Mind Over Sports

COACH JOE PATERNO: CANCER PATIENT

Posted on: November 19, 2011

A number of years ago, the late Dr. Carl Simonton (who first identified the mind-body connection) came up with the discovery of what he called the Surveillance Mechanism Theory as related to the detection and treatment of cancer. Simply stated, the SMT maintains that we all have cancer cells in our bodies but that our immune systems are constantly gobbling them up Pac-Man style. However, when we encounter stress in our lives our bodies give off hormones that impair our immune systems, allowing the cancer cells to multiply at a rate faster than they can be devoured. This appears to be the case involving former Penn State Coach Joe Paterno who was recently diagnosed with lung cancer.

From my perspective, and most physicians will agree, there’s a correlation between high self-esteem and wellness and low self-esteem and illness.

When I lived in Kansas City, Missouri in the late 1980s, I volunteered my services at the RA Bloch Cancer Support Center. On various Sunday mornings, with the encouragement of co-founder Richard Bloch, I would meet with newly diagnosed cancer patients in a support group environment. At the outset I would explain to them that even though they had been diagnosed as having cancer, that was not their primary problem. Their primary problem was that each had a suppressed (or impaired) immune system and that we were going to focus on their immune systems and participate in exercises designed to enhance their immune systems. Since research has shown that the most conspicuous characteristic of cancer patients is bottled up emotions I would have everyone sit in a circle and each person would tell his or her own story about stress in their lives. Each would interact with others and bring their emotions to the surface. Once they began talking about their issues, many for the first time, they experienced an increase in self-esteem resulting in an enhanced immune system. At that point they were then introduced to the use of a visualization technique where they would “see” their own healthy t-cells attacking their cancer cells. This exercise was accompanied by Patti LaBelle’s recording of “New Attitude.”

So based on the above, my recommendation to Coach Paterno would be that he either involve himself in a support group or seek the services of a psychotherapist who could help him through this difficult period in his life.

One last point: What I have recommended should only be considered as a supplemental program. It should not replace any treatment prescribed by a physician or oncologist.

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