If you have recently been diagnosed with advanced cancer or another serious life-threatening disease, remember that everything you might think about it—positive or negative—is merely an interpretation. You are the one who decides how you will relate to the cancer diagnosis.
“Success is never final, and failure is never fatal”
My advice, based on my three decades of working with people with serious illness such as cancer, is simple. Do not limit yourself by assuming that you or anyone else knows what the outcome will be. The truth is that no one knows. Surrender to the unknown and focus your attention on living your best life.
It is blessedly freeing to accept what is in this moment, without projecting into the future. Use your mind and heart to seek out and consult with trained, experienced, well-respected professionals whom you trust. And use the power of prayer to help guide you.
Know that whatever you are told about your journey, including your life expectancy, is merely an opinion, and is not truth. At the same time, be wary of those who know little about the situation but proclaim to have the answer. Unfortunately, there are those who prey on people in vulnerable situations, and recommend unproven experimental drugs, radical diets, or foreign clinics that claim miraculous healings for cancer.
Pursuing those paths will only confuse you, drain your energy, and can even be harmful.
“Love is the virtue of the Heart,
Sincerity is the virtue of the Mind,
Decision is the virtue of the Will,
Courage is the virtue of the Spirit.”
– Frank Lloyd Wright
The First Step in Healing
The first step in healing is to admit to yourself, “I do not know what this means or what to do, so I will give myself time to find out.” Make a promise to yourself that you will trust in the discernment of both intelligence and prayer, while nourishing peace, joy and love in your heart.
“The peace of God which passes all understanding” (Philippians 4:7)
“Make every effort to live in peace with all men and to be holy; without holiness no one will see the Lord.” (Hebrews 12:14)
“Ask and you will receive that your joy may be full” (John 16: 24)
“Perfect love cast out all fears.” (John 4:18)
“Everything works together for good with those who love God.” (Romans 8:28)
When love lives within us, human wisdom participates in Divine Wisdom, creating ultimate reality. This is far beyond the grasp of the human mind alone.
A Positive Vision Studies have shown that we are hardwired for some reason to focus on problems at the expense of a positive vision. We think too much about what might go wrong in the future allowing positivity, gratitude, and inner peace to vanish. I suggest to focus less on the problems and look to the solution using your wisdom, knowledge, reason, patience, prayer, the pursuit of truth, and faith, hope and most of all love (1 Corinthians 13:13) to help guide you.
An Inspirational Work
I recommend that my patients read the essay, “In The Gray Zone”, from Rachel Naomi Remen, MD, which is found in her book, “My Grandfather’s Blessings“. The author writes eloquently about how facing our fear, especially the fear of losing control, enables us to live fully and with joy.
A woman with metastatic cancer once told me that through the experience of her illness she had discovered a basic truth. There are only two kinds of people in this world – those who are alive and those who are afraid. She had smiled at me and said that many of the people she had met who were afraid were doctors.
Perhaps such fear is a natural outcome of the wish to be in control. A patient whose physician told him several years ago that he had three months to live told me in bewilderment that the doctor had seemed “satisfied” as he made this heart-stopping statement. “He seemed sorry to be telling me this but he seemed pleased that he had the information to give me, almost as pleased as if he had told me that he had the right drug to eradicate my cancer. He told me of my death with an air of authority as if it were he who had decided when it would be and in doing so had somehow gained mastery over it. As if when he could not control my cancer, he could at least control the time of my death. I was angry for a long time, but I now think he was as out of control and vulnerable as I was. Too bad we could not have talked man to man on that level instead of reaching for a false certainty.”
Perhaps the most basic skill of the physician is the ability to have comfort with uncertainty, to recognize with humility the uncertainty inherent in all situations, to be open to the ever-present possibility of the surprising, the mysterious, and even the holy, and to meet people there.
The need for certainty is not just a problem for medical professionals. We wish for certainty as ardently as our doctors do, are seduced by it as profoundly and are as disappointed with the uncertain nature of the world. We all yearn for mastery. But mastery is always limited. Sooner or later we will come to the edge of all that we can control and find life, waiting there for us.
The wish to control floats like a buoy above the hidden reef of fear. More then any single thing, fear is the stumbling block to life’s agenda. Perhaps it is only the things we fear that we wish to control. No one can serve life if they are unconsciously afraid of life. Life is process.
