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Lung Cancer and Five Elements

Original L.A. Times article by Marlene Cimons

This page both explains the connection between mind, body and spirit, as well as illustrates it with an article found in the L.A. Times. If you already understand five element theory, you can skip forward to The L.A. Times Article. Otherwise, just keep reading and by the time you get to the article, it will make more sense.

Chinese medicine is a holistic medicine. This means that there is an awareness that what affects the body, will also affect the mind and what affects the mind will also affect the spirit. Going in the opposite direction, an emotional disorder can manifest in the body as a disease or other disharmony.

Chinese medicine goes much further than simply admitting to the connection between mind and body, it goes so far as to actually map out the relationships. There are a wide variety of diagnostic perspectives available to the practitioner of Chinese (or Oriental) medicine. One is called "Five Element Theory." It is within this perspective that we find the most popular system of psycho/spiritual connections to physical healthcare.

The best way to understand Five Element theory is to understand that organs in the human body are associated with one of the five elemental building blocks of the universe, according to Chinese cosmological theory.

But these elements are not necessarily physical, they are concepts which have a manifestations on physical and other dimensions.

Five Element Diagram These five elements are known as:
Wood (the green phase)
Fire (the red phase)
Earth (the yellow phase)
Metal (the white phase)
Water (the black phase)
But as concepts, they have significance to both our internal organs and our mental, emotional and spiritual landscape.
All the elements manifest on all levels.
For instance, the wood phase of energy
shows up in the following manifestations:

Yin organ: Liver
Yang organ: Gall Bladder
Season: Spring
Emotion: Anger
Direction: East
Color: Green (or Blue-Green)
Sensory Organ: Eyes

Another five element graphic

On an emotional level, wood is traditionally associated with the emotion of anger. Wood energy likes to expand and grow upwards. People like to "get ahead" because of their wood energy. When there comes an obstacle to our movement, we become angry. This is the response that wood energy has to something in its way of growth and expansion. When our wood is supple and well-lubricated, the anger is short-lived and is replaced with flexibility in much the same way that a young sapling can travel around obstacles to find a better place to grow.

Spiritually, it is said that the wood energy of the body is associated with the "Hun" or ethereal spirit. The Hun, I believe, is the so-called "higher mind." It is said that the Liver opens to the eyes, and so eye problems are often treated with points on the Liver Channel in acupuncture. However, I believe that it is this connection to the eyes that proves the Wood element's association with the Hun, or "host" consciousness that Taoism speaks of. The "host" mind is simply consciousness, it sees things As It Is with no additional interpretation. It is the Zen experience. It is this part of us that provides the impetus for our return to heaven, oneness with the universe, reuniting with God, Samahdi, Oneness, Nirvana, Grace, Feeling Groovy.

So, we have to remember that with any disharmony of an organ system or element on one level, there will be fall-out at the other levels.

If we have a problem with the Lungs, we'll see pathology consistent with problems of respiration. We'll see asthma, coughing, perhaps even Lung cancer. However, on other levels, we'll see sadness. This is the emotion associated with the Metal element, the Lung element. Some of the associations with the metal element are as follows:

Yin organ: Lungs
Yang organ: Large Intestine
Season: Autumn
Emotion: Sadness
Direction: West
Color: White
Sensory Organ: Nose

The soul associated with the Lungs is called the Po. The Po is called the animal spirit. This is the part of us that is instinctive and animalistic. The Po is not eternal, it dies along with our body. I believe that it is the Po that harbors the fear of death, because for the Po, death is real. To the Hun, the spirit of the Liver, death is liberation, to the Po death is final. That is why we grieve for the passing of loved ones. It is the Po's recognition of the end of life. The Po is quick to recognize the loss of anything important in our lives, and so "sadness" is the emotion associated with the Metal element.

On another level, Metal energy not only regulates the breathing in and out of air in our lungs but the bonding and releasing of attachments in our lives. The woman in the following article started smoking at the age of 16. Likely to appear more grown-up, as is so often the case, however it is interesting to note that this age is the beginning of a period in our emotional development in which the group bonding experience is most crucial. Later on in life we chose to bond with just one partner, and that is called marriage, however, as teens we bond with our peer group.

It might be interesting to see what happens if we were to offer teens an alternative to smoking in the form of yogic practices that incorporate breathing such as Kriya or Pranayana Yoga. Being an ex-smoker myself, I know well of the response of relaxation associated with smoking, however having waded through a variety of yogic disciplines as well, I recall that the true therapy of smoking lies not in the ingestion of the smoke, but in the deep, mindful breathing that takes place while one is smoking.

So what's this all mean? It means that when we read an article such as the following, which appeared in the Los Angeles Times in the Spring of 1996, we can better understand the connections between this patient's physical pathology and emotional make-up. She is a textbook case of Metal pathology, which includes both sadness and Lung pathology.


