The Power of the Mind-Body Connection
By Sharon Brock
In April of 2018, I was diagnosed with breast cancer. I was treated at UCLA Medical Center and received chemotherapy every three weeks for an entire year.
The way chemotherapy “works” (generally speaking) is that it targets cells that multiply quickly, such as cancer cells. However, there are other types of cells in the body that also multiply quickly, such as the tongue, the skin and hair, and the gut. The side effects in these areas after the first couple of my chemo sessions were terrible. I had sharp pain in my intestines, my tongue felt metallic, and my hair was falling out in chunks.
It was the most challenging time of my life and in order to ease my suffering, I was committed to a daily mindfulness meditation practice.
Since my physical body was experiencing so much pain, I did my best to soothe it by staying positive. On the mornings of my chemo sessions, I gave my body a little “pep” talk. I told all of my cells that they would be having a “visitor” today, one that may make them feel strange and contracted. But I reassured my cells that this visitor was here to help, and rather than resist, they should welcome this medicine and be a good host to this healing nectar. I instructed my cells to escort the chemo to the cancer cells, and then escort it out of the body to detox.
As I sat down in the infusion chair, this “pep” talk helped me to feel “ready” for the experience. As I received the chemo, I continually said, “Thank you, chemo. You are welcome here. My cells will show you where to go. Thank you for saving my life. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.” As I sat in the chair with the IV in my arm, I closed my eyes and visualized my healthy cells escorting the chemo to the cancer cells and the chemo effectively dissolving the cancer cells, while not harming my healthy cells.
The day after each treatment, I spent at least an hour offering my body a compassionate body scan meditation. Starting at the top of my head, I offered compassion to my scalp and my hair follicles. Then I offered compassion and kindness to my tongue, which was inflamed and growing canker sores. I offered gratitude for my heart for beating consistently and steadily through all of this chaos. I then offered appreciation for my lungs, which brought in much needed oxygen on the inhale, as well as cleared out toxins on the exhale.
When I arrived at the liver and kidneys, the detoxing organs of the body, I spent considerable time there, offering compassion and gratitude for their hard work removing the chemo from my body. And, of course, my intestines also received incredible compassion for the pain they were experiencing. I continued offering compassion to my hips, legs, and feet until the body scan was complete.
About a month into my daily practice, something unexpected happened. Even though I was doing these practices to soothe my emotions and improve my mental health, I began to experience improvements in my physical health, as well. Surprisingly, by the fourth chemo session, I no longer had side effects, even though my doctor said that the side effects were cumulative and would get worse each time.
I’m not a doctor, but I believe that my body’s side effects were a result of resistance to the medicine, and since I relaxed resistance at the cellular level with my daily practice, I didn’t have side effects. I also believe that my practice allowed the chemotherapy to be more effective since my cells were creating an open pathway for optimal healing. I see this experience as evidence of the mind-body connection and a victory for my mindfulness practice. With mindfulness, I was able to get my mind on my healing team, which was incredibly empowering!
To learn more about my story and these mindfulness practices, check out my book “The LOVEE Method: 5 Mindfulness Practices for the Journey of Breast Cancer”. Part memoir, part mindfulness teaching, this book serves as a practical and heart-felt guide for anyone going through a challenge in their lives and seeking tools for emotional resilience.
Sharon Brock is a breast cancer survivor and a certified Mindfulness Facilitator trained at the UCLA Mindful Awareness Research Center. She is also a health-and-wellness journalist with a master’s degree from Columbia University. Sharon teaches mindfulness courses online, at corporations and studios, and with private clients as a mindfulness coach.