When he was very old, Roberto Assagioli, the founder of psychosynthesis, reminded one of his young students of this: “There is no certainty; there is only adventure,” he told this young man. “Even stars explode.” 1
I don’t like labeling people with cancer or any other disease as “survivors.” When they pass on—as we all eventually do—what do we call them then? When they die, does that mean that they have they failed in some way?
Of course not! Our focus should be on living the best life we can, and doing what we can do to thrive, not merely survive in this journey of adventure and mystery that we call life.
You can not think your way to seeing, but instead you must be caught in the united relationship of all the ETMS thematic elements and then often through contemplation and osmosis the healing path (I like to call pilgrimage) emerges. This revelation should occur in you and not just to you. God must reveal himself in you before God can fully reveal himself to you.” ~Richard Rohr
The Divine Role of Healing Plants God’s infinite Love has always included the mystery of creation, including the humble healing sacred plants. Although we often think of these modest plants as weeds, I see in them the silent face of the Divine. In the same way that humans carry the divine DNA, so does every plant. This energetic Life Force contains the wisdom of nature and the Creator. We evolved with plants, and our well-being depends on the gifts so freely offered by the plant kingdom. This is why I love and respect herbal medicine, and why the healing plants are fundamental to my life and my practice.
All things were created “in the image and likeness” of God (Genesis 1: 26-27). “God loves things by becoming uniting with them not excluding them. We must have faith, hope and love together. Hope is always loving and faithful and faith is always loving and hopeful. ~Richard Rohr
When we are silent, whisper in our ear and fill us with your Divine presence.
Let us live your simple Wisdom, reflecting loving-kindness and use words only if we have to.
Anything at all that gets in our way, melt it away, so we can love unceasingly.
May Your Beauty, reflected in all of Nature, nourish and lift our hearts to You, and only you.
“May my prayer be lifted as incense before You; the lifting up of my hands as the evening offering.” Psalm 141:2
Praise you my Lord, Praise you Brother Sun, Sister Moon, Brother Fire, and Sister Death; for we are all one family, and life is but a circle.
Let us therefore, love to quench our thirst at this fountain of living water and go forward all the time along the way of Divine Love.
“Hope says God has not abandoned us in the world …He pursues us, dwells in us, intervenes for us and will not forget us.” ~Scott McClellian2
1. Amazon.com: Doctors And Patients: an Anthology: An Anthology (9781857759938): Cecil Helman: Books
7 Replies to “Thriving in The Face of a Cancer Diagnosis”
Stage Four Breast Cancer Thriver, age 36, diagnosed at age 32. Believing and feeling in my core that I will heal. Mixing traditional and holistic healing. Praying every day, envisioning my future life and living in the now. So much to live for and to do, working full time as an art teacher. Thank you for this article and advice.
Beautiful writing Donnie!
This reminder–to live in the dance with uncertainty–was one I really needed at the moment. When I catch myself thinking that I “know” how something is going to go, I know that I’m off the rails. Thanks for this lovely blog!
Beautiful, thank you. To live with uncertainty, to trust our
connection to divine spirit, to believe we can heal.. That’s
what helped me heal, and helps me now to stay open to life and love.
This is the best article I’ve read about healing
Wow, fantastic read and confirmation of why I’m doing so well with my approach to healing my secondary breast cancer to bones the past two years. I do not participate in musical improvisation but I do dance intuitively; a prayerful intuitive healing dance, probably strongly influenced by my early years of yoga and more recent years of dynamic and gentle Qi Gong practice. It helps me integrate all the appreciation, Love, wisdom, fears and yearning I encounter each day. Since my secondary diagnosis, I choose to read a lot of studies apply the findings to my life, and I know how to muscle test, trust my intuition and read my emotional states as guides from my higher self to steer me to even greater opportunities for giving and receiving Love, care, nourishment and vitality.
It’s not up to me to decide anything other then how fearlessly, lovingly, intuitively and wisely I can respond to whatever arises; fear of suffering and the time of dying, these will arise, that much is certain. My job is to practice meeting the fear of suffering with the many nourishing life energies of Love, again and again. I guess my greatest practice is living in openhearted connection to others, in service and in appreciation for each day.
The when that day comes I can smile my way into what we call ‘death’ of this body, and release this soul to the unlimited unconditional unified field; to Love.
I am loving your book on cancer healing Donnie and am hoping that there is an updated version not too far away?
Beautiful and inspiring read. Thank you.