Of a Boy, a Brain Tumor, and a Battle: A Biofeedback Success Story

My guess is that, as he spent his days in second and third grade as all elementary students do–gazing out the window, learning a bit, chewing up pencils at the electric pencil sharpener, beginning to learn cursive just so they can forget it–Garrett Porter never guessed he’d go on to write a book about visualization and biofeedback.

But I’m sure he never guessed he’d have an inoperable brain tumor by the time he was 9, either, with doctors telling his parents he had less than a year to live.

But there he was, a 9-year-old with a right-hemisphere brain tumor, diagnosed as an astrocytoma, and a virtual death sentence, with doctors unable to operate, and no medical possibilities for prolonging his days.

Dr. Patricia Norris had worked as a biofeedback therapist since 1978 with clients with major illnesses–cancer, autoimmune disorders, AIDS, but when Porter was diagnosed in July, 1978, she was new, in  a new field, working in conjunction with the new Biofeedback Center at Menninger Clinic in Topeka, Kansas. Porter was her first cancer patient, and his parents must have had to take a leap of faith when they decided to use her.

It was a leap well worth taking. Norris used the alternative and  mind-body techniques at her disposal, and during an art therapy session Garrett, a boy with a vivid imagination, drew his tumor as Planet Meatball. White blood cells in the shape of Pacmans hovered around, ready to devour it.

And thus was his visualization born. Norris taught her patient about guided imagery, and then. . .Every night Garrett relaxed completely using relaxation techniques, and then underwent his own version of radiation: He pictured spaceships zooming in and chipping off pieces of Planet Meatball.

“Every night I would come in and blow it away completely,” Garrett says of his experience, “and then I’d start over again each night.”

Until the night Garrett couldn’t. In October, 1979, Garrett told his father he couldn’t do his exercises because he couldn’t visualize Planet Meatball at all. All he could see was a tiny white dot.

In early 1980 the CAT-scans were conclusive: in place of the cancerous tumor was a small calcium deposit–a tiny white dot.

Today the Menninger Clinic’s Biofeedback Center is a robust place, Norris still practices biofeedback, and Garrett has written two books with her about his experience, entitled Why Me?: Harnessing the Healing Power of the Human Spirit. He has been cancer-free all these years.

Now there is study after study–yes, some that scientist’s dream, the random controlled trial–of biofeedback with. . .ADD, hypertension, migraine headache, insomnia. And there’s some pretty good data about its effectiveness.

But, as someone trained in biofeedback, no research study, no statistics, no story–nothing, inspires and touches me like that of Garrett Porter’s does, when both he and biofeedback itself were relatively young, and there was nothing to be lost, and all to be gained.

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I help adults and adolescents through the particular struggles of our time: tension between couples, parenting frustration, blending new families, separation and divorce, (un)employment, cancer, and loss. When relationships come to an impasse, I use mediation techniques to try to ensure that each party will have his/her needs heard and accounted for in a dignified way. In addition to talking, listening, and reframing, I utilizes the tools of metaphor, active teaching, role-playing, visualization, and hypnotherapy.for families and businesses, as well as in cases of divorce.

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