Body, mind, and spirit are a unified entity, and by helping cancer patients make positive changes to the mind and the spirit, nurse navigators can positively influence the body. Strengthening the body through strengthening the mind and spirit can improve outcome in a patient with cancer.
Nancy Gordon, PhD, offered strategies that nurse navigators can use in the care of cancer patients to enable this sort of nonmedical care to improve patient experiences and outcomes in oncology. Dr Gordon is a psychologist in New York City and a psychoneuroimmunologist, personal and corporate coach, and wellness consultant. She spoke at the recent East Coast Regional Meeting of the Academy of Oncology Nurse & Patient Navigators.
She emphasized that positive thinking and positive living can strengthen the body and help the immune system wage war against cancer cells. By helping patients feel positive about key aspects of their lives such as nutrition, exercise, spirituality, friends, family, and self, nurse navigators can hope to see improved survival in these patients.
“Body, mind, and spirit are one thing,” Dr Gordon said. “Loving yourself. Self-care. That is huge,” she said. “Connection to other people. Doing what you love. Finding purpose and meaning. These things are self-care. Forgiving yourself and others...is just as important as diet, exercise, and rest.”
Encouraging patients to engage deeply in the most meaningful aspects of life—family relationship, friendship, religion and spirituality, social engagement, positive nutrition, and exercise—will strengthen the body. When patients feel good about life, and about their chances for survival and the success of treatment, the chances of survival increase.
Nurse navigators can teach patients ways to remain positive and to believe that they will survive. It can be as simple as speaking positively to oneself. “When you’re saying, ‘Oh, lord, I don’t want to be sick,’ or you’re saying, ‘Oh, I don’t want to fail,’ what do you think the focus of those 2 sentences is? Sick and fail. The subconscious is driving you to be sick or fail,” Dr Gordon explained. Instead say, “I want to be healthy. I want to succeed,” Dr Gordon said. “It’s like a mother with her children saying, ‘Hurry, hurry, hurry, hurry, so we’re not late.’ Focus is late. Instead say ‘Hurry, hurry, hurry, so we’re on time.’ Just a slight variation, but huge when it comes to where it drives you.”
Teach Patients to Stay the Course to Survival
She likened positive thinking and positive living—self-care, she called it—to the power of the placebo effect. She offered specific approaches that nurse navigators can take to guide patients to self-care:
- Become aware of what you think, feel, and believe
- Learn to use your thoughts, feelings, and beliefs as tools to create health and balance
- Remember that the body mirrors the mind
- Make your thoughts, feelings, and beliefs work for you
- Use feelings of love and gratitude to create health and balance
- Look for the good in yourself, others, and each situation
The Mechanisms of Self-Care
Essentially, teaching self-care is a way that a nurse navigator can engage the patient’s mind, feelings, and beliefs to guide the body to health. “It’s enormous what our thoughts can do,” Dr Gordon emphasized, “both for ourselves and other people. Enormous.”
“Limited beliefs hold us back and turn genes on and off,” she explained. Belief, diet, nutrition, and exercise physically alter the body, she said. Believing in health, well-being, joy, love, abundance, and relationships alters the genes that mobilize to fight cancer. Patients who believe that they will survive change the ways that their bodies operate, and, much like immune therapy, harness the immune system to fight cancer.
Specifically, self-care must include:
- Living life with joy and gratitude
- Maintaining a positive outlook on life
- Loving yourself
- Strengthening connections to other people
- Doing what you love
- Having purpose and meaning in life
- Forgiving yourself and others
Self-care is like the placebo effect, she argued, which has been shown in some situations, such as knee pain, to be at least as effective as surgical treatment. In thousands of placebo-controlled studies of medications, patients in the placebo groups experienced outcomes that were as positive or more positive than the patients in the treatment groups.
“Use these thoughts, use your feelings, use your beliefs as tools to create health and wellness,” she said. “The body mirrors the mind. So focus, visualize what you want to see happen. Use love and gratitude, be in your heart. Send love and gratitude to you and the people around you. That’s the way you create health and balance.”