In July 2018 I decided to take a month off from my usual life and sit with my dying.
My foster daughter went to live with her brothers carer, and I took a month off from my job.
My idea was to spend as much time as possible alone, in silence, reading, contemplating and meditating.
I wanted to be sure that I was genuinely at peace with dying. Perhaps I was really in denial? Had I just convinced myself on the surface to be peaceful when underneath I was scared? Had I created a persona that I felt I needed to live up to? The mind is very clever at fooling itself, so I wanted to create a space of no distractions where I was going to be able to confront my dying head on and see what happened.
I wasn’t quite sure where this urge to sit with dying was coming from. I even wondered if I would actually die during this month. Did my sub-conscious know something I didn’t and was preparing me for imminent death?
What I discovered was that I felt a kind of excitement in not knowing. Am I going to die? Am I going to heal?. Which way will it go? Once, this” not knowing” would have terrified me. Now it felt exciting. Maybe this is my version of living on the edge!
I felt that I wanted to be able to welcome death joyfully as a friend.
What I came to understand during this month, is that mentally, I don’t live in the same reality as the medical profession.
My reality is one in which anything is possible. One in which (to quote A Course in Miracles) “there is no order of difficulty in miracles”. You see, for me, there is as much chance that I will live as there is that I will die. Doctors generally only see healing as originating from the physical body. I see healing as originating from the spirit and mind as well. Healing through purely physical means is limited and reasonably predictable. Once the spirit and mind is actively engaged, its a whole new ball game. Who knows what is going to happen. Read “Dying to be Me” by Anita Moorjani for an inspiring example of this.
Life is much more complicated, mysterious, powerful, exciting and miraculous then we can ever imagine. We limit the possibilities and the miracles by being stuck in rigid beliefs and perceptions.
So I meditated and contemplated, got distracted, went out, got busy at times then took myself back into silence again. I simply could not seem to generate any fear about dying. In fact, the deeper I went into silence, the more peaceful I felt.
Ten days into my date with death, I had a really busy weekend. Visitors staying, then I have my foster daughter and her 2 sisters and brother for an afternoon. With three pre-teens dashing around the house, it was very chaotic and noisy, and in the midst of this, the realisation slid into my mind that I was not going to die from this cancer. It was a realisation rather than a thought. The difference is tangible. The feeling of it remains with me to this day although until I read my journal yesterday I had forgotten about it. It came out of nowhere in the middle of noise and chaos, and although I was delighted, I was also indignant. I had taken a month off from my life to make peace with death: I felt the wind had been taken out of my sails. I think perhaps I was rather enjoying the drama of it all, and now I had to drop it because it appeared there was no imminent death to face. I feel a little nervous to trust this realisation, but I am compelled to because of the nature of it. I need to honour it without judgement.
A day later, during a meditation, I could clearly see that my whole idea of a dramatic wrestling with fear of death was totally misguided.
For several reasons.
The first was that I genuinely do not fear death. I am not able to generate a strong negative reaction to it. This, at times, has been a source of puzzlement to me. What I now believe, is that as we become more deeply connected with our soul, the fear of death naturally falls away. The soul does not fear death. It has no need to. Death cannot touch the soul. Death can only touch the body.
The second reason was that my mind had concocted a story about me sitting with death, wrestling with the fear of it, overcoming it and triumphantly victorious, coming out the other side. Great story. But it wasn’t really my story. What I realised, was that this whole notion of wrestling or fighting was anathema to me. I don’t agree with the language of warfare. It just doesn’t sit right. I realised it actually wasn’t about wrestling with the fear of death, it was all about SURRENDERING into death. Or rather, surrendering into the flow of life which includes death and continues on.
As I sat with this realisation, I could see that there really was no difference between surrendering into life and surrendering into death. It was one and the same. From a purely physical point of view this is patently untrue, but when we shift our awareness from the physical to the spiritual, we can see that it is true.
I got out my journal and wrote. And as I wrote, I understood that this month that had begun with a story of me wrestling with death was actually the beginning of me completely surrendering into life, and that surrendering into life was actually a return to Love. ( I deliberately write Love with a capital letter). Things are often not what they seem.
