As someone who has had brain cancer and “survived and thrived”, I’ve learned a lot about managing the mind through that process. I understand the emotional terrain of serious illness and facing death and disability.
Petrea King, Ian Gawler and Dr Kelly Turner have separately drawn together the factors, from research and experience, affecting the long term survival of and spontaneous or radical remission in cancer patients. There’s a long way to go before we can prove any of it but for anyone who has cancer now and wants to do whatever they can to stay on the side of living there’s some really valuable knowledge available.
From a mind point of view one needs
A decision to live –
This might seem like a no-brainer but it’s really common for people with cancer to have had an emotional trauma in the year or two before the symptoms where they felt like they just gave up on life or people or themselves. Even if they are doing everything they can to live, their heart just isn’t in it. It is possible to heal this and find the deep inner wish and resolve to continue life.
But what if you’re not willing to live unless it’s on your terms? “I don’t want to be here unless I’m strong and well, have money, am not alone, someone apologises or changes.” It’s like the mind saying to the body “I won’t let you live unless I get what I want”. If this program is running in the background it needs to be changed so that the mind and body are heading in the same direction, towards life.
A heartfelt purpose to live –
But why do we want to live? What works best is to have a heartfelt purpose to live rather than focussing on things like “proving yourself” through success, status, money, acknowledgement etc. (That doesn’t mean that we can’t make a living). For many of us that greater purpose is compassion driven, to look after our children and vulnerable others or to help others going through the same suffering that we are. We want to contribute, to help, to make the world a better place while we’re here. For some of us a life-threatening illness will be the impetus to begin or continue a spiritual path with a greater sense of meaning and deeper purpose. And for others there is the path of creativity, or a path of curiosity about all of life’s experience, or a sense of the adventure, meeting the challenge, a path of courage. A greater purpose.
A sense of agency –
One of the inner qualities of many long term survivors is being able to choose the mind’s response to the challenge. It helps to read other people’s survivor stories for inspiration ie someone can do it. And you need a sense that, “I can do it too”. If you’ve lost basic confidence in yourself or never had it, that can be changed. It’s quite possible to move your mind from hopelessness, powerlessness to “if anyone can, I can” “I’ve got this”. You don’t need to think that you can disappear cancer with your mind but it sure helps to have the confidence that you have the inner resources to handle whatever comes and that you can take charge of your mind and keep it as a beneficial agent. It’s a change of focus from victim or cancer fighter to presence, peace and authority, “This is my mind, my body, my life and I’m going thisaway”.
Two other mind factors that have been identified as helpful in survival are releasing suppressed emotions and increasing positive emotions. There are many ways to do both.
In my practice I help patients with cancer to heal their past traumas and find the inner commitment to live. They experience the agency that they have. And in hypnosis they can let go of all effort and be deeply nourished with positive suggestions. This results in them being able to relax, sleep, feel happy and feel confident that they can handle whatever comes. And through all the ups and downs they maintain a strong sense of their own agency and through line to a good future.