The power of the soul makes miracles happen -opinion

With all due respect to the important treatments the world of cancer medicine has to offer, the patient’s spirit can have an outsized impact.

 ‘ONE OF the most important lessons I learned was from a person who was not a doctor. He was not even an adult but rather a teenager. His name was Menachem,’ says the writer.  (photo credit: COURTESY OF ZICHRON MENACHEM)
‘ONE OF the most important lessons I learned was from a person who was not a doctor. He was not even an adult but rather a teenager. His name was Menachem,’ says the writer.
(photo credit: COURTESY OF ZICHRON MENACHEM)

I studied medicine and underwent internships and residency. I was part of a team that established the first bone marrow transplant program in Israel and one of the first in the world. I was privileged to be involved in important research discoveries that have gained international recognition. I was a senior doctor and the head of a department.

I was in charge of the pool of donors for bone marrow transplants – the leading bone marrow transplant bank in the world – and yet, one of the most important lessons I learned was from a person who was not a doctor. In fact, he was not even an adult but rather a teenager.

His name was Menachem and was a young teenager. I met him in the hospital, in the oncology ward where he spent most of his life. Menachem, a smiling and good-natured boy, proved to me what I already suspected: that with all due respect to the important and groundbreaking treatments that the world of cancer medicine has to offer, and as a doctor, you probably understand that I have great respect for them, there is another matter that imparts a deep meaning to the fight against the disease and that is the power of the soul, of your state of mind.

A valuable lesson

Menachem, when he was happy, managed to overcome heartbreaking horror scenarios, survive dismal test results and survive even when doctors’ predictions were disheartening. And when his soul was tired, it weakened his body even when the test results showed possible hope.

On the eve of Passover, a few days after saying that he was tired, despite his stable physical condition, Menachem closed his eyes and ascended to heaven. My heart was broken, but what Menachem taught me was etched in my heart. With this understanding, I underwent a long training course in immunology research at the National Institute in Denver, Colorado.

 Bone marrow pro-tumorigenic neutrophils (lower panel) promote the formation of new blood vessels (angiogenesis) in the tumor. GFP (green) = tumor, vWF (marker for blood vessels). (credit: COURTESY TEL AVIV UNIVERSITY) Bone marrow pro-tumorigenic neutrophils (lower panel) promote the formation of new blood vessels (angiogenesis) in the tumor. GFP (green) = tumor, vWF (marker for blood vessels). (credit: COURTESY TEL AVIV UNIVERSITY)

I returned with important innovative knowledge: beyond the traditional treatment of cancer, I specialized in the study of the immune system, the mind-body relationship and in the influence of mental-spiritual resilience on the physical-medical condition.

Armed with knowledge and especially a medical ideology that I believe in, I realized, with the exception of one organization, that in Israel we are not yet familiar with this innovative, almost revolutionary thinking.

THAT SPECIFIC organization was established in the name of a person, more correctly a teenager, who died a few years earlier. It was founded by Chaim and Miri Ehrenthal, the grieving parents of the late Menachem. It operates on the basis of the same assumption I believe in strongly. I offered myself as a volunteer in that organization called Zichron Menachem (in memory of Menachem).

I confess it was just an act of kindness. I wanted to witness up close what I believed in so much, what I learned and researched and knew was true. What Menachem taught me and what I swore to teach the world.

The power of the soul

For the first time, I joined a camp of several dozen children in Eilat as a doctor. Before leaving, we tested all the children to make sure that everyone could join the camp. At the end of the first day of fun activities, I suddenly saw a kind of enlightenment. Here is the connection that I felt should be. I was looking for ways to add to the conventional treatment. Here is the proof of the connection between resilience and vaccination, between mind and body.

In that first camp, I witnessed miracles happen. Children who had difficulty walking began to run from activity to activity and children who only eat through a tube, suddenly began to eat a full meal. One girl who was unlikely to go on that trip due to low test results laughed wholeheartedly and returned as a new child to her excited parents.

More than 30 years have passed since then, and Menachem and I continue to walk together. He outlines the path and the world of medicine, and I follow in his footsteps. For in my view, the future of hemato-oncology is integrative medicine, a medicine that combines chemical and biological treatments, together with elements of complementary medicine, and not least spiritual-mental support to strengthen the patient’s spirit.

Only such integration will improve the success of the treatment of an oncological patient

Come and see our work and see how even in medicine, miracles can happen.

The writer is the director of the Cancer Immunotherapy and Immunobiology Research Center at Hadassah-Hebrew University Medical Center.