the potential for the body to react, to reject the cancer within it, and to heal. And if it can be done once, it can be done again. And the truth is it has been done many more times than once. What I have been studying and teaching for over thirty years is what makes this most likely to happen.
Clearly, if you aim to recover against the odds, it is not likely to be easy. There is no point misleading anyone here. If it was easy, everyone would be doing it and no one would be dying. My experience is, as we have discussed already, those who do become remarkable survivors make a good deal of effort. They dare to hope, they seek out good information, they rally support, and they put good intentions into action. Then they persevere. They deal with the ups and downs. They learn from what others might judge to be mistakes, are prepared to experiment, try new things, and in doing so, develop an inner confidence. They learn through their process, often see it as a journey and commonly come to enjoy the challenge and reflect warmly on their achievements. And in all probability, they have a little good luck as well!
Recovering against the odds is not a casual business. It takes focus, energy and commitment. What then is the main thing to focus upon? Clearly if conventional medicine has said it cannot cure you, it is not that. In my view TM or CAM therapies cannot do it reliably either. The focus in this situation needs to be on inner healing, and to support this inner healing with the best of what conventional medicine, TM and CAM have to offer. Maybe more surgery or chemotherapy is useful to minimize the amount of cancer your body needs to attend to. Maybe you use medical, TM or CAM treatments to boost your immunity and your healing capacity, or to minimize symptoms. But in the situation where no medical cure is on offer, you may be wise to focus on your potential, the lifestyle medicine as we call it, and support that with all else.
HOW TO COMBINE THE BEST OF WHAT IS AVAILABLE • A Summary
When Curative Treatment Is a Real Prospect
Focus on the medical treatment, and support that with all the other options available to you. Lifestyle medicine will always be useful; use TM and CAM judiciously.
When No Curative Conventional Medical Cure Is on Offer
The choices are
i) Palliative care—accept the diagnosis and the prognosis, and plan for a good death. Lifestyle medicine is likely to be of great benefit for extending life as well as preparing for a good death. Use conventional medical treatments and CAM judiciously.
ii) Living with cancer—accept the diagnosis and the prognosis, then accept that your real goal is to live as long as possible, as well as possible. Quality of life becomes the focus—along with whatever is likely to extend your life. So again, the lifestyle factors set out in this book warrant being the focus of your plans, supported by good medicine and whatever TM and CAM therapies may be helpful.
iii) Accept the diagnosis and reject the prognosis. Dare to recover. Focus on developing healing within by employing lifestyle medicine—and support that with all else. Use conventional medicine, TM and CAM judiciously.
WHAT SPECIFIC TREATMENTS WILL YOU ACCEPT? HOW TO DECIDE WHAT TO DO
Before we examine in detail how to activate the healer within, let us pause to investigate what external forms of treatment, if any, to which you will be wise to commit. Let us begin with the medical options.
The logical way to assess any proposed form of medical treatment would be to ask your doctor the following questions:
(a) What does the future hold for you if no treatment is given, and in such circumstances what range of life expectancy would you have? The best way to ask this question is statistically. Ask if there were one hundred patients just like you and they had no treatment, what would be a reasonable estimate for the following:
i) How many people would be alive after one year and what would their health be like?
ii) How many people would be alive after five years and what would their health be like?
(b) What range of life expectancy would you have if given the proposed form of treatment? Again, ask for the answer to this question in statistical terms. If there were one hundred people like you who had the same condition and they received the proposed treatment, what would be a reasonable estimate for the following:
i) After one year, how many people would be alive and what would their health be like?
ii) After five years, how many people would be alive and what would their health be like?
Note: These statistical ranges should be available in virtually all medical situations, barring those that involve very rare cancers or experimental treatments including chemotherapy trials. If they are not provided upon request, I would seek another opinion. If you are considering an experimental treatment or a trial, you can only assess it on its possible merits.
In other words, through these first questions you are aiming to find out the anticipated benefits of the treatment, expressed in statistical terms.
