This post is the eleventh in a series of posts exploring the 9 key factors that Dr Kelly Turner PhD found were present in the recoveries from advanced cancer that she studied in her book Radical Remission. Those 9 factors were:
- Radically changing your diet (Part 1 here and Part 2 here)
- Taking control of your health (here)
- Following your intuition (here)
- Using herbs and supplements (here)
- Releasing suppressed emotions (here)
- Increasing positive emotions (here)
- Embracing social support (here)
- Deepening your spiritual connection (here)
- Having strong reasons for living.
This is the post where we explore how having strong reasons for living can impact on healing from cancer. It all begins in the mind. To find out more about the book Radical Remission, go to the post “Being Radical – Introduction” here.
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?
As she was analyzing the transcripts of her interviews for Radical Remission, Dr Kelly Turner believed that there was a powerful theme emerging – that people who had experienced radical remissions simply did not want to die. But as she dug deeper, it occurred to her that their attention was not so much focused on avoiding death, but on being alive. “This is a subtle, yet important, difference.”
It was not so much that people were afraid of death, but that they wanted to keep on living. They had things to do.
What you resist, persists.
What we give our attention to gets stronger. Being prepared to die, and to die well, seems to go hand in hand with living well. If we spend our time focused on, or defending against, death, then we miss the opportunity to live well in our remaining days. However, if we can accept, and make peace with, the fact that death may come at any moment (even if we are healthy) then we can live fully in the remaining moments.
In his foreward to The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying, His Holiness the Dalai Lama says this:
…if we wish to die well, we must learn how to live well: Hoping for a peaceful death,
we must cultivate peace in our mind, and in our way of life.
And so radical remission survivors tend to be people who find strong reasons for living. There are 3 aspects to this which are explored in Radical Remission:
1. Confidence from your core
The desire to live must come from your very essence. There needs to be a conviction, an absolute desire to live coupled with the belief that it is possible.
In The Connection, the documentary about mind-body medicine, Ian Gawler discusses the role conviction played in his own healing. He says that for some time he knew that there was a lingering doubt in his mind about his capacity to get well. From the outside, it would have seemed that he was doing everything he could but he concedes that the limiting factor in his recovery was his own mind. It was not until he went to see the holy man, Sai Baba that this shifted. Sai Baba said to Ian “You are already healed, don’t worry.” This gave Ian the conviction he needed. He now says this in You Can Conquer Cancer.
“Even when conventional medicine says there is nothing more we can do towards a cure, I do believe
there is still real hope on offer. Where the “magic bullet” actually does reside is within you.”
[A personal aside. Today I have found out that my immune system, which crashed last year, is now well within the normal range. I actually have one. The doctors told me a year ago there was nothing they could do for me. That hopefully I would recover over time but they didn’t know. I dragged myself from my bed to go and see the premier of The Connection. The part where Ian talks about his experience with Sai Baba and conviction resonated for me and gave me hope. And conviction. I haven’t missed a day’s meditation since. Tonight I will meditate to celebrate. I really want to acknowledge the role this film played for me at a time when I had lost hope.]
2. The mind leads the body
From the time I started blogging, I have referred to the advice of Ian Gawler that good health begins in the mind.
The mind is responsible for all that we do, the decisions we make and the way we care for ourselves. Kelly Turner interviewed both survivors (or thrivers) and healers about the role of the mind in healing. One survivor says:
“The healing of any disease starts with a calm, unfettered mind and a strong desire to live.”
The Connection also extensively explores the role of the mind in healing. Damien Finniss MD, an Australian expert in the clinical applications of placebo, says this:
“Belief is critical because belief has the ability to trigger part of the overall healing response.
In simple terms, belief is part of why we get better. It’s not the complete answer,
but it’s one part of any medical treatment, which is important.”
This is why meditation can be so important – it enables the mind to settle and become clear, in the face of the anxiety caused by a cancer diagnosis. It helps you to discover whether in fact you want to live or not. Whether you even have the desire to live. And it allows you to tap into your inner wisdom and confidence.
3. Finding your calling
We all know that facing death can lead to a re-evaluation of our lives and our priorities. There are many people who say that a cancer diagnosis was the impetus they needed to make changes in their lives or who, like me, believe that it was the best thing that could have happened to them. If we prepare for the prospect of death, we can live each day like it’s our last – and that means doing the things that are important to us and dropping those things that oppress and frustrate us.
For many, it turns out that their calling is sharing their experience and helping others. Others turn to a creativity they have suppressed for years and others just simply push the unimportant things aside to be able to spend more time with family and loved ones. Some do all these things.
My personal experience? This. And teaching meditation. It all just feels so right. I have known since my early 20s I felt drawn to teaching and writing. I thought the law was where it was going to happen. But throughout my legal career, there was a niggle of something being not quite right. The first time I did a meditation retreat, the niggle got really loud. And then I pushed it away again. But since early 2013, I have known, deep within, that all of my life’s experiences are the platform from which I can serve. And because it feels like this, I can teach a meditation class and sleep well at night, knowing that what I do might just really benefit someone. And that makes life worth living.
Each day I ask to be shown how I can be of service.
And I also make much more time to nurture my relationships. I have discovered just how important they are to me. Lots of hugs and lots of appreciation mean lots of smiles and lots of feel-good healing chemicals in the body.
A whole lot less about doing – out in the world striving for success and wealth – and a whole lot more about being. Just being.
There is research on having strong reasons for living
Radical Remission discusses this research. It seems that focusing on living, rather than death can lead to longer survival times and reduce the risk of relapse. This is also explored in The Connection. But if we focus on fighting, fighting the cancer in particular, then our body can remain in chronic stress. According to Radical Remission, having a “fighting spirit” has not been shown to improve survival rates. Remember what I said above? What we resist, persists.
So how do we find the reasons for living?
At the end of the chapter in Radical Remission, there are action steps you can take to help your life feel more meaningful. I’ve said it before and I say it again – if you are living with cancer, this book and You Can Conquer Cancer are indispensable.
Otherwise meditation can help. When in doubt, meditate. It has certainly helped me and countless others and it enables us to connect with our essential self, which is connected to life itself.
Developing a gratitude practice can also inspire a spontaneous joy for life. After all, while our little life may not seem so great at times, as Mary Oliver said, it is precious and we may only ever have ONE.
It is worth contemplating just how precious our life is. The fact that we are alive should be enough motivation to want to make the most of it. Simply to have been born human is to have defied the odds.
Think about it.
In our guts, there are about 100 trillion microorganisms. Multiply that by the number of people. We are seriously outnumbered by them. Consider the number of ants in every ant hill and then the number of ant hills throughout the world. When we begin the contemplate the number of alternative existences there are, it is truly mind-boggling. That all the forces conspired to give each of us a human life instead of the life of another being is nothing short of miraculous. The chances of being born human are infinitesimally small. Yet it happened.
So how lucky are we? And we may just get one shot and one shot only …
So what are you going to do with this one wild and precious life of yours? How are you going to make it count? Let me know in the comments section. And as always, feel free to share with someone you know who might benefit.
Be happy. Be well. Just be.
And so be it.