Meditation and Cancer

While undergoing cancer treatments, there are many activities you can do to help improve your health and general well-being. A lot of scientific evidence of late suggests that meditation can actually help you heal faster. While we at Wigs at Home are not doctors and what we write shouldn’t be taken as medical advice, we’re all for anything that can help or heal our clients.

A recent study in Canada found evidence that support groups encouraging meditation and yoga can alter the cellular activity of cancer survivors. In a three-month study, 88 breast cancer survivors who had finished treated over three months prior were monitored. They were then separated into three groups. The first group attended eight weekly, ninety minutes group sessions that provided instruction on mindfulness meditation and gentle yoga. They were also asked to practice these at home for forty-five minutes daily. The second group met for ninety minutes a week and were encouraged to discuss their concerns and feelings. The third group simply attended one six-hour stress management seminar. Researchers found that the telomeres (the protein caps at the end of our chromosomes that determine how quickly a cell ages) stayed the same length for cancer survivors who meditated or took part in support groups like groups one and two, while the third group’s telomere’s had shortened. Early evidence might suggest that the length of telomeres could be associated with the likelihood of surviving several diseases. Longer telomeres are thought to help protect people from disease. Though the long-term benefits or what causes this isn’t exactly known, this is a big step towards understanding our mind-body connection.

Biology aside, meditation can certainly help patients’ psychological health and decrease stress. A 2011 study revealed that participants found meditation made them feel calmer, more energetic, enhanced their sleep quality, helped their physical pain and increased their well-being. “The very word ‘cancer’ can elicit difficult thoughts and painful emotions,” says Micki Fine M.Ed, L.P.C, a psychotherapist and certified mindfulness teacher. “If you’re like many people with a cancer diagnosis, you might experience thoughts about a future with cancer: thoughts of pain, loss, and even shortened life. These thoughts can be very stressful and contribute to physical and emotional suffering. The informal practice of mindfulness can help you to take a breath, come into the moment, and wake up to thoughts and feelings. This interrupts the reactive pattern and adds a pause between the stimulus (a thought, emotion or sensation) and your reaction to it (believing it, feeling anxious or self-critical), thereby giving you greater freedom to make skillful choices about how to respond.”

If you’re interested in practicing meditation, there are several ways to start. A simple internet search will reveal many meditation centers around the U.S. If you would prefer to try meditation at home, Calm and Headspace are two great apps you can download. How to Meditate by Pema Chödrön is an excellent intro to meditation. The Sloan Kettering Cancer Center also has a few guided meditations on its website.