In the first years of family medical practice, I became very aware that my patients were coming to me in a lot of fear and distress despite receiving maximum therapy from medical treatments, in particular treatments for cancer. They were feeling fearful and helpless and I felt helpless to help them.
I wanted to help reduce my patients' fear and suffering. I wondered if there were ways to help my patients feel less fearful, helpless and powerless and with doing so, surely better results would be possible.
I also realized that despite the many strengths of Medicine, it cannot do everything. Surely better results will be possible if the patient gets involved and feels able to contribute.
I have come to understand that there is a whole disease - that disease and illness have mental, emotional, and spiritual aspects not only a physical one.
Certainly the first priority is to treat and manage the physical disease. However, I have found, as many other doctors and therapists have experienced, that when a patient also deals with the associated mental and emotional aspects the benefits of medical treatment can be greatly enhanced. I discovered that when I helped my patients heal their life, they often healed physically.
Several well known researchers and doctors have written of their experience in treating the whole disease -
• Dr. Bernie Siegel - formerly a general surgeon who did a lot of cancer surgery. He noted that some 15 % of his patients did much better than expected. When he spoke with these patients, he discovered they were using the opportunity of cancer to give focus to healing their lives. In 1978 Dr. Siegel started cancer patient groups (ECaP - Exceptional Cancer Patients) -around the United States which helps cancer patients become aware of their healing potential - facilitating personal change and healing their lives and healing physically.
• Dr. Deepak Chopra - American board certified Endocrinologist who has established a centre for spiritual and emotional well-being and healing in California. He has spoken and written extensively on the link between thoughts, emotions and beliefs and the effect on the physical body. He is at the forefront of and one of the key contributors to mind-body medicine.
• Dr. Gabor Mate - one of our own Vancouver physicians, reports in his book 'When the Body Says No - The Cost of Hidden Stress' many interviews with patients in which there is an uncovering patterns of stress. Throughout the book, he makes reference to innumerable studies that investigate the interplay of emotional stress and disease.
To quote from page 60 - "A rich body of evidence, drawn from animal studies and human experience, supports the impression of cancer patients (themselves) that emotional stress is a major contributing cause of breast malignancy.
Contrary to the assertions of the Toronto researchers, the 'evidence for genetics' is not high. Only a small minority of women are at high genetic risk for breast cancer and only a small minority of women with breast cancer - about 7 % - acquire the disease for genetic reasons. Even for those genetically predisposed, environmental factors must be involved, since far from everyone with one of the three genes known to be associated with breast cancer will actually develop a malignant tumour. In the vast majority of women and men diagnosed with breast cancer, heredity makes little or no contribution."
... and from page 61 -
" Many studies... fail to appreciate that stress is not only a question of external stimulus but also of individual response. It occurs in the real lives of real persons whose inborn temperament, life history, emotional patterns, physical and mental resources, and social and economic supports vary greatly... In most cases of breast cancer, the stresses are hidden and chronic. They stem from childhood experiences, early emotional programming and unconscious psychological coping styles. They accumulate over a lifetime and make someone susceptible to disease."
Dr. Mate's comments above totally concur with the body experience of doctors and psychologists that I have been following in the last 15 years or so.
What I do in my practice is make sure the patient is getting ongoing medical care and treatment as needed. I then approach the disease within a wider context of the mental, emotional, psychosocial/spiritual aspects.
In doing so, I am often able to engage the patient in bringing up knowledge of his/her life and the impact of hidden, unconsciously held patterns of stress and provide tools to help him/her release and heal. There is no absolute guarantee for full healing and the possibility is there.
Remember you are the power in your life to create your own greater health and happiness.
Dr. Nelie Johnson is a family physician and facilitator for healing - inspiring and guiding people to tap into their own healing potential. She is a contributing author to a bestselling book and provides seminars, workshops, and private consultations