MIND/BODY MEDICINE: ON WHICH SIDE DOES SCIENCE REALLY LIE?
Prepared for presentation before Dr. Robert Amato, GenitoUrinary Oncology Program, The Methodist Hospital, and the Southwest Kidney Cancer Foundation, Houston, Texas.
April 8, 2005
To embark on a journey of known itinerary and known destination is to be a traveler and the journey is correctly referred to as a trip. To embark on a journey where the itinerary and destination are not clear is to be an explorer and the journey of a cancer patient is an expedition. The word trip is simply not adequate to embrace the unknown elements present in an expedition through cancer. These elements are both physical and mental.
An explosion of connotations to the term “Mind/Body Medicine” is happening all around us. We live in avaricious times and much of this explosion is no more than a surge of opportunists clamoring to get into the arena before all the good seats are taken.
Allotropic medicine, especially as regards cancer research seems dedicated to keeping the body and mind (especially the soul) totally separate and unwilling to involve the cognitive element in clinical trials even though evidence suggests that it is an independent variable in the overall system. Before proceeding, it is worthwhile to see where and when the separation occurred. The popular notion is that it is firmly rooted in science. Surprisingly, this is farthest from the truth.
From the Ayurvedic medical school that developed in ancient India 4,000 years ago, through the Chinese and the brilliant, scientific Greeks, the mind and body were thought to be philosophically and practically inseparable. The very word psychosomatic derives from the Greek psycho, mind or soul, and soma, body. With the sacking of Rome, Europe was plunged into centuries of intellectual darkness. The reward for new ideas was typically being burned at the stake for heresy. A bit harsh in degree but not unlike the treatment new ideas receive today.
Into this troubled vale of ignorance and superstition came a brilliant Frenchman by the name of Rene Descartes. Truly a Renaissance man, he was famous as a mathematical philosopher, as well as one of the fathers of modern medicine. Faced with a hopeless dilemma—that of needing human corpses for medical research, then considered a sacrilege by the Church, he did a very human thing. He cut a deal! By agreeing to define science as a practice totally apart from mind and soul (especially soul) and leaving the latter to the sole jurisdiction of the Church, he was permitted to proceed and medicine was allowed to evolve.
This deal is honored by medicine to this very day. Scientific? Hardly, since the rapidly developing science of neuropeptides and receptors, that which Candace Pert called the “Molecules of Emotion,” is poised to pass many medical researchers, especially those in cancer. You can be on the right track and still get run over if you are standing still!!
In any other field of science, the arbitrary elimination of an independent variable in a study would render the results spurious and the researchers laughed out of the field. Better than being burned at the stake, but by no means something to boast about. This is certainly a factor in our woeful lack of progress in the cancer wars. Cancer in the world today is seen by many to be a cruel game wherein people get cut, poisoned, burned, robbed and rich with the apparent objective being the latter.
My entry into the cancer wars was not without fanfare of a sort. In October of 1993, I presented with a then record 20 pound RCC tumor. Not to worry, the surgeon “got it all”. So it was a double, follow on whammy when it came back a year and a half later, right in the same renal bed. Now I was in the unique position of having “got it all” not once but twice! Now, RCC is a capricious monster that often just refuses to stay down. Six months after the second surgery, scans found a hot bed of lung mets. Now there was no euphoria, just the onset of a reign of fear and nights blacker than death. I opted for IL2 treatment and embarked on a three times a week regimen that would last for eight miserable months. There was scarcely a lump free place on my body for the next shot and it got to where I was only feeling good for about three hours prior to shot time. Almost total, unbroken misery. The only ones enjoying the spectacle were the mets as they were growing nicely through it all. Clearly, something had to be done. This something was my own, strictly home grown, prayer, meditation, Guided Imagery program. Whether I was getting good at it or not, in late June of 1996, it seemed to me this was all I had between me and the cemetery.
Enough is enough and eight months was enough. I told my oncologist that I was shutting him down as far as treatment goes in favor of my own program. Which, after months of research I honestly thought better. When I surprised him by coming back alive in October and he put clear films up, all he could say was, “Well, I’ll be a son of a bitch. I don’t know where they went but they ain’t there anymore!”
It was at this triumphant moment that I learned a great deal about the mindset of an oncologist. It would seem that anyone with even a semblance of a scientific mind would have immediately inquired as to what I had done. Not even a glimmer of interest in something that might possibly benefit other patients. What a quintessential example of a left brained, Cartesian my-op! I now think him the rule rather than the exception.
We need to look at the Mind/Body techniques as merely the application of new information, which is well within the boundaries of science, to achieve outcomes heretofore thought to be impossible. Candace Pert in “Molecules of Emotion” has presented solid science to support these treatment modalities. This book is a ‘must read’ for all cancer patients. This is the stuff that ‘miracle’ remissions are made of. Information may be thought of as the new unbalanced force that Newton correctly expressed as equaling mass times acceleration. Action and reaction all over again except this time at the cellular level when neuropeptides and receptors act in response to stimulus. There is, however, an obvious difference that needs to be dealt with in considering the boundaries of the Mind/Body system. That is the fact that the observer plays a dominant roll in the information transfer. That is true of quantum mechanics.