Now, as I write this blog 18 months later, I can see that it truly was the beginning of surrendering more deeply into life. A journey that continues to go deeper and deeper.
It seems a paradox that in the face of death we can learn to really embrace life. I think this is because letting go of attachments enables us to live in a freer, less stuck way.
It has been a long time since I was diagnosed with cancer, however I am going to write this post in case there is some-one newly diagnosed reading my blog.
Even if you have known something isn’t right in your body, or you have an obvious lump like I did and you suspect it is cancer, it is still a shock. If we had a choice, we would all choose a life in which we were always healthy and happy. Cancer doesn’t fit into the ideal scenario, so we don’t want it.
Cancer is associated with all those negative words that I mentioned in a previous blog called “The Language of Cancer”, so I doubt there are too many people in the world who have been overjoyed on being told they have it. Mostly, we are afraid we will die and/or experience pain and loss of our current lifestyle. Our minds will probably attach a myriad of other fears to these main ones as well.
I can’t tell you that you won’t experience physical pain, but you may not. It depends on where the cancer is, what type and your mental attitude. For the first 12 years of having cancer in my body, I experienced almost no pain. I doubt I would have taken a packet of panadol altogether over those years. The last 12 months have been a different story, however I still have no pain most of the time and I have stage 4 metastatic breast cancer with many metasteses throughout my body . Don’t have the expectation that you will be in pain.
I also can’t tell you that you won’t die from cancer. You may; you may not. However, I can confidently tell you that you will die someday. It’s not negotiable. Having cancer is a good time to make peace with death. There are huge benefits to doing this that I will share with you in another blog.
What I can tell you though, is that your mind can make a big difference to how you experience cancer. Not just mentally and emotionally, but also physically.
My first suggestions to you are these:
Tell yourself everyday, many times a day, that “I am a well person with cancer”.
We have trillions of cells in our body of which there may be a few million that have formed into a tumour. Lets not forget the healthy ones of which there are many more!
Remind yourself that your body knows how to heal itself and will make every attempt to return to balance. It does and it will. Your body has not become your enemy. You have some rogue cells that have for whatever reason decided not to die (apoptosis is the official term); they are like outlaws who have decided to do their own thing and not contribute to the overall well being of the community they live in. Like any good community, the other members will do everything they can to address the situation. I repeat: your body has not become your enemy. Trust it and start listening to it.
Next, stop eating sugar and processed foods, reduce your meat intake and eat more fresh fruit and vegetables. There are two reasons for this suggestion. The first is that it will give you a sense of empowerment, and you are less likely to fall into the role of cancer victim (I really, really dislike that term), and two, it will support your body to heal. Cancer cells are anaerobic – they feed on sugar. Processed foods have very little nutritional value compared to fresh fruit and vegetables and are often full of salt or sugar, plus numerous chemicals. Your body will thank you for making these changes. If you feel you haven’t got the time to be making your meals from scratch, I suggest you invest in a high powered blender or at least the highest powered nutribullet and start making yourself smoothies. They taste delicious, are nutritious, quick to make and fill you up. There are millions of recipes on line, or buy Jason Vales book Super Juice Me or Sally Obermeders Super Green Smoothie book. If you want to get really serious, buy a cold press juicer and start juicing.
Start doing some exercise if you haven’t already. There are lots of studies out there showing that regular exercise increases your chances of healing. At least go for a walk everyday, preferably in nature which comes with its own positives.
Start saying NO. Having cancer is a great time to start saying no and begin culling out of your life the people and activities that aren’t really supporting you. As you become more self aware, you will recognise easily who and what they are. This doesn’t involve being mean, but simply making it clear that you need to put your well-being first. It is not being selfish (unless you go overboard and expect everyone to serve you). You are important.
The last suggestion (but by no means the least important), is that you take personal responsibility for your health. Unless you are fortunate enough to have an Integrative Oncologist (one who uses nutrition and other so called “alternative” treatments as well as mainstream treatments), your Oncologist has been trained to recommend surgery, chemotherapy, radiation, drugs or possibly immunotherapy. Most Oncologists have no clue how to support the body to heal. This is not their fault, it is not what they are trained to do, so don’t expect them to do it. They also pay little attention to how your mind affects your well-being for the same reason.
