It happens. When you’re diagnosed with breast cancer, emotions jump into the driver’s seat of your mind and speed down the highway of possible outcomes, sometimes making a few unplanned pit stops at what you wish you had done differently. The constant mind-chatter elevates your anxiety.
Emotions are powerful. For those healing cancer, feelings can flare upon diagnosis but they may actually be building on old emotions that have already taken root. In fact, 85 percent of all diseases have an emotional element to them, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). There are numerous studies that suggest that repressed negative feelings have a role in the cancer equation: Increased stress hormones caused by emotional triggers suppress the immune system and, as we know, a strong immune system is crucial in healing breast cancer.
When you kick cancer, do you kick the emotions, too?
Here’s something that most breast cancer conquerors don’t talk a lot about: The feelings you harbored before you beat breast cancer don’t just disappear once you’ve healed physically. There’s an emotional residue of sorts that remains and, like your body, you need to heal your mind and continue to manage emotions for the rest of your life. Essential #4 – Heal Your Emotional Wounds, is a huge step that is often overlooked during the healing process. But to truly heal your body, transformation of the WHOLE body, including your heart and mind is a must.
One beautiful and effective way to do that is through meditation. When I was on my healing journey, I found it extremely beneficial to block out time every day to meditate. Calming your mind, connecting with your inner wisdom and visualizing happy outcomes are extremely powerful outcomes of the practice. And now we know that it causes positive cellular changes, too.
OM to telomeres
A recent study published in the journal Cancer showed evidence of a mind-body connection as a result of meditation. They found that telomeres were longer among a group of breast cancer survivors who had a mindfulness practice or participated in a support group, compared to survivors who didn’t.
Telomeres are pieces of DNA at the end of every cell’s chromosomes that protect the integrity of its genetic information. As cells divide, telomeres shed some of their length and these shortened telomeres are often related to age and diseases, such as cancer. There’s more: The researchers noted that telomere length is also associated with breast cancer outcomes. Longer telomeres are a good sign.
How did those in the study lengthen their telomeres? The Mindfulness-Based Cancer Recovery group attended eight 90-minute weekly sessions and were asked to practice 45 minutes of meditation and yoga at home each day. Their goal was to cultivate non-judgmental awareness of the present moment. All participants (meditation, support group and a control group) had their blood analyzed for comparison. And even though both the meditation and support groups were found to have longer telomeres, mindfulness training has been reported to have more psychological benefits.
Your mind impacts your wellbeing
I love that the ancient wisdom of Buddhists and yogis, known meditators for centuries, is meeting science and hopefully inspiring you to add meditation to your day. I understand that it can be challenging to carve out that me-time, but as you make yourself a top priority, it becomes a part of your routine.
Where to start? I believe that there are many ways that you can go about meditating. Consider what resonates with you when you consider the best way to suspend the normal stream of thoughts occupying your mind. It may be:
- Running (I am an avid runner and have used running as meditation for over 40 years)
- A walk
- A spiritual connection with God (Jehovah), your Creator or Universal Energy, whatever it is for you
- A meditation program, app or CD
Once you’ve identified the channel, commit to nurturing the mind-body connection through a daily practice for no less than 15 minutes. The benefits compound so keep going – and revel in the calm of your spirit knowing you are lengthening your telomeres and adding years to your life.