Mind Over Sports

DID ANGELINA JOLIE DO THE RIGHT THING BY HAVING A DOUBLE MASTECTOMY?

Posted on: May 15, 2013

I’m not so sure. In the past, I’ve written about athletes who had been diagnosed with cancer but because Angelina Jolie is such a high profile person, I thought I would write something about her decision.

I’ve worked with cancer patients in the past when I lived in Kansas City, Missouri. As a volunteer, I conducted self-esteem building workshops at a local Cancer Support Center. Many of the participants were women who had been newly diagnosed with breast cancer. At the outset I would explain to them that even though they had been diagnosed with cancer, from my perspective, I didn’t think that was their primary problem. Their primary problem was that each had a suppressed (or impaired) immune system. I would then explain to them that research has shown that the most conspicuous characteristic of cancer patients is bottled up emotions, and we would then have each person in the group stand and tell his or her own story about stress in their lives. Each would interact with others in the room and, at the same time, bring their emotions to the surface. After talking about their issues (many for the first time) their repressed feelings began to disappear and they immediately felt better about themselves. Once they began talking about their issues, they experienced an increase in self-esteem resulting in an enhanced immune system.

Research has shown that many individuals who have been diagnosed with cancer are repressing their feelings, which negatively affects their self-esteem. Here’s how it works: When you withhold (repress) your feelings and emotions it’s a form of lying that demeans you and lowers your self-esteem. As your self-esteem is lowered you begin to see your world around you from a negative perspective (“we see things as we are”) and create stress for yourself. As a result of the stress, your body gives off hormones that impair your immune system. According to the “Surveillance Mechanism Theory,” we all have cancer cells in our bodies that are constantly being devoured by our immune system Pac-Man style. But when we encounter stress, our immune system becomes impaired and the cancer cells begin to multiply at a rate faster than they can be devoured. The result is: we are soon diagnosed as having cancer.

Many physicians will agree that a relationship exists between high self-esteem and wellness, and low self-esteem and illness. I’ve found that when cancer patients enhance their own feelings of self-worth, they automatically enhance the potency of their immune systems.

After going around the room, providing everyone with an opportunity to talk openly about issues in their lives that were causing them stress, we were then ready to use a “guided imagery” 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.” At the time I had a story-board that I used in those sessions showing the t-cells coming together, mobilizing, and forming an arrow. The arrow would zoom toward a large glob that represented a cancer cell and the arrow would attack the glob, which would then deflate and dissipate.

Unfortunately, after moving to a new city, I was never able to locate the storyboard. But I believe cancer patients reading this can create their own visual image of t-cells attacking cancer cells and use Patti LaBelle’s recording to accompany it. I’m sure Patti would not mind since she herself is a cancer survivor. Later, patients would listen to only the music track and the images that were embedded in their minds would recreate themselves, automatically. This part of the program can be compared to the “placebo effect” as it applies to health and is currently being tested by Ted Kaptchuk at Harvard Medical School.

So my question is: Even though Angelina Jolie may have been genetically pre-disposed toward having cancer, I’m not sure it would have happened unless she had some type of stressful situation in her life. But on the other hand, if she believes that having a double mastectomy will keep her from being diagnosed with cancer at a later date, then there’s a good chance it will. When it comes to matters of health, beliefs can be powerful.

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