#3 You Are Not Your Cancer

Julie/ July 8, 2024/ Paul Brenner, MD, PhD

(Original Post from Dr. Brenner’s personal Blog, April 11, 2013)

“The mind is both a healer and a slayer.”
Kenneth R. Pelletier M.D., PhD.

I have been a Physician for over fifty years. Presently, I am a Psychosocial
Oncologist at the UCSD Health Systems San Diego Cancer Center, where
I sit with my “patient-teachers” who have taught me about the nobility of
what it means to be human. I have learned from patients about the healing
power of love. They have taught me to accept life with all its beauty and
with all its thorns. They have instilled in me that fear is the enemy of love.
And perhaps most importantly, love is the absence of fear.

We can never allow cancer to dominate or define who we are. Fear is a
product of our mind. The mind informs the brain and the brain responds to
fear’s threat. In turn, the brain produces chemicals that prepare the body to
react to each given stress. This is called the “fight or fight” response. This
intermittent response to an immediate fear is life saving, but if stress and
fear become chronic, it can diminish the expression of the immune system.

The field of Epigenetics potentially offers individuals medical and non-
medical therapies for the treatment of illness. Epigenetics is the study of
those environmental forces that affect the expression of genes. This new
field can also empower individuals to become more actively involved in
their own healthcare by learning skills to control the mind’s emotional
patterns. The mind’s gift is creation; it’s curse, self-destruction.

You are NOT responsible for creating your illness but are responsible for
responding to it. I do believe that individuals with chronic illness can co-
create with their physicians and their various therapeutic modalities by
resolving, as best they can, the stresses and fears within their lives.

At the Cancer Center, I advise patients to observe their thoughts and control
those that are negative, fearful or anxiety provoking. These thoughts are
most often, “When is my next blood marker?” “When is my next PET or
MRI?” “ “Am I going to make the wedding or see my grandchild?” etc.
The mind tends to be filled with the future, obscuring the present moment.
Therefore, in learning skills to observe and change our thoughts, our beliefs
and familial psychological patterns, we have the potential to alter our immune system and perhaps, even our inherited biology.

I have been living with cancer for fifteen years and observed how many of
my thoughts were either unhealthy or focused on the future or past. One
day, I realized my mind could not hold two thoughts simultaneously. I
found that it helped me to devise skills to control thoughts.

Now, I advise patients to observe their mind. When a negative or redundant
thought is perceived and continues to fill their consciousness, I tell them
to simply repeat to themselves a single word. I personally use the word
“Delete” over and over again for about ten seconds. This simple process can
cancel negative thoughts for a prolonged period of time. Or, I tell patients to
just clap their hands as a distraction. And finally, the one I most recently use for myself, ”I am love. That can’t be my thought.” I found that if I use this healing phrase my thought patterns are cleansed and I’m filled with calm.

As an Obstetrician, I believed that the newborn is not only a miracle, but
also love made visible. This truth about all of us tends to be lost over time.
We must reclaim that knowing, this wholeness. Love has no fear. Love
holds peace. Love is our true nature. Love is our essence. We cannot allow
anything to diminish who we are, not cancer, nor life’s experiences.