I think that it is safe to assume that the sight of a naked woman would evoke a much stronger firing of neuropeptides in a man’s body than in another woman’s. Consider a beautiful field of lush clover and the different information processing when it is viewed by a hungry cow, an artist or the rancher who needs pasture for his herd. The emotions associated with hunger, artistic sensitivity and security would be simultaneously transferred to each of the three. Interestingly enough, if these same three were a hundred miles away and merely thought about this lush field (crediting both man and cow with the oft questioned ability to think) the result would be the same. If a cannon is fired by remote control, the cannonball will fly off in the same Newtonian way whether or not anyone or anything observes. Information transfer wherein the observer becomes an essential part of the process openly suggests quantum mechanics. Quantum Mechanics is the field of theoretical physics that deals with infinitesimally small, massless particles that operate in the Quantum dimensions outside the Newtonian limits of space and time.
One significant factor to be considered is distance. We are still left with accounting for the many strange and seemingly inexplicable cases where Mind/Body effects seem to ignore time and space. A test of this was done in 1988 at UCSF, (see Byrd, R, “Positive therapeutic effects of intercessory prayer in a coronary care unit population”. Southern Medical Journal 81(7):826-9). In this unusual experiment, which was done under accepted standards for double blind testing, a population of 450 patients with similar coronary problems was used. The plan called for half to be intensely prayed for and the other half not (with the exception of friends who might have uninvitedly prayed for the “no prayer half” over which the administrators had no control). The results came in with a significance favoring those prayed for. Now the surprising thing to me was that the distance was not of any significance. At the time, this posed a tough hurdle for me to get over. As one who is rooted deeply in Newtonian physics, I well understood that the inverse square law would make such a thing absurd. When I recently discussed this with Dr. Andreas Bette, a theoretical physicist at the Royal Technical Institute in Stockholm, he simply said that this is typical of quantum mechanics and that there is an indication that quantum forces were at work throughout this experiment. That is to say that quantum mechanics with its massless particles (photons and neutrinos unaccountable to time and space) appear to be playing a roll. I think it only fair to say, for the moment, that lack of knowledge does not prove lack of existence. I have been amazed to find both the imminence and number of scientists now turning their attention to the matter of just what constitutes thought. Could good intentions be composed of a coherent beam of massless quantum particles? No less a mind that Sir Roger Penrose of Oxford seems to think so. His comments on the quantum nature of mind and thought in “The Emperor’s New Mind” are fascinating. Questions occur such as, could the neuron transmitters on the brain be fired by an information modulated massless particle popping up out of time and space to cause an effect? The immediate question is, of course, how does all this relate to a way to initiate cancer remissions? Perhaps its appeal lies in the fact that it conveys just a glimmer of possibilities to suggest a scientifically valid mechanism for just how mind/body techniques do actually work.
Of the many process that are now being brought under the umbrella of mind/body medicine, we shall limit this discussion to only two, meditation and guided imagery, one old and one new. Both are patient friendly, non-invasive , cost free and are totally at the patient’s own control and scheduling.
The pioneering work in meditation for the Western world was “The Relaxation Response” by Dr. Herbert Benson of Harvard. He poses the “Relaxation Response” as the calmer opposite to the ‘Flight or Fight’ response in its effects on the human body. The four parts of meditation are as follows:
1) A room or place, as far from distractions as possible,
2) A mental device. This is a word, phrase or passage to be repeated continually or a fixed gaze on a distant object.
3) Attention is paid to the normal rhythm of breathing.
4) A comfortable position or posture. The cross legged “lotus” position of the yogis is a good one. Lying down is fine if sleep does not ensue. The process should continue for about 20 minutes.
When considering the body’s ability to respond to external stimulus for good or bad, the suggestion comes to mind that, in the case of a cancer patient, it may be time for a re-wiring job. Through relaxation and meditation we have the ability to cut off the input transmissions of harmful thought signals. Through Guided Imagery, we can rip out the faulty wiring and replace it with a new healthy, healing one. In crafting these inputs, we try to involve as many of the senses as possible. In a Guided Imagery session, the subject, in a quiet and relaxed (even sleeping) state is guided by another person (either in person or by a recording) through a healing journey. The session begins with a countdown to a relaxed state in a comfortable chair or bed. The narrative is usually accompanied by soothing background music and aromatherapy can be effectively added. Going to sleep is fine since the subconscious still hears all the exercise. At the end of the session, the patient may either return to consciousness by another counting or simply remain asleep until the time comes to wake up.
