The Stories We Tell Ourselves: Placebo Anyone?

The Stories We Tell Ourselves: Placebo Anyone?

Last week’s conversation about Mr. Wright, and the power the stories we tell ourselves have caused my phone to start ringing a lot more than usual.

Mr. Wright, as you may recall, was suffering from advanced lymphosarcoma. His doctor administered a dose of Krebiozen, an experimental drug. Mr. Wright experienced a near miraculous recovery before reading a report suggesting that Krebiozen did not provide any benefit to those patients taking it as part of a research project

Mr. Wright’s cancer returned almost immediately. His doctor advised him that he had come into possession of an extremely pure form of Krebiozen and would like to administer this purified drug to him. Mr. Wright agreed and his doctor injected him with distilled water.

Once again, Mr. Wright experienced dramatic recovery and was declared cancer free. Shortly thereafter he came across an article published by the American Medical Association stating that this drug had been proven to be ineffective in the treatment of cancer.

Mr. Wright died two days later.

Since posting my blog last Wednesday, I have spoken with many people who have contacted me to share their stories, or the stories of close friends and family members, who experienced spontaneous remission from challenging and even terminal illnesses.

The Most Powerful Placebo

The common theme among these conversations was the power that lies within the stories we tell ourselves. Each person I spoke with talked of their never-ending conversations with themselves and their relentless determination to recover fully from their illness.

Susan spoke lovingly of her mother who was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in 2003. The oncologist explained to her mother that fewer than 5% of patients diagnosed with this illness survive longer than five years and most will pass away within 3 to 12 months of diagnosis.

Susan said her mother walked out of the oncologist office with a huge smile on her face and proudly announced to her family that she just joined a tiny, exclusive club of 5% of pancreatic cancer survivors. She refused to even discuss the possibility of anything else and constantly told herself – and anyone else who would listen – of her plans to live a long and cancer free life.

Susan and her family helped her mother celebrate her 75th birthday this past weekend.

The Human Mind Can Overcome The Impossible

I heard similar stories of improbable and seemingly impossible recoveries. Tumors shrinking, organs repairing themselves, and even a story of a broken leg healing itself in three weeks, in time to “dance at my son’s wedding.”

One of my favourite stories was relayed by the person who told me of a time when she was housebound, suffering from a serious bout of the flu. She had been virtually unable to leave her bed for almost 5 days and was forced to do so as she had been booked to deliver a two-hour keynote address at a convention.

She told me she felt so ill she asked her husband to drive her to the event and yet, the moment she began her address, all symptoms vanished, her energy returned and she received “the biggest standing ovation of my life.”

The moment she got into her husband’s car for the drive home all symptoms returned and for the next three days she did not leave her bed.

She told me how the stories we tell ourselves played a vital role in her presentation. She explained that she spent the entire 45-minute drive to the event telling herself repeatedly that she was going to be amazing, brilliant, engaging and entertaining.

With a chuckle in her tone, she berated herself for confining her story to her time on stage and not extending it beyond.

She is convinced that she talked herself into being healthy and strong for those crucial two hours.

If you have any doubt or scepticism about the power of the stories we tell ourselves then do yourself a favour and buy a marvellous book Mind over Medicine, by Dr. Lissa Rankin, a practising physician in California.

She uses the word placebo, we use the word belief and both mean the same thing. The stories we tell ourselves play a huge role in everything we do.

If it is true we become the stories we tell ourselves, then let’s make sure the stories we tell are of the lives we want to live.

Let’s make a habit of meeting like this.

Photo of Rael Kalley,Habits coach in calgary canada

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