(c) What are the side effects of the treatment? It will be most useful to obtain the answer to this question in statistical terms as well so that you obtain a real sense of any potential risks. So again, ask:
i) If there were one hundred people like you who had this treatment, what side effects are possible and how many people are likely to be affected by those side effects? Do 5 percent or 95 percent have nausea? Do 5 percent or 95 percent lose their hair?
ii) And how long are those side effects likely to persist? For a few minutes, weeks, years? Will they be permanent?
iii) How might they be managed if they do occur? For example, there are many good treatments available these days for the side effects of chemotherapy, and hair that falls out because of chemotherapy commonly grows back fairly quickly.
(d) What impact will my own response to the treatment have on the outcome? In truth, the answer to this question may be harder to define than the previous three. The medical system is very good at evaluating its results. This is made easier by the fact that a single intervention, such as a drug therapy, is relatively easy to study and accurately evaluate. By contrast, the human being is incredibly complex—the role of emotions, mind and spirit are extremely interwoven. They are not so amenable to the standard double-blind, crossover trials used to research and evaluate so many drugs.
What does seem clear, however, is that how you respond has the potential to affect the outcome of anything you do. If in cancer treatment you are treated with chemotherapy, full of fear and loathing, preoccupied with potential side effects and the possibilities of damaging your immune system, you are highly likely to undermine the potential benefits of that treatment. If, on the other hand, you think it through and decide to accept the treatment, regard it as in your best interest and do all you can to work with it, you are likely to get the very best from that treatment.
THE KEY TO GREAT OUTCOMES • Embrace Everything You Do
This is why you are strongly advised to make conscious decisions about all you do. Nearly always, there are pluses and minuses to consider when making medical decisions. Take your time and think things through. If you need help with this, a very useful decision-making technique that draws on both the intellect and intuition is presented soon in the first chapter on mind training (chapter 7).
Once you do come to a decision, the strong recommendation is to embrace all that you do. Embrace! Not just put up with, not just tolerate, nor even just accept it. Embrace it! Understand that this is what you have chosen to do. It is in your best interest—like when you would take antibiotics for pneumonia. Know that whether it be having chemotherapy, changing your diet or practicing meditation, the more you welcome it into your life, the better you feel about doing it, the more you support your choice, the more you embrace it—the better it will work.
When you embrace what you do, you release all the positive potentials of your mind, emotions and spirit. My belief is that when you embrace a treatment and really work with it in positive expectation, then you can reasonably hope to get the best possible results with the least side effects.
However, given all this, you may still have a very difficult decision to make.
The reality is that most current treatments for cancer are hard on the patients—sometimes very hard. It is a fact that most of the conventional therapies are toxic to the body. Radiation and chemotherapy frequently impair the body’s own immune system along with other components of its defense mechanism. This reduces the body’s ability to heal itself. Often this impairment is severe and side effects can be marked. Radiation burns, vomiting and loss of hair are obvious problems that can follow. Tiredness, lethargy, “foggy” thinking, depression and loss of memory are all observed as regular consequences of cancer treatments.
The impact of many medical treatments upon the rest of the body can be less obvious, but nevertheless more drastic in nature. Minor infections that previously would have been of no consequence can assume major proportions. Most important, the body’s own ability to fight the cancer is frequently lessened.
However, while the side effects of conventional treatment require careful consideration, chemotherapy or radiotherapy may still be the best medical treatments that are available at present. It may well be that it is in your best interest to use them. If this is the case and if you are having a toxic form of therapy, it is all the more important to concentrate on those self-help techniques that aim to boost the immune system and help the body to help itself. These techniques are discussed in later chapters.
Here again, good communication with your doctor is essential. The ideal is to be able to discuss all your concerns freely and easily with your main doctor. If this is not the case, talk with that doctor about the communication problem. We all know how some personalities clash and there are some people we just do not seem able to get along with. If you cannot find a way to correct the situation and communicate well, then request a referral to someone more suited to your temperament. No one should be offended by this. It will make life easier and more constructive for everyone. (For more detailed recommendations, see Appendix A.)
