Diving into the roots of the cancer tree
Have you ever felt you were living inside your own Groundhog Day movie? Where life repeats the same series of events until one day you wake up, smell the roses, see your life through new eyes and create a different ending? My wake-up call was when diagnosed with bowel cancer. As it turned out, the cancer was a gift not a curse. A beginning, not an ending. A catalyst to rewrite my life, give it new meaning and become cancer free.
I started by improving my health on every level but as I went deeper I discovered hidden family patterns that helped me to understand why I had cancer and how I could change my life. By diving into the roots of the cancer tree I could see who I was and why and who I could become and how. It enabled me to make peace with the past, find a new sense of purpose and expand who I am capable of being. Three years on I remain cancer free and about to embark on a new career.
Making a difference in your own journey
The aim of this blog is to inspire people to make a difference in their own healing journey. I am not advocating replacing sensible medical care but encouraging a broader perspective and dialogue around cancer. If you have cancer or are close to someone who has, here are some questions I recommend you investigate:
- Why is this happening to me? Being curious rather than fearful stimulates a higher level of awareness. It encourages the person to participate in their healing process and be open to valuable insights.
My healing journey was inspired by many cutting edge thinkers including Dr Donny Epstein, author of 12 Stages of Healing. Epstein talks about illness never being an isolated incident but connected to other life circumstances. Asking why stimulates a higher level of thought and further investigation behind the reason and purpose of the illness.
Epstein also speaks about choosing between two healing paths – to restore or re-organise your life? The restorative practitioner eliminates the symptom and restores the client to the life they had before. Although this creates certainty and comfort, there is a high risk the symptom or illness will return because nothing has changed. If the patient is seeking lasting wellness he recommends reorganising their life. To question why their pain or illness is happening, review their life and look at what needs to be done differently. Investigating my life like a detective led to profound insights which helped me to understand why I had cancer and what I needed to change in order to become cancer free. These insights surfaced when I least expected them – during dance workshops, as I worked with practitioners, in my dreams, even at a writer’s workshop. So keep an open mind. I’m currently writing a series of articles and a book which capture these insights in detail.
- What was happening in my life prior to the diagnosis? Reflect and connect the dots between the past and the present, then consider what needs changing.
Initially I looked to my immediate past to find the answers. When the gastroenterologist explained the cancerous polyp in my lower bowel had been growing for about a year I immediately saw the connection to a fateful decision I’d made the previous year – to move interstate to start a new contract – which turned into the job from hell. This compounded my stress levels which had been soaring through the roof in recent years. So I needed to change how I worked, what else? An insight received during a dance workshop led me to discover I was preconditioned to hold stress in my bowels, which in turn had caused me to suffer from chronic constipation throughout my childhood and teenage years. In the three years prior to my diagnosis, chronic constipation had plagued me once more. I began to understand these symptoms were an indication of high stress levels. If high levels of stress reduced my immunity and made me more susceptible to the proliferation of cancer cells, then my bowels were clearly my weak spot. This insight forced me to recognise the need to reduce my stress levels, increase my immunity, improve my overall health (especially my bowel health), and reinvent or restructure my working life.
- What’s right with me rather than what’s wrong? What dreams have I given up on? Then act and do something you love, no matter how small.
In his book Cancer as a Turning Point, psychologist Dr Larry LeShan noted a decrease in the functioning of the immune system is not only a precursor to illness but may well be linked to the emotional history of the person, since feelings affect body chemistry. In the years leading up to their diagnosis many of his cancer patients had silently lost faith in ever living a meaningful life, and nearly every one secretly admitted to having unfulfilled dreams. Dreams that said – this is who I really am. He understood humans inherently need personal goals. A reason to get up in the morning and have something worthwhile to do. So he stopped asking what was wrong with them, and asked what was right? What had they always wanted to do but given up on? Once they found their sense of purpose they began to fight back with a vengeance and the mortality rate of his cancer patients dropped by a staggering 50%!
