Stress spreads cancer

There’s some great stuff on Catalyst and the episode on stress and cancer is no exception. An interview with the Australian researchers who’ve worked out at least one of the ways in which stress helps cancer to spread.

And there were a few things in particular that grabbed my attention.

The first…

The beautiful oncologist who apologised to the gentleman she was treating that her hands were cold.

Do you see the irony here in just the first 5 minutes?

The doctor herself was experiencing a stress response.

Cold hands are not really about poor circulation. That’s just what most people believe. In reality, cold hands indicate that our bodies are under stress. Because that’s what happens when we’re under stress. The nervous system reacts to the stressors in our environment and moves the blood from the extremities in preparation for flight or fight, leaving them sometimes icy cold even on warm days… or in this case an almost certainly overwarm hospital.

I bet she didn’t even realise.

One of my doctor’s was the same and she didn’t have a clue. She always had cold hands. But I recognised the signs. It’s the one I notice when my body is under stress and I make sure to do something to switch the stress off and as I do, voila, I warm my hands.

And the second…

That surgery itself is a cause of the stress response. And that’s no surprise really when we think about the impact of surgery on our bodies.

But here’s the thing that suddenly occurred to my husband… we’ve heard it said that there’s a possibility that sometimes the surgery can actually spread the tumour. Would that be in part because it stimulates a stress response?

As my friend Rel just said, what’s the quickest way to move something around the body. Boost the metabolism. And that’s what stress does.

But how different would it be if we prepared for surgery psychologically and physically where possible so the stress is reduced. Or asked our surgeons to speak words of healing while we’re unconscious on the table. How much more could that reduce our stress? Many people swear by this. I know I do. I always ask my doctors to say only healing things, because even when we’re under anaesthetic we’re still aware.

Which brings me to the the third thing I noticed on the programme…

That in the medical arena of cancer treatment, the answer to the stress problem is of course another drug. A beta-blocker this time. And maybe that’s okay for the short term. But what about helping people learn better ways of managing stress. Meditation, mindfulness, breathing, exercise, emotional healing both conscious and subconscious, relaxation, yoga, qi gong, biofeedback, learning to say no (without guilt), problem solving skills, more time in nature, more time with the ones we love, meaning and purpose… the list goes on.

Rather than add another stress (drug) to the cocktail already on offer, what if we helped people find the resources within themselves so that they could respond differently to stress. After all, it’s not that hard and doesn’t come with the side-effects. In fact, it comes with many bonuses.

That the research is there to support what we intuitively know to be true is a wonderful thing. But is the answer simply another drug? Or is an integrated system that includes both medical and complementary therapies a better approach?

Bottom line is if stress spreads cancer, we need to do whatever we can to reduce our stress…

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