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 Breast Cancer: Revisiting Accepted Wisdom in the Management of Breast Cancer - Part 2 

Cancer exists on a continuum, with endogenous (internal) causes on one end and exogenous (external) causes on the other. Surgeons are the mechanics and oncologists are the pest controllers. Today the focus is on chemotherapy as a form of pest management; tomorrow there is a promise of medicine being equipped to enhance our self-capacities and eliminate virulence through engineering molecular environments.

Others believe that it is the ambient and ubiquitous burden of toxins in the soup in which we swim daily that foments these changes within. Rather than breast cancer being a local problem, it is a global one. it tends not to have a single regional locus, but becomes universal within the organism; it is more like a virus than a fracture. Struggling against disease with hope is itself believed by many to be therapeutic, but there is not enough known to issue universal prescriptions. Over the centuries, even some of our greatest spiritual teachers have died of cancer.

Surgeon Richard Selzer54 commented that after he wrote a medical essay titled "The Exact Location of the Soul," readers wrote to him, pumping him for more specific information. Upon reflection he answered that if he were to fix the soul in a location, it would be in the wound, that place of tender suffering. Buddhists claim that life is an evolutionary exercise in learning lessons dressed in suffering. One antidote to suffering is glad acceptance--not wishing for things to be other than they are. This entails transcendence of future-oriented desires and instead focuses on experiencing each moment as bliss: exquisitely full, complete, sufficient. The emphasis shifts to the quality rather than the duration of life--more on living better, and less on living longer. Some studies suggest that women who exhibit optimistic determination fare better than do those who are either helpless and hopeless, or those who are anxiously preoccupied.55 Hope can mean tenaciously affirming that life makes sense while encountering the universality of our inevitable death. The best we can do is live well each day, paradoxically accepting what is as we strive valiantly to change.

Harriet Beinfield has practiced acupuncture and Chinese herbal medicine for 24 years at Chinese Medicine Works in San Francisco, Calif. She is the co-author, with Efrem Korngold, of Between Heaven and Earth: A Guide to Chinese Medicine Malcolm S Beinfield is an associate clinical professor in the Department of Surgery at Yale University School of Medicine and on the staff of the Yale Comprehensive Cancer Center. He has practiced surgery for 45 years and has pub fished numerous articles on clinical breast cancer research.

The authors wish to thank Nat Berlin, MD, for his valuable comments during review of this manuscript.

1. The NCI Consensus Conference concluded that "Breast conservation treatment is an appropriate method of primary therapy for the majority of women with Stage I and 11 breast cancer and is preferable because it provides survival equivalent to total mastectomy and axillary dissection while preserving the breast.... Breast conserving treatment Idefined as lumpectomy and axillary dissection followed by irradiation! is preferable because it provides survival equivalent to total mastectomy and axillary dissection while preserving the breast" (NIH Consensus Development Panel. Consensus development conference on the treatment of early-stage breast cancer.J Natl Cancer/nst. 1992:11:1-S).

(Excerpted from Alternative Therapies in Health and Medicine)
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 About The Author
Harriet Beinfield LAcHarriet Beinfield, L.Ac. and Efrem Korngold, L.Ac., O.M.D. have pioneered the practice of Chinese medicine in America for the last 28 years as educators, writers, and practitioners. They are the co-authors of the......more
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