Mindfulness and cancer

I have never understood why every cancer center in the country doesn't have a program on mindfulness meditation. Let's look at the science here. Mindfulness meditation reduces stress, which Barbara Anderson's research says reduces recurrence. Studies show it lowers blood pressure and, while a little stress is good for us, a lot of ongoing stress can release chemicals in our body that are very bad for us. And, let's face it, when you hear the words, "you have cancer," your stress goes up. A lot. And for a long time.The goal of mindful meditation is to get us to that place where we are present – in the here and now – not worrying about something that has yet to happen or something that happened yesterday that we wish had been done differently. Again, for cancer survivors we know from studies that our worst fear is that the cancer will come back, and we spend a lot of time thinking about it – and what comes next. Before I heard Jon Kabat-Zinn, PhD, talk about mindfulness, I always thought of myself as someone who was fairly present. Having had cancer when my daughter was a year old, I have often said that one of cancer's gifts has been enjoying watching her grow up. I was present as she grew, taking those small moments as gifts that I may not have had – and which many of my friends didn't get. So it was a shock to me when I heard Kabat-Zinn speak a few years ago as part of the Lynn Lectures here in Dallas. These lectures honor the life and spirit of Lynn Tucker Grogan, who promoted the importance of the interrelation between body and mind and healing while going through breast cancer. A good friend of hers, Lynn Kutler, created the lecture series to keep the leaders in the field coming to Dallas. It is jointly sponsored by Susan G. Komen for the Cure and local Komen affiliates. As I listened to Kabat-Zinn speak about being present, I sat smugly in the packed auditorium, thinking he wasn't talking to me because I meditated (well sort of) and was definitely present. Then he showed the audience a Selective Attention Test, a video clip of two groups of people bouncing a basketball. One group wore white t-shirts and the other wore black. Our task was to count the number of times the group wearing white bounced the ball. Just so I don't ruin it for you. Go ahead and do it yourself right now and come back. Well, it made me a believer that I had a long way to go to be really present. Amazing. The Lynn Lecture this year is at Texas Christian University in Fort Worth on October 18 at 7 p.m. at TCUs Ed Landreth Auditorium and features another well-known mindfulness expert, Dr. Daniel J. Siegel, professor of psychiatry at the UCLA school of medicine where he is on the faculty of the Center for Culture, Brain and Development and Co-director of the Mindful Awareness Research Center. His topic is The Healing Power of the Mind. In case you think I am one of those who says you can cure yourself by being positive, I think that is hooey. When well-meaning friends would encourage me to stay positive during my treatment, I would say, "I am positive. I am positive I am scared to death."But I do believe we have only begun to understand the power of the brain. And I have been miffed why we haven't heard much more about meditation and its positive impact on cancer patients and survivors. Probably because there is no pill attached so no one will make money by promoting it. Tickets to hear Siegel are $15 for the public and students are free. To get tickets visit the website.