Mindfulness & Cancer


The first mindfulness-based course was developed by Jon Kabat-Zinn in Massachusetts over thirty years ago, for groups of people with a wide range of different health conditions. Since then, Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction, (MBSR) has developed all over the world. In Calgary, a leading psycho-oncology team have researched MBSR for cancer patients for over ten years (Speca et al., 2000). Evidence is building that mindfulness holds much promise for cancer patients (Shennan et al., 2010).

Mindfulness Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT) was developed out of MBSR, and has been found to halve the risk of relapse in people with a history of depression (Segal et al., 2002). NICE (the National Institute for Clinical Excellence), the UK health standards body, explicitly recommends MBCT for people who have had three or more episodes of depression.

Mindfulness Based Cognitive Therapy for Cancer (MBCT-Ca)

MBCT for Cancer (MBCT-Ca) has been adapted from MBSR and MBCT for Depression. It is specifically targeted to the needs of people with cancer, at all stages of their illness. The programme has been running for over ten years in a regional oncology unit in North Wales. Ongoing evaluations suggest that participants improve their levels of wellbeing as a result of coming on the programme and bringing mindfulness into their lives.

The MBCT-Ca course runs for eight weeks, with a session every week lasting for two and a half hours. Groups consist of ten to twelve people. There is a day of practice after the 6th session, enabling participants to go deeper into the experience of being mindful. Home practice is important and participants are required to commit to listening to a 30 minute CD every day and threading a variety of short and informal practices into their lives. The results are very encouraging. People who are conscientious with their daily practice do very well. They tend to finish the course feeling more appreciative about their lives, more confident about their capacity to manage uncertainty, and better resourced to put the tools that they have learnt in place, when difficulties arise.

Two books about Mindfulness and Cancer

'Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy for Cancer' has been published as a book primarily for mindfulness teachers working with people with cancer. It describes the 8 week programme in detail. The experiences of people living with cancer, who have been participants on the programme form the heart of the book, with their experiences, challenges, learning, and poems.

There is a 'focus on the heart quality of compassion as a central feature of MBCT-Ca. The emphasis on opening and caring for others' suffering as well as one's own, on connecting with the common humanity shared with all who are touched by cancer, and on reaching beyond the isolation that pain and distress can so often reinforce, is one of the most lovely and powerful features of this approach'. (extracted from the book's foreword by John Teasdale)

More recently, I have written a book for people with cancer called 'Mindfulness, A Kindly Approach to Being with Cancer'. This offers a chance to learn and practice mindfulness at whatever stage of cancer you might be at - whether just diagnosed or at some point past treatment. The best way to bring mindfulness into everyday life is to attend an 8 week programme and learn alongside others. However, that is not always possible for a variety of reasons. I wrote this book to offer you a way of practicing in your own time, at whatever depth you chose, until you are well enough or choose to attend an 8 week programme.

See http://www.trishbartley.co.uk/?q=mindfulness-and-cancer-books for more information

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