Cancer: Increase your chances of surviving with PNI
19th March, 2009
I had been in practice as a Transpersonal Psychotherapist and Counsellor for 22 years when I was diagnosed with cancer. My first response was to go to Penny Brohn Cancer Care in Bristol (previously the Bristol Cancer Help Centre) where I had been many times in the 1980s for talks about natural treatments for cancer.
With the help of the therapists at Bristol and also with many years of psychotherapy behind me I was able to go to a calm and accepting place with my cancer. I knew it had come to teach me something. I accepted the possibility of death and made my peace with that. I also accepted that there was Meaning and Purpose in the cancer event. So in the weeks following the operation I spent time taking a long look at my life and what I needed to change.
While I was at Bristol I learned about new discoveries in the mind/body interaction which are now termed 'Psycho-Neuro-Immunology' (or PNI). Psycho = the mind/soul, Neuro = the brain/nervous system, Immunology = the immune system. In other words, we now understand much more about how the interaction between the mind and the body (and its dis-eases) actually works.
I was able to trace the origin of my cancer back to a period of extreme stress when my daughter was very ill with Post Natal Depression and I felt helpless because her doctors wouldn't listen when I said I believed she was having a reaction to their medication. Lawrence LeShan, in his excellent book, 'Cancer as a Turning Point' lists a profound sense of helplessness as the one outstanding psychological characteristic that is found in a large number of people suffering from cancer. My cancer was diagnosed 4 years after my daughter's illness and the doctors said it had probably begun several years before it was found.
I have remained cancer free since my operation in 2006 and resumed my practice with renewed energy and enthusiasm for my work. I eat healthily, exercise, meditate and take natural medications to boost my immune system and make my body inhospitable to cancer.
I also returned to Bristol for training in PNI. I learned that thoughts and emotions are sent out from the Limbic brain in the form of chemical transmitters to spread the nature of the prevailing emotions to every cell in the body. Each one of our body's cells is covered with a mesh of thousands of brightly coloured receptors. The chemical transmitters lock into the receptors like pieces in a jigsaw puzzle so that each cell receives the message. Therefore a depressed emotion, for instance, transmits depression to every cell in the body, including the immune cells. This is why people who are depressed and/or distressed suffer from more infections than they would normally have. It also means the immune system is less able to find and eliminate the rogue cells that eventually become cancerous tumours.
The response of the central nervous system to stress creates adrenalin surges preparing us to fight or run and also instructs the brain to stop manufacturing the 'feel good' chemicals that calm us down and keep us happy.
The blood begins to clot more easily (anticipating invasive injuries) and the (already impaired) immune system goes into hyper-drive (anticipating infection from injuries) and then becomes exhausted. This, again, leaves us open to a range of diseases including cancer.
So how can we rectify the situation? First and foremost we need an emotional unblocking and a free flow of emotions. Expressing our emotions is good for us. When crying, for instance, we release cortisol in tears. This free flow of emotions enables our immune system to be adaptable and reach its optimal function. We also need calming for the nervous system which can be brought about with techniques like relaxation, meditation, yoga and also singing (especially using the Oo, Ah and Ee sounds which, interestingly, crop up in religious chants such as Hallelujah, Om, Shalom, Allah, etc).
To help cancer sufferers, I have devised a five-fold approach to PNI:
1. Dealing with the distress of diagnosis. (Being told you have cancer and then finding yourself out in the big wide world thinking you are going to die can be a huge trauma). Learning about PNI and how it might work for you.
2. Emotional release of both present difficulties and unfinished business from the past. (I realised through therapy that I was still carrying guilt about feeling I had not been a good-enough mother to my daughter which had re-surfaced in my subconscious when she was ill. I was then able to forgive myself and clear the negative emotions).
3. Letting go of 'victim' consciousness and finding the Meaning within the cancer crisis. This brings with it more trust in the process and a greater sense of control. A person moves from being a 'cancer victim' to somebody who is going through the experience of cancer as a part of their journey.
4. The use of visualisation techniques to strengthen the immune system. This technique not only focuses the mind on healing the body, it also sends out strong and positive messages, via the chemical receptors, to every cell telling each cell of our being that we are strong and positive and dealing with the cancer crisis.
5. Teaching relaxation and meditation to assist stress reduction and calm the central nervous system. This allows the body to get on with its job of re-establishing health, balance and harmony and stops the over-production of fight or flight chemicals.
These techniques can be used either in group work or in one-to-one therapy.
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