Cancer: Embracing the Healing Journey

by Nancy Hopps
(for The Share Guide, March 2009)

We never really know what’s around the next corner, do we?  If you’ve ever received a diagnosis of a life-threatening disease or debilitating chronic illness, you know how quickly life can turn upside down.

Who among us can say that cancer has not touched our lives in some way?

Whether through personal experience or that of someone we love, “the C-word” has become much too common in most of our day-to-day lives. How, then, and why would we possibly want to embrace this or any other equally dreaded disease?

Because, simply put, that which we resist, we give power to. One of the most powerful gifts of the healing journey can be learning to “embrace it”, to grace-fully accept what is. This in no way suggests passive submission. Quite the contrary. By not resisting the illness and all its ramifications, we are best able to allow the energy to keep moving right on through, thus greatly assisting and accelerating the healing process.

Think for a minute of some of the standard phrases you hear regarding cancer – you’re encouraged to “fight it”, “defeat it” “overcome it”.  You might think of “embracing” a healing journey as a more wholistic approach to healing, more akin to many of the martial arts concepts of flowing with the energy coming at you, rather than resisting or trying to overpower it… a more “Gandhi-like” approach.

Now, Gandhi, I’m not! But I do know of what I speak. I’ve had the privilege of assisting many clients, friends and family members with various forms of mindbodySpirit healing for more than twenty-five years. Along with my own personal cancer-healing journey, the other most significant, and ultimately most profound, growth-filled experience was with my incredible daughter Annamieka, diagnosed at age 19 with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. (I hasten to add she…and I…are both doing GREAT!)

So, it’s from intimate experience that I say: Every person’s healing journey offers a very precious gift.

 “This sure doesn’t feel like a gift to me!”

Every healing journey is unique to the one who travels it. Each person’s learning is exquisitely their own. It’s perfectly okay – in fact, pretty understandable – that it may not feel much like a gift at the time! But with your diagnosis comes an unparalleled opportunity for growth, learning and healing, on all levels of your being.

It’s also important to note that there can be a profound distinction between healing and curing.

To heal” has been defined as “to set right, to make whole;” “to cure,” as “to recover from a disease.” While you focus on curing, or “recovering from your disease,” it’s important to remember that the healing, the “making whole” that you experience on emotional, mental and spiritual levels may be at least as valuable as the desired cure.

The “why” “what” and “how” are not as relevant as the “what now?”

Whatever your diagnosis, whatever your prognosis, simply being labeled a “cancer patient” suddenly changes your entire world. Your self-image changes, you may feel betrayed by your body, or by your concept of God. Or both.  You may feel angry, or victimized, asking, “Why me?” or “What did I do to deserve this?” You may feel guilty, like it’s your fault, wondering “How did I create this?”

Although going through a “why me?” and “what did I do to cause this?”phase is a natural tendency, I encourage you to rephrase these questions as soon and as often as possible to “What can I learn from this?” and “How can I best support my own healing process?”

You may never know for certain what “caused” your cancer. You can, however, use this life-changing experience as an opportunity to make positive changes in your life, by taking an honest look at ways you may have contributed to a state of imbalance or dis-ease.

With your diagnosis, you’re suddenly thrust into a world where even the vocabulary is new, and the learning curve is very steep. And to make matters even more challenging, oftentimes different sources offer conflicting information. Everyone you talk to has a different opinion. You can end up feeling overwhelmed with the onslaught of books, tapes, personal stories and well-meaning advice that comes your way. Even if you had a year to do nothing but study and research before making any decisions, it would still seem overwhelming. But given that you are being urged to do something now…

How do you deal with all this?

Some people are most comfortable accepting one prescribed course of treatment and following it, without needing to know the whys and hows of its effectiveness, or what other choices might be available. Others choose to assume a more active, informed role. Neither way is necessarily right or wrong. What’s important is that you believe in, and commit yourself fully to the path you choose.

Who is the final authority? Who really knows what’s best for you? YOU do!

But it takes listening in a way we often are not practiced in. It takes quieting the chatter of the conscious mind, and stilling the swirling thoughts and emotions, to reach that place of inner knowing. You must learn to trust your own inner wisdom. Often, this process in itself can be a catalyst for tremendous growth and healing. Learning to look with an open mind and heart at various beliefs – both ones you hold, and ones being offered to you – and discern what is really true for you in this moment, is one of the most powerful life lessons any of us can learn.

An opportunity to look within

In my experience, personally, and with hundreds of clients, I’ve found that often one of the most powerful gifts of the healing journey is having the opportunity to take an honest, in-depth inventory of our current belief systems, thought patterns, emotional response patterns, and behavioral patterns With awareness, then, comes the ability to choose to release and replace those which no longer serve us.