Dr. Herb Benson of Harvard has stated that mankind is the only animal endowed with a memory of the future. I always put memorable future events into the Guided Imagery session. This may be the graduation of a youngster or the wedding of a son or daughter. I like to suggest that the patient imagine a future event wherein he or she is speaking to an audience of cancer patients explaining the path to remission. This was a favorite of mine when the outlook for my case was thought to be hopeless. Sure enough, right after my ‘miracle’ was confirmed, my wife and I attended the annual meeting of the Kidney Cancer Association in Chicago. It seems the person who was scheduled to give a talk on survivorship cancelled at the last minute. When they asked me if I could give it, I replied “Hell, yes! I’ve been giving it every single night for over a year!” Truly, the goal became reality right before my eyes. Some complete Guided Imagery exercises are given in my book “Cancer Wars – MAARS Journey” at the web location www.cancerwarsmaarsjourney.com along with a CD designed to kill cancer cells and initiate remission. There are also several stories of people who have gained remissions using this technique.
I wrote the book with the expressed intent of giving a clear description of how I achieved my remission. The absence of a ‘cook book’ specific to my case made evolving a plan both difficult and time consuming, especially for a sick man. I had never imagined that there were so many people with so many publications all aimed at pulling money from the ample teats of the cash cow we know of as cancer. One thing became obvious across the panoply of pulp and that was that few, if any of these people had ever had cancer? This seems to be symbiotic with the old adage, if you want advice on raising children, ask somebody who doesn’t have any and they can always tell you! Like I say, she’s a generous cash cow just waiting to be milked. It was a desire to not be a part of this crowd of leeches and opportunists that led me to put this book on the web for free to anyone in the world. When I get one of the many letters from total strangers thanking me for helping them get their lives back, then I feel richer than Bill Gates. After all, with visualization techniques, it is only necessary to think rich to, in fact, be rich!
With so many thousands of sure fire cures and books out there one can only wonder how cancer has possibly managed to survive. There are, of course, wonderful books out there that should be ‘must reads’ for cancer patients, authors like Siegel, Benson, Simonton and Pert stand as beacons for suffering patients trying to navigate the treacherous waters of cancer. Pity that the average patient who needs them the most simply cannot see them for the pile of also run’s whose trash is not worth the lives of the poor trees that were ground into pulp to produce them.
In the days shortly after my cure was confirmed, (note how strange, almost controversial, the word cure sounds in a cancer paper), I chanced to converse with renowned heart surgeon and TV personality, Dr. Mehmet Oz of Columbia Presbyterian in New York. As a comment on my story, he expressed concern that nobody was studying why people like me experience remissions. It is as though we keep focusing on death with failed trials ad nauseum when we should be looking at life. I think that this remark more than any other set my feet on this obsessive mission to pass the miracle around to the patients who need it. Mehmet further stated that there has never been a cancer found that did not have some survivors. That being so then clearly there is some wiggle room for patients wishing to go for that remission.
Another doctor that I found compelling was Carl Simonton. Initially a radiation oncologist, he became a pioneer in treating cancer with Guided Imagery out of wonder as to just why, starting with similar diseases and treatment, one patient would die and the other survive. His work led to some observations that I deemed profound.
First of these is that cancer cells are not the invulnerable juggernauts we have been led to believe. They are, in fact, poorly organized, easily attacked by elements of the immune system and totally unable to repair themselves. About what one would expect from an organism stupid enough to kill its own life support host.
Second, he decries the attitude (largely derived from secular sources) that treatments are of little value and side effects are terrible. As he points out in “The Healing Journey” and “Getting Well”, attitudes have a marked effect upon outcomes.
Third, that our own immune cells always win out over cancer cells in experiments where they are pitted against each other in open combat. I always ask patients if they have ever heard of neutraphils, macrophages, T & B cells or NK (Natural Killer) cells. I have yet to find one that ever has. This lack of information is appalling. Every patient should know his arsenal of weapons and how they work. Guided Imagery is our way to put your troops on the field and ready to fight and win.
In closing, I would like to quote from an email I received from my friend, Dr. Greg Friccione, the Director of Clinical Psychiatry at Brigham and Women’s Hospital of the Harvard Medical School. “I don’t understand the reluctance of some physicians to endorse what you are doing since you emphasize the key importance of allotropic evidence based medicine while recognize the evolutionary based need humans have for solace, connection , hope and love if their minds and bodies are to harmonize for optimal health. We should do a study of cancer patients randomized to usual allopathic treatment alone as well as those receiving the “enhanced” treatment you propose. It would be very interesting to see whether these variables and health/morbidity/outcomes co-vary in the RCC population”.
The great Olympian, motivational speaker and Gifford lecturer, Bob Richards, assures that goals should be set and they really do matter. The person becomes the goal, says Bob. He loves to quote fellow Gifford lecturer Albert Schweitzer, “there is a doctor within each of us. Call on this doctor and put him to work. Dare to go for the remission and don’t ever let anybody take your dreams away!”
Go for the remission! It is all right to ask for it, it is alright to expect it and it is WONDERFUL when you get it!! Godspeed you all in your healing journeys.
Gerald W. White, P.E.