Establish Your Support Network

Reach Out and Get Support

Get support—this is critical to your recovery from cancer. A sense of isolation, of being alone in the cancer process, is the quickest way to deplete your immune system. "There is overwhelming evidence that people who have few social contacts are more likely to get sick and less likely to recover from an illness," says Erik Peper, Ph.D., Associate Director of the Institute of Holistic Healing Studies at San Francisco State University. People with the fewest social ties are two to three times more likely to die of all causes than those with the most social connectedness.

These lifestyle factors seem to be especially important when the diagnosis is cancer. David Spiegel, M.D., a psychiatrist at Stanford University, demonstrated that women with breast cancer who participated in a weekly support group lived twice as long as those who did not. These women were given the opportunity to express their feelings about their condition, their doctors, and anything else they were experiencing. It seems that this freedom to give vent to emotions gave support to the immune system. In a 30-year study, medical students characterized as "loners," who suppressed their emotions beneath a bland exterior, were 16 times more likely to develop cancer than those who expressed their emotions and, at times, took active measures to relieve anger or frustration.

To help cope with the effects of long-term stress, establish an effective support network for yourself and your family. Alternative medicine physicians believe in the therapeutic value of support networks, whether they take the form of family and friends, support groups, or other social and religious affiliations. It has even been shown that a support groups can lessen your need for pain medications and other drugs for anxiety or depression. Support programs can improve your sense of being in control of the disease process and help you stick with your therapeutic regimen.

It is also necessary for you to avoid those people who have a negative impact on you. Stay away from people who see you as a goner, as though you're not here anymore—the 'pity party'. Surround yourself with positive, open people to facilitate your healing. Support groups provide a safe place where you can acknowledge what you're going through in the presence of people who truly understand your experience. Support groups are also an excellent source of information on treatment options and other practical know-how for getting through the cancer process.

Proper attention to the mind/body realm is often overlooked in conventional cancer treatment programs, says Keith I. Block, M.D., of Evanston, Illinois. He tries to guide his cancer patients toward recovering a sense of meaning and fulfillment—a reason to go on living. Cultivating and sustaining this attitude is key to recovery.A fundamental premise of Dr. Block's approach is that giving patients a sense of personal power and responsibility regarding their care is as important as prescribing the right medications. When they begin to enhance their own emotional and physical vitality, this sense of empowerment begins to grow quickly.

Dr. Block's insight in this area derives from his personal experience as a patient. His introduction to alternative medicine began at the other end of the stethoscope when a personal health crisis led him to explore dietary and botanical therapies. In the course of working through his own experience, Dr. Block became acutely sensitized to the emotional needs of patients. "I try to help people discover the chords in their being that connect them to a desire to live more fully," Dr. Block says. "If I can help them identify with that zest for life and tap into their own inner resources, then deeper healing of their inner being can occur."

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