By Dr Sara Gottfried

Intercessory prayer works and heals

I’ve just read over the lovely notes that many of you have sent in response to my surgery. I feel so blessed. What surprised me was how many were from men! Menschy men! Thanks, Guys! Makes me realize I need to send more bullets for the dudes! (I included a few highlights from your emails below my signature, because they are good reminders and prayers for all of us. BTW, do pain meds make a person use more exclamation points?! Not normal behavior for me.)

  1. Prayer. When I was 26 and a student at Harvard Medical School, I took an intensive one-month elective in Complementary and Alternative Healing with Dr. David Eisenberg. In the course, we reviewed the data on intercessory prayer, the act of praying on behalf of others. Turns out that randomized trials, i.e., the type of evidence with the least bias, shows that intercessory prayer works. The effect is modest but real. Read a few of the recent studies here and here, and here’s another on cancer. #prayerasmedicine
  2. Forgot to dance. I didn’t get my operating room team to dance before my mastectomies, but my friend Dr. Deb Cohan did. Watch her flirt and dance to Beyonce’s Get Me Bodied right here. Has a hospital gown ever looked so hot? The video was shot by the anesthesiologist in 2013 and gathered 8+ million views. Clearly, Deb tapped into something very, very deep, perhaps about how the spirit feeds the body. While I didn’t dance, I did touch something very holy in my operating room. As I lay on the narrow hospital bed, feeling the cool air of the bright, new operating room suite, I looked at my surgeons and circulating nurse and felt awe. I gazed at the ceiling as my nurse tenderly rubbed my arm and my anesthesiologist injected something, and felt like I was in a very holy place, like a cathedral, surrounded by grace.
  3. I cried. When interviewed about why Dr. Deb Cohan decided to host a flash mob just before surgery, her reply made me cry. “I learned from this experience that the best way to deal with death is to celebrate life.” That’s the one that got me like a dagger to the heart, and then she went on in another interview: “The day that I got diagnosed with breast cancer, I went to dance class. For me, dance is how I express my most authentic self. By the end of class, I felt joy. I decided to meet my cancer – I named her Izzie and got to know her. I met my fear of death. I realized that dance was my most important medicine. I danced every day before my surgery. I felt intense joy moments before my mastectomy and totally connected with my operating team—and they were energized in their minds and in their bodies. I wanted to celebrate life. Dance and movement can help you listen. What is this health condition, what is this cancer here to teach me?” Epic.

  4. David Bowie Quote. This one, found by our nutritionist (and friend since I was 26!) Christina Wilson, feels relevant to my circumstances, and so we posted it on Instagram: “I think aging is an extraordinary process whereby you become the person you always should have been.” My surgery has made me more fearless, and perhaps I always should have been. Excited to see how this unfolds.
  5. Reading. My brain is not yet fully back online after anesthesia, so reading the more challenging books just isn’t happening for me, like Thinking Fast and Slow, on my nightstand now for months. Instead, I’m obsessed with breasts. What they mean metaphorically and spiritually, why breast cancer is so upsetting, why I wanted a mastectomy. Try Florence Williams, Breasts: A Natural and Unnatural History. And the classic History of the Breast by Marilyn Yalom.
  6. Don’t forget your collagen. Add ½ tablespoon of collagen to your coffee or tea. It’s been shown to improve skin elasticity in women thirty-five to fifty-five over eight weeks. For the guys, I wonder if it might help your joints as we get older together?
  7. Binge-worthy TV. Latest obsession: Genius by National Geographic and produced by Ron Howard; it’s about Albert Einstein as played by Jeffrey Rush. It’s pretty good, but the truth is that I can’t stop watching Designated Survivor (with my husband) and Billions (alone). Maggie Siff, anyone? Her coaching sessions with hedge fund traders got me hooked. When my brain is clear from post-op, I watch The Story of God with Morgan Freeman. My sister-in-law, Mary Benjamin, is a producer for Freeman’s show. So impressed

And here’s another bonus quote, for good measure: “When I dare to be powerful, to use my strength in the service of my vision, then it becomes less and less important whether I am afraid.” –Audre Lorde

With love and gratitude,

Dr. Sara