Sunday, January 13, 2013

Is there scientific proof that we can heal ourselves? Lissa Rankin

So, as it tends to happen, life got in the way this past week and I decided to change the topic for this post. I will leave Shawn Achor and his positive ideas for the next one.

Lissa Rankin is a doctor (gynecologist) who is now researching the topic of spontaneous remissions. Next May her book Mind Over Medicine: Scientific Proof You Can Heal Yourself will be published and I, personally, cannot wait. In this TEDx Talk she gives us a preview of what that book will be. She talks about the placebo effect, which we are all familiar with. How is it possible that a percentage of people do get better with just a placebo pill? But she also talks about the "nocebo" effect, which is getting worse when you expect something will hurt you in some way. In this article from the NYT (Beware the Nocebo Effect) we see how when patients expect side effects, sometimes they do get them, even in the cases in which they are not taking the actual pill, but the placebo. But this nocebo effect can also happen to patients taking the real medications, particularly if the doctor points those side effects to you. In the talk, Lissa Rankin does end up by mentioning that patients do believe their doctors, so doctors have to be very mindful of how they present the news to them.

I think it is not only what doctors tell us, but the stories we tell ourselves, which are important to our recovery (or our health in general, or even our happiness). There is one experiment in which a teacher (Jane Elliot) in order to teach how discrimination felt, separated her class into blue-eyed kids (who were treated as superior) and brown-eyed kids (or inferior) (She later also reversed them). Many (awful) things happened during the event, but one of them was that the "superior" kids performed much better than expected for their age in academic task, while the "inferior" group did the opposite. If we tell ourselves (or society tells us) that we are dumb, we will be dumb and vice versa.

And this week I got another reminder of the importance of what we tell ourselves. In the online group to which I belong (I've talked about them before) which is made up of incredible brave and wonderful women, we lost two members recently. And this what follows is just my opinion, but, with one them, I do feel that maybe her life was cut a bit short because of what she said to herself. She had the BRCA gene, which predisposes you to have breast cancer. And, in one conversation we had many months before she passed, she mentioned how other women in her family who had died from the disease had never lived more than 63 years. I never thought anything about this comment, until her death. I actually thought she was already older than that, but then I read that she had just turned 63.
The other story I think is the opposite effect. This young, beautiful woman who just left us last week, had a very aggressive form of cancer, but she was really dedicated to her young boys. This summer she decided to do a cross country trip with them but had to cut it short as she was rushed to the hospital a couple of times. She commented to the group how one of the doctors that saw her (who didn't know her) was shocked she was traveling at all. This doctor was brutal and almost mean and told her basically you should just go home to die. But she didn't listen. As she kept getting worse, she mentioned to us around November (maybe even October), that she wanted to spend one more Christmas with her family and also see The Hobbit with them (she was a Lord of the Rings follower). She had her Christmas and went to the movie theater, in a lot of pain, December 28th. She died 10 days later. She died when she said she was going to die.

And, as I'm crying now remembering these two friends that are now angels, let me leave you with this very hopeful talk.

Just remember that what you say to yourself really makes a difference.

Do you have any other examples?


  1. Hi Pilar,
    I share your sorrow at the loss of our dear friends. I think the spirit is a major force in our longevity. A strong spirit will help through most situations. Interestingly, just before I had some progression 7 months ago I went to a spiritual healer and I remember saying to him at the time that I thought my spirit needed healing, I felt my spirit was not well. I found out a couple of weeks later that I now had liver involvement. I was in a trial at the time and didn't feel good about the whole process, I had gone from my very competent Onc to a General Hospital which was like a factory. I am sure it had effect!!!
    I sometimes do wonder though that after reading the likes of Anita Moorjani that perhaps we should be more at peace with "the Other side".
    The Buddhist say that as energy can't be destroyed that we don't actually "die" but simply change form...I like to hold on to that =)
    I really enjoy your writing. Namaste.

  2. Oops, this is one of those times when I wrote a comment, hit publish, and it disappeared. (I think maybe this happens when I forget to fill in the "Comment as" box.

    Hah, ironic (given my comment content - about commitment to writing). Nevermind! xo