Validating the Mind-Body Connection for Cancer Patients

There is no question that I can get a little geeky when it comes to discovering research that validates the importance of mindfulness and meditation. So when researchers in Canada found the first evidence of altering the cellular activity of cancer patients who participate in support groups that encourage meditation and yoga, I was literally brought to tears. According to Science Alert, “their study, which was published in the journal Cancer last week, is one of the first to suggest that a mind-body connection really does exist.”

While I am one to advocate the importance of trusting our inner guidance and not necessarily rely on external validation, this research provided an assurance I didn’t even know I needed. I speak about the physiological, emotional and spiritual benefits of mindfulness and meditation on a daily basis, but as I read this article, something clicked inside. The findings of the study provided physical evidence to what I so wholeheartedly believed and practiced during my own cancer journey. I was flooded with gratitude for the teaching, guidance, and support I received along the way and that came in so many unexpected forms and continues to be revealed as I discern the path of my new normal. As a result, I became sentimental and reflective of this journey.

As I reflect back on the early days of my spiritual evolution which kicked off right about the time of my Bat Mitvah, I see that I was in a desperate state to logically understand things outside of my control. While one would think it was the incredible experience of becoming a woman in the Jewish faith that inspired this, it admittedly was around that time that I remember seeing a Lifetime movie which chronicled a young woman with breast cancer. In the movie, she met a doctor who taught her the power of visualization and how that aided in her healing. I learned that the movie was based on a true story and that doctor was Dr. Bernie Siegal. I would later see Bernie Siegal speaking on the Oprah show which was my go-to after school activity. And so at age 13, when most girls my age were reading Judy Blume’s Are you There God, It’s Me Margaret, I was watching Oprah and reading Love, Medicine, and Miracles by Bernie Siegal. I remember it having a deep impact at the time, but like most girls of that age, that impact lasted about a week.

Needless to say, that book followed me throughout my life. When family members were diagnosed with cancer, I would share the book with them, believing in its importance in the healing process. However, I could have never imagined the ironic connection it would provide in my own cancer journey.

About 3 weeks before I was diagnosed, I had reached out to my now mentor, teacher and friend Flint Sparks. I had heard him speak at TedxAustin years ago. As a Zen teacher and at the time a practicing psychologist dedicated to assisting people in the unending path of growing up and waking up, the accessibility of his message resonated deeply with me and I was eager to connect. Given it was a new year and I was inspired to make some changes in my life, I reached out. The soonest he could see me was in three weeks. That felt good – no rush.

A week after we scheduled the appointment was Valentine’s day, the actual day of my diagnosis. My world was forever changed.

The next days/weeks were a blur. Meeting with all sorts of doctors until I found my home at MD Anderson and Texas Oncology with a super star team I felt the utmost confidence in. While my treatment and surgical plan was still to be determined, that was an important piece of the puzzle for my family and I.

Fast forward a couple weeks, and I realized my appointment with Flint was on the calendar. My initial reason for outreach seemed petty at this point, but I figured I would go anyways. As I sat in his office during that first meeting, he asked me what brought me there. I explained that my initial outreach was based on some possible career guidance, but now I had been diagnosed with breast cancer. He stopped me right then and told me that there were a few things I should know about him. That one of his specialties is working with cancer patients and helping to cultivate their psycho-spiritual experience with it. In fact, he had worked with Bernie Siegal in various capacities. And that is how my psycho-spiritual cancer journey started.

Flint helped me prepare custom visualizations before each surgery, procedure and chemotherapy treatment. He helped me create a foundation where healing was based on love, support, and friendship. He encouraged me before each treatment to envision all of the people surrounding me and supporting me, including my treatment team and to see the chemo in that same capacity. He helped me realize that the chemo was something positive that could help me, that could be my friend. It didn’t diminish that it had an impact. In fact, that’s actually its point, making sure it had an impact on any abnormal cells in my body. And so that is how I treated all of my treatments and surgeries – as a friend, a powerful friend, yes, but a friend that was there to help. He helped me honor those parts of myself that were less comfortable and not very experienced with relying on others. By simply learning to bear witness and let myself be held and cared for by all the people around me, I was able to be completely present for what I was experiencing.

I will be forever grateful to Flint for the support he provided to me during this challenging time and even more grateful to have him as a life-long teacher whose teachings continue to inspire so many. Check out this most recent interview where he shares important perspective on focusing not necessarily how to change the world, but how to meet a world that never stops changing.

I share this as a way to remind all of us, to pay attention to what is speaking to us as the most deepest level. While the external validation can certainly boost our confidence, the most important validation is that which comes from our hearts. Who knew that reading Love, Medicine, and Miracles at the age of 13 would literally be the game changer in my life. The catalyst to remind me that our deepest healing lies within and believing that the right people and circumstances will ALWAYS show up EXACTLY when we need them. And that our lives are ultimately a classroom that provides the experiences and tools to embracing a deeper conscious awareness that invites us to show up in our everyday life in a more peaceful, authentic, and meaningful manner.

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