I believe a holistic approach to healing cancer is the most intelligent. Use everything at your disposal. As well as your Oncologist, find yourself a good naturopath, herbalist, chiropractor, mediation teacher, psychologist or counsellor who will help you not only to survive, but to thrive. (And help you with the side effects of the medical treatment).
Connect with your mind, body and spirit.
One last thing: be very careful about asking for a time-frame if the prognosis is bad. Unless you are very strong minded, it has a way of lodging in your sub-conscious. The mind is a very powerful thing and can be our worst enemy. It is well known that people have been told they have six months to live, and because they believe it, that is what happens. There are many, many people out there like me who are living well with cancer many years past the date Doctors predicted they would die. There are also many, many people out there who are cancer free when Doctors expected they would die. Read about these people. Focus on the positive stories. Why couldn’t you be one of them? Get your Will written, your affairs in order (that is just commonsense), then continue living life!
Cancer WILL change you.
You have the power to make that change a positive one.
As I was mulling over the new year and thinking about the tradition of New Years resolutions, I decided that I was not going to make any resolutions this year, as traditionally I am full of enthusiasm for the first week then invariably forget about them, helping to reinforce the belief that still lingers that I am lazy and un-disciplined.
It is worthwhile writing down the words we use when we are angry with ourselves. It can be a clue to beliefs we hold about ourselves that are busy running the show on a sub-conscious level without us being aware of it. I had no idea until several years ago that I held the belief that I was lazy and undisciplined. It wasn’t until I was writing in my journal, raging at myself that I realised I sub-consciously thought this.
I could then see how I had spent years creating situations that ultimately reinforced this belief and caused me to sabotage myself.
As I was thinking about the new year, the words of Don Miguel Ruiz in his book The Four Agreements came to mind. He spoke of being “Impeccable with Your Word”.
It is a few years since I last read this book, so today I read the first chapter again. I think this is a message for me as I begin this blog. To Be Impeccable with My Word.
In this chapter, Don Miguel tells us that through the word we express our creative power. It is through the word that we manifest everything. The word is not just a sound or written symbol. The word is a force. Depending on how we use it, the word can set us free or can enslave us more than we know.
He describes the word Impeccable as meaning “without sin” . A sin is anything you do which goes against yourself, therefore Being impeccable with your word means not using the word against yourself.
He says “If I love myself I will express that love in my interactions with you, and then I am being impeccable with the word because that action will produce a like reaction. If I love you, then you will love me. If I insult you, then you will insult me. If I am selfish with you, then you will be selfish with me. Being impeccable with your word is the correct use of your energy: it means to use your energy in the direction of truth and love for yourself”.
As I read this chapter and write, I am once again in awe of the perfect synchronicity in the universe… this chapter ties in perfectly with what I have written in the first couple of paragraphs of this blog. Don Miguel tells us that “whenever we hear an opinion and believe it, we make an agreement, and it becomes part of our belief system. The only thing that can break this belief is to make a new agreement based on truth. Only the truth can set us free”.
I am not making a resolution, but I have written the words “Be Impeccable with My Word” on a piece of paper and taped it to my bedside table where I can see it when I get up each morning. I don’t often quote the Bible, but did Jesus not say that the greatest commandment is to “love thy neighbour as thyself”. This implies that we must love ourselves. In fact, it is very difficult to love another when we don’t love ourselves.
Healing the mind is liberating and changes the way we live. When we are released from the slavery of outdated beliefs from the past, we can be more present, less reactive, more joyful. More our true selves… Who wouldn’t want that?
Awareness is the key to all change. The words carved above the Oracle at Delphi in ancient times said “know thyself”. Once we become aware of sub-conscious programs they no longer have power over us and with continued awareness, will naturally fall away.
When I met my partner Ian thirteen years ago, he had been diagnosed with Pancreatic and Liver cancer nine months previously, and had been told there was nothing that could be done and to come back for palliative chemotherapy when the pain got too bad.
He was 40 years old.
Meeting Ian was the beginning of my descent into a ‘dark night of the soul”, a period where life as I knew it, my comfortable, secure life, was completely and utterly ripped apart.