Relentless Assaults Erode Cancer patient's Resolve

Profile: Illness and chemotherapy leave Claire Chasles weak and depressed. But she vows to keep fighting.

By Marlene Cimons
Times Staff Writer


WASHINGTON-All Claire Chasles wants to do is have a good cry. But the unforgiving nature of her disease has denied her even this.

"I start to cry, and I can't stop," she says, her voice breaking. "And then I can't catch my breath. I can't breathe. So what good does it do?"

Claire, 42, a smoker since age 16, has advanced lung cancer. Since the disease recurred last fall, she has been fighting it with all the defiance she can muster. But her resolve has started to crumble in the presence of an overwhelming feeling of sadness.

Some might say she has good reason to weep. After two cycles of powerful, toxic chemotherapy, she is extremely weak and gaunt, and she has lost almost all of her hair. The physical assaults have their toll, and she is depressed.

"When I was 16 and lighting up, I felt very, very glamorous," she said. "Now I'm crying all the time and losing weight, and my hair's failing out piece by piece in huge clumps. You think that's glamorous?"

Her physicians had been hoping the chemotherapy would delay her advancing tumor and give her some quality time. Claire has been counting on this, but the treatment has been as ravaging as the illness.

In February, she appeared robust and healthy. But despite a remarkably positive attitude, she then began a precipitous slide. And now her spirits have followed.

"It's not unusual for very sick patients to get depressed when they finally start to see evidence of the disease in their lives," said Dr. Paul Lanken, a bioethicist and medical director of the intensive care unit at the University of Pennsylvania.

"It's hard for people to accept a bad prognosis when they're feeling fine," Lanken added. "But then the disease catches up to them, and it becomes real."

Doctor Concerned

Claire met Thursday with her oncologist, Dr. Naiyer Rizvi of Georgetown University Medical Center's Lombardi Cancer Center, and Katy Swanson, a registered nurse who is the case manager for lung cancer patients. They are concerned about Claire's emotional outlook and her deteriorating physical condition.

"I'm sorry this has been happening," Rizvi says.

"I just want to get it (the chemotherapy) over with, and be on my merry way," Claire replies.

Rizvi takes a deep breath.

"I think the odds are stacked against you, frankly, at this point," he responds, not unkindly. "I think the fact that you are weaker and losing weight is concerning.

"I would be deceiving you if I thought the chances were excellent for you to make a recovery and get back to where you were before. It's the reality."

"OK," Claire says very slowly.

Rizvi leaves for a few minutes, and Swanson sits down, pulling her chair next to Claire's wheelchair.

"This is the most down I've seen you," Swanson says. "I think you're now realizing how sick you are, and you're thinking about the future and whether you're getting better. And we can't make any guarantees.

"It's tough to know what to do.
That's what affects everybody with lung cancer. They start to think: 'Is it worth it?'

"This is something we know we can't cure, but maybe we can give you some quality time. Some beat it, but most don't. And I think that's starting to hit you.

"Start thinking of short-term goals," Swanson says gently. "Not six months or a year in the future."

"I'm not," Claire insists. "I just want today."

"You should be thinking today or tomorrow and the next day," Swanson says.

Swanson pauses.

"Do you want to give up the chemo?" she asks. "That's what you need to be thinking about."

"No," Claire says. "I'm going to finish it."

Rizvi decides. however, to postpone by one week the third chemo session, which would have marked the halfway point in the treatment. In the meantime, he hopes Claire will regain some strength, and he will do a series of tests to see what's happening with the tumor.

"Are you somebody who has thoughts of God? Are you religious? Is there anything that keeps you going?" Swanson asks.

"Just my friends and my family," Claire says.

Swanson and Rizvi leave the room.

"I don't know what they were trying to say," Claire says. "But I know they're not saying: 'Give up.' "

Bout of Depression

Claire's depression had begun in earnest several weeks earlier.

She began crying over little things and complained that she didn't know why she was feeling so sad. Maybe it was her appearance and the crushing fatigue that had made minor tasks nearly impossible, she said. She had started to use a walker because her legs buckle when she gets up.

"I can't do anything. I feel so helpless and lifeless," she said. "I have no energy to do anything. I don't take pride in myself the way I used to. The pride's there somewhere. But I just can't get to it."

Joe Kelly, her live-in fiancé, wants to get married. And a grandchild is due this fall. Claire wants to plan for these happy events. But, understandably, it is difficult now.

"I want to be able to run around. Play with my grandchild. Be a wife to my husband," she said. "But I've got to get better. Maybe I'm scared that I won't, that it will get worse."

That's the closest she comes to acknowledging fear. If she is frightened about where her illness is heading, she doesn't talk about it. She repeatedly insists, even through the tears: "I'm not licked yet."

