Cancer runs in Linda’s family (not her real name) and she tested positive for the BRCA (BReast CAncer) 2 gene, indicating that she is at higher risk for cancer than the general population. Moreover, she has already had cancer twice. Understandably, she is troubled, and has written asking for general advice and answers to questions. After introductory remarks, I will answer some of her questions and follow that with some suggestions that may prove helpful.
The most important thing for you to do, Linda, is maintain a positive attitude. That is, you must train yourself to always focus on what’s good, not what’s bad. I will repeat this message later, offering an example or two for your reference. But first, let’s find out why a positive outlook is so important, not only for Linda, but for all of us.
Our body is bombarded daily with pollutants, harmful bacteria, viruses, and disease producing agents. Fortunately, however, we are protected by a miraculous arrangement called the immune system, which detects threats to our health and annihilates them. Yet, despite this protection, we still become ill. Why is that? The major cause of all disease is stress. Though it is the major cause, it is not a direct cause, but a secondary one. Here’s what I mean. Cancer cells that are circulating in a body will be destroyed by a healthy immune system. But stress weakens the immune system so that it can no longer offer protection. So, in my example of cancer, the direct cause of disease is cancer while the secondary cause is stress. What makes stress so horrible is that by weakening the immune system it makes us vulnerable to all illnesses. Can you now see why it is so important to remain positive? Positive, cheerful people have little or no stress, so they enjoy physical and mental health.
Cancer also runs in Larry’s family, making him fearful. Ironically, after learning how stress weakens the immune system, Larry is worrying more than ever. After all, his fear of getting cancer is very stressful, so his immune system is being compromised, increasing the likelihood of getting what he fears.
Earlier, Linda, I wrote that I would be stressing how important it is to train your mind to always see things in a positive light. I also wrote that I would be giving examples, the purpose of which is to illustrate how to apply positive thinking in everything you do. So, here is the first example. Larry is an example of negative thinking. Larry became more stressful after learning how stress weakens the immune system. So, let’s see how you could look at these facts differently. Here’s an example.
“Stress increases the likelihood of getting cancer? Wow! That’s great to know because that means the more I eliminate stress from my life, the more I decrease the chances of getting cancer. Knowing this empowers me because I can immediately think of things for me to do to reduce stress. Let’s see now, there are yoga classes, mindfulness meditation, long walks, workouts in the gym, recreation. Why there are dozens of things I can do. I don’t have to do all of them. I’ll just choose to do what works best for me. And while I’m at it, I’ll check the library, bookstore, and the Internet for stress reducing techniques.”
I will now move on to some of Linda’s comments or questions, following that with some suggestions.
Linda: “I am facing fear and I just can’t seem to think about my situation in a way that I can get a grip, so to speak.”
Chuck: We all experience fear at one time or another, and the most common type is fear of the unknown. The more you learn and understand about your situation the less fearful and stressful you will become. Although you already know a great deal about cancer, far more than the average person, I’m afraid it’s too narrowly focused. Most of what you have studied strikes fear in your heart and you find little reason to be hopeful, which indicates you need to study more. I will try to point you in the right direction and introduce you to the big picture. But that comes a little later in the article.
You don’t want to die. You want to live. But where is it that we live? It is in the present moment. When you allow yourself to be gripped by fear you are focusing on what might be instead of what is. When you leave the present moment, you are choosing a dream over reality, choosing a fantasy over life. Mindfulness meditation can be a big help in learning how to experience a life without fear. The Mindfulness in Plain English Collection is an excellent book on the subject. And here’s what Michael Neill has to say about the matter, “To be fully present with what is, is to be content, and to be content, is to be blessed by everything that happens in life.”
L: “I read your article: 3 Readers Ask about Death and Dying, and plan to start rereading it.”
C: You don’t need to reread the article as all you are thinking about is death. Consumed by it you are allowing the pleasures and joys of life to slip by unnoticed. It is time stop and think about life. Yes, life is short, or as Michael Althsuler said, “The bad news is…time flies. The good news is…you’re the pilot.” But don’t live in autopilot mode. Remain conscious. Remain present and allow life to tickle you with its many surprises. Be grateful for the opportunity to experience the mystery of life.
Teddy and May were having a conversation:
“Congratulations, Teddy, on winning that dream vacation to Bali at the company’s Christmas party.”
“How can I enjoy it, May? You know I have a terminal illness.”