It was as though an unseen hand picked me up and shook me violently. Everything I thought I knew about myself, about life, and about God was shown to be completely wrong. I discovered that I had no idea who I was, no idea who or what God was, and no idea how to really live.
I was completely broken and very, very afraid.
This dark night of the soul lasted for almost two years. I was saved from a complete mental breakdown only because I intuitively knew that it had to happen, it was part of a Divine plan, and that I would get through it. Without this “knowing”, I don’t know if I would have been strong enough to survive it. I guess you could call this grace. Even with this knowing, there were many times when death seemed like an easier option than living.
I realised that I was very afraid of death, but I was even more afraid of life.
I could clearly see that I had lived in an underlying state of fear for most of my life and I made a vow that if God was a God of love like people were telling me (and this had not been my experience), then there must be a way to live in this world without fear, without suffering, and I was going to find it.
I didn’t even know if it was possible for me to live without fear. At that point I couldn’t even imagine what living fearlessly would be like – it was totally incomprehensible.
What quickly became apparent to me, was that it was my thoughts that caused my suffering. In one sense it was distressing to discover that my mind was the cause of my suffering and fear, because I had no idea how to break the habits of forty years of thinking, but on the other hand, it was empowering because I dimly understood that this was the way out of suffering and the solution was in my hands, (or rather my mind); whether I suffered or not was not dependent on circumstances outside of myself, much of which I had little control over anyway.
At this point in time, I was so broken that I had no sense of empowerment at all. I simply wanted someone else to fix me. Someone, please take away my fear and make me empowered. I was terrified to take responsibility for myself and my own emotional healing but I knew that I had to. “Someone” couldn’t do it for me, although many people were helpers on the way. I had to do it myself.
I understood that I needed to reprogram my thinking. I had been exceptionally insular mainly because of the teachings of the church I had been in since birth, so this was really, really hard for me.
And so began an initially agonising journey to find myself and a healthy way to live in the world without suffering.
Fast forward eight years, and I am driving to Perth – a 170km trip. Ian has been flown by the Flying Doctors to Perth, vomiting blood. I am not sure if he is going to be alive when I get up there to the hospital. He is my Soulmate, my Love. Suddenly I realise that I am peaceful. The only thoughts going through my head are that everything is perfect – everything is unfolding exactly as it should be, all is well. I just need to be open and allow it to unfold. It dawns on me that all the work of reprogramming my mind, of digging deep and acknowledging the emotional wounds that had kept me in bondage for so long, that this work had brought me to this place of peace. It seemed to me that if all I feel is peace at a time that would be universally acknowledged as being extremely stressful, then this proved I had found a way out of suffering.
Ian did not die in Perth.
He died three weeks later back in our home town. He was 49 years old. He had lived for nine and a half years with pancreatic and liver cancer. A miracle in itself.
My peace continued, even during his dying and after.
There is much, much more to this story that I will probably share with you later.
I just want you to understand that if I can come from a place of constant fear and anxiety to a place of almost constant peace, then anyone can do it.
You just have to want it enough.
I don’t know if you have noticed, but the language surrounding cancer is the language of warfare.
Pain, suffering, VICTIM (my least favourite), loss, fear, aggressive, fight, kill, battle, conquer, victory, hopeless, enemy, war, death.
These are all words I have regularly seen associated with cancer. The media in particular loves these words because they are emotive and predominantly fear based.
The language of war is a language of fear (unless you are the victor). My passion is to help reduce the fear around cancer, so a good place to begin I think, is with the language.
We often don’t realise the power of words. The words that surround cancer heighten the fear. The word “cancer” carries with it the accumulated energy of the words associated with it.
Masaru Emoto in his book Healing Power of Water, describes how that “in Japan, it is believed that every word possesses a soul. For e.g Gratitude. When we say the word, we haven’t just given sound to a string of letters, but have expressed a meaning and a feeling. We believe that a word possesses this power of transmission because it has a share of the word soul and is its representative. By saying “gratitude”, we enter into resonance with this word soul and vibrate in unison with it.”
Wow! That is pretty powerful stuff – and beautifully put. And so true.
