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Reminiscence Therapy & Cancer Survival

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Cancer patients and survivors working to manage their mental health once they hear “you have cancer”  can be the loneliest and most difficult aspect of their illness. I believe that reminiscence therapy proved to be a therapy that is central to my long-term survival.

I have lived with an incurable blood cancer, multiple myeloma, since my diagnosis in early 1994

Conventional “standard-of-care” oncology focused exclusively on my physical health. FDA approved “safe and effective” therapies not only didn’t help me but led to a series of long-term and late stage side effects.

Oddly enough, when I reached end-stage myeloma, I ventured into the world of alternative therapies, stumbled on to the Burzynski Research Institute, where antineoplaston therapy put me in complete remission where I am today.

While reaching cancer-free status is a wonderful achievement for any cancer patient, the prospect of a relapse or a treatment-related secondary cancer is forever on your mind. Which brings me to a mind-body therapy that I credit with  possibly saving my life- reminiscence therapy.

As fate would have it, my 25th high school reunion happened just as I was sinking into the anxiety and pain that can develop in the years following cancer treatment ends.

While I can’t really explain it, gathering together my 100 plus classmates for our 25th became my sense of purpose leading up to our reunion. Long-story short, our 25th reunion weekend was a successful event which led to dozens of classmates communicating via email and texting in the years following.

I am not a psychologist by any means. However, when I read phrases like “Reminiscence is the act of recollecting past experiences or events…” and when I read about the importance of the “Reminiscence bump” I can’t help but think of the important role that this therapy plays in my ongoing cancer survival. 

I have no problem with conventional oncology focusing ONLY on the cancer patient’s physical health. It is critical, however, that patient’s understand this bias and address their mental health. 

Are you a cancer patient or survivor? Do you struggle with fear of relapse, anxiety or depression? Scroll down the page, post a question or comment and I will reply to you ASAP.

Hang in there,

David Emerson

  • Cancer Survivor
  • Cancer Co ach
  • Director PeopleBeatingCancer


Reminiscence is the act of recollecting past experiences or events. An example of the typical use of reminiscence is when people share their personal stories with others or allows other people to live vicariously through stories of family, friends, and acquaintances while gaining an authentic meaningful relationship with the people.[1]

Reminiscence bump

People have a stronger recollection of memories from their late teens and young adult years. In cognitive psychology this is called the reminiscence bump.

The reminiscence bump is a phenomenon that naturally occurs when elderly people can remember the most about their lives when they were between the ages of 10 and 30 years old. Even for patients with dementia, the years during the reminiscence bump remain intact (until their illness has become very advanced) and can be easily recalled with some simple triggers like pictures or songs. (Psychology Today, 2018).

The Efficacy of Reminiscence Therapy in Cancer-Related Symptom Management: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis

“Meta-analysis results showed that Reminiscence Therapy (RT) can improve overall quality of life of cancer patients of RT group to a certain extent hope . Meta-analysis results showed that the scores on the hope and dignity were significantly increased, and the difference were statistically significant…

Psychosocial care is one of the important approaches for cancer survivors to alleviate negative emotions and psychological symptoms like anxiety and depression., Psychosocial care commonly includes

  • cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT),
  • mindfulness therapy,
  • music therapy, and
  • reminiscence therapy (RT),
  • and others…

There are 3 main types of RT: simple reminiscence, life review, and life review therapy.

  1. Simple reminiscence usually focuses on the individual’s own pleasant and happy memories, and can be carried out in groups, pairs, or one-on-one by nurses and social workers in the community, nursing homes, and other places.
  2. Life review is used for the exploration of both positive and negative life experiences.

First, RT promotes positive feelings by repeatedly reconstructing life stories with patients, which promotes a positive experience and forms a sense of self-identity, so that their mental health is improved and their anxiety and depression relieved.,

Second, accompanying patients and paying attention to them in the process of reminiscence also reduce patients’ loneliness and affect their mood directly…”

The Efficacy of Reminiscence Therapy in Cancer-Related Symptom Management: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis

“Background: At present, simple reminiscence has been widely used in the field of neurocognitive disorders, life review/life review therapy has been widely used in the field of cancer, and both simple reminiscence and life review/life review therapy are suitable for psychological disorders such as depression and anxiety. However, the efficacy of reminiscence in treating cancer-related symptom has not been fully assessed…

Results: A total of 20 RCTs published in 2010 to 2021 were included, with a total of 1853 cancer patients. Meta-analysis results showed that the anxiety scale scores of the RT group were significantly lower than those of the control group…
Meta-analysis results showed that RT can improve overall quality of life of cancer patients of RT group to a certain extent hope. Meta-analysis results showed that the scores on the hope and dignity were significantly increased, and the difference were statistically significant.
Conclusion: This review indicates that RT has significant efficacy on cancer-related symptoms such as anxiety and depression. RT for cancer survivals can effectively improve quality of life, self-hope, and self-esteem. The findings of this meta-analysis can provide direction for future symptom management research…”

Preliminary Study of Reminiscence Therapy on Depression and Self-Esteem in Cancer Patients

“The present study investigated use of life review, a form of reminiscence, on the depression and self-esteem in cancer patients. 15 cancer patients in the experimental group participated in individual reminiscence therapy. 21 patients in the comparison group received no therapy.

All patients were measured on both depression and self-esteem scales during two testing periods. Analysis showed mean depression scores of the cancer patients decreased and mean self-esteem increased significantly after the life-review therapy sessions, while the scores of the comparison group did not change.

Furthermore, patients’ psychological states were improved, and they thought their problems had been addressed. These results suggest reminiscence therapy can be useful for cancer patients.”


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