When prostate cancer surgery is imminent, visualization is a mind-body technique that can allay anxiety. For particulars see my response to a prostate cancer patient, who recently raised a question all of us can relate to.
I'm worried about the prostate cancer surgery I have to go through. I was recently diagnosed with a high Gleason score and was told to schedule my surgery soon. This has made me very anxious. What can I do to get over my panic?
Rabbi Ed’s Response:
Before a prostatectomy consider using the process of visualization. I demonstrate how to do this in my book, Conquer Prostate Cancer, where I've applied Peggy Huddleston’s general surgery suggestions to the prostatectomy I underwent in April 2007. (See P. Huddleston, Prepare for Surgery, Heal Faster: A Guide for Mind-Body Techniques.) What follows is a precise response which may be a bit long-winded! However it clearly illustrates the power of the mind-body connection.
Here's one suggested visualization sequence I'd like to offer: After confirming your biopsy (Gleason) score, see yourself calming down as you reflect on images that relax you most (such as sunset over a lake). Then see yourself entering the hospital, walking into a pre-op room, where nurses insert an IV and give you an initial sedative to prepare surgery, etc.
At that point notice in your mind's eye how you have already induced that image and the calm feeling that accompanies it; letting that calmness flow through you, perhaps reinforced by your imagining that as you’re bought on a gurney into the operating room, your favorite (small) animal, like your cat, is perched on your chest as you gently stroke it and it purrs or licks your face. Practice this visualization sequence many times in advance of your operation, so it becomes part of you when you actually show up for the surgery.
In addition, during the weeks before surgery, see yourself falling comfortably asleep before your surgery begins, after your anesthesiologist administers his meds into your IV. Also see yourself waking up three hours later, comfortably groggy on your gurney in the recovery room, then gently rolled back to your hospital room, where within hours you eat your first post-op light meal.
Finally see yourself getting back on your feet with the help of a friendly orderly hours after the surgery, who accompanies you to the WC as you use a walker, and the next morning walks with you down the hall, as you slowly regain your strength and within hours walk on your own, first with the walker, and then without it. Last, envision leaving the hospital the next day (if surgery is robotic) on your own steam, without pain, going home with a catheter bag that is only a bit uncomfortable but nothing more than a mild nuisance, until it's removed 1-2 weeks later.
There's a lot more to this visualization sequence, as I've outlined in my book. But know that repeated, relaxed "practice runs" (strictly in your mind, reflecting on your calm breathing and on all your five senses of sound, sight, touch, etc) will reduce or even eliminate your pre-surgical anxiety and hasten your recovery.
For those of you who’ve been through surgery already but have another surgery in store, what I've described is applicable not only to a prostatectomy but to most operations you might have to confront. The process of visualization is one way to go from being a passive patient to becoming an active participant in your health care. It is a clear-cut example of the mind-body connection.