For the first time ever, researchers have shown that practicing mindfulness meditation or being involved in a support group has a positive physical impact at the cellular level in breast cancer survivors. That's real results for survivors, thanks to you.
A total of 88 breast cancer survivors who had completed their treatments for at least three months were involved for the duration of the study. Most participants had ended treatment two years prior and to be eligible, they also had to be experiencing significant levels of emotional distress.
"We already know that psychosocial interventions like mindfulness meditation will help you feel better mentally, but now for the first time we have evidence that they can also influence key aspects of your biology,” "
- Dr. Linda E. Carlson
Allison McPherson is one of those Albertans who was struggling to get her life back on track after facing cancer. She admits she was skeptical of practicing mindfulness before taking part in the Mindset Study.
“This study was life-changing for me. Before cancer, I was a busy Mom of two girls, working full time and was training for triathlons. I didn’t have a lot of time for things like “mindfulness” and didn’t really see the point,” says McPherson, who underwent a full year of chemotherapy and numerous surgeries for her breast cancer.
“But I met other cancer survivors at the Mindset Study and was glad to know that I wasn’t the only one struggling with my ‘new normal’ of life after cancer, “she says. “At our weekly support groups, we shared what was working and what wasn’t as we were rebuilding our lives. I believe that becoming more mindful has helped me with reducing my anxiety, helped me to become more peaceful, and has helped reduce my pain post-surgery.”
Your investment to the Alberta Cancer Foundation helped fund the study that shows that telomeres – protein complexes at the end of chromosomes – maintain their length in breast cancer survivors who practice meditation or are involved in support groups, while they shorten in a comparison group without any intervention.
Although the disease-regulating properties of telomeres aren’t fully understood, shortened telomeres are associated with several disease states, as well as cell aging, while longer telomeres are thought to be protective against disease.
Participants were placed in three groups. In the Mindfulness-Based Cancer Recovery group, participants attended eight weekly, 90-minute group sessions that provided instruction on mindfulness meditation and gentle Hatha yoga, with the goal of cultivating non-judgmental awareness of the present moment. Participants were also asked to practice meditation and yoga at home for 45 minutes daily.
In the Supportive Expressive Therapy group, participants met for 90 minutes weekly for 12 weeks and were encouraged to talk openly about their concerns and their feelings. The objectives were to build mutual support and to guide women in expressing a wide range of both difficult and positive emotions, rather than suppressing or repressing them.
The participants randomly placed in the control group attended one, six-hour stress management seminar. All study participants had their blood analyzed and telomere length measured before and after the interventions.
“We already know that psychosocial interventions like mindfulness meditation will help you feel better mentally, but now for the first time we have evidence that they can also influence key aspects of your biology,” says Dr. Linda E. Carlson, principal investigator of the study and the Alberta Cancer Foundation’s Enbridge Chair in Psychosocial Oncology.
For Allison McPherson, the tools she has learned from the study have carried her throughout survivorship, and she is grateful for your investment.
“I am celebrating my 49th birthday this week --there was a time six years ago when I didn’t think I would make it to 49,” says McPherson. “Without the money for these trials, scientists can’t continue research. We may not have a cure for cancer yet, but these studies are getting us one step closer to finding a cure. They are helping cancer patients feel more comfortable during treatments, which improves chances for success, and are helping us with tools to move on, after cancer.
Thank you for making investments that matter. You are helping Alberta cancer patients like Allison return to life, faster.
Photo credit Kevin Segredi