By: Greg Anderson
The central reason for creating and managing this website is to help people with cancer understand the pivotal role they can choose to play in their own healing and eventual recovery. But in the minds of millions of people, a diagnosis of cancer means there is little room for anyone other than a team of specialists, doctors, and healthcare providers who will hopefully fix the problem. This belief is wrong, very wrong.
Yes, cancer patients need competent medical guidance and assistance. But all the medical treatment in the world will not and cannot create health and result in healing. Health is much more than healthcare. And it is important for those cancer patients who wish to survive and even thrive to take personal responsibility for doing all they can to get well and stay well—to find health and nurture true healing.
Where do we find health? How can we know healing? For the cancer patient, these are foundational questions. Thankfully, there is a hierarchy of answers.
The Will to Live
The will to live, a psychological force found within all of us, is your starting point. It can be easily understood as the inner desire for survival. The will to live is the most basic requirement for the cancer journey.
Like all creatures, human beings have a fierce instinct for survival. Sometimes the biology of cancer will dictate the course of events regardless of the patient’s attitude and fighting spirit. These events are often beyond our control. But patients with a positive attitude are clearly better able to cope with disease-related problems.
I have had hundreds of conversations with physicians who often observe how two patients of similar ages, with the same diagnosis, sharing a similar degree of illness and virtually identical treatment programs, experience vastly different outcomes. One of the few apparent differences was that one patient was pessimistic and the other optimistic.
We have known for over 2,000 years, from the writings of Plato and Galen, that there is a direct correlation between the mind, the body, and one’s health. “The cure of many diseases is unknown to physicians,” Plato concluded, “because they are ignorant of the whole. For the part can never be well unless the whole is well.”
The new emerging model of cancer care recognizes that the psychological and the physical elements of a body are not separate, isolated, and unrelated. Health is increasingly recognized as a balance of many factors, including physical and environmental elements, emotional and psychological states, nutritional and exercise habits, and more.
The will to live can be accurately seen as the starting point of health and healing. Believe it. Your will to live plays a large role in your recovery. The mind’s role in causing and curing disease has been endlessly debated. No studies have proven in a scientifically valid way that a person can control the course of his or her cancer with the mind alone. However, there are millions of individuals who attest to the power of positive attitude and emotions. I am one of those individuals. I purposely cultivated and strengthened my will to live. You can, too.
I often ask survivors to explain how they were able to transcend their health challenges. However diverse they are in ethnic or cultural background, age, gender, educational level, or type of illness, they have all gone through a similar process of a psychological shift. Virtually all consciously made a decision to live. After an initial period of feeling devastated, they simply decided to assess their new reality and live—however long that may be.
In my own case, the decision to live meant that I wanted to enjoy life and get more out of it, and most important, to believe that a cancer diagnosis did not mean my life was over. It also meant that I was willing to do whatever was needed to make the very most of each day.
The threat of death often renews our appreciation of the importance of life, love, friendship, and all there is to enjoy. We open up to new possibilities and begin taking risks we didn’t have the courage to take before. Many patients have told me that facing the uncertainties of living with an illness makes life more meaningful. The smallest pleasures are intensified and much of the hypocrisy in life is eliminated. When pettiness, bitterness, and anger begin to dissipate, there is still a capacity for joy. I want that for you.
Hope: The Force That Sets Your Course
Combining the will to live with hope creates health and healing on many levels. Cicero, the Roman statesman, is credited with the phrase, “While there is life, there is hope.” I believe those words have greater power in reverse: “While there is hope, there is life.” Hope comes first, life follows. Hope is the force that sets your course, inspiring the will to live and generating healing on every level.
The dictionary defines hope as a feeling that what is wanted can be had, that events will turn out for the best. That definition is not strong enough. Hope can best be defined as a deeply confident expectation. It is a force, a mental, emotional, and spiritual power, a strength you possess. Hope gives power to life to continue, expand, reach out, and go on. Hope is the miracle medicine of the mind. It inspires the will to live. Hope is the patient’s greatest ally.
I ask that you stop to consider the importance of hope in your cancer journey. Please allow me to gently, lovingly ask you three questions:
- Do you carry a vision of yourself as struggling or victorious?
- Do you believe crippling disease or vibrant health is in your future?
- Do you live most of each day filled with helplessness or infused with hopefulness?
How you envision yourself and perceive your circumstances has a great deal to do with your actual life experience. It’s true in all areas of life—our relationships, our work, and especially our health.
