I am no stranger to intense cancer experiences. I have been following my own healing path since a brain tumor diagnosis in 1998, a journey that has included three awake brain surgeries, radiation, and chemotherapy plus hundreds of integrative cancer therapies. Along the way, I have discovered my lifetime purpose is to help others affected by cancer. Attendance at The Center for Mind-Body Medicine’s training events with James Gordon, MD specifically emphasized the importance of self-care strategies and supplied valuable tools that have enabled me to assist others with their quest for healing.
I was raised as a completely non-religious person. I never learned to meditate, didn’t think much of the mind-body-spirit stuff because I couldn’t wrap my head around the ‘spirit’ part.
I was diagnosed with breast cancer at the age of 44. I didn’t know a single living soul with cancer, and folks seemed to go out of their way to tell me about their next door neighbor’s cousin “but she died”, or their co-worker’s sister’s friend – “but she died”. So I had NO doubt that I would die – especially because I met with a surgeon on Thursday and was told they had an opening on Monday. I interpreted that to mean I was doomed.
It’s my new favorite soup, Mom. It tastes like someone is taking care of me.
We were sitting around the dinner table like many other families. But we weren’t like any other family because a few months prior, we received the devastating diagnosis that Fabien, our 11-year-old, had Hodgkin’s lymphoma, Stage III.
I wanted to make sure you saw this one because it’s relevant to the 2nd anniversary of the BP Oil Spill and because Joe Nocera’s tone and column were so troubling-and The Times’ response to informed criticism, absent. No Letters to The Editor were published about this column.
What follows is my Letter that didn’t get published, and a link to the original piece titled “The Phony Settlement.”
To the Editor of The New York Times
Re: The Phony Settlement by Joe Nocera March 10, 2012
James S. Gordon
In claiming the moral high ground in his critique of possibly inflated claims resulting from BP’s Deep Water Horizon oil spill, the usually fair-minded Joe Nocera, tramples on the truth.
According to Nocera, only “700 sought compensation” for health reasons from Kennith Feinberg at the Gulf Coast Claims facility. But the health consequences, apparently unclaimed until now, are likely to be far more extensive and far worse.
Working in Plaquemines Parish my colleagues and I have met hundreds of previously healthy people now marked by skin lesions, often wheezing and tremulous as well as anxious and depressed. And authoritative studies on the population and the toxic consequences of both the oil spill and the dispersants that were used—in The New England Journal of Medicine, The Journal of American Medical Association, and the Annals of Internal Medicine—suggest that more dire consequences are to come including liver and heart disease and the kinds of genetic mutations that lead to cancer.
Here as elsewhere it is the already vulnerable population–the poor and unemployed, children, pregnant women, and those previously displaced by Katrina—who will be most affected. These people, whom Mr. Nocera seems to dismiss as “runny-nose[d]” complainers, are the ones about whom we should care—who should be compensated.
James S. Gordon MD, a psychiatrist, is the author of Unstuck: Your Guide to the Seven Stage Journey Out of Depression and the Founder, Director of the Center for Mind-Body Medicine in Washington, DC, and Dean of the College of Mind-Body Medicine with Saybrook University.
Lots of big reports have been coming across our screens lately, and here are several that might interest you:
- Integrative Medicine in America: How Integrative Medicine Is Being Practiced in Clinical Centers Across the United States
Sponsored by The Bravewell Collaborative, the report ”…provides current data on the patient populations and health conditions most commonly treated with integrative strategies.
In a survey of 29 U.S. integrative medicine centers, 75 percent reported success using integrative practices to treat chronic pain and more than half reported positive results for gastrointestinal conditions, depression and anxiety, cancer and chronic stress.
Every man dies– not every man really lives.
– William Ross Wallace
Several thoughts struck me after completing Lee Lipsenthal’s Enjoy Every Sandwich: Living Each Day As If It Were Your Last. One- this is one of those very precious books like Randy Pauch’s The Last Lecture that are sublime in their honesty, vitality, and sheer joie de vivre. And two- I wish I had met Lee. We emailed several times as publication approached. I hoped he would be able to do an author talk for the Center, sharing some of his wisdom and unique personality– but he passed away before that could happen.
I hope you’ve all been enjoying your summers. I’ve been in Israel and Gaza with our team, and more recently have been working on getting our programs ready for the fall (Professional Training Program in Mind-Body Medicine begins in just a little over a month!) as well as doing some writing.
I wanted to share with you a profile of me and of The Center for Mind-Body Medicine’s work that just appeared in the Jerusalem Post Magazine. The JP is one of Israel’s largest and most influential newspapers–in both Hebrew and English–and I am hopeful that the profile will be helpful as we raise both awareness and funding for the trauma and other programs in Israel and Gaza.
Profile from Jerusalem Post Magazine, by Lauren Gelfond Feldinger:
In that connection, we are beginning to organize a joint Israeli-Palestinian CancerGuides training in the summer of 2012. The CG program is much needed in Israel, and is of desperate importance in Gaza and the West Bank where people with cancer, particularly women, are often treated as pariahs.
Over the last year or so, we have organized the first cancer support program ever in Gaza, and now, we have ten groups running concurrently. You may remember that some of these cancer group participants are featured in our short video about Gaza, “Finding Hope in the Face of Another.”
Ask any Food As Medicine graduate what their favorite thing about the program is and for sure their difficulty will be in choosing between the food and the people. It’s a given that the education is superlative– science-based, heart-centered, practical and inspiring. FAM 2011 will make it an even dozen times we’ve presented it, and we have gotten very good at it, indeed. Rebecca Katz is designing the food, so again, prepare to be both nourished and dazzled. The people? Robin Gentry McGee is a perfect example of our amazing attendees.
Right after Food As Medicine in June 2010, we received the following email from a participant:
Thank you and the staff for an incredible experience.
It is still very alive for me. I came home and right away started
weekly food demonstrations at the oncology clinic
where I work. Patients are loving it!
Peace & blessings,
Mary-Beth Charno, RN, BSN, HNB-BC, OCN
Linchitz Medical Wellness,Glen Cove, NY
This kind of email goes in my electronic folder labeled Cloud Nine. Seriously– what would you like to hear if you managed a nutrition training program for healthcare professionals? The paycheck is not why we work late. So I contacted Mary-Beth for details, and she was kind enough to share photos and recipes.
Richard Sloan’s op-ed in the New York Times (“A fighting spirit won’t save your life”, January 25, 2011) is guilty of precisely the faults he attributes to those who believe that attitude can affect health – smug, self-righteous, and short on scientific evidence.
Prof. Sloan is of course correct when he takes to task those who believe that “requests to the universe” ensure good health, or that good people always receive good prognoses. But these are extremes, rhetorical straw men. There have in fact been years of important scientific investigations on the very real benefits of hopefulness and positive expectation.
Here are several examples: a 15 year follow-up of Steven Greer’s landmark study showed that a fighting spirit didn’t, over the long haul, enhance survival for women with advanced breast cancer; on the other hand, the follow-up did demonstrate that feelings of helplessness and hopelessness significantly decreased longevity. Contrary to what Prof. Sloan suggests, the pioneering work of Redford Williams and others has clearly shown connections between hostility and heart disease. And a number of investigations over 20 years have demonstrated that people with lung cancer who are more optimistic actually have better prognoses than those with a similar stage of disease and physical findings who are less sanguine.
Prof. Sloan does a disservice to readers and to the truth when he categorically denies the power of hope in healing.