She talks about getting married and having a delayed honeymoon. "I've always wanted to go to Switzerland," she said.

Claire's 2l-year-old daughter, Christine-five months' pregnant and herself unable to quit smoking-has been trying to stay upbeat. But both women feel the strain: Claire because she hates being stuck in an armchair, unable to do anything but watch television, and Christine because she has had to assume so much of her mother's care.

"I should be doing things for her, spoiling her. taking her shopping," Claire said.

Christine works part time as a waitress in 12-hour shifts. She also fetches whatever Claire needs, fixes her meals and coaxes her to eat. Claire has lost more than 60 pounds since last fall, most of it during the last three months.

"It's stressful, but it's not Mom's fault," Christine said. "She can't do anything for herself. She took care of me. Now it's my turn to help her."

She teases her mother gently. "I think you look so cute, just like a baby." she says of the fine wisps of hair still on Claire's head.

And, as Claire gets up and slowly makes her way across the room, Christine jokes about her mother's skinny legs. "She looks like a stork," she says, as Claire chuckles. Despite the humor, it is clear Claire is frustrated.

"I've been so sick since Valentine's Day, I've been in bed constantly," she said. "Now I just want to feel halfway decent. I'd just like to have one week where I feel good, then maybe I can handle the next dose of chemo. I want to get my strength back so I can play with that baby when it comes."

Reasons to Not Smoke

She wants something positive to come from her ordeal.

Indeed, she wishes that every young person preparing to light that next cigarette could see her sunken cheeks and balding head.

"I don't want kids to ever start," she said as she coughed. "I don't want them to ever go through the torture and the pain and the scariness and everything that's associated with this disease. Believe me there's a lot of it."

New statistics about teenage smoking, however, show a sharp jump in recent years. And the news has been especially ominous for women. Lung cancer now kills more women than any other kind of cancer.

The Clinton administration has proposed regulations to keep teens from buying cigarettes and to shield them from tobacco ads. But the industry has filed legal challenges.

Claire doesn't understand why the proposed regulations are so controversial. She wishes something, anything, had kept her from starting to smoke. She doesn't smoke anymore.

"Is this what the kids want--what's happening to me?" she asked. "I'm sitting here and crying and taking all of these medications and watching my hair fall out."

Christine watches, and not without mixed emotions. Her pregnancy is progressing well--she has gained 25 pounds-and she is delighting in thoughts of her impending motherhood, hoping for a girl.

But she smokes. When Christine first learned she was pregnant, she swore she would stop. She felt she had to for the sake of the baby.

Christine also started smoking as a teenager, seeing her parents and grandparents all smoke. Today, the best she can do is try to cut down. On some days, she smokes only a handful of cigarettes. On other days, she goes through a pack. Her fiancé, Brady, and Claire's fiancé, Joe, also smoke.

"I keep telling Brady we have to do this (stop smoking) together." Christine said. "But he says he doesn't think I can stay with it."

They are all witnessing Claire's life-and-death struggle. And still they smoke.

"It's so damn hard," Christine said. "I want to stop. I have to stop. But just try to tell that to my mind and my body when it wants that nicotine."

She looks at her mother in the next room.

"Now that you can really tell she's sick. I do think about it, more now than I did before," she said. "When I didn't see it, it didn't bother me. If only I could've seen this before I started smoking."

Seeking Counseling

Last month while undergoing her chemotherapy, Claire met with Dr. George Uy, a Georgetown staff psychiatrist. She was hoping that some counseling would help.

With two intravenous lines hooked to her left wrist, she answers his questions.

"What do you think is one of the reasons you feel down?" Uy asks. Claire blames a still-unhealed wound in her side, where surgery to reinflate her lung was performed several months ago, the site of a subsequent serious infection.

"Any hopelessness?" She nods her head. "How's your concentration?"

Her answer is peculiar: "I used to love to read the obituaries. I can't read them anymore. They upset me."

"Any thoughts about wanting to end your life?"

"No, I haven't come to that." Uy asks about her family, and she tells him about the coming grandchild--"That's another reason I want to live-I want to spoil that baby"--and her plans to get married, possibly this summer.

"Do you know what your prognosis is?" he asks.

"It's probably not good, but I'm going to fight it. You never know. I talk to friends who say: 'I know someone with only one lung and he's gone on for five, six, seven years.' So you never know."

Christine and other family members are worried about Claire's attitude, and they persist in urging her to fight on.

"If she can keep her spirits up and kick ass, she'll be OK," Christine said. "She's not gonna live forever. But she's not gonna die tomorrow either."

Of herself, Christine says: "I don't have time to feel sad. I don't like seeing her like this. But I've got to make sure she stays happy, so she doesn't give up."


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