October is Breast Cancer Awareness month. To help spread awareness of the physical, mental, and emotional challenges of the disease and its treatments, and to support those who are living with cancer now, Circle + Bloom’s guided visualization for cancer program is 25% OFF through 10/31.
This is the second post this month about breast cancer, cancer treatment, and the power of guided visualization to help with the uncomfortable physical side effects of medical treatments, the stress and anxiety of a cancer diagnosis and treatment, and the healing process.
Chemotherapy treatment is different from radiation, and so the focus of guided visualization programs for each of these phases of cancer treatment will be most effective when specifically targeted to the unique needs and considerations of each.
During chemotherapy, radiation, and surgery, guided imagery can give you tangible, effective tools to reduce your physical symptoms and support you own healing process. We can also use the latest research in immunotherapy and angiogenesis, as further described below, to supercharge our visualization techniques. Here’s how.
Fears, concerns and stressors can weigh heavily on their mind and body of people who are undergoing chemotherapy – or are expecting to start chemo – including:
- Toxicity of the treatment and how it could damage healthy cells
- How effective the chemo will be in knocking out the cancer cells
- Physical side effects like nausea, exhaustion, and hair loss
- Worry about immune function and potential for infection
- Concern about their ability to cope with the treatment
- Trying to stay positive
- Trust and comfort in doctors and medical environment
- Feeling out of control of their health and body
- Fear of cancer returning
Science has shown that guided visualization can help with all of these concerns.
In a Korean study published in 2005, thirty breast cancer patients were given progressive muscle relaxation training (PMRT) and taught to use guided imagery during their six months of chemotherapy. Another 30 patients were treated with chemotherapy alone. The group practicing PMRT and guided imagery experienced less nausea and vomiting, and they were less anxious, depressed, and irritable than the group receiving chemotherapy alone. Six months after treatment ended, the PMRT and guided imagery group was still experiencing a better quality of life than the group that didn’t receive training.
A randomized, controlled study out of the UK with breast cancer patients (Eremin, Walker et al) revealed big differences in activated T-cells, natural killer cells and lymphokine-activated killer cells, concluding that guided imagery up-regulated anti-cancer host defenses during and after chemotherapy and radiotherapy.
Guided visualization programs developed to help with chemotherapy treatments can also be more precisely targeted to address concerns and goals during pre-treatment, treatment, and post-treatment.
Calm your fears about your upcoming treatment, and help strengthen your own immune system in preparation by picturing your chemotherapy treatment as a river of crystal clear waters cleansing your body and removing toxins.
Listen to a session during your chemo session. See the chemotherapy as an intelligent “arrow” that speeds directly to its cancerous target, while leaving alone the healthy functioning of the rest of your body. Or visualize your cancer cells and how the chemotherapy drug is taking the life out of them.
Focus on your immune system and visualize exactly how your immunity improves. Imagine passing a special, microscopic screen through your body to collect cells or anything else that may not belong.
Sixty-eight patients in a study, conducted at Beth Israel Medical Center in New York, used guided imagery before daily radiation treatments and at home. Researchers measured pulse rate, blood pressure, and respiration rate—all of which decreased after the use of guided imagery—and skin temperature, which increased following guided imagery.
In the same way that guided visualization can help patients during chemotherapy treatments, it can also help support healing and ease fears and anxiety when undergoing radiation treatment.
Listening to guided meditation before radiation treatment can help you shape and guide the impact of the radiation by understanding and picturing exactly where the cancer is located in your body, and what it looks like. You can calm your fears by visualizing exactly what will occur during your treatment, step by step, so you know what to expect and feel more comfortable with the upcoming treatment.
After the radiation treatment, you can visualize the cancerous cells weakening, while healing other parts of your body.
Any kind of surgery is scary and nerve-wracking. Using visualization can help you prepare your mind and body for the surgery and can help you feel more in control of the situation. It has also been shown to have the power to reduce blood loss during surgery, and reduce the need for post-operative morphine.
An image of light as healing energy can help foster the healing that begins almost immediately after surgery, including improving immunity, reducing inflammation, and supporting overall homeostasis.
Picture your immune system as a police force, in charge of ridding your body of foreign invaders (like viruses or bacteria). The police stations are your lymph nodes, and the police offices are white blood cells that fight infections and cancer. When a foreign invader is detected, alerts are sent throughout your immune system using chemical signals.
Cancer cells are able to go undetected because they disguise themselves as healthy cells, tricking your body’s police force.
Immunotherapy drugs work to expose cancer cells for the invaders they are, helping your body to recognize the cancer cells and triggering an immune response.
Just by reading this, you’ve already begun a form of visualization. And just like with chemotherapy and radiation, visualization has the power to aid your body’s natural immune system response and support your healing process as you undergo immunotherapy treatments.
For example, an article in the International Journal of Neuroscience (Trakhtenberg) described how guided imagery elevated immune system functioning, and how cell-specific imagery affects corresponding white blood counts, neutrophils and lymphocytes. Another small but well-designed study with breast cancer patients (Lengacher et al) in that same year (2008) by a group of researchers from the University of South Florida showed that guided imagery produced significant effect sizes, with increased natural killer cell activity and cytotoxicity, and increased activation of Interleukin-2. And a data analysis from the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine (Hudacek) concluded that hypnotic imagery yielded a significantly heightened count of “natural killer” or NK cells.
You can harness the power of your immune system to target and fight cancer. Visualize your immune cells, and picture them consuming the cancer cells.
This incredible area of cancer treatment research focuses on using drugs (as well as other natural supports including visualization, meditation, and diet) to redirect blood flow away from tumors to prevent or slow their growth.
Tumors cannot grow beyond a certain size or spread without a blood supply. To take advantage of this, scientists have developed drugs called angiogenesis inhibitors, which block tumor angiogenesis. There is a brilliant Ted Talk about angiogenesis from William Li that is well worth watching.
Use visualization to shine a spotlight on the network of blood vessels around your cancer cells and picture them withering, losing energy and dissolving.
Don’t forget: In recognition of Breast Cancer Awareness month, Circle + Bloom’s guided visualization for cancer program is 25% OFF through the month of October.
With love & gratitude,