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Cancer As a Turning Point: A Handbook for People with Cancer, Their Families, and Health Professionals

Leshan, Lawrence Author

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9780452271371: Cancer As a Turning Point: A Handbook for People with Cancer, Their Families, and Health Professionals

Psychotherapist Lawrence LeShan has worked with cancer patients for more than thirty-five years and his research has led people with cancer to find new, effective ways to fight for their lives. He has put his findings--full of meaning and purpose--into this revised edition that shows how psychological change, along with medical treatment, mobilizes a compromised immune system for healing. Included is a life-transforming workbook of hands-on exercises designed to help readers evaluate their inner selves and teach them how to get the most out of their immune systems by leading fuller, richer lives.

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What kind of life would you be living if you adjusted the world to yourself instead of—as most patients generally have done—adjusting yourself to the world? What kind of life and lifestyle would make you glad to get up in the morning and glad to go to bed at night?

These are questions Dr. LeShan asks his patients in order to open their eyes, to make a difference in their lives—and their cancer treatment. His methods get impressive results: over the past thirty years, approximately half of his patients with poor prognoses have experienced long-term remission and are still alive. Nearly all dramatically improved their emotional state and quality of life. This revised edition of Dr. LeShan’s groundbreaking book shows how you can start to change your life for the better—right now.

LAWRENCE LESHAN, PH.D., has been a research and clinical psychologist for more than half a century. A graduate of William and Mary, he is the author of more than a dozen books, including You Can Fight for Your Life: Emotional Factors in the Treatment of Cancer and The Mechanic and the Gardener: How to Use the Holistic Revolution in Medicine.

ALSO BY LAWRENCE LESHAN

The Psychosomatic Aspects of Neoplastic Disease
(coedited with David Kissen)

Counseling the Dying
(with Jackson, Bowers, and Knight)

You Can Fight for Your Life: Emotional Factors
in the Treatment of Cancer

The Mechanic and the Gardener: How to Use
the Holistic Revolution in Medicine

How to Meditate

The Medium, the Mystic and the Physicist

Alternate Realities

The Science of the Paranormal:
The Last Frontier

Einstein’s Space and Van Gogh’s Sky
(with Henry Margenau)

The Dilemma of Psychology

The Psychology of War

LAWRENCE LESHAN, Ph.D.

CANCER

AS A

TURNING
POINT

A Handbook for People
with Cancer, Their Families,
and Health Professionals

REVISED EDITION

ACKNOWLEDGMENTS

I wish to express my deep gratitude to Frederick Ayer II for his long support of this work. Without him this book would not have been possible. I owe a profound debt to the people with cancer who taught me all that I know over these last thirty-five years. My appreciation also to the increasing number of therapists all over the world who are using this approach.

I’d also like to pay tribute to my wife, Eda LeShan, who shared the joys and pains of this adventure and whose contributions to this book are very great.

PREFACE TO THE
REVISED EDITION

The second edition of Cancer as a Turning Point has been revised to include a special section of paper and pencil exercises. These are ways to evaluate where you are now in your life and to find new ways in which you might wish to change. I suggest you read the first three chapters of the book, then the workbook and, as you read the rest of the book, start doing the workbook exercises according to their instructions. This has been a helpful process for many people. However, if you feel that a different procedure would be better for you (such as reading the entire book first), by all means follow it.

Little new material about research in the field has been added to this new edition. The reason for this is that the book’s primary purpose—to help individuals with cancer mobilize their own self-healing abilities and bring them to the aid of their medical program—is still as much on the cutting edge of our knowledge as it was when the book was first published in 1989. I have added a few new case histories that help to make clear that the critical change needed to stimulate the immune system is an inner change. There must be a change in one’s fundamental attitude toward oneself—toward a strong belief that you are worth fighting for and taking care of as a special, unique person with your own special ways of being, relating, and creating.

