“A cancer diagnosis may be as fatal as the cancer itself.” Does that statement shock you? That’s exactly what a 2012 study published in the New England Journal of Medicine, concluded. Patients who were told by a doctor that they have cancer were 16 times more likely to commit suicide, and 27 times more likely to die of a heart-related death in the following week, versus people who were deemed cancer-free. Is it possible that instead of the cancer, the patient’s expectation of death could be what kills him?
Cancer is possibly the most traumatic and gut-wrenching diagnosis a person could receive. I believe that is true even when it is the diagnosis of a loved one. I clearly remember sitting in a doctor’s office with my brother and having this doctor nonchalantly tell us that tests revealed our mother had advanced bone cancer. He said it as if he was saying “the sky is blue” and yet it hit us like a ton of bricks. It was devastating and his callous, thoughtless delivery did much harm. I can’t even imagine what he may have said to my mother and how that may have impacted her. She only lived 3 more weeks.
Unfortunately some doctors do not realize that both the words they speak and how they say them carries great power and can influence a patient’s outcome. Most people look at doctors as authority figures and if a doctor you trust tells you that you have 6 months to live, chances are, you will fulfill that expectation. Dr. Candace Pert, a pioneer in stress research explains the mind-body process this way: “In the beginning of my work, I matter-of-factly presumed that emotions were in the head or brain. Now I would say they are really in the body. We experience emotions in the form of chemical reactions in the brain and body, which occur at both the organ and cellular levels.”
The power of belief is undeniable. Dr. Robert DeLap, head of the Food & Drug Administration’s Office of Drug Evaluation says: “Expectation is a powerful thing. The more you believe you’re going to benefit from a treatment, the more likely it is that you will experience a benefit.” This is how the placebo (positive) and nocebo (negative) effect both work.
Consider the ancient Aboriginal practice of “bone-pointing.” Certain Australian tribal cultures sometimes had a ritual executioner or ‘bone pointer.’ Using a dried, pointed human bone he would “point the bone” at a person who was condemned to death. There was no physical contact required to cause death. The person being cursed simply had to believe it and they essentially scared themselves to death. Could this ancient ritual often be replayed in doctor’s offices today with the doctor assuming a priest-like role over the patient’s body and its ultimate fate.
There is so much more to healing – from any disease or disorder – than solely the physical aspect of it. We are tri-part beings and so we can’t ignore our spirit and soul when we are dealing with a physical illness. There is great power in the mind and emotions to affect, and in some cases determine, one’s health destiny. Doctors use data and experience to give their best prognoses for fatal illnesses, but patients can live for months or even years. Every patient is different, every disorder is different. People are unique. There is always hope. And we each have the ultimate responsibility for what we choose to believe.
Has a doctor’s diagnosis influenced your health? How?
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