Friday, May 28, 2010

Mind, spirit dis-ease and cancer connection?

It was a total shock to me when I was told I had breast cancer. I'm sure I'm not unique, but I think my total shock resulted from the concrete and absolute belief that I was doing everything humanly possible to prevent cancer. So, my brain went into NOT ME mode. This is a mistake. Shock and denial...just beginning to process my grief.

In retrospect, I think the "not me" mode I reverted to stemmed from my firm belief that if I practice all the healthy lifestyle habits the medical community stresses for cancer prevention, I won't get it. Period. End of story. I rationalized like this: I don't even have any genetic predisposition to this cancer. I don't smoke, I rarely drink, I filter my water, I eat flax, I blah, blah, blah. Perhaps you've had this same painful conversation with yourself. I hope not. Well, I now realize that my discussion with myself didn't include two very important components of my health: my mind and spirit.

I think I've always been vaguely aware that if the mind and spirit are in a state of dis-ease, the body is affected. I just didn't appreciate the degree of this mind/body effect. I’m a science geek so I love this photo from The Franklin Institute. It shows neurons in the brain. These neurons connect with muscles in the body at places called neuromuscular junctions. The brain speaks to the muscles via chemical neurotransmitters. Anytime we experience an emotion a flood of chemical reactions occurs, which may cause our heart to beat faster, our muscles to become tenser and a host of other responses. These reactions underscore the intimate relationship between the body and the mind. Interestingly, according to The Franklin Institute, massage therapists have reported finding "that deep massage can trigger the release and awareness of powerful, long-held emotional memories." This is called somatic recall, an example of the mind/body connection.

When we experience, for example, mental pain, anger, bitterness, sadness, or any host of emotions, the body is affected. The situation becomes toxic when the mental pain is internalized, repressed and ignored or never addressed. Some interesting research on personality and cancer conducted by Dr. Lydia Temoshok at the University of California San Francisco theorized that, "people with repressive personalities, who look calm but hold in a cauldron of painful emotions, are more prone to develop cancer."

The fact remains that most of the medical community believes there is insufficient scientific evidence to make the claim that there is a mind-body-cancer connection. It's also a slippery slope to walk if the quest for understanding and awareness of how one might have come to have a disease leads them to self blame. The journey to dis-ease is long, complex and consists of many variables. I now recognize the importance of looking at my health from a holistic perspective. On the path to healing, the mind and spirit are just as important as the body. Because "the part can't be well unless the whole is well," and we're so much more than a part!


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