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Excerpted from Cancer as a Turning Point by Lawrence LeShan. Copyright 1994 by Lawrence LeShan. Excerpted by permission of Plume, a division of Penguin Putnam, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.  HTML and web pages copyright by SpiritSite.com.

"By her actions, she was telling her body that it was always someone else's turn and never hers. Everyone else would be taken care of except her."

Lawrence LeShan, Cancer as a Turning Point, Part 2

At the age of forty-eight, she noticed a lump in her breast. She did nothing about this for over a year. By the time she had it examined by a professional colleague, it had grown several times larger. The diagnosis was adenocarcinoma of the breast. In her and her colleague's opinion, the metastases were too widespread for surgery to be an option. A course of chemotherapy was decided on, but everyone agreed that the prognosis was very poor.

I was speaking at her hospital in London during this period, and afterward she asked me for a professional appointment. We talked for an hour about her history and about her hopes and fears for the future. She saw no possibility of work that she would enjoy, of living where she would like to, or of a life that would make her glad and excited to get out of bed in the morning. Her husband and her children were very happy with their lives and she was successful enough to enable them to continue it. Rather brutally, because I felt I had to shock her into taking some action on her own behalf, I asked her how she planned to continue supporting them after she was in the cemetery, as her cancer prognosis was so poor. She looked completely defeated. After a long pause she said: "I know I can't do it anymore. I had hoped that you would know a road for me." Her sadness and despair moved me deeply, and for a few minutes we both just sat there.

I then said that I could see no reason for her body to work hard to save her life, no reason for it to mobilize her immune system and bring its resources to the aid of the chemotherapy. By her actions, she was telling her body that it was always someone else's turn and never hers. Everyone else would be taken care of except her. Clearly she was telling herself that she was not worth fighting for. She listened, thought a bit, and said, "It's sort of as if I keep telling myself that for me it's always jam yesterday and jam tomorrow, but never jam today." We agreed about this message and sat in sad and companionable silence for a while.

It was clearly an emergency situation. She was in very bad shape both physically and emotionally and clearly going downhill on both levels. There was little to lose.

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