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Research In Florida Finds Benefits Of Meditation On Cancer Patients


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Photo: Moffitt Cancer Center

People have practiced meditation to relieve stress for years and now researchers are learning it can have real benefits for patients who are suffering from cancer and other illness.

Mindfulness meditation is designed to settle and ground you in the present moment. That’s something that Carole Kinder had a difficult time with after her husband was diagnosed with cancer.  Then one day, the couple was sitting in the waiting room at Moffitt Cancer Center in Tampa and Kinder saw a flyer about a meditation program for cancer patients and their caregivers.

She thought it could be just what she needed after a stress-filled eight months.

“I had a heart attack, my mother died I was told I was going to need surgery and then my husband was diagnosed with cancer,” Kinder said. “And my goal for coming to this meditation was I have to get through this surgery without damaging my heart.”

The six-week group sessions at Moffitt taught her to focus her attention on the moment rather than dwell on the past or worry about the future. And when it came time for her surgery, Kinder says she wasn’t a nervous wreck.

“The day before I went to the mall with a friend, went out to lunch. I was fine, I slept that night,” Kinder said. “The next morning the surgery turned out to be delayed till the afternoon and I actually was OK with that, which I don’t think I would have been in a place like that before I had the meditation.”

Christine Healy, a clinical social worker at Moffitt, started the hospital’s program three years ago with coworker Sharen Lock, a yoga therapist.

Together, they teach several types of meditation. In one, you focus on your breathing and another called a body scan teaches you to relax from the tips of your toes to the top of your head. A guided imagery meditation teaches you to visualize pleasant images to replace negative or stressful thoughts. The idea is to give participants several options and they can pick what works for them.

Patients can now find different classes at the hospital and some of the meditation guides are posted online.

Healy says they wanted to help patients and caretakers process their emotions after a diagnosis and learn they have some control over their bodies. “With a life of cancer, your life is never going to go back to normal so you have to find ways to be OK again. And I think the mindfulness techniques really help people do that.”

There’s some evidence that meditation as “Treatment” can be beneficial.

Cecile Lengacher is a nursing professor at the University of South Florida who studied the effects of mindful meditation and yoga on breast cancer patients. She found that when patients went through a similar six-week program, their anxiety went down significantly, fear of recurrence was dramatically reduced and some even said they experienced symptom relief.

Lengacher says when cancer patients focus on the present moment they stop ruminating on what they did to cause their cancer and worrying about whether it will reoccur.

“What we have is only today, we don’t know if we’re going to have tomorrow,” she said. “So we try to teach them to attend to the moment today to get the most out of it and the most out of life.”

Lengacher hopes that the meditation practice might one day become a regular clinical treatment that doctors will integrate into the overall care of patients.

Lengacher received another grant to continue her research and will be studying the effects of mindful meditation on Chemo brain, or the loss of memory that happens when cancer patients receive chemotherapy.

To learn more about the study or to find out how to participate, contact Lengacher at 941-730-9820.


WUSF is a partner with Health News Florida, a statewide collaborative reporting on health care.

Health reporting on WMFE is supported in part by AdventHealth.

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