A Mother and her Two Daughters

07 March 2011

The Medicine of Mind & Body

A longtime friend battling another disease, not cancer, called this past week.  She asked, “how did you keep a positive attitude during the worst days of cancer?”  I’ve spent the past several days thinking about that, reflecting and trying to put it all in perspective, and in writing.  So, for the next several days, I’ve decided to write about the mental state of battling disease.  I’m not a psychologist, nor a student of this topic.  Everything I write is based on my own personal experience this past year, and in years past. 


I’ll always remember the first day I met Dr. Makhoul, my UAMS oncologist.  After the initial diagnosis, I spent almost ten days having a variety of tests to find out more about my particular cancer.  With a full report in hand, Dr. Makhoul spent almost two hours with me sharing the details of the results - Stage III-B Inflammatory Breast Cancer, which had also spread its nasty self into my lymph system.  He then walked me through his recommended treatment protocol and my likely medical schedule for the months to follow.  There was so much and it was difficult to remember it all.  But how Dr. Makhoul closed our initial meeting I will never forget. 

He said to me:  “I want you to trust me with your medical care, and know that I’m going to give you my very best to cure your cancer.  What I need from you is to work in partnership with me.  Your job is to focus on your mind, your attitude and your spiritual approach to the fight.  This cancer will require both of us doing our very best, giving 110%.” 

I left his office that day knowing what I was in charge of.  Dr. Makhoul would take charge of the conventional medicine for my body.  I would be in charge of my mental state, my attitude, and my outlook on life and the cancer.  Dr. Makhoul empowered me to own and perfect the “medicine” of my mind. 


Some call it Mind-Body Medicine.  Others call it Psychoneuroimmunology.  Bottom line . . . it’s the study of how the mind, thoughts attitudes and beliefs affect the body and your physical well-being.

Do not be confused.  This is not alternative medicine.  Instead, it is often referred to as complementary medicine, or integrated medicine – techniques that are used WITH conventional medicine. 

The list of what has been referred to as mind-body medicine is endless – guided imagery, deep breathing exercises, relaxation therapy, acupuncture, yoga, biofeedback, tai chi, meditation, and much more.  All of these techniques are designed to help the body and mind relax, to enjoy times of inner calmness and freedom from obsessing thoughts.  They can also serve as a conscious commitment to direct your energies toward health and healing, rather than obsessing with the negative circumstances of life. 

My friend Laura, a cancer survivor, shared with me the great sense of power over disease she felt through guided imagery.  In her practice she would imagine a battle going on between her body and the cancer cells, and would picture Pac-Man characters chasing and eating and destroying the cancer.  For Laura, she believes this was a magical tool in her battle to defeat what was a very aggressive cancer that has now been in remission for several years. 

For me, I was trained in Mindfulness meditation in 2004.  Some have described it as the art of stillness, sitting quietly and observing without judgment or evaluation.  Since I began meditation, I’ve found it to be incredibly helpful in creating a sense of calm in my life, alleviating stress, reducing pain, accepting what cannot be changed (but still trying to change what is possible), giving up anger and frustration over inconveniences, appreciating solitude and quiet, and so much more.  I’m a believer in it, so glad that I was trained and practiced before cancer entered my life.  It’s mental mastery, freedom from restless and negative thinking. 

How do we make “mind-body focus” work for us?  It has to become a part of your daily life practice, a natural habit, not dependent on the day’s events.  No doubt, some days are easier than others to pay attention to the connection between mind and body, to carve out time to master the art of this connection.  But we have to remain loyal to the practice, during the good, the bad and the ugly.

Finding a daily exercise that creates a sense of peace and tranquility – you can’t go wrong.  Inner peace creates outer peace.  I’m a big fan, consider myself still in training, and highly recommend everyone find some avenue for relaxation, finding a place of calm, the complementary techniques of mind and body medicine.

The mind is everything. What you think you become.


A few books and DVDs that have been helpful to me:

Return to Wholeness: A Mind/Body Approach to Healing Cancer
Led by world-renowned wellness doctor Deepak Chopra, M.D. along with psychologist Stephanie Simonton Atchley, founder of the Behavioral Medicine Program at the UAMS Rockefeller Cancer Institute.

Jon Kabat-Zinn is Professor of Medicine emeritus at the University of Massachusetts Medical School, where he was founding executive director of the Center for Mindfulness in Medicine, Health Care, and Society, and founder (in 1979) and former director of its world-renowned Stress Reduction Clinic. He is internationally known for his work as a scientist, writer, and meditation teacher engaged in bringing mindfulness into the mainstream of medicine and society.

In 2004 I studied his method of meditation at the UAMS Center on Aging.  To find out more about Jon Kabat-Zinn:  http://www.mindfulnesscds.com/author.html

Two books by Kabat-Zinn that are the core of his mindfulness meditation:
Full Catastrophe Living:  Using the Wisdom of Your Body and Mind to Face Stress, Pain & Illness
Wherever You Go, There You Are: Mindfulness Meditation in Everyday Life

CDs by Jon Kabat-Zinn can be purchased form his web site: 

His books can be purchased or ordered from your local bookstore.

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