Mind Over Sports

Immune System Suppression

Posted on: March 12, 2008

Roger Willard grew up in an upper-middle-class family where money was never an issue. Yet, by today’s standards his family would be considered dysfunctional. There was little nurturing or love, and almost no physical contact, such as hugging. There were days when, as a teenager, Roger often felt no one cared about him. He never had a true home, a place where he felt nurtured in a way that confirmed his life. He attended the best private schools and graduated from college. After college, he took over his father’s company and soon his income was well into six figures. He, his wife and two children belonged to one of the finest country clubs. They enjoyed two, and sometimes three vacations a year. Everything seemed to be going well, but in the late 1980’s, Roger’s life took a turn for the worse. His company’s sales dropped dramatically, and he was forced into personal bankruptcy. A few months later he was diagnosed as having cancer.

Tim Johnson, in contrast, grew up in a lower-middle-class family where money was an issue, as there was little of it. But in later life, he would always say he never knew his family was poor and there was always lots of love, nurturing and hugging among family members. He knew he could count on his mother and father to stand by him in times of trouble. After graduating from high school, Tim worked his way through college. He then went to work for a small company, eventually buying it from the retiring owner. He and his family belonged to a country club and managed at least one family vacation a year. Everything seemed to be going well, but in the late 1980’s, Tim’s business also experienced a severe drop in sales and he was forced into personal bankruptcy. Within a year, Tim found a new job in a new industry and began to work his way, once again, up the financial ladder.

These two personal histories clearly make the point that it is not the issue that creates stress for us, but rather our perception of the issue — and we perceive issues based on how we feel about ourselves, or our self-esteem.

While Roger’s self-image was almost exclusively identified with his wealth, Tim’s was founded on the love and nurturing he received as a child. While Roger felt his friends would abandon him because he no longer had money, Tim’s perspective was, “So what if they’re no longer my friends. They couldn’t have been such great friends in the first place.” Roger dwelled on his problems, always looking back at the past and placing blame on others for his misfortune. Tim accepted responsibility for what had happened to him, and his attitude was, “Look, I did everything that was humanly possible to do. It didn’t work, and now I’m moving on.”

For those of us who subscribe to the “surveillance mechanism” theory of cancer and the concept of “psychoneuroimmunology,” the reason why Roger was more prone to developing cancer and Tim was less prone is explainable. There is ongoing research by doctors, psychologists and medical institutions in this relatively new field of medicine. It is certainly worth investigating. Although I am not a scientific researcher, I can provide anecdotal evidence, much of it from workshops.

According to Dr. Julian Whitaker, of the Whitaker Wellness Institute, “cells can be damaged by low oxygen tension, X-rays, animal fat, ultraviolet light, excessive carbon monoxide, nicotine and other environmental poisons. Cells then change and become cancer cells.” But because our immune system is constantly devouring the damaged cells, we remain healthy. When stress is experienced the immune system becomes depressed, and damaged cells begin to multiply at a rate faster than they can be devoured. It was interesting when Nelson Mandela visited this country and made a statement regarding HIV and Aids. If one were to apply his point-of-view to the tobacco industry and cancer, it would come out like this: “Do cigarettes alone cause cancer? Or is there some other force at work in combination with smoking? There is some other force at work.”

My position for many years has been that cigarettes, in and of themselves, do not cause cancer. But the nicotine tar from cigarettes does attach itself to healthy cells, and damages them by cutting off their supply of oxygen. Fortunately, our immune system is constantly gobbling them up like Pac-Man. But when we encounter extreme stress in our lives, often produced by our own feelings of self-worth, our immune systems become suppressed and the cancer cells take over our body.

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