By Carol A. Lampman
Over the years I have worked with adult cancer patients in Israel. Omri Citron, an enthusiastic supporter of our work, and well respected psychologist and leader of two Cancer Support groups, has organized several workshops for cancer patients and their families. I have been invited to speak to several of his group meetings and he sends his clients and group members to workshops, individual sessions and the trainings. We even did a day for the Cancer Support group leaders allowing them to learn a few techniques to integrate into their group meetings and have a personal experience of the breath at the same time.
My view of working with cancer patients is that there is everything to gain and nothing to lose. I do not subscribe to the idea that it is hazardous for cancer patients to do Breathwork. One of the suspected causes of cancer is chronic stress and Breathwork is a great stress management tool. A diagnosis of cancer in itself is an emotional experience and treatments can be physically and spiritually challenging. We are magnificent beings with body, mind and spirit interwoven and blended into each other. In order to attain healing, the whole being needs to be considered.
Our breath supplies us with oxygen to fuel our body and is essential for optimal healing. It is important to keep the life force energy moving and stay attuned to our needs, moment to moment. Our breath can help us do that and more; it can connect us to our spirit. There are those who say they have learned so much from their disease… about themselves, their relationships with others and, most importantly, their deepest beliefs about who they are.
In my first career, I was a specially trained medical tech working in a clinic where one of our doctors was the director of pediatric oncology at UC San Francisco. In this clinic, we saw many of his young patients for treatments, routine follow ups and provided counseling for the families. I watched the most courageous young people live with a disease that challenged their very survival. They were so in touch with themselves; they often knew the state of their well being before the tests came back … before the doctor gave his report. I watched with amazement as some of them gently prepared their parents to be without them.
They taught me a lot… about courage, honesty, and about being in the present moment. Parents would try to minimize the situation out of the desire to protect their child…but these children knew exactly what was going on. It was this awareness that brought UC San Francisco’s head of Psychiatry, Gerald Jamplowsky, to create an organization, The Center for Attitudinal Healing. Some of the children from this pilot program came from our clinic. The focus of this program was not on their prognosis or the possibility of death, but on life. Living, loving and being in the present moment is all any of us have anyway. This was the focus of this marvelous program…working with the power of the mind. Several years after I left California, I saw a television program featuring the work of this organization. I watched with great joy as I saw the happy and healthy faces of several children from our clinic speak about their philosophy of life.
The tools utilized in Breath Therapy can help the patient deal with the thoughts and beliefs they hold about the disease and the possibility of recovery. There are a full range of emotions that cannot be ignored… the fear and panic of dealing with a potentially life threatening illness. The feelings of anger and sadness will only intensify or result in depression unless given an appropriate outlet. From the physical standpoint, chemotherapy and radiation is another attack on the body when it is already compromised.
As to the way to work with a cancer patient, I would first consider their current physical condition. Someone with a brain tumor should not do fast and full breathing. It might trigger a seizure. Someone who has had recent surgery should go slow and easy and would benefit from the practice of circular breathing to clear out anesthesia from the system. If any part of the breathing apparatus (lungs, throat, mouth, nose, etc) has been compromised by surgery or radiation, then accommodate for this to ensure the comfort of the client. Be sure to encourage the breather to let their body move in any way it wants as this can allow an opportunity for the body to unwind. Most important is to create a space of love and acceptance so that the breather will feel safe enough to express their feelings and concerns …with you they can let down and be real. Whatever the patient’s prognosis, there is a need to make peace with life. In some cases there is a need to prepare for death.
Remember that whatever you need to work on will walk in the door and you may find yourself affected by what is coming up for the client. The ability to connect with spirit during Breathwork can open the doors to a deeper level of understanding and is a gift to both facilitator and client. There can be powerful insights and healing around the separation from God… and the realization that we are spiritual beings having a physical experience. Great comfort for the patient and their family can come from the realization that there are no endings, simply transitions. The love that is shared at these times can heal a lifetime.