The best of the new research that has appeared in recent years has presented results pointing out that psychological factors do play a part in how and when people become sick and how their immune systems function when they are sick. Psychological factors are certainly only one part of the process—no one “makes themselves sick” by how they behave or feel. Other factors such as heredity and the physical environment play a major role as well. It is important to remember that you are not responsible for becoming ill, and you are not responsible for your recovery. What you are responsible for once you are ill is to do your best to get better. This means getting the best medical treatment possible and changing your life so that your inner healing abilities will be stimulated at the highest level possible. I wish you the best in this endeavor.

PREFACE

Those closely involved with cancer—patients, families, friends, health professionals—very rarely have information in one crucial area: how to mobilize the patient’s self-healing abilities and bring them to the aid of the medical program.

This state-of-the-art handbook gathers, for the first time in one place, the known information on this subject. The book comes out of a thirty-five-year research project involving several thousand people with cancer. It is designed to teach those with the illness and their families, friends, physicians, clergymen, and psychotherapists how to use psychological change to help heal the patient’s compromised immune system.

I believe a serious problem has arisen in recent years. Despite professional background in associated areas, some individuals have a very limited knowledge of the field and have interpreted this approach as one that blames the patient for the illness. They say that in addition to the anxiety and pain of cancer, a new guilt has been added—guilt arising from a false idea, guilt that is an intolerable load for the patient.

These critics talk complete nonsense. Thoughts and feelings do not cause cancer and cannot cure cancer. But they are one factor, and an important one, in the total ecology that makes up a human being. Feelings affect body chemistry (which affects the development or regression of a tumor), just as body chemistry affects feelings. The emerging science related to the nature of the immune system has merely reinforced the belief that certain kinds of stress lower the ability of the body’s chemistry to withstand disease. There is, as William James once remarked, no clear dividing line between a person’s philosophy and physiology, between mind and body. All the different aspects of a person interact with, and influence, each other.

What we have learned is that the immune system is strongly affected by feelings, and that taking certain kinds of psychological action can affect the immune system positively. Sometimes this makes a crucial difference in how well the medical program works. To put it in other words, there are certain psychological steps people with cancer can take to increase their self-healing and self-repair abilities and bring these more strongly to the aid of the medical program. Whether or not this will make a crucial difference in a patient’s return to health depends on the total situation, including such factors as genetic endowment and the life experiences the person has had since birth.

In this approach, the patient is not blamed in any way for the cancer. Anyone who even hints that the person with cancer is responsible for getting it and/or for not getting better is not only the rankest amateur and should be completely ignored, but is setting in motion confusion, anxiety, and anger at the self. And those who hint that this approach increases the guilt of the patient simply do not know what they are talking about.

While there is still much to learn about the subject, we do know one additional fact: the same psychological approach that leads to the fullest effectiveness of the immune system is the approach that leads to the fullest and richest life—both during the time a person has cancer and afterward.

The form of this book has been strongly influenced by my experience in five or six dozen seminars on the subject that I have given over the past twenty years. These were from one to three days in length, and each included fifty to one hundred participants. For the first five years I did two kinds of seminars: one for cancer patients and their families, and the other for health professionals. Then, by mistake, a seminar notice was poorly worded and the group that showed up was half patients and family members and half health professionals working in the cancer field. I found this out ten minutes before the meeting started. My anxiety level hit record heights! Not knowing what else to do, I announced to the group that part of the time I planned to work with them as if they were all people with cancer and the rest of the time as if they were all professionals in the field. For all concerned, the seminar was the best and most exciting that I had ever given.

Since then, I have used this format wherever possible and, judging by the reactions of the people involved, it has been highly successful. Because of this rewarding experience in “mixed seminars,” I decided the only way to write this book was for a mixed audience as well.

You will find that in any specific section of this book, I may be more directly addressing the patient, the family member, or the professional. This is deliberate. We do not live in a vacuum. The heart of the modern holistic approach is that all levels of a person’s being, their physical, psychological, spiritual aspects, their relationships and their environment, are important and none can be ignored without peril. It is only by approaching the problem of cancer from the viewpoint of the person who has the illness, of the family, and of the health professional that we can see how to best mobilize the healing and self-healing resources available so that the medical program can be most fully effective.

