Over the years, my quest has been to be as healthy as possible while living with cancer.  In the years that followed my diagnosis, many of my thoughts and beliefs changed–about life, about death, about illness, about health.  I want to share with you some of my beliefs that came about during these years.  Beliefs are very important.  What you believe is often more important than what you actually do. People can tell you what you should do to be healthy and doctors can give you medicine that they think will help you, but if you do not believe it will help you, you probably won’t do what they say and even if you do, it may not work if you don’t believe in it.

These are some of the major beliefs that I have acquired.  I believe these were critical for me to continue living despite having a life-threatening illness.

Be an active participant in your own health care
It was important to me to be an active participant in treating my own illness and maintaining my health. This included researching information on my own, asking lots of questions to doctors and other health care professionals, keeping my own records of test results, x-ray reports, etc. and working as a partner with my doctors in making informed decisions about my health care.

Being healthy meant learning to be healthy physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually.  While doctors treated my physical body, they did not treat my psychological, emotional, and spiritual health.  It was up to me to seek out other health care professionals who could help me and support me in these areas.  Being an active participant in my own health care meant learning various self-healing techniques, as described in the section “Intro to Alternative Therapies.”

Make informed decisions based on intellect and intuition, not fear
I learned that it was important for me to learn as much as possible–about cancer, about conventional treatments, about alternative treatments, about spiritual healing, about life, about death.  I read everything I could get my hands on.  And I searched out other health care professionals–nutritionists, acupuncturists, chiropractors, psychotherapists–and learned as much as I could from them.  I also went to various workshops concerning health and healing.

In addition to gathering information, I also learned that it was extremely important for me to learn to listen to my inner self to make my decisions.  This simple concept is actually very difficult to do.  We often do what others think we should do.  By others, I am including doctors and family members as well.  It often takes tremendous courage to do what you want to do, especially if it conflicts with what others around you think you should do.  Often what others think you should do is based on their own fears concerning the situation.

I learned to meditate. During meditation, I try to allow whatever thoughts come up to flow freely.  Often when you sit in silence, your true feelings come through.  In addition, keeping a journal was critical for me.  I would often write about my thoughts and beliefs.  There were many times when writing in my journal enabled me to make very difficult decisions.  While I was writing about a treatment, I would be able to recognize what I wanted to do and what I didn’t want to do and then make my decisions.  Also, dreams were very important for me.  I had numerous dreams which were my subconscious mind’s way of trying to sort out my issues.  I was fortunate to have a therapist to work with who did dream work.  I have come to believe that dreams are the way that your conscious and subconscious talk to each other.  It is a way for your mind and soul to communicate.  Dreams can provide you with a wealth of information about your inner self if you learn to listen.  It took me a while to understand this, but now I welcome dreams and actually use them to help me make major decisions.

I believe that by combining intellect and intuition, I was able to make decisions that were right for me–not necessarily right for anyone else, but right for me.

Regain, maintain, and increase your personal power
It took me a long time to learn that I needed to regain my personal power in order to help myself recover.  When you become ill and you remain chronically ill, you may feel powerless and helpless- as if life is out of your control.  In addition, we often give our power over to the doctors, hoping that they will be more powerful than our own illness and that they can control our health.  In order for me to go on living with my illness, I had to take back my personal power.  This is a very difficult issue to explain.  Eventually, I came to the realization that although I could not control the outcome of my actions (i.e., I could not control death), I could make a significant difference in how I lived.  This is where my personal power came into play.  Early on in my cancer journey, I went to a workshop with Dr. Carl Simonton.  I learned something very valuable there.  He talked about the difference between what he called positive thinking, negative thinking, and healthy thinking.  An example of negative thinking is  “I will not be alive in 2 years.”  Positive thinking is “I will be fine in 2 years.”  Healthy thinking is “I do not know if I will be alive 2 years from now, but I do know that what I do each day will make a significant difference.”  I use this statement often, as it gives me a sense of personal power.

Living beyond fear
Fear is the greatest enemy when living with cancer.  There is the fear of death, the fear of living in pain, and the fear of suffering. There were times when fear was so overwhelming that I lived in a daze.  It is extremely important to acknowledge that fear.  We often want to hide our fears.  We don t want to talk about them because they are too scary. In addition, other people don’t want us to express our fears because then it makes them fearful.  But for me, the most important way to live beyond fear was to express my fear:  to acknowledge and say that I was scared to death.  Then I learned how to use this fear in more productive ways.

One way of expressing and using my fears was to write in a journal.  Then later, I used those writings to write pamphlets for people with cancer.  I turned fear and anger and sadness into a voice.  And I found that other people were eager to listen.  I did not deny my fears or try to hide them.   Instead I used my fears to create something productive.

Still, dealing with fear is one of my biggest challenges.

Move forward in life despite having cancer
This is a key point that is also difficult to explain.  But if you have been through a life threatening illness or chronic illness, you can understand this concept and how difficult it is to fulfill.  Illness can cause you to stop everything else in your life.  It becomes difficult to plan ahead.  While on chemo, I lived in 3-week intervals, based on my chemo treatment schedule.  It is scary to think about the future.  But I believe that one of the key reasons that I have done well is due to learning how to move forward in life despite having a life-threatening illness.  Writing my pamphlets was a tremendous accomplishment which I could not and would not have done if I lived in fear of the future.  At a time when doctors were telling me I was dying, I chose to work on a long-term project that would ultimately help other people with cancer. I also created this web site at a time when I was recuperating from a severe case of pneumonia, not knowing what lied ahead concerning my health.  When you are living with life threatening illness, there is a tendency to want to keep things status quo.  However, if you do not keep moving forward in life, you become stuck.  Becoming stuck keeps you from living life.

Healing versus curing
Curing is what doctors attempt to do.  In the medical profession, there is a definitive line between what is considered curable and incurable. Healing, on the other hand, is a process.  It is a path, not a dividing line.  Healing comes from within. Doctors cannot heal you.  They can, however, support your ability to heal yourself.  Unfortunately, many do not. A person can be healed and not cured or a person can be cured and not healed.  For me, this was an important distinction.  I could be on a healing path, even if my illness was considered incurable.  This gave me increased personal power and enabled me to live beyond fear and to move forward in life. While being classified as incurable could have kept me stuck, being on a healing path enabled me to keep moving forward.

Crisis and opportunity
In every crisis, there is an opportunity.  The Chinese state that great blessings come to those who can find the opportunity within the crisis.  When crisis occurs, it can be extremely difficult to see the opportunities that arise. This is not to say that you would have chosen to get cancer, but now that it has happened what can you do that you would not have done otherwise?  What opportunities have opened up because of this crisis in your life? For me, writing my pamphlets, learning meditation, and working on my personal relationships were all opportunities that arose and I took advantage of following this tremendous crisis in my life.