The final choice regarding what conventional treatment to accept may still be difficult. Again recognize the value of making this decision with clarity and confidence and the imperative of committing to what you do decide to do. A reminder then of the value of taking your time. Better to avoid a rushed, hasty decision that may later cause you doubt or regret. Best to take your time, seek expert opinion, discuss the options with those you value, contemplate, give due regard to your intuition and then commit.
Maybe in the final analysis it is the level of confidence and trust you place in the doctor(s) involved that decide it for you.
If surgery is what seems necessary, it seems wise to leave the details of the surgery to your surgeon. If chemotherapy is something else that you decide to commit to, again it would seem wise to leave the choice of agents to your chemotherapist.
You may desire, however, to know more or less of the details of your treatment and you can reasonably expect to have your questions answered in an open, cooperative manner.
Whatever the final choices you make, the next step is to do all that you possibly can to make sure the treatment works to full effect. We will discuss the means to achieve this throughout the book.
How to Enhance Surgery, Chemotherapy or Radiotherapy
The majority of people diagnosed with cancer will have one or more of the conventional treatments recommended to them, and decide to commit to the treatment. With the intention of minimizing any side effects and maximizing the benefits, it is important to be well prepared and to do the best possible to work with any treatments. While the details of what to do unfold in the coming chapters, a quick summary of the recommendations regarding how to prepare for medical treatments forms Appendix B.
Activating Your Inner Healer
Based upon many years of clinical experience and supported by the most recent research, the way to activate healing through your own efforts is easy to define. Your body’s capacity to heal is directly affected by what you eat, what you drink, and whether or not you smoke. Sunlight, vitamin D and exercise all play important roles, as does your emotional life and state of mind. How you manage stress, your capacity to relax, to be mindful and to meditate—along with the way your spiritual view impacts on your life and those around you; all these factors impact on the inner healer.
While I have to say it strikes me as a somewhat bland term, all these elements are best described as being under the banner of lifestyle medicine—they are to do with the things you can control and do in the course of your daily life. And the key? It is your mind. Again, it is your mind that decides what you eat and drink. It is the mind that helps you to adopt a healthy, healing lifestyle or remain stuck in old unhelpful habits. Truly, it is the mind that changes everything and so we will begin the road to recovery with the mind.
To embark on the healing journey, to embrace outer help with conventional medicine, TM and CAM, to begin to activate the inner healer—all this is best achieved by being in a stable state of mind, clear and confident. What meditation promises and reliably delivers is a stable, clear mind. As stability becomes more constant, clarity more natural, and confidence more assured, it becomes easier to go from the broad recommendations regarding what to eat, how much to exercise and so on, and to be able to personalize those recommendations. Therefore, in seeking a stable, calm and clear mind, we begin with meditation.
To Those Interested in Prevention
If you are well, just how well are you? Are you just symptom free or are you as fit as your true potential allows?
When this book was first written in 1984, the statistic quoted was that “one in three people alive in the United States today will get cancer during their lifetime. One in five in Australia will die from it.” Now the figure is closer to one in two people alive today will develop cancer and currently one in four Australians dies of cancer. This is not scare-mongering. This is fact. Cancer is a lifestyle disease. Are you prepared to learn the lesson of this disease and take up on a lifestyle aimed for optimal health? A lifestyle that is highly likely to prevent the majority of cancers?
These techniques we talk of can save the lives of people affected by cancer. We have seen them work for many other disease conditions as well. Also they can make a basically well person a picture of health. Back in 1981, in his landmark work, The Causes of Cancer,5 Professor R. Doll gave the medical evidence that 85 percent of all cancers could be prevented by changes in lifestyle! The challenge is there. It takes effort; it requires commitment and an ability to be open to change. Again, it can be done. Our natural state is health. Please take up that challenge. It would be wonderful to see people learning from the difficulties of others and not having the need for change forced upon them by physical disease. While it is wonderful to help people to recover from cancer, how much better—and wiser—not to get sick in the first place.
