Cancer victim helps prescribe spiritual Rx for patients at local hospital


Right before Christmas, a woman sat quietly in a sterile medical office in Riverside, Calif. as she listened to the results of recent tests.

Her Kaiser doctor explained the options she had—to live or die.

Lynn Koch, who was diagnosed with breast cancer Dec. 6, had the biopsy two days later and before she got dressed they asked when she wanted to schedule surgery.

"It all went so fast," she said. "But I had no fear."

Since then she has been cleared of cancer and has started a yearlong treatment of chemotherapy to keep the cancer from recurring.

She credits a prescription she was given from a man in Tennessee with the results of her quick healing and "fear-free" existence, knowing many women die as a result of this disease every year.

Now she has been asked by Kaiser Breast Care Coordinator, Karen Contreras, to share the prescription with other women in her department.

"I think we have a team of doctors and nurses here at Kaiser who could give this to their patients," said Contreras, a registered nurse of 32 years. "It's a cool thing that any department in the hospital can use. Our nurses plan to make them and distribute them to their patients."

The butterscotch prescription bottles with the Kaiser label do not come from a pharmaceutical company, but are carefully packaged by recruited volunteers.

Inside the two-inch bottles are 42 laminated verses from the Bible that patients are encouraged to read three times a day as needed with prayer.

The label says 'For best results: Pray and meditate daily, Active ingredients: The Word of God, Physician: Jesus Christ.'

A yellow warning label on the side of the bottle lists side effects as love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness and temperance.

The first verse a patient pulls out reads "I will not die, but live and declare the works of God," Psalm 118:17.

"I looked up every verse to make sure it was in the Bible," said Koch, who received a similar bottle from a friend in Tennessee whose church makes them for their congregation. "Doctors can scare you with your diagnoses and this is what got me through with the peace that I needed. They really work."

Spreading the wealth
Contreras said she has had no problem passing out the prescriptions to her patients.

"I've had many patients who are down and think they are dying," said Contreras who works with about 250 breast cancer patients annually. "I look for an opportunity to see if they would be open to it. And usually they cry when I give it to them and thank me. I've had them tell me 'It's exactly what I needed.'"

Nurses in the Breast Care Center have volunteered to make the bottles with their own resources.

There are several doctors on staff at Kaiser who regularly pray with their patients as well, Contreras said.

Despite a recent study showing prayer did not affect the recovery rate of 1,800 heart bypass patients at six hospitals, Kaiser medical personnel still use it.

"I had my anesthesiologist and doctor both pray with me on two separate occasions before surgery," said Koch of her Dec. 13 mastectomy at Kaiser. "God surrounded me with wonderful Christian doctors and nurses. Surgery went well. I was home that night and up the next day."

Two days after surgery she was up shopping and feeling bored.

"I make these bottles to help other people experience the peace that I felt, but it also keeps me busy," said Koch, who is active in her church at Simple Faith in Corona, Calif. where she lives.

"My biggest problem is staying down long enough to really heal," she said. "I have so much energy and want to do so much."

Effective treatment?
About three-quarters of doctors said they believed prayer could be effective in healing patients, according to a 2004 study conducted in New York by the Jewish Theological Seminary of 1,087 practicing physicians.

They also found 59 percent of those doctors prayed for individual patients, 55 percent said they had observed miraculous recoveries in their practices and half said they made a regular habit of praying collectively for their patients.

The heart patient study, released in March, was conducted by Dr. Herbert Benson and is scheduled to appear in the American Heart Journal, according to the Associated Press.

But a New York Times article published on April 4, quoted Benson, a cardiologist, as acknowledging that two medical journals had turned down the study after revisions.

"We know that praying for oneself can influence health, so that's what led up to this topic," he told the New York Times.

Personal stake
Many argue the study was not done correctly because the patients did not know those praying for them.

 In an April 10 Seattle Press article on the issue, Dr. Larry Dossey said that in talking to the health care providers who have participated in research studies showing the widespread success of prayer, the key element centers on intimacy.

"Those healers say that if you want prayer to work, there has to be a compassionate connection," he said. "You have to care, not just pray."

Dossey, an internist in Texas, has written nine books and given numerous lectures at Duke, Harvard and other prestigious schools. In 1993 he served on Hillary Rodham Clinton's Task Force for health reform.

That's where medical personnel like Contreras come in.

"She cries with her patients," said Koch. "I know she cares."

And medical schools have been noticing the effect as well.

In 1993, three of 125 medical schools in the country offered course work in prayer, spirituality and medicine—now there are more than 90 schools offering those types of courses, according to Dossey.

Koch has plans to give away the prescription bottles to whoever can benefit.  She keeps them with her and looks for opportunities.

As she was receiving her chemotherapy treatment the attending nurse expressed intereste, Koch said.

"We are involved in our patient's body, mind and soul and are supposed to treat all of them," Contreras said. "I pray for my patients. It's part of being a nurse. Now I give them something tangible to hold onto."