When you are a mother, receiving a cancer diagnosis is magnified by the effect it will have on your children and the possibility that cancer may take you from your children before either of you are ready to let go. Cancer is no longer the death warrant it once was. Great strides have been made in treating and arresting cancer. There is real cause for hope even when a terminal diagnosis is received or standard treatments fail.
Issels Integrative Oncology Centers in Santa Barbara, California and Tijuana, Mexico have had considerable success using advanced science-based alternative cancer treatments to achieve long-term cancer remissions in patients who had been considered “incurable.” (Click here to here Issels’ patients share their cancer stories.) But despite the very real possibility of remission, cancer outcomes are often unpredictable. Many mothers understandably choose to prepare for the worst while striving and hoping for the best.
Memories help us keep our loved ones alive in our hearts. You don’t have to face a terminal cancer diagnosis to find value in creating and compiling family memories. Even if you live to a ripe old age, your children, grandchildren and future generations will cherish the memories you leave behind.
To their children, mothers seem to be all-knowing, indestructible, invulnerable, the steadying rock that is always there, providing both rudder and anchor for young lives learning to navigate the world. Children can always count on their moms when they need a snack, a playmate, a bandaid and especially a hug. Moms banish monsters from closets, keep cookie jars well stocked, read bedtime stories, listen to prayers and kiss us goodnight. Unless they have cancer, then everything changes for their children.
Mothers with cancer are vulnerable. They are no longer indestructible and must be treated with care for cancer makes their bodies fragile. As Susan Grubar, a mother struggling with terminal ovarian cancer, shared recently on the New York Times Well blog:
“With varying degrees of fearful awareness, such children intuit that the mother who comforts by murmuring ‘I am here’ will not always be there. Under such circumstances, how to safeguard childhood or adolescence from anxious vigilance and dread? Mothers often stand at the center of their children’s orbit. How do you help children when mom has cancer?”
Grub is grateful that her ovarian cancer diagnosis came after her children were grown, though she mourns the fact that her relationship with her new grandson will be cut too short. Even as adults, she and her daughters are having difficulty with the finality of cancer and the separation anxiety terminal cancer produces. She is grateful that she has had many years to build precious memories with her daughters that will sustain them after she is gone — a gift many mothers with cancer are never given.
The beauty of utilizing therapies based on the creative arts in alternative cancer treatment is that they require no talent, just the willingness to express oneself. Creative therapies focus not on the quality of the completed artistic endeavor, but on the expression of emotion and the psychological release it brings. In participating in therapies that promote artistic self-expression, cancer patients are able to develop a heightened sense of self-awareness and insight, control stress and anger, resolve personal conflicts and improve their sense of well-being and quality of life. The positive effect of creative therapies on healing can be pronounced.
The creativity of artistic expression has been linked to the release of certain stress-relieving and pleasure-producing neurotransmitters and hormones in the brain. As reported in Medical Daily, creative arts therapies embrace all forms of art:
Art therapy. The ability to give visual representation to their emotions through art can improve both the psychological and physical health of cancer patients.
Dance therapy. Engaging in expressive and uplifting exercise through dance promotes greater mind-body awareness and stress relief.
Drama therapy. Cancer patients were able to relieve stress, emotional anxiety and anger effectively through dramatic interpretation resulting in improved self-esteem and a more positive outlook on life.
Music therapy. Creating or listening to music can decrease depression, anxiety, stress and insomnia. During radiation treatment, music is often used to help alleviate nausea and vomiting.
Writing therapy. Cancer patients often find the ability to express their fears and feelings cathartic. Keeping records of symptoms, reactions and interactions with their cancer treatment team can also give cancer patients a sense of empowerment and control over their disease.
Cancer is a disease of the physical body, but it permeates every aspect of life, coloring the way we think and feel and even how we relate to ourselves and others. Many cancer patients are so overwhelmed by the burden of cancer that they feel as if they have lost control not only of their health and body but of life itself.
Conventional cancer treatments that focus on treating the body fail to address the emotional, psychological and what some might call the spiritual forces that can have an even greater impact than physical health on an individual’s ability to fight and survive cancer. Alternative cancer treatment centers like Issels Integrative Oncology recognize the power of the mind-body connection to promote healing.
Issels cancer treatment teams take a holistic approach to cancer treatment that nurtures the complete individual. We employ advanced science-based treatment protocols to address the physical aspects of cancer while building up the individual’s immune system and nurturing each patient’s emotional health. We want our patients to leave us with a renewed sense of well-being and hope so they can focus on healing.
Employing the creative arts to aid cancer patients in expressing their emotions and conquering their fear of cancer is one of the alternative cancer therapies that are finding success in helping cancer patients strengthen the mind-body connection that promotes wellness. The use of art, dance, drama, music and writing therapy has been remarkably successful in helping cancer patients manage the stress of treatment, achieve a more positive attitude about cancer outcomes, achieve a higher state of wellness that promotes recovery and increase post-cancer life expectancy.
Men have another reason to hit the treadmill. A new study has found an intriguing link between physical fitness and cancer risk in middle-aged men. Scheduled for presentation at the annual meeting of the American Society of Clinical Oncology in early June, the study tracked the relationship between physical fitness and the development of the prostate, colorectal and lung cancer (the 3 most common male cancers) in a group of 7,000 healthy, 45-year-old men over a period of 20 years.
At age 65, men who had remained physically fit over the intervening 20 years were less likely to develop cancer. Additionally, among those study participants that did develop cancer, men who were physically fit experienced more positive outcomes.
In an interview with PBS NewsHour, the study’s lead researcher, Dr. Susan Lakoski of the University of Vermont College of Medicine noted:
“This is the first study that really addresses the issue of fitness being a prognostic marker of cancer risk in men, and then a marker of prognosis after a cancer diagnosis. . . . People who had lower fitness, or went less time on the treadmill, were more at risk for developing cancer later in life.”
Asked why fitness has such a noticeable impact on cancer, Dr. Lakoski equated fitness with the body’s ability to maximize efficient oxygen delivery to the organs. As she pointed out, oxygen delivery “is very important in modulating different pathways involved in inflammation, hormone levels, immune surveillance, [and] oxidative damage. All of these things play into reducing cancer risk.”
In a New York Times op-ed column, actress Angelina Jolie shocked many people by revealing that she had undergone preventive double mastectomy after learning she carries the BRCA1 gene which is known to significantly increase the risk of breast cancer and uterine cancer. Supported by husband Brad Pitt, Ms. Jolie’s decision to “be proactive and to minimize the risk as much as I could” was driven in large part by her mother’s long-term cancer battle and early death at the age of 56. In sharing her decision, Ms. Jolie lamented the fact that only one of her six children had the opportunity to know their grandmother before her death.
“My chances of developing breast cancer have dropped from 87% to under 5%,” Ms. Jolie said. “I can tell my children that they don’t need to fear they will lose me to breast cancer.”
Ms. Jolie is not the first high-profile celebrity to choose preventive double mastectomy. In 2008, actress Christina Applegate had both breasts removed after surviving breast cancer to prevent its return. However, Ms. Jolie represents a growing new movement among high-risk cancer patients to act before cancer strikes.
The desire to take aggressive preventive action before receiving a cancer diagnosis has been fueled by the discovery of genetic defects — BRCA1 and BRCA2 –directly linked to a high risk of breast cancer. Coupled with the high incidence of breast cancer among women, discovery that they carry a genetic marker for breast cancer seems to stoke the natural fear cancer provokes.
Preventive surgery is one way to deal with cancer fear, but it is not the only choice.