Four Features of Long-Term Survivors with Advanced Malignancy
Throughout this book you will pick up many features of long-term survivors and gain insights into what they did to recover. However, reflecting on a long and illustrious career as a cancer surgeon, Professor Gabriel Kune highlighted special characteristics of a particular group—people with advanced malignancy who became unexpectedly long-term survivors, and I quote:
1. They seek a wide exposure to conventional medical opinion and treatment.
They take “control” of their health. They will decide for themselves what advised treatment to have and what treatment not to have. They are often critical of their medical management.
2. They seek a wide exposure to nonconventional opinion and treatment.
Again, they will decide for themselves what they will choose to have and they are often critical of nonconventional management.
3. They operate at an intuitive level.
They are usually not “thinkers” or intellectuals. They tend not to operate at a rational level as their main guide for making decisions and appear to make decisions “intuitively.”
4. They are at peace with themselves.
One often gets a sense of tranquility, peace and spirituality while in their presence. They are not at all fearful.6
Now, in my own experience I would agree with all this generally, and while I certainly recognize the importance of the intuition in decision making, many of the long-term survivors I have known have also been very smart and drawn on their intellects well. Where people can get into trouble is when they think too much, get lost in the range of options, lost in doubt and worry, and as such do not access their intuition, do not make clear and confident decisions, do not commit to what they are doing.
Maybe we can summarize Professor Kune’s four points by saying that long-term survivors have a calm and clear mind. This enables them to think clearly, to make good decisions and to be at peace with the world and themselves. Given all the challenges cancer can present, how do we avoid fear and even panic? How do we develop a calm and clear mind? Meditation provides a well-proven solution, plus it has real healing benefits in its own right. In the next chapter we will begin to unlock meditation’s secrets.
The Principles Behind the Silent Healer
Meditation is the single most powerful self-help tool that assists recovery from disease and leads to a life of maximum health. It provides all the basic ingredients. It has direct physical effects ranging from relief of physical tension to reactivation of the immune system. Meditation reliably leads to a calm and clear mind, the ability to think clearly, to make good decisions, and to see them through to completion. On top of this, meditation aids the development of emotional and mental poise, generates a positive attitude, and most important, leads automatically and effortlessly to a heightened level of well-being.
Currently, more than six thousand scientific studies published in the medical and scientific literature around the world attest to meditation’s capacity to positively affect physical and psychological health and well-being. Little wonder then that it has enjoyed such a rise in popularity as a self-help technique! When coupled with dietary considerations and active efforts to utilize the benefits of positive thinking, it forms the pillars upon which to build our capacity for healing and total health.
In the past, meditation has been used by most major religions as one part of a complex process intended for developing a heightened level of consciousness. Today the word “meditation” is used to describe many different processes. The specific form of meditation that interests us here, with its emphasis on being used as a therapy, relies on learning how to relax profoundly in body and mind. We call it mindfulness-based stillness meditation (MBSM). This form of meditation is disarmingly simple to learn and apply in our daily life, and has played a major part in transforming the health and lives of many people I have known.
My initial introduction to this form of meditation, and its therapeutic application, came through the great Australian psychiatrist Dr. Ainslie Meares. Interested in pain management, Dr. Meares first became interested in meditation as a means to relieve pain. However, he soon realized meditation had much more to offer and he began to experiment with meditation as a means for helping people to cope with anxiety and stress-related symptoms such as phobias, high blood pressure, allergies, nervous tension and pain intolerance. Then he wrote the world’s first book on the therapeutic benefits of meditation, Relief Without Drugs, in 1967.
