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Because cancer is such a dread disease, the minute people know someone has cancer, it often becomes the person's defining characteristic. The individual may play numerous other roles—parent, boss, lover—and have numerous valuable personal characteristics—intelligence, charm, a sense of humor—but from that moment on he or she is a "cancer patient." The person's full human identity is lost to his or her cancer identity. All anyone is aware of, often including the physician, is the physical fact of the cancer, and all treatment is aimed at the patient as a body, not as a person.

It is our central premise that an illness is not purely a physical problem but rather a problem of the whole person, that it includes not only body but mind and emotions. We believe that emotional and mental states play a significant role both in susceptibility to disease, including cancer, and in recovery from all disease. We believe that cancer is often an indication of problems elsewhere in an individual's life, problems aggravated or compounded by a series of stresses six to eighteen months prior to the onset of cancer. The cancer patient has typically responded to these problems and stresses with a deep sense of hopelessness, or "giving up." This emotional response, we believe, in turn triggers a set of physiological responses that suppress the body's natural defenses and make it susceptible to producing abnormal cells.

Assuming our beliefs are essentially accurate—and much of the next seven chapters will show you why we hold them as strongly as we do—then it becomes necessary for patient and physician in working toward recovery to consider not only what is happening on a physical level but, just as importantly, what is going on in the rest of the patient's life. If the total integrated system of mind, body and emotions, which constitutes the whole person, is not working in the direction of health, then purely physical interventions may not succeed. An effective treatment program, then, will deal with the total human being and not focus on the disease alone, for that would be like trying to treat a yellow fever epidemic with sulfa alone, without also draining the ditches in which the sickness-bearing mosquitoes breed.