Pat Killingsworth’s recent column at The Myeloma Beacon (Pat’s Place) discusses the age old debate of mental outlook and “other” things with regards to health and well being and whether it can help a person combat a life threatening disease.
He points out studies that say no, and those who have taken issue with the idea as “blaming the patient” – all valid points. I am suspect of the “studies” since I don’t have the actual behind the scenes collection of this data. These are the subject of subjective intangibles that have been debated since the beginning of man.
I’m not interested in this post in taking up the debate. But its my blog so I get to express myself freely about all manner of things and you get to express yourself in the comment section. It’s what makes America one of the greatest free nations ever devised by man.
I put in my books section three of the most helpful books for Dave and I (well, mostly me and him by osmosis). The Norman Cousins’ book has been around awhile and was very helpful with regards to this age old question of Science vs. Spirit.
“It is reasonable to expect the doctor to recognize that science may not have all the answers to problems of health and healing.” - Norman Cousins
He talks at length in his book about the “Placebo Effect”. We’ve all heard about it, as it IS the bench mark that separates the anecdotal evidence from the science. But alas, the administration of scientific studies is far from perfect and removing all subjectivity on such things, as this subject, is darn near impossible.
Whether you are religious, spiritual, agnostic or atheist, it is a discussion always worth having. But as Pat aptly points out, we need to always be gentle and kind with someone in the throws of an injury or incurable disease. The last thing one should want to do is make them feel guilty, blame them or give them the idea that they are somehow inadequate, don’t believe enough, etc. It is most definitely NOT HELPFUL. Having said that however, there are universal truths that go way back in man’s existence on the subject of the spirit, the mind and the body and how it is all intertwined in one’s happiness and health. What is important, in my view, is that you observe what is true for you. If you participate in the main stream religions and it gives you spiritual sustenance and well being, a connection to something greater than yourself, go for it. If that’s not your cup of tea, but you do have the idea that you are a spiritual being having an earthly experience, continue your quest. If you believe neither but find yourself wallowing in “why me”, watch a funny movie or spend some time with your grandchildren, anything that can lift your mood while you endure this difficult journey, in my mind, should not ever be underestimated.
In fact, a recent study that hit the headlines today (click on link for one published article), shows that pallative care extends life in lung cancer patients – go figure. (NEJM link for the actual paper) The news articles offer ideas and theories on why this is so. For the patient and their family, do they really care why? Probably not. For those searching, probably yes.
“Although the study could not determine why the patients lived longer, the authors and other experts had several theories: depression is known to shorten life, and patients whose pain is treated often sleep better, eat better and talk more with relatives. Also, hospitals are dangerous places for very sick people; they may get fatal blood infections, pneumonia or bedsores, or simply be overwhelmed by the powerful drugs and radiation attacking their cancer.”
Why did someone nursing those during the plague live through it, while their colleagues died? Why do 8 out of 10 patients positively respond to a treatment and two don’t, or the reverse? Why did Lance Armstrong, with a 3% chance of survival, survive and go on to win seven Tour De France competitions? (If you haven’t read his book he was told he had a 50/50 chance at the outset, which was a total fabrication on the part of his doctor. It was only AFTER, that he learned the truth. Why did his doctor do that? Did it make a difference? emmm…) I could tell you that I don’t know, that’s the standard line. I think I do know, based on my own observations of myself and my fellow man and years of study on the subject. But who am I? It matters to me what I think and it matters to Dave.
There is one truth I have learned, and its that there are many paths to a similar end, though some do seem more direct and easier or well laid out. I know what has worked for us and I will tell you that regardless of whether it made any difference whatsoever, Dave and I laugh more, joke more, and enjoy each other in a way that we have never done in our nearly 30 years of marriage. No matter what his outcome eventually is, was it worth taking this particular path? Without a doubt!
There are natural laws and axioms and there are beliefs and created realities. For instance, you don’t have to BELIEVE in gravity to walk off the top of building and go splat! It has nothing to do with your faith or whether you agree or disagree with it. It is a LAW that can be proven again and again. Spiritual and mental thought processes are not so clear for many. Science has a definite valuable and tangible place in my life and our world. Wouldn’t it be nice if someday they could acknowledge each other’s intimate connection and value? Deciphering the two as separate is the basic core problem, from my humble point of view. I don’t separate them and haven’t for years.
One of my latest reads (I’m mid read) is the new book by Stephen Meyer, “Signature in the Cell: DNA and the Evidence for Intelligent Design”. If you have been only reading the headlines on this raging debate, you aren’t anywhere close to understanding what the argument is. Its quite fascinating.
“Whatever words we utter should be chosen with care for people will hear them and be influenced by them for good or ill.” - Buddha
My advice to you is to follow the path that aligns with your own life’s observations and truths. When speaking to others in your situation or similar, be kind and realize that they have their own belief system as well. Ease into your belief system to see their response. Some will reach for what you have to say, some will agree wholeheartedly and add their Two Cents, some clearly won’t get it and be confused, or vehemently don’t subscribe to such nonsense. They are on their own path and I think you should leave them be, and certainly, at the very least, be respectful. Its hard, but its worse to force a very personal concept of this nature on someone when it is too far afield of their long established belief system, or lack thereof. In other words, don’t proselytize and get mired in religious dogma, or shake their stability, however wrong or misguided you may believe it is. On the other side of the coin, don’t demean someone’s spiritual, “non-scientific” point of view. If you truly want to help; listen, comfort, hug, and offer whatever words of encouragement you can – lightly. They are fighting for their dignity and their life. Don’t pile your philosophy on them when they are already burdened. I hate to see these opposing views “divide us”. So, stay true to your own truths and don’t ever underestimate the value of the “extra fan on the field!” Be it Science, God, Yourself, Your Loved Ones, Your Doctor, Your Priest, Your Indian Chief.
“One’s attitude toward life makes every possible difference in one’s living. You know, you don’t have to study a thousand ancient books to discover that fact. …” – L. Ron Hubbard