One of Dr. Meares’ major contributions has been that he recognized the importance of stillness. A still mind, in a still body. He suggested that in this stillness, the body has the opportunity to return to its natural state of balance. He also observed that when meditation was practiced regularly, this refound state of balance persists throughout the day, helping the person to return automatically to that condition of balance we call health! Just as a cut finger heals itself automatically without us dwelling upon it, so meditation can reactivate natural healing mechanisms that operate automatically and have profound effects. It is to his great credit that Dr. Meares was able to perceive this and then devise a simple and quick technique that leads to that point of stillness and balance without, say, twenty years of rigorous concentrated study and practice of Zen discipline.
To understand why meditation is so helpful for so many health conditions, and for cancer specifically, we need to understand the role stress plays in our lives, in our health, and in our capacity to heal. This will then provide us with vital clues as we plan our self-help program.
MEDITATION, STRESS, ANXIETY AND RELIEF
To understand how stress does affect us, let us look at the simple case of what happens when we get a sudden fright. Suppose that a bolt of lightning were to hit the ground near where you were standing. Your body would react very quickly, almost instantaneously. With a gasped “Oh!” you instinctively would take a sharp breath in and your muscles would contract with a jerk. Your body chemistry would change almost immediately as an array of hormones was released. Adrenaline would flow and cortisol levels rise. Your heart would race, your blood pressure would increase, and your blood would be diverted to the muscles of action. You would have been readied for immediate action, thanks to the automatic changes produced by what is called the fight-or-flight response. In our example, if you were quick, you may have dove under cover. But then, also quite quickly, you would have realized that the big bang really was just lightning, it had missed you, and everything was all right. “Ah!” would have come the response. The tension would be released and you would relax.
The events in this sequence are very important. The challenge gave rise to a bodily reaction that immediately prepared you for physical action. In the normal course of events, a period of physical activity would follow, which in turn would be completed and be followed by release. The sequence can be summarized:
2. Bodily reaction with changes in body chemistry
3. Appropriate physical action with a clear beginning and end
4. Release and relax
5. Body chemistry returns to its usual, daily balance
This is a perfectly healthy sequence that was developed in earlier times when life was simpler and very physical in nature. The fight-or-flight response was then, and remains to this day, a vital aid for self-preservation. So if, for example, in older times, a saber-toothed tiger came charging over the hill toward you, intent upon making you dinner, the threat was very obvious! That threat produced rapid changes in your body chemistry and you were immediately prepared for action. This would lead to your doing the appropriate thing. If you felt you had a chance, you stood your ground and fought it out; if not, you ran. Either way, the challenge was resolved by a period of intense physical action that was followed through to a definite conclusion. You would then be free to relax, either licking your wounds or basking in success.
This sequence flowed with the rhythm of a simple life and it left no adverse aftereffects. Any fears that did remain were healthy ones based purely on instinct and self-preservation. Such fears did little to lessen the quality of life or lead to any physical symptoms. Animals in their natural state still demonstrate the appropriateness of this fight-or-flight response in a physically oriented world.
However, for us humans living in modern times, things are no longer so simple. The challenges we face now are rarely of a purely physical nature and frequently are complex indeed. Most, if not all, of our challenges nowadays are emotional or mental in their origins. However, an even greater problem is that frequently they are difficult to resolve.
So when the boss is overbearing and demanding, or the neighbor disturbs our sleep early on Sunday morning with his lawn mower, we react in the same old way. We take that short little gasp and tense our muscles. Our body chemistry changes rapidly, preparing us for action. But can we punch the boss’s nose or wrap the neighbor’s lawn mower around his ears? Not if we want the paycheck that we need to meet our commitments; not if we want to remain socially acceptable in our community! Often then, taking the action we might feel inclined to take instinctively is inappropriate and so our response is stifled. Worse still, we can have the situation where we do act reasonably, we do take what seems to be the appropriate action, and yet, even so, the challenges in our lives remain unresolved. We do all we can to reduce the mortgage, but it still remains, nagging away and causing us fear and worry.
When we do have an unresolved challenge, people tend to react in one of two general ways. The first is to accept the situation, let it go, and get on with life. No problem. The other is to stew on it, hang on to it, worry over it. Big problem! Common problem!