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Q: I was diagnosed with breast cancer in February 2009 at the age of 38. I read a lot into mind-body connection. Now that my treatments are finished, I can't get over the question of how my cancer happened because it was not genetic. Could I have caused my own cancer by my own thought patterns (negative or otherwise)? I feel so guilty thinking this way. How could I have abandoned my own needs and my own body? I read breast cancer arises from nurturing for others and ignoring your own needs. Is this true? Please help and God bless.

— Behnaz D., Los Angeles, California

Dear Behnaz,
One of the frustrating things about mind-body medicine is that so many patients, perhaps the vast majority, focus on "How did I do this to myself?" Guilt substitutes for healing. Nagging doubts block the intention to heal. As this worry turns into an obsession, it gets entangled with lots of other anxieties, chief among them the fear of recurrence. Thus, what started out as help in getting the mind to aid the body turns on its head, and the mind becomes a place of dread, worry and fear.

How do we get out of this vicious circle? What can release the mind's help without incurring its pain?

First, realize that you have put yourself into a double bind by blaming the mind. Imagine your mind as your parent instead. Would it work to say, "I need your love because you're the one who hurt me in the first place?" No, because once you blend love and hurt, blame and healing, the two poles war against each other. What you are feeling, and describing, is inner conflict.

Second, face the conflict. The issue isn't "Did I do this to myself?" The issue is "What can I do about the war inside myself?" Rest assured, no studies indicate that there are "cancer personalities." Despite the hypothetical link between the emotional style of a person and the possibility of being at high risk for disease, such links are very, very far from dooming anyone to cancer. Genetic links are also far from simple. In fact, no one-to-one correlation has been established between anything and breast cancer.

Third, having faced the real problem, consider the positive side of mind-body medicine. It's a vast field, and what it offers is a route to wellness in general. That is a great thing for all of us to bring into our lives. Look at your situation and decide, as realistically as you can, what two things out of the following list would lead to wellness:

  • Less external stress
  • A supportive group of survivors
  • Treatment for anxiety and depression
  • A deeper understanding of the latest mind-body research
  • Spiritual exploration and growth
  • Medical reassurance
  • A helper to cope with everyday demands
  • Better working conditions
  • Meditation to calm your mind
  • Being touched and soothed physically (massage, body work, etc.)
  • Emotional closeness from a partner
  • Prevention and lifestyle changes
Your enemy is isolation and the lonely, helpless feeling that it brings. In this list of things, each one helps to combat isolation and helplessness. It's up to you to examine yourself from the inside in order to assess your immediate needs. Modern medicine is impersonal, I regret to say. The support of traditional society is long in the past for most of us. So it falls to each patient to structure his or her own wellness. I encourage you to begin this journey. The dark time you are experiencing now can be healed.

Love,
Deepak

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Deepak Chopra is the author of more than 50 books on health, success, relationships and spirituality, including his current best-seller, Reinventing the Body, Resurrecting the Soul, and The Ultimate Happiness Prescription, which are available now. You can listen to his show on Saturdays every week on SiriusXM Channels 102 and 155.