May 18, 2010

Power of Positive Language?

In response to my post Power of Realistic vs Power of Positive Thinking, H Lee D (aka Heather) left the comment that she’s always spoken about her cancer in the past tense. She said “I had cancer” even before she was cancer free.  This kind of language isn’t for me and isn’t found in my book Everything Changes.  I’ve never been in remission and pretending to be is medically inaccurate and too far from the emotional reality of my life.  Plus, I’ve never seen scientific evidence that our minds or our language can change the biomachanics of our tumors.

But Heather is one smart cookie, who has left dozens of insightful comments on my blog and sparked incredible conversations. So I wanted to better understand why she speaks in the past tense and asked her to write this guest post:

“I had cancer. This is how I spoke of the tumor in my chest, even before my first chemo treatment – in the past tense. My choice of language wasn’t denial — I was completely aware that after two-and-a-half weeks in the hospital, I had just been diagnosed with lymphoma and needed six months of chemo plus radiation.

Almost a year prior, I attended a three-day work training at the K-8 school where I teach. We learned to create visualizations and affirmations, and how and why they are effective. A piece of the training I used through cancer (and in other parts of my daily life) was putting myself where I wanted to be. Act as if it is so. Fake it til you make it: I had cancer.

My first clean PET scan was two months after my first treatment — earlier than medically anticipated. I believe my use of language, affirmations, visualizations all influenced my clean PET scan, but I certainly don’t give them full credit.

This is the basic premise: Your brain likes things to match. For example, if you believe you are clumsy, your brain helps ensure you trip over nothing, so that you are clumsy. Then your belief and your reality match. If you can convince your brain of something you want but currently aren’t, your brain will do what it needs to do to make everything match. It’s important to choose something you can visualize. For example, I can’t imagine myself running a 4-minute mile, so visualizing it would be futile. But I can imagine myself running a 10-minute mile, so I start there.

I alerted close friends and family that I was planning to speak in the past tense about my cancer hoping that they’d think me slightly less insane. No one said anything to me at the time, but their body language and confessions later revealed that they thought I was nuts.

When I called my mother-in-law to share the good news about my first clean scan, she said, “Well, you were right. I thought you were crazy, but you were right.” The oncology counselor at the hospital told me later that she thought I was in denial but had since come to realize that I just had a different outlook than most.”

How do you speak about your cancer? Have you ever used the past tense and if so when did you start? Do you believe language has the power to change biological processes?

Heather is a 34-year-old teacher, wife, friend, dog-mom, dancer, musician, triathlete, dreamer, personal trainer, not necessarily in that order. Check out her health and fitness blog

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October 20, 2009

How Smart Is Your Favorite Organization?


Bigger isn’t always better.  More isn’t always better.  Louder, snazzier, cuter, more prolific isn’t always better.  But I think smarter IS always better.

I was recently asked how I decide what organizations I donate to.  A few years back the head of the American Cancer Society blew me away.  He said increased access to health insurance could reduce cancer mortality rates just as much as scientific discoveries.  Who cares if we find cures that nobody can afford?  Hundreds of thousands of Americans die because they cannot afford proven cancer treatments. This doesn’t take complex microbiology to fix. All we need are better public policies.

I’m only donating to organizations providing education and action in support of the public option.  Surprisingly, no cancer organization is doing this work in a serious manner.  So I’m donating time and money to orgs supporting real healthcare reform like Campaign For Better Health Care, and Health Care for America Now.  Moral: Don’t just donate, donate smartly.

On Monday’s Stupid Cancer Show, we interviewed Diana Balma, Executive Director of Stand Up to Cancer.  These folks aren’t just dishing out cancer research grants the way most foundations do.  Rather than encouraging competition between scientists working in separate labs, who don’t share critical information, SU2C is creating and funding dream teams of scientists who collaborate.

Throwing $73 million at cancer research doesn’t impress me.  But giving $73 million to cancer research in a way that changes the model for how research is conducted – that’s very impressive.  Moral: Don’t just do research, do research smartly.

Yesterday I learned Planet Cancer (a young adult cancer organization) is merging with the Lance Armstrong Foundation.  Many organizations duplicate services, raise money but don’t prioritize their budgets, promote their name but have no useful programming, or are working in a vacuum.  Why?  People’s egos and desire to do good sometimes gets in the way of what is useful.  Not Planet Cancer.

Combining the clout and resources of the Lance Armstrong Foundation with Planet Cancer’s know-how in serving young adults is a super smart move.  Moral: Don’t just run an organization, run an organization smartly.

Who do you donate to and why? What are some of the smartest projects in the cancer community? Do you agree that smarter is better?

Read the Making A Difference section of Everything Changes: The Insider’s Guide to Cancer in Your 20s and 30s to learn more smarts about making change.

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July 11, 2009

Young Adult Cancer Science Fair Projects


I lived a deprived childhood.  I never was part of a science fair.  Seems like everyone else I know had science fairs… maybe my school was just too cheap.

I got a chance to make up for it last night as an author at a Chicago literary fair.  The challenge was to make science fair-like projects out of our book.  (Sweet PR change of pace from my usual writing articles and planning speeches.)

I took quotes from my book Everything Changes, and wrote them on little paper doors that you could life up and read about the cancer patient who said them.   For example:

“I’d ask my doctor a question, and he’d say, ‘We’ll cross that bridge when we come to it,’ and I’m like, ‘No, f*** you. This is my body, I’ll cross it right now.’”

Amilca Mouton Fuentes, 26, leukemia.  Lives in her parent’s house with her husband, 15 month old son, and her siblibings.  Seven adults and one bathroom.
Loves Krispy Kremes, and is devoted follower of Ama, an Indian spiritual leader.

“I believe that there are times when it is appropriate to receive help, just as there are times when it is appropriate to give help. If you ever refuse to receive, you are unnecessarily putting a barrier between yourself and the love of others. It’s normal for humans to live in communities where there is love and relationship, and receiving is just as important a part of being in that community as giving is.”

Richard Acker, 36, colon cancer.  Dad, husband, environmental lawyer.  Evangelical Christian dedicated to preserving God’s creations.

I had eight quotes in total that helped break stereotypes of cancer patients, and taught a bit about some of our attitudes and lives.  But I still feel like I ultimately failed in that I couldn’t come up with a connection between young adult cancer and an exploding baking soda and vinegar volcano.

If you had unlimited time and money to create an outlandish, over the top, large scale science fair project about your life as a young adult patient, and it were going to be show at a place like…let’s say ASCO, what would you make?

Read more about Amilca and Richard in Everything Changes: The Insider’s Guide To Cancer in Your 20s and 30s.

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