CancerGuide: Mind and Attitude
Gerald W. White, P.E. Granbury, Texas July 29, 1998
Throughout my recent five year battle with renal cell cancer I have sought to reduce it where possible to elements familiar with the methodology of engineering physics. Now that the battle appears to have been won, I must look at those elements that were atypical of most cases. I believe that the central theme of a victorious effort was the efficacy of a combination of prayer, meditation and guided imagery.
My professional career was devoted to work in the combined fields of thermodynamics and fluid mechanics. In this line of work, the investigator is continually faced with problems that sometimes involve dozens of independent variables. This can pose a seemingly insurmountable problem in system analysis. We are indebted to the great physicist Earl Buckingham for his development of the theory of dynamic similarity. This teaches that systems of vastly different scale can be compared dynamically by grouping variables into terms that will themselves be dimensionless. Some familiar such terms are Mach number, which relates craft velocity to that of sound, Reynold's number, which is used in dynamic flow systems both for comparisons as well as to define when the flow regime has moved from viscous to turbulent. Use of these dimensionless numbers enables scientists to evaluate the performance of an experimental airframe design in a wind tunnel before the craft is actually built and similar uses of dynamically similarity are employed in thousands of cases all over the world. Now I believe that an excellent case for a rat or a monkey being dynamically similar to a human can be made. There would appear to be no reason in theory why test results should not be transferable on a reasonably predictable basis.
One of the major tenets of dynamic similarity is that no fundamental and operative variable be present in one model and not in the other. Suddenly it appears quite logical that the ignored variable in all cancer testing is the cognitive element. The rat is simply not confronted with the battery of dire warnings, disclaimers, and consent documents that are written by a battery of blood sucking attorneys and thrust at the poor test subject for his advised consent. He is further cautioned not to raise any "false hopes". In short, the body may be receiving a truly marvelous and effective miracle drug but the mind is being programmed for death. At a recent conference on renal cell cancer, I was struck by the similarity in results from a very wide range of treatment protocols. It seemed that no matter what type of experimental treatments were used, the results always seemed to show a 15 - 19% response rate. Strange indeed; not so much that they all failed of a high percentage cure rate but that the good, bad and ugly always seemed to produce the same percentage response.
Success in truly creative work comes not from answering questions but from asking the right ones. In this case, what if the predominant variable being measured is the ability of the human spirit, as manifested by the mind/body relationship, to ward off a lethal assault of disease, fears, superstitions and an unfriendly and sometimes arrogant medical system? My own personal conclusion is that 15 - 19% of human patients, already sick with worry and fear, are able to muster up enough resolve to beat the system and survive. I am of the view that it doesn't really matter what the protocol is as long as it is being applied in the same self protecting manner by a self serving system.
As the years go by and thousands die, treatments are finally viewed with some degree of optimism. As this occurs, we would expect to see the numbers go up and indeed they do. What if, on the other hand, some truly creative researcher had the nerve to tell the patient/test subject that the medicine he was going to inject was absolutely the cure we had been looking for and he should put aside his fears? Here the proponents of conventional wisdom would rise up in indignation. There would surely be lawsuits, careers destroyed, facilities ruined, and the patient might even die. The latter would be thrown in as an ostentatious concern for the patient even though the odds suggest that the patient is going to die anyway. The horrible truth is that these are all valid concerns that suggest at the enormity of the system barriers that in many cases preclude what might in fact be best for the patient. It would take a genuinely creative person to pursue such a course and this is a good example of how creativity is so very different from its imposter, research.
Granted that the above might be a little extreme and admitting that it might be risky to try to encourage a patient by telling him that he is sure to get well, there must surely be an acceptable middle ground. Sometimes it is only necessary to acknowledge a particular devil to cast him out. The antiangiogenesis drugs are causing quite a stir now. Unfortunately, unless the mind/body relationship is dealt with early on, these will also fail. They have one thing going for them. A hyperactive news media has already started to implant the widespread belief that these are, at last, the magic bullet. If the media campaign can press on with fervor, they may, indeed, be just that.
Would it be so difficult to design such a program? I think not. Lurking somewhere in every medical school is a department of psychiatry. If they prove insensitive, then go to the psychologists or perhaps better, go there first. I believe that, in view of the operational ignorance of the placebo effect, the protocols aren't double blind but the researchers conducting them surely are.
It is easy to be led into the trap of numbers. Unfortunately, in the case of cancer research, the number turns out to be not just one suffering human but spouses, children and loved ones of all sort. At the present rate, there will be over 1,600 Americans die each day. These deaths will not be pretty. With 1440 minutes in a day there will be roughly six people die every five minutes. It took the Viet Nam war all day to kill fifteen Americans but look at the upheaval that caused when the American people had finally had enough. If I thought it would do any good, I would get down on my knees and beg a researcher to please give due consideration to this most friendly of all treatment modalities. There are now a multitude of cases wherein patients have managed a self directed mind/body healing with wonderful results. To my knowledge there has never been a case where it did any harm. Healing is such a wonderful word. It fits nicely with others such as peace, love and well being. Surely that to attain it is worthy of the severest sacrifice, perhaps even setting aside a well nourished ego. Any one so doing will have no further need of ego, as he or she will stand so far above the crowd that it would no longer be possible to notice it. Better yet would be a youngster saying, "Thank you, brave researcher, for giving my mommy back to me."
This CancerGuide Page By Gerald White. © Gerald White
Page Created: 1998, Last Updated: August 24, 1998