At the Cancer as a Turning Point USA retreat in 2014 I explored what had I given up on? My love of teaching dance was the answer. In 1986 I discovered sacred circle dance while living in England. These eastern European village dances instilled a deep sense of community spirit and I loved them so much I trained as a teacher and brought the dance back to Australia. Although I returned to the corporate world after five years of teaching dance full time, I never completely gave up on the dance, it just took a back seat. Instead I became a student of ecstatic dance and learned how to move and include every part of myself. I explored, expressed and embraced my inner world without fear or favour and expanded my sense of self from the inside out. In return I felt refreshed and invigorated, blessed with energy, conscious awareness and inner peace. Returning from the retreat in 2014 I reflected. Was I ready to give up my corporate life or at least restructure it so I could teach once more and support others awaken their hidden dreams? This month I begin a two year training with Open Floor International, a wonderful dance movement meditation practice that builds muscular and emotional intelligence, mindfulness and soulfulness.
- Am I partnering with my practitioners or abdicating my authority to them? It’s important to be empowered and feisty.
According to LeShan feisty patients survive much longer. It stimulates the immune system and says “I care about you, am committed and mean it.” He also recommends not abdicating your authority to others and becoming a complacent child as that is for the practitioners’ and hospital’s convenience, not yours. His advice to people who feel helpless and fearful in the face of cancer? Act and do something that makes your heart sing, no matter how small. If you need inspiration, read his book.
- Do I understand how cancer cells form? Do your research and make well informed choices.
Until I did my research I had no idea we all have cancer cells occurring in the body, all the time! What triggers them to proliferate is another matter. The medical profession agree that prolonged levels of stress can trigger a significant drop in immunity and the proliferation of cancer cells, but there are other triggers too. My sense is we are more vulnerable to cancer when those triggers accumulate and the body loses its natural ability to fight back. That’s why I continue to look after my physical, mental, emotional and spiritual health and take Salvestrols a remarkable anti-cancer breakthrough and supplement developed by British medical researchers Prof Dan Burke and Prof Gerry Potter and their team. I consider them my internal security system, continually on the lookout for any abnormal or cancerous cells, ready to go on a search and destroy mission before the situation ever becomes critical again.
- Am I willing to adjust my approach and choose practitioners, tools and techniques I resonate with? If not, be willing to change them and learn what works for you.
As a Change Manager in the corporate world I fully understand that to successfully reach your destination you need to be prepared to learn from what works and what doesn’t because every organisation and culture is different. That means there is no one size fits all approach to managing change (or cancer). Usually there is a roadmap to follow, but along the way there’s always a need for constant re-evaluation and re-adjustments. I love the story about the spaceflight that took Armstrong to the moon. It was only on course three per cent of the time and landed successfully because its position was constantly monitored and corrected to keep it on course.
Remember cancer isn’t just about where it is physically located or your physical health, it’s about who you are as a person and what was happening in your life prior to your diagnosis. So create a program that is fit for you and choose practitioners, tools and techniques you resonate with and be prepared to change your approach if it doesn’t work. Since everything is connected, don’t just focus on healing the physical, but include tools and techniques that address the mental, emotional and spiritual too. As well as my surgeon, at different stages of my journey I worked with an integrated medical practitioner/naturopath/homeopath, a flower essence practitioner (Healing Orchids and Australian Bush Flowers), a Chiron healer and Network Care practitioner. I am now exploring Reconnective Healing and will have more to say about that in a future post.
Need more information?
- The 12 Stages of Healing: Dr Donny Epstein and Nathaniel Altman
- Cancer as a Turning Point: Lawrence LeShan (PhD)
- Cancer as a Turning Point retreats and services: http://www.cancerasaturningpoint.org/
- Open Floor International: http://openfloor.org/
- Salvestrols: Search for Prof Dan Burke on You Tube, or visit http://salvacare.com.au