By Joshua Nicholson
At the time of diagnosis Kathy Cerami, a mother of two from Sonoma County, decided she was going to beat breast cancer any way that she could. She opted for the strongest form of chemotherapy, but also looked into different ways of improving her outlook, from dietary changes (becoming a vegan) to the Japanese healing technique and practice called Reiki.
Her cancer went into remission and without any detectable cancer for five years she was told she was cured.
It was another five years after her being considered cured—10 years from the first diagnosis—that she in fact discovered her cancer had metastasized and moved into her back.
She said that the CT (Computed Tomorgraphy) scan of her back about a year ago, “lit up with tumors like a Christmas tree,” yet by September—through the combination of medicine and spiritual and emotional practice—she saw radical improvement.
She is back in the gym taking “bootcamp” classes, not “old lady classes,” because of her positive outlook on life.
“I am of the belief that a positive outlook has healing properties,” Cerami said. And she is good model that positive thinking does work; her healing has been so impressive that her doctors have begun referring other patients to some of the alternative healing outlets that Cerami used.
Dr. James C. Coyne of the University of Pennsylvania, however, is not convinced.
In the latest issue of Cancer, Dec. 1st, 2007, Coyne wrote an article titled “Emotional Well Being Does Not Predict Survival In Head and Neck Cancer Patients,” in which he argues that emotional well-being has no effect on survival rates, good or bad.
“It is just one study, but a large one, but there is no evidence from good, large studies that emotions affect the outcome of cancer. Lots of [studies] claim they do, but they lack evidence,” Coyne wrote in an e-mail to City on a Hill Press.
Coyne realizes that we are dealing with “strong beliefs rooted in the culture,” but because his study found no difference in survival rates among the patients with a good outlook and the patients with a bad outlook, he maintains that emotional outlook does not play a role in survival.
The 27-item questionnaire, titled FACT G, was used to evaluate patients’ qualities of living. A subscale of only five questions was to determine whether or not a person had a positive outlook on emotional well-being.
This section included statements like, “I feel sad and I am losing hope in my fight against my illness,” to which patients were instructed to either agree or disagree.
UCSC Psychology Professor Bruce Bridgeman believes that as long as the sample of patients is large enough, taking only one survey is sufficient. He also believes that it’s likely patients’ answers will remain the same if they’re given the survey more than once.
But these five questions don’t necessarily offer absolutely accurate results for such a subjective topic.
There may not be a large study with evidence that emotional well-being has healing properties, but Cerami maintains that having a positive outlook does help cancer survival.
“At the very least it gives comfort, at the most it has healing properties,” Cerami, said.
“Everything that I’m doing is helping me,” she continued. “I know for sure the meditation is helping me, even if it is just calming.”