By JUDITH REYNOLDS
Shortly after I was diagnosed I had an MRI scan. Just before the scan I was in the changing room after having put on a gown. I overheard a conversation between one of the nurses who does the scanning and what I assume was a doctor who looks at the scan results.
The doctor asked the nurse about a particular patient. The nurse’s reply was something like “I’m about to do breasts. I’ve just done a brain and before that was a liver.”
I had a little giggle about this. I was no longer a whole human being. I was ‘breasts.’
Shortly after that ‘breasts’ became ‘breast’.
And not long after that I started chemotherapy. And then I was no longer seen as a single body part. But I was still seen primarily as a body, rather than as a whole human being.
Doctors and nurses were interested in the side effects that I was or was not experiencing in my body. Chemo side effects don’t just affect one body part. They have the potential to run from the head (hair loss) to the toes (bruised nails which I did get, and nerve damage called neuropathy which didn’t happen to me).
I read somewhere that people who don’t expect to get nausea from chemotherapy are less likely to get nausea. I decided I wasn’t going to have that side effect and I didn’t. Well, not much.
I found being seen primarily as a body very difficult. It’s not the way I usually navigate my way through the world. I’m used to being concerned primarily with my thoughts, my actions, my relationships and my words. And I think the people around me are mostly interested in those things about me too.
I had to fight the urge every now and then in a doctor’s office to stamp my foot and say “I’m a person!”
And in the year or so since I completed treatment I’ve been reading about mind body connections. About psychoneuroimmunology and how thoughts and emotions have an effect on your immune system. About the placebo effect which results in people getting better even though they haven’t had treatment, because they believe they are. About the nocebo effect which results in people getting side effects of the drug they think they are taking even though they aren’t getting it.
And I’m starting to imagine oncology treatment that takes these mind-body-spirit connections into account.
Where people are taught breathing techniques to deal with difficult moments. Or mindfulness practices to deal with difficult emotions. Or visualisation techniques to improve their healing.
I’m starting to imagine medicine done differently. Medical treatment that is for people, not bodies.