Cancer As A Turning Point (Lawrence LeShan): Book Review


When quality of life improves, so can quantity. Lawrence LeShan, considered the father of cancer psycho-therapy shows how changing our approach to life together with medical treatment mobilises a compromised immune system for healing. Find out how.       

Cancer As A Turning Point

As the title indicates, this landmark book is about making fundamental changes and living life in a more meaningful way. Because when ‘quality’ of life improves, so does ‘quantity’!

Lawrence LeShan is considered the father of cancer psycho-therapy. His practice and research over 40 years shows how changing our approach to life together with medical treatment mobilises a compromised immune system for healing.

LeShan’s methods get very impressive results: Over 50 per cent of his patients with poor prognoses have experienced long-term remission and nearly 100 per cent dramatically improved their emotional state and quality of life!

LeShan has observed that that a large number of his cancer patients appear to

  • Have suffered some kind of loss (either of a loved one or a job or a relationship or indeed of a certain familiar context or routine).
  • Have low self-esteem on account of living on someone else’s terms and therefore living an unfulfilled life.

Despair can turn into cancer

This is the key insight of LeShan’s work. Cancer patients experience a loss of hope which turns into a deep despair and which may ultimately turn into cancer.

“In some cases, the despair runs so deep and is so much a part of them that even the appearance of cancer made no difference to their lives. In fact they saw their cancer as nothing new, only the latest and maybe final example of the hopelessness of their existence.”

Developing a positive mindset

From this perspective, cancer can be seen as the physical manifestation of the inner futility the patient feels and has adopted as a life stance. This is what requires re-orientation.

At the core of LeShan’s approach are two questions that he helps his patients answer

  • What would your life be like if you adjusted the world to yourself instead of – like most patients do – adjusting yourself to the world?
  • What kind of life and lifestyle will make you glad to jump out of bed in the morning and glad to go to bed at night?

Throughout the book you will find successful case histories where people have been motivated to believe that they are important, unique and special and are worth fighting for and taking care of.

“What’s Right”, not “What’s Wrong”

While the book covers a wide range of useful topics, what stood out for me was LeShan’s simple and powerful concept: Ask not “what is wrong with me?” but “what is right within me?”

Instead of the usual questions that many doctors may ask: “What is wrong with this person? How did he/she get that way? And what can be done to eliminate the disease?” LeShan’s therapeutic approach is based on entirely different questions like

  • What is right with this person?
  • How is he/she unique?
  • What kind of life would give him/her zest, enthusiasm and involvement?
  • How can we work together to give him/her a sense of deep  fulfillment?

The Workbook

The book’s second edition includes a workbook with a series of 29 pen and paper activities. Involving reflection, discussion and writing, these exercises are designed to help you define your goals and questions and come to terms with your fears.


  • What loss have I faced recently and how have I dealt with this particular ‘ending’?
  • What is my deepest unfulfilled wish for myself and what steps can I take in this direction?


Cancer as a Turning Point- A Handbook for People with Cancer, Their Families, and Health Professionals” by Lawrence LeShan. (This link is for your information only. We do not earn any commissions/ fees when you click it and/or when you purchase the book.)


Stephanie Browne is a student of Communication at Mount Carmel College, Bangalore




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