This is not mere speculation. Over and over again I have seen one of two things happen when the total environment of the person with cancer is mobilized for life and his or her inner ecology is thereby changed in a positive way. For some, the patient’s life is prolonged, not in an arbitrary way, but in order that there may be more experience of the self, self-recognition and the recognition—and often fulfillment—of dreams. And then there were the genuine miracles—not magic, but dedicated devotion and hard work which made the cancer a turning point in the person’s life rather than a sign of its ending. The more we learn about human biology and psychology, the more we learn about how to change and improve the quality and ambience of life both internal and external, the more this second result may become commonplace. That surely is the hope of this book.

1

THIRTY-FIVE YEARS OF MIND-BODY CANCER RESEARCH

. . . let me speak to you regarding the things of which you must most beware. To get angry and shout at times pleases me, for this will keep up your natural heat; but what displeases me is your being grieved and taking all matters to heart. For it is this, as the whole of physic teaches, which destroys our body more than any other cause.

Letter written by
MAESTRO LORENZO SASSOLI, a physician,
to a patient in 1402*

Maria was a Brazilian physician who loved her work as a pediatrician. Her husband was an electrical engineer who wanted only to be a poet. He hated his field of work, at which he was actually quite successful professionally. Their twin daughters, aged fifteen and a half when I first saw Maria, were apparently of very high artistic caliber. Both wanted to be actresses and had already had minor parts on the stage in small theaters.

When the daughters were ten, their talent was recognized by a well-known theatrical director. It crystallized Maria’s decision to leave the Rio de Janeiro she loved so much and emigrate to London, where her daughters could receive the best education in the theater and where her husband could devote himself full time to his poetry. She told me she had not been “back home” since her arrival in England.

Maria could not, however, find work in London as a pediatrician that would bring in the necessary income for the needs of her family. The position she had been promised failed to materialize at the last moment.

She was offered a position with an adequate financial return in an oncology partnership, where she would deal chiefly with children and young people suffering from the childhood leukemias, Wilms’ tumors, and so on. She disliked the work intensely, but continued it in order to support her husband and daughters. She also hated London and constantly missed Rio, where she had grown up. She described with enthusiasm and gusto the lovely beaches, the gentle climate, the easygoing and tolerant attitudes of the people, the striking architecture, and the friends she had had there: “I always felt at home wherever I was in the city. Every street felt like my own living room.” She even missed speaking in her own language, she told me rather shyly.

At the age of forty-eight, she noticed a lump in her breast. She did nothing about this for over a year. By the time she had it examined by a professional colleague, it had grown several times larger. The diagnosis was adenocarcinoma of the breast. In her and her colleague’s opinion, the metastases were too widespread for surgery to be an option. A course of chemotherapy was decided on, but everyone agreed that the prognosis was very poor.

I was speaking at her hospital in London during this period, and afterward she asked me for a professional appointment. We talked for an hour about her history and about her hopes and fears for the future. She saw no possibility of work that she would enjoy, of living where she would like to, or of a life that would make her glad and excited to get out of bed in the morning. Her husband and her children were very happy with their lives and she was successful enough to enable them to continue it. Rather brutally, because I felt I had to shock her into taking some action on her own behalf, I asked her how she planned to continue supporting them in the style to which they had grown accustomed after she was in the cemetery, as her cancer prognosis was so poor. She looked completely defeated. After a long pause she said: “I know I can’t do it anymore. I had hoped that you would know a road for me.” Her sadness and despair moved me deeply, and for a few minutes we both just sat there.

I then said that I could see no reason for her body to work hard to save her life, no reason for it to mobilize her immune system and bring its resources to the aid of the chemotherapy. By her actions, she was telling her body that it was always someone else’s turn and never hers. Everyone else would be taken care of except her. Clearly she was telling herself that she was not worth fighting for. She listened, thought a bit, and then said, “It’s sort of as if I keep telling myself that for me it’s always jam yesterday and jam tomorrow, but never jam today.” We agreed about this message and sat in sad and companionable silence for a while.

It was clearly an emergency situation. She was in very bad shape both physically and emotionally and clearly going downhill on both levels. There was little to lose. I would be leaving London in a few days and I have never been very good working over the telephone or by mail. The philosopher and spiritual leader Edgar Jackson has poin...

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