One essential key to unlocking health is to carry a vision of hope. Hope revives ideals, renews dreams, and revitalizes visions. It scales the peak, wrestles with the impossible, and achieves the highest aim.
Carry this truth deep in your heart: as long as you have hope, you are not helpless and no situation is hopeless.
A powerful act in creating health and healing is to choose the words you speak. Our words sometimes may spring forth without thought. But we have a choice in what we say. We can stop speaking about our problems and start speaking of our healing. The more we speak of solutions, as if they already exist, the less powerful our problems become. I ask that from this moment forward you begin to speak only of health and of healing. When you do, you plant the seeds to help create that reality.
A surgeon once admonished me, “You’re spreading false hope.” My response was, “I believe there is no such thing as false hope. I believe there is only reasonable hope.” However, in the world of cancer, there is a great deal of false no-hope. In medicine, that often takes the form of words like, “There’s nothing more we can do.” Or “You have only a few months to live.” Don’t believe it.
Clearly, it is unrealistic to pretend that nothing bad ever happens to us. Bad things do happen to good people. Cancer is one of those bad things. Pretending otherwise is not the answer. Nor is playing word games to make ourselves sound psychologically strong or spiritually pure. When bad things happen, admit it. Acknowledge the cancer, but keep your thoughts focused on the most hopeful outcome.
We simply must take personal responsibility for our thoughts and words. As long as we keep making excuses and blame our family tree, our doctor, or a higher power, we will never be truly well.
I say this gently and lovingly: it’s not the diagnosis of cancer that has you struggling and depressed. No. It’s your thoughts about your diagnosis and circumstances that keep you down.
In front of the Cancer Recovery Group’s offices is a 5,000-pound slab of Vermont granite. On it I had inscribed “Hope Rock,” and then added two essential rules. Here they are:
There is always hope.
If someone says there is no hope, re-read rule 1.
Believe it. There is always hope. Let that sink deep into your mind and spirit. Hope is the force that sets your course. Follow the rules. Set your compass on hope. Keep your mind filled with victory! It is one of the great sources of health and healing.
Spiritual Connection: Inner Guidance
Healing is a very personal journey, unique for each of us. At our deepest intuitive levels, most of us know many of the important things we need to do to get well and stay well. However, millions of us have forgotten how to listen to and trust our intuitive inner wisdom. Connecting with your own sense of what it means to be spiritual is an essential ingredient in defining your path to wellness.
I have come to understand that cancer is a call to listen to your Self—your Inner Healer, your deeper wisdom. Caught up in life’s busyness, we often forget how to relax the mind and quiet the spirit. But it is only when we can be at peace and surrender to our deeper wisdom that we can receive the inner guidance so essential to healing.
I ask you to begin today to quiet your mind long enough to discover your own healing pathway. What you will find is both surprising and exciting. Research in psychospiritual reality confirms what healers and spiritual teachers have known for centuries—at the level of Self, we are far more aware and knowledgeable than at the level of our conscious mind.
Prayer is one method of rediscovering our Self. For some people, this spiritual journey may be expressed through a religious framework. For others, spirituality is expressed through a connection with Nature or a similar quest. The common thread is to connect with our deepest authentic Self. And for the skeptics, we now even have early research to show that this quest can activate the immune system, promote healing, and increase the possibilities for recovery.
In our work, we have found the spiritual journey to healing can be reliably and predictably started with three practices—forgiveness, gratitude, and unconditional love.
Forgiveness is our letting go of hurts and grievances. To be clear, it is our offering of forgiveness to others, not our receipt of forgiveness from others, which makes the difference. Most of us know at a deep level the thoughts of recrimination and remorse to which we cling. It was only after I forgave my father that I was able to reclaim health and receive the gift of healing. Release. Let go. Forgive.
Gratitude is a state of living and being that is consciously aware of and appreciative of the countless blessings and kindnesses we receive each and every moment. So very often on the cancer journey, our sense of gratitude can be clouded, momentarily obscured by helplessness, doubt, and despair. But when we observe and affirm the good things in life, we see them set aside these negative thoughts.
Unconditional loving—I like the word loving rather than the word love, as it better communicates the action required to make love real—is the essential practice of spiritual connection. Unconditional loving is another and higher state of Self. It comprises a giving, a creative flow, and a harmony. It’s the acceptance of the human condition as perfectly imperfect. And it is a choice to love without any conditions; no “ifs” are allowed.
Forgiveness, gratitude, and unconditional loving. They are the gateway to your Self, to spiritual connection and inner guidance—one of the most powerful sources of health and healing.