CANCER STORY: Success & Hard Truth

Cancer Patients and Their Doctors


Flanders Dunbar (in Emotions and Bodily Changes) wrote: “It does not matter whether the mind or the body is the primary seat of the disorder: in either case it is the patient who must be treated first, then the disease itself, and only then the symptoms.” The fact is, modern medicine is so preoccupied with physical treatments and the use of scientific gadgets, drugs, etc., that very often, the treatment of the person is overlooked or neglected. In some worse instances, the roles of patients are not recognised at all.

Armand Vincet (in Der Mensch und Seine Krankheit) said: “Doctors generally only try to prevent death and do not help the patients to live.”

In the book, Persuasion and Healing, J. D. Frank wrote: “The insensitivity of scientific medicine to the bad effects of wrong emotions is probably responsible for many failures.”

Abraham Khazam, a medical doctor asked: “Is medicine suffering from a neurosis that makes it cling to outdated tradition and closed to approaches to healing?” In medical tradition, the mind does not have any role in the cure of the physical body. How long more are we to be lulled into that misconception?

The underlying problem with medicine today is that doctors are only trained to see and treat the physical body. They are not concerned with the mind of the patients. Cancer patients seek the doctors’ help because they believe in the doctors and their science. In their emotional mind, the patients regard doctors as “gods.” The frame of mind of cancer patients is one of hopelessness and helplessness. Everything that the doctors say is true and shall come to pass.

The interaction with the doctor triggers the mechanism of a placebo or nocebo. Being told that they can live only for a certain length of time, is in actual fact inflicting the nocebo effect on them. This is most unnecessary and certainly harmful. Hippocrates, the father of medicine advised: “First, physicians do no harm.” Like it or not, current research data show that the nocebo effect is harmful. Inflicting harm does not have to be confined to slicing off the wrong breast or prescribing the wrong drug. The tongue is often equally damaging! By using encouraging words, the doctors encourage placebo effects. But by giving out doomsday predictions and death certificates, the doctors are actually putting the voodoo spell on the patients.

The doctors are not emotionally involved with the patients’ cancers. So they talk like educated, rational people. But patients, on the other hand, are emotional people. Often, doctors and patients are at different wave lengths even though they talk the same language. Sadly, this point is most unappreciated. A rational mind may tell things in an honest, factual way. But the patients’ emotional mind interprets the message differently.

The doctors interpret X-rays or test results scientifically without any feelings but the patients take every poor or bad result as another blow that brings them closer to death. I recall what many cancer patients have told us about what their doctors had told them. Ten years ago, the oncologist told Vijay, who had lung cancer: “Yours is a hopeless case.” Melisa was asked to get her papers in order for she had only three to six months to live. Raju who had bone cancer was also told to get his will done and be ready to die within six to nine months. Anthony, with colon-liver cancer, was asked to go home, “live and count your days.” Even well-meaning words like: “Go home and enjoy yourself everyday, live life to the fullest” may be interpreted by the emotional mind as a way of “telling me to hurry up for my days are going to be over soon.” Those who utter all these words do not seem to realise how cruel these words can be.

Of course, giving a prognosis in terms of a death deadline is one defense mechanism for the doctor to tell the truth, so as to convey the seriousness of the disease. But is that the truth? How long we live, or when we will die is not the prerogative of any human being. Too often, I have seen cancer patients outlive their doctors’ doomsday prediction many times over, all because they are made to know that they can achieve healing if they have the will to live and heal themselves. In fact, we need to accept that the objective attitude adopted by doctors is a problem in itself. Abraham Khazam said: “Unfortunately, the idea of honest truth may be an uneducated one, as the future is never certain. A truth without any hope is therefore never the real truth but merely a “harsh sentence.”

Let me emphasise again that someone with an emotionally disorientated mind is in no position to fully understand rational information. Sometimes, he cannot hear it or if he hears it, he receives a different message. An emotional mind only hears and understands objective information when it is relatively at ease — not when it is primed with emotion, anxiety and hopelessness.

It is worthwhile for physicians and healers to take heed of current research findings on the power of the over the body. Merely clinging on to the out-dated Cartesian idea is not benefiting this noble healing profession. Look at the positive aspects of the placebo for healing. It can be useful and involves no risk at all. But, of course, it costs in terms of precious time.

If healing is not equated to dollars and cents, perhaps the outcome will be more rewarding and meaningful. Good bedside manners, sweet encouraging words, and generating confidence and hope will go a long way to help patients. This will further complement and reinforce whatever drugs prescribed or surgical procedures carried out. In short, a good, caring and loving doctor-patient rapport is essential and should be cultivated and nurtured.