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For Any Cancer Diagnosis
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Every month, featured experts answer your questions about coping with cancer including specific answers to questions asked by caregivers.
For Any Cancer Diagnosis
I was told that if I did not have a positive attitude my treatment wouldn't be as effective, or worse, it wouldn't work. Sorry, I just don't feel positive about this whole cancer experience! What can I do?A.
It is natural that anyone who hears the words “you have cancer” will experience negative feelings. Allowing those feelings to come out is part of the healing process; to deny them can cause even more stress.
A member of a young patient group once said, “I’m a realistic optimist. I’ll do everything I can to beat cancer, but I also want to learn to live with the knowledge that I don’t have full control.” To try and be only positive during a difficult time can be a form of denial, and can hold back valid feelings that need to be expressed.
A simple mind/body technique called Mindfulness is meditation practice which uses the breath as a point of focus for the mind, and can help you acknowledge (in a non-judgmental way) the full range of feelings, both physical and emotional, that can arise. When we have a negative feeling, physical or emotional, there is the tendency to attach blame to it, thereby increasing the suffering. Mindfulness simply recognizes and observes the feeling, letting it happen without being pulled into it. Through Mindfulness, you can embrace that staying positive in the face of cancer includes recognizing and validating all the feelings you are experiencing, negative ones included.
The benefit of mindfulness meditation is that it can be done sitting quietly at home, at work or during daily activities.
Two books on Mindfulness Meditation you may find helpful are Wherever You Go, There You Are: Mindfulness Meditation in Everyday Life by Jon Kabat-Zinn (Hyperion), and Get Out Of Your Mind And Into Your Life: The New Acceptance and Commitment Therapy, by Steven C. Hayes (New Harbinger Publications).
I have just started exploring meditation. I want to find my inner voice and intuition. How you know if you are meditating correctly?A.
That’s a good question and one most people ask when they start meditating. However, it is also one of the primary reasons that undermine their practice—fear of not doing it right. There are many forms of meditation with their own specific guidelines on how to do it: sit cross legged; breath in/out through nose, mouth, left nostril, right nostril; hold hands and body in specific poses; mantra, no mantra, etc. If at some point you decide to choose a specific practice, finding one that speaks to you will deepen your dedication and increase the benefits.
All of meditation, in fact all of life, depends on breath, specifically the 20% of each breath that is oxygen. Grounding yourself in a simple diaphragmatic breath exercise will give you a solid foundation for whatever meditation practice you chose. Next find a comfortable place to do your daily practice. Find a comfortable position sitting on a chair with your back straight and your feet centered on the floor, or cross legged on the ground, arms at your sides or on the armrest, or cup your hands in front of you in your lap (referred to as the lotus position).
Once you are centered you simply start to breathe. In mindfulness meditation you use your breath as a point of focus and when your mind wonders you simply look at that, whether it was a feeling in the body or a thought in the mind, and non-judgmentally, bring yourself back to the breath. Breath is also the core foundation of mantra meditations however instead of observing the breath you focus on a mantra. While there are specific mantras for different meditation practices a one syllable affirming word like Love, Peace, Hope, Joy can also be used to quiet the mind and relax the body.
Finally, different practices set specific guidelines of how long and how often you should practice. Most meditation teachers and practices are legitimate. Holding yourself to the guidelines of a specific practice will deepen the benefits of meditation but (this is the answer to concerns about doing it right), research shows that even 10 minutes of meditation can reap benefits. Give thanks for each period of respite before letting the voice of doubt creep in. Right, first and foremost, is what works for you.
For Breast Cancer
How can I learn about meditation to help me deal with breast cancer?A.
While some practitioners might work with specific populations to develop meditation techniques with a focus on the issues unique to their cancer, the universal goals of meditation are essentially the same, to quiet the mind and help people focus on the issues at hand. In that process many people find peace.
In the practice, research has shown that meditation helps relieve, or at least manage, stress, physical and emotional. Since too much stress and worry can exacerbate cancer, meditation can help reduce stress, with residual effects that last throughout the day, giving those who practice more clarity of mind to focus on what needs to be done.
Here are two breast cancer websites that offer additional information about meditation. They provide education about the practice and other tips that take a holistic view of how breast cancer patients can better care for themselves.
- Susan G. Komen Foundation’s Breast Cancer and Meditation
- University of California San Francisco (UCSF) Breast Cancer Self-Care and Recovery: Meditation. They also offer Breast Cancer Self-Care and Recovery topics, including: Introduction to Lifestyle Change, Nutrition and Breast Cancer, Hydration: Water and Health, Exercise Program, Guided Imagery and Sexuality and Breast Cancer
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