Still yourself for a moment, close your eyes and think of the word “cancer”. See what words and emotions are associated with it. You may even feel your body as well as your mind react to it by a tightening in your gut, or a physical feeling of tension. In contrast, think of the word “joy”, and see what words and emotions come up. It immediately becomes apparent that words do carry an energetic charge that affects both our mind and our body.
The word “cancer” carries with it an immensely negative charge perpetuated by the prevailing fear filled attitude towards it – in my opinion, unconsciously aided and abetted by the medical profession and the media.
Despite living with cancer for 13 years, I am not, and never will be, a cancer “victim”.
I am not battling cancer, it has never been a fight, I am not part of a war.
As a result, suffering has not been my experience. (Pain is physical, suffering is mental/emotional).
Cancer has taught me how to live joyfully.
Cancer has taught me how to love deeper,
To be more real,
To be vulnerable, soft, more open
To be peaceful
To be much more fearless
Cancer has taught me not to sweat the small stuff
Cancer has taught me to be grateful, to appreciate each day.
Help me to re-frame cancer and reduce the fear surrounding it.
You can start off simply by not talking about cancer “victims” or the “battle”.
Don’t talk about someone who has died as having “lost their battle with cancer”, as though dying of cancer is some ignominious defeat – a personal failure.
Don’t show pity for someone with cancer – that is dis-empowering and originates from YOUR fear.
Think about the words you speak and think – not just in relation to cancer, but in life in general.
Are they predominantly uplifting and empowering? Or do they drag you down and dis-empower.
Remember – once we are aware, we can choose our perceptions, our attitudes our responses to life. When we are unaware, we are run by our sub conscious programs – many of which we adopted when we were children and which no longer serve us.
Change your mind – change your life.
I have decided to begin sharing my experience of cancer in the hope that in some tiny way it can help to dispel the fear in our culture that surrounds this illness.
As some of you are aware, I have lived with cancer for almost 13 years. I chose not to have conventional treatment (radiation/surgery/chemotherapy) until this last 6 months during which I have had two weeks of radiation for management of symptoms.
I am not advocating rejecting conventional treatments as the best path for everyone, however it felt right for me. I believe that the healthiest attitude is to explore available options, both conventional and alternative and make an informed choice based on what feels right for you.
Almost two years ago, I was told that my condition was “terminal”. I found this very amusing. Isn’t every living creature on this earth going to die? Sorry to be brutal, but the only difference between me and you, is that doctors believe they know what I will die from and an approximate time frame.
Last scan in February, the cancer was in my left breast, lymph nodes, both lungs, chest, spine, pelvis, both femurs, shoulders… I think that was all. 😅😁…. who knows where it is now.
The great passion that has arisen out of my experience is the power of mind and spirit in how we live our lives. My Palliative Care specialist believes that the reason I have well and truely outlived statistics, is because of my mind and spirit. Apparently, statistically, I should have died years ago. Lucky I dont put my belief into statistics.
Through my posts, I want to share some of the perspectives that I believe enable me to keep so physically well, and mentally happy and peaceful when my body is so compromised. I have a great life, and I love life. Paradoxically, cancer has taught me how to really live.
My thought for today;
This cancer in my body in Reality, is neither “good” nor “bad”.
It just “Is”.
Only my mind attributes the value.
How I experience the cancer is greatly affected by my perception of it.
If I choose (and despite perceptions appearing to be involuntary, we do have a choice), to perceive it as “bad” , negativity, fear, victimhood, suffering and pain will arise.
If I choose to perceive it as “it just Is”, it has no power over me, and by ceasing to perceive it as “bad” I open a space wherein the potential for it to be “good” arises. We live in a universe which is underpinned by love and joy. Within EVERYTHING (including cancer, and death), is the potential to experience love, joy, peace, happiness, contentment.
It is only our mind that prohibits us from experiencing this.
Isnt that exciting??!!!
Doesnt it take away fear? We cannot choose WHAT we will experience in life, but we can choose HOW we experience it.
In every situation try to choose Love not fear. It has the power to transform everything.
I am happy 99.9% of the time.
This is the gift cancer has brought me.