Having cancer, or any other serious illness, can afford you an opportunity to resolve old hurts, anger, shame and guilt, to deeply forgive yourself and others. It can also offer a huge lesson in learning to receive the support and love that’s being showered upon you….which means fully recognizing your own inherent worthiness! Most cancer folks are much better givers than receivers. This is a great time to fully embrace your self-worth, and to learn what a gift it is to receive.

Sometimes it can be helpful to have the assistance of a skilled counselor, trained in this sort of healing work, to assist in this process, just as your physician assists you in other aspects of your healing.

“How can I best support my healing process?”

For most people, the diagnosis of cancer brings up a very deep level of fear. This fear affects you emotionally, mentally, and physically. It sends your mind racing, playing and replaying fear-based thoughts which, left unchecked, can lead to chronic anxiety, depression, a sense of helplessness and hopelessness.

This fear can also translate into a host of physical symptoms, including rapid, shallow breathing, increased heart rate, constricted blood vessels, increased blood pressure, tight, tensed muscles, headaches, nausea, gastrointestinal disorders…and the list goes on.

By combining simple relaxation, guided imagery and affirmation techniques, you can profoundly influence your body’s biochemical state, resulting in a general sense of well-being and calm.

By relaxing deeply and thoroughly—mentally, emotionally and physically—you are creating the most optimal physiological conditions to support your healing process. You are also more able to access and feel your connection with the true source of all healing…the intelligent, loving Presence that permeates all creation…by whatever name you may call it.

On Cancer: Embracing the Healing Journey, one of the most recent titles in my Relax Into Healing series of CDs and booklets, I incorporate all these elements, offering guidance for every step of the Journey, including dealing with diagnosis shock, dealing with docs, embracing all emotions, discerning your own inner guidance, enhancing healing and adjusting to ‘re-entry” once treatment is complete.

For example, to deal with initial shock of diagnosis, we begin with a simple mindfulness relaxation process, followed by a gentle breathing technique, combined with soothing affirmation, or mental suggestion, to create a state of calm. Once in this more relaxed state of mind, we further employ the power of affirmations to help deepen and strengthen this sense of calmness and clarity. In this more receptive, more emotionally centered state, then, you are better able to receive and respond, rather than react to any information, conditions or circumstances you may encounter. You’re able to begin to move beyond the initial state of shock and fear, and think clearly about what decisions need to be made, and what opportunities this experience may hold for growth and healing on all levels of your being.

Among the many decisions you’re faced with is your decision regarding treatment(s). Sometimes the treatment decisions are simple and clear-cut. But if, for example, you’ve always been more geared toward whole foods and herbal remedies to maintain your health, and suddenly you’re being told your best chance for survival lies in a long, arduous course of chemotherapy, you’re going to have some deep soul-searching to do…quickly.

On the other hand, if you’ve always followed a more traditional Western medical path, putting full trust in your doctor and following orders with no questions asked, you may find weighing the options of any type of adjunctive approach (like nutritional supplements or acupuncture) to be confusing, and overwhelming.

Whatever course of treatment(s) you choose to follow—whether chemo, radiation or macrobiotic diet — perhaps as important as the treatment itself, is your ability to fully believe in its effectiveness. This necessitates listening to and sorting out all the conflicting voices—from outside and inside—finding clarity, and committing yourself wholeheartedly to the treatment(s) you’ve chosen.

Another track on the CD is designed to assist you in the process of discerning what’s right for you, and to help you align yourself fully with whatever decisions you make. In so doing, you become your own strongest ally, and are able to most fully support your own healing process.

Finding the blessings

By embracing your healing journey, other qualities you might develop or strengthen might include: patience, surrender (in trust, not defeat!), acceptance, humility, forgiveness, compassion, gratitude, balance, assertiveness, self-discipline, worthiness, self-love…and the list goes on.

The above is but a sampling of the words that came up when I asked various cancer survivors what they had learned from their cancer experience. Each person had a long list of things they’d learned, ways they’d grown, gifts they’d been given…and every single person with whom I spoke was grateful for the experience.

Even those individuals whose paths did not include physical healing told me of the profound growth and learning they experienced in themselves, and in those they loved. No matter what the outcome of their disease, every person, with no exceptions, spoke of the richness of their experience, as they learned to embrace all facets of their healing journey. There is, indeed, a grace that comes with an experience such as this. An Amazing Grace.

Cultivating gratitude

When asked about my own cancer experience, my usual reply is, “I would not ever like to repeat that chapter, thank you, but—it was one of the richest experiences of my life, for which I am deeply, deeply grateful.”

No matter what your situation, you can always find something to be grateful for.  As you choose to focus your energies on gratitude and love, this energy expands. As you choose the vibration of love over fear, you will find yourself “becoming large enough to embrace it all.”

So, dear reader, if your path, or that of someone you love, includes a healing journey with cancer or any other serious illness, I trust you too will ultimately cultivate a profound sense of gratitude. It’s not always easy.  But then, what of great value ever is?

Please know you are not alone…we’re all in this together. Blessings on your journey.

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