“We all do, Teddy; it’s called life. None of us know when we will die. Terminal illness or not, I can die before you. I could die tomorrow. And this ice cream sundae that I’m eating could be my very last one. But does that make it any less delicious?”
The above conversation is another example of the right and wrong way to view life. And if it isn’t clear enough, listen to the words of Anne Frank, “I don’t think of all the misery but of the beauty that still remains.”
L: “How would you think about carrying a cancer gene? I feel like I’ve been handed a death sentence. I don’t feel empowered with the knowledge, I feel terrorized. I have PTSD, and these medical issues trigger it.
C: For clarity, let me answer your questions one at a time.
1. What would I think about carrying a cancer gene? I would want to learn as much as possible about LIVING with cancer, not about DYING of it. I would want to learn how others are successfully coping and all the available options. I would look for reasons for hope, not things to fear.
2. I feel like I’ve been handed a death sentence. I don’t feel empowered with the knowledge; I feel terrorized. Most people repress all thoughts of death, acting as if they would live forever. So what if their relationships are in shambles, dreams shattered, goals laid by the wayside? After all, they can always fix their problems ‘tomorrow.’ If, Linda, you use your awareness of death (awareness, not fear) to mend relationships, rebuild your dreams and achieve your goals, imagine how exhilarating life will be! Choose to allow your awareness of death empower and motivate you to lead a fulfilling life.
3. I have PTSD, and these medical issues trigger it. Is it true that you have PTSD and your medical issues trigger it? Yes it is true as long as you continue to say so and as long as you believe so. But here’s the point, watch what you say! You are programming your mind by what you say and believe. And you can choose what to say and believe. For example, instead of saying, “I have PTSD,” you can choose to say “I have the inner resources to change my attitude and beliefs. I can cheerfully cope with every obstacle and will do so from this moment on.” That’s a big change isn’t it? And that change is only one commitment away.
Whether you choose to say the first (PSTD) or second statement (“I can cope.”), both are equally true because we are what we say and believe we are. I will say more about beliefs in just a moment, but first your final comment.
L: “I am currently reading The Sedona Method and I like it.”
C: The Sedona Method is a very simple, but profound, technique to release fear and other negative emotions, freeing us to experience life in all its glory. But, Linda, stop reading about the method and start practicing it. If you were practicing it, you wouldn’t be writing to me. Reading about it is interesting, but practicing it is life transformative.
The Magical World of Beliefs
To be truly empowered, it is essential that we understand the nature of beliefs and utilize their potential. Beliefs and experiences feed off each other. Our experiences lead us to make conclusions and form beliefs. Once we accept a belief, we find it impossible to act in a manner incompatible with it. For instance, if we believe we cannot speak before large groups, it becomes impossible to do so. Impossible, that is, until we change our belief, which will then create a new experience. Thus, our experiences are the causes of our beliefs and our beliefs are the causes of our experiences.
Neurosculpting: A Whole-Brain Approach to Heal Trauma, Rewrite Limiting Beliefs, and Find Wholeness is another book that may prove valuable.
Living with Cancer: The Big Picture
Linda, your view of your situation is lopsided. You need to get a more balanced view and become aware of all of the possibilities. To help you do so, here are some books that can become your friends and offer you new coping tools and valuable information. With each title, I’ve included a book review done by an actual reader (taken from Amazon.com).
“I bought this book to give to my sister, who is dealing with her third diagnosis of Cancer. I read it first to make sure it would be something I felt would be helpful to her, and not just another book on dealing with Cancer. It was all I hoped for and more! Both my sister, and I, felt this book was a very realistic, and uplifting book. It was also a very practical approach to dealing with cancer, whether it is the first diagnosis, or a second or third. I would recommend this book to both Cancer patients, and their caregivers and friends.”
“Even as a word it is one of the most terrifying to hear if it is your diagnosis. This book gives people receiving the news (and their friends and family) a comprehensive map not only about types of cancer, treatments, anti-nauseates plus pertinent organizations and web sites, but equally important, chapters on: ‘How to Get Back on Track,’ ‘Do I always Have to Have a Positive Attitude?’ and ‘What Can I Do to Help Myself?’… Even if you don’t read this book here is one thing you have to know. As he says, it might be the most ignored and under-publicized medical statistic in the known world: ‘Of all the people diagnosed with one of the cancers this year just over half will survive it and will not be troubled by it for the rest of their life.’ In either case, this book is essential.” John F. Lehman (Amazon.com Book Reviewer)
The subtitle of this article was used as the title of two different books, including the one above. However, the expression apparently was first used by John Diamond, whose book appears below.
