Surviving Cancer – With a Spiritual Practice?
Over lunch, a friend and fellow cancer survivor confided in me that in addition to chemotherapy and a total lifestyle overhaul, one of the things she credits with staying cancer-free was a daily regimen of Qi Gong.
Admittedly, my first thought was yeah, right. As thrilled as I was my friend was cancer-free (particularly after she was given only months to live), I was sure it was the medicine she had received in a clinical trial, and not an ancient spiritual practice, that had saved her.
Researching alternative cancer treatments
But my skepticism waned when I started researching alternative cancer treatments. While I still don't think that they should replace conventional therapies like chemotherapy and radiation, it's hard to scoff at something that millions of people have credited with their recovery, or have simply attested that they felt better after using, whether or not they thought it cured the cancer.
Looking closer at Qi Gong, which is a gentle form of exercise popular in Chinese medicine, I found that major hospitals in the U.S. and abroad incorporate the practice into their treatments. Amazingly, research has found that Qi Gong has been “indirectly linked to cancer prevention and survival.”
But Qi Gong isn't the only spiritual practice that has been linked to better outcomes. Doctors have found that literally thinking more positively has the ability to stave off disease or even recover from disease – including cancer – quicker.1,2
A spiritual component to healing
We tend to think of cancer (or at least I did) as a purely physical thing, cured only with physical solutions. But perhaps there's a spiritual component to healing as well. In fact, one of the very first things I did after my cancer diagnosis was to beg people for their prayers and good intentions. A Catholic myself, I prayed a novena every morning until my surgery to St. Peregrine, the patron saint of people suffering from cancer, AIDS, and other serious illnesses. How was that any different than practicing Qi Gong?
The more I learn about cancer, the more I talk to survivors, I realize we can't discount how important spirituality is in our recovery and prevention – whether it's prayer, meditation, Qi Gong, positive thinking, or whatever is personally significant to that person. After I was diagnosed, what was once a mild anxiety disorder bloomed into daily panic attacks and a constant feeling of terror, as though cancer had not only infiltrated my bladder but had infected my mind as well. It wasn't until I enrolled myself in an outpatient program and learned mindfulness meditation that the terror slowly started to abate. Mindfulness meditation (and lots of prayer) has healed me from the terror of having cancer – which was absolutely as destructive and life-threatening as the cancer itself.
Nothing to scoff at
Cancer can beat us up, physically and emotionally. It can shroud us in terror, forcing us to grapple with our own mortality. It can even chip away at our will to live. Even though I once scoffed at the idea, having lived through cancer myself I can tell you that spiritual cures like Qi Gong and prayer are nothing to scoff at – and even science says so.
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