Can Talking to Your Cancer Improve Outcomes?


In cancer, communication is critical.

I’m not the sort of guy who typically talks to himself — not in public anyway.

But I believe that there is power in positive affirmation, where our “inner parent” talks to our “inner child” in a mostly optimistic manner. While playing the game of Pickle Ball (a miniature version of tennis) with my neighbors, I will sometimes hear my opponents chide themselves over a poorly executed shot. “You dummy,” one of them often utters out loud. “That was terrible!”

I’ve often wondered, just who it is that’s doing the talking, and who exactly are they talking to? And even more importantly, I wonder what effect that sort of negative conversation has on us.

I remember the moment my doctor informed me that I had male breast cancer. But I don’t remember the words. It was all very slow-motion and surreal, and once the cancer word had been spoken, like the crash of the cymbal in a symphonic orchestra, my ears were unable to make out the rest of the conversation over the clamor and reverberation that had jolted my senses.

When it comes to cancer, communication is possibly the most important element in our fight to survive our disease. After all, we may choose chemotherapy or any one of the numerous approaches for eradicating cancer from our bodies, but if we don’t understand the basic principals involved, how can we even imagine a cure? Our health care professionals communicate the options to us, the various methods of combatting our disease and those procedures we choose are then communicated to our cells. But is that enough? What about that direct dialogue we share with our cancer—those thoughts and beliefs that all of us have, and that most certainly have some effect on how we feel?

One thing is clear: words have impact in our lives. But, so do thoughts.

Scientists are finding more and more proof of the remarkable way our emotions can affect our immune system.

The powerful link between emotional outlook and physical health is no secret. Martin Seligman, Ph.D., is one of the preeminent experts in the field of positive psychology. He recently had this to say on the subject.

"I didn't believe in it when I started out 40 years ago, but the data has grown year after year, and it's become a scientific certainty. Good feelings, scientists now know, have healing effects on the body, and researchers studying everything from the flu to HIV continue to find eye-opening evidence that a person's mindset can influence his or her immunity and the rate at which they heal from injuries and illness.”

If we think of our inner dialogue as a channel between the mental and physical partitions of our health and healing, the idea of sending some good news toward our ailing body parts might not seem so far-fetched.

So, the act of telling our bodies to “get well” or demanding that our cancer cells “take a hike” may be a conversation worth having.

With spiritual practices like yoga and meditation becoming more popular, the notion of having a mantra is often seen as beneficial.

The word mantra can be broken down into two parts: “man,” which means mind, and “tra,” which means transport or vehicle. In other words, a mantra is an instrument of the mind—a powerful sound or vibration that you might use to enter a deep state of meditation.

A mantra, like your internal dialogue, is an intention which is based in thought that you repeat over and over again.

It may be worth a try, especially if negative thoughts about your pain or a fear of cancer recurring are difficult to drop. I know that for me, any positive action I can take with regard to my breast cancer is well worth the effort.

Communicating with my cancer is one more way of acknowledging and accepting that it exists, and in doing that I make myself available to believing that a cure is possible—or, if I dare think it, probable.

In the meantime, the conversation continues.

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