“Facets of a Diamond is an incredible book that looks honestly, intelligently and profoundly at the roles of healer and patient, and more importantly, at the underlying motivation of man. Diamond looks at every aspect of an illness or life problem: spiritual, societal, motivational, dietary, energetic, psychological, environmental, hereditary…”
“I never wrote a review before, but this book has had a huge impact. I was diagnosed with stage 4 kidney renal cancer. After hearing “to get my affairs in order” and going through the nightmare of emotions and feeling, I found this book. I felt hope and chose to not give up and fight. I am applying what I have learned, and the rewards far exceed expectations. I am surprising my doctors, and doing well. This book is so uplifting and full of hope. If you apply the principles in this book, you can make a difference in your cancer outcome.” (Out of 35 Amazon.com readers, 27 gave this book a 5-star rating.)
“The information this book provides is nothing short of shocking. Two months ago I was diagnosed with colon cancer. As an unapologetic research nerd, I read everything I could get my hands on to learn more about what was wrong with me and how best to battle it. Mike Anderson’s book is far and away the most informative resource I’ve come across. Highly recommended!”
I’m glad to learn, Linda, that you participated in an online support group, but if at all possible, I would urge you to join a live support group in your area. You have a lot to cope with and it can be very stressful if you try handling it alone. More than therapists and doctors, you need the support, friendship, and ideas that can come from men and women in the same position as you.
Linda, please consider these wise words from a woman who has been living with cancer for more than 10 years: “People ask me if I live each day like it’s my last, and I don’t; I live each day like it’s my first, and I can’t wait for the next one.” And please visit her (Kriss Carr) website.
Lastly, I’d like to offer some additional inspiration in the form of quotations that are not just for Linda, but for all of our readers:
You either get bitter or you get better. It’s that simple. You either take what has been dealt to you and allow it to make you a better person, or you allow it to tear you down. The choice does not belong to fate, it belongs to you. Josh Shipp
Sometimes you will be in control of your illness and other times you’ll sink into despair, and that’s OK! Freak out, forgive yourself, and try again tomorrow. Kelly Hemingway
I often say now I don’t have any choice whether I have Parkinson’s, but surrounding that non-choice is a million other choices that I can make. Michael J. Fox
If you can’t fly then run, if you can’t run then walk, if you can’t walk then crawl, but whatever you do you have to keep moving forward. Martin Luther King Jr.
Maybe it’s not always about trying to fix something that is broken. Maybe it’s about starting over and creating something better. Unknown
The measure of who we are is what we do with what we have. Vince Lombardi
Believe in yourself and all that you are. Know that there is something inside of you that is greater than any obstacle. Christian D. Larson
Live to inspire, and one day people will say, because of you, I didn’t give up. Unknown
Living with Cancer: A Step-by-Step Guide for Coping Medically and Emotionally with a Serious Diagnosis by Vicki A. Jackson and David P. Ryan
Anticancer Living: Transform Your Life and Health with the Mix of Six By Lorenzo Cohen PhD and Alison Jefferies MEd
Anticancer: A New Way of Life by David Servan-Schreiber MD PhD
The Human Side of Cancer: Living with Hope, Coping with Uncertainty by Jimmie Holland
Radical Remission: Surviving Cancer Against All Odds by Kelly A. Turner PhD
Chuck Gallozzi lived, studied, and worked in Japan for 15 years, immersing himself in the wisdom of the Far East and graduating with B.A. and M.A. degrees in Asian Studies. He is a Certified NLP Practitioner, speaker, seminar leader, and coach. Corporations, church groups, teachers, counselors, and caregivers use his more than 400 articles as a resource to help others. Among his diverse accomplishments, he is also the Grand Prix Winner of a Ricoh International Photo Competition, the Canadian National Champion of a Toastmasters International Humorous Speech Contest, and the Founder and Head of the Positive Thinkers Group that has been meeting at St. Michael’s Hospital, Toronto since 1999. His articles are published in books, newsletters, magazines, and newspapers. He was interviewed on CBC’s “Steven and Chris Show,” appearing nationally on Canadian TV. Chuck can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org. View his photography at https://500px.com/chuckgallozzi. This article cannot be re-published without permission.