A Healing Journey

More than 30 years ago I was diagnosed with advanced cancer and told I might have as little as six months left to live. The only treatment offered at that time was radical surgery, a procedure that would have permanently altered my physical body and affected the quality of my life. I was told I could expect repair surgeries for life. As the oncologist was talking I went into an altered state. The words the doctor was saying seemed to be floating around. At some point I spontaneously saw an image of myself dead on the operating table. It wasn't an emotional reaction, it was a clear image that came with a sense of knowing. I opted to trust my intuition and decided against the surgery.

I’m not suggesting that conventional treatment is unwarranted. What I discovered was the importance of following my inner guidance, that internal “yes” or “no” sense that in the midst of big challenges can be very keen if we remain open to receiving it. Intuition is not an emotional or fear response, but a very clear inner knowing. It is often tempting to allow fear or the opinions of others, family or authority figures, to influence our choices, and so we drown out the voice of our inner guidance.

I accepted that I might die of this cancer, that it was probable even, but I also knew that it wasn’t inevitable. The body is both fragile and tenacious and we can’t say with certainty what the path ahead holds.

I knew that I had to do something. It isn’t enough to pray for a miracle. We need to make good choices and act on them. Then when we’ve done all we can, we can leave the rest in higher hands.

The first thing I worked on was stabilizing my body and building up my immune system. I researched alternatives, toured clinics in Mexico, and then designed a treatment plan that felt right for me. On the practical side it included diet, juicing, an herbal tonic, laetrile with enzymes and lots of rest. When my research uncovered the fact that cancer doesn’t grow in oxygen, and I had been told that the type of cancer I had tended to metastasize to the lungs, I took up jog-walking on days I was up to it, to build my strength and endurance and oxygenate my lungs.

I was also reading a lot about the power of visualization in the treatment of cancer. At that time all of the articles and books I found described visualizations for cancer in war terms, being at war with the cancer and fighting the enemy. The idea of being at war with my body didn’t set well with me but I wanted to give it a try. I attempted to use the kinds of imagery described but it left me feeling drained. After a couple of attempts I gave it up.

Then one day in my own quiet meditation I had a spontaneous image of my cancer cells as frightened young children, too young to have developed reasoning minds. In the image these cells were being bombarded by the ongoing stress I had been experiencing in my life. In a misguided effort to survive they had begun reproducing like crazy, not realizing that in so doing their efforts would kill the host, my body, and ultimately themselves.

I was profoundly struck by the image. I immediately visualized going inside to gather up the cancer cells. I embraced them as I would young, frightened children, assuring them that they were no longer alone or helpless. They could stop reproducing. I was in charge now and I would take care of them.
I felt an instant response. I didn’t know if I would live or die but I knew that on a spiritual level I had experienced a profound sense of healing. The powerful impact of that experience came from the personal nature of the image, coming from my own inner mind, which fit very well into my belief system.

I found strength in making choices that felt right to me and put me in charge of the path I was on. I love this perspective from Victor Frankl: Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of human freedoms - to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.

A certain attitude emerged in new age thought that we create our own illness. Of course we’re subject to the consequences of poor choices. If we smoke, for example, we’re gambling with the possibility of lung cancer. We also know that strong emotions can create chemical reactions in our bodies. Laughter and love, on the positive side, are said to produce endorphins and chemicals that boost the immune system and create a sense of well-being. Ongoing resentment, rage, or grief, on the other hand, deplete the immune system and can lead to illness or debility in some area.

When I was confronted with this life-threatening illness I found it disempowering and guilt producing to be charged with having created it. So I chose the attitude that rather than creating the cancer, life was throwing me this curve to get my attention, reorder my priorities and use this as an opportunity to learn and grow and to be of service in whatever ways I was able to.

I also recognized that self-pity is deadly to the spirit and I would embrace this new experience as an adventure in learning how to die well. After all, we will all face this experience some day, and since I considered myself to be a writer and a teacher, I decided to write a book called Dying Well. It was going to be my last project. Sometimes it was difficult and sometimes fascinating but as I wrote about steps toward dying well I began to realize that they were the same steps for living well. When the book was published years later, the name had changed to: Profound Healing: The Power of Acceptance on the Path to Wellness.

What I came to discover during my writing is a process I call profound healing. Profound healing is about healing on a very deep or spiritual level which often, but not always, leads to physical healing.
It comes with a deep sense of inner peace and trust that whatever the outcome, we can find the inner resources to deal with whatever comes.

More than just physical wellness, profound healing can relate to any part of our lives: emotional, physical, relationships with ourselves or others, livelihood, and so on. It is a deep inner healing that opens the pathway to transformation. We’re all born with amazing potential. That potential includes the mind/body connection. It also includes our amazing potential for transformation on a spiritual level.

Forgiveness, as many have discovered, is essential to that kind of transformation and I had plenty of that to work on. I knew that the lingering resentments I felt did me no good, and neither did feelings of guilt for mistakes I had made. However, I discovered that it's one thing to want to do something, and another to actually accomplish it.

So I began to practice forgiveness. Using my journal, I wrote letters to everyone I could think of that I had any bad feelings toward. Not with the intention of sending them, but as an outlet to get all that energy out that had been bottled up inside. I used those letters to express anything I had ever held back or wished I had said or done. When I finished a letter I would imagine being the person receiving it. Then I would answer the letter from the other person's perspective.

Giving myself the opportunity to be the other person began to alter my perspective. I would continue writing between myself and the other person until I found closure, either mutual forgiveness or an agreement to let go and move on. I did this exercise with everyone I could think of that I felt even the slightest resentment or anger toward.

This process worked well until I came to a recent wound. Even though I wanted to, I couldn't get past my feelings of resentment. No matter how many times I wrote back and forth I still felt hurt and angry. So I went to the “letters to God” section in my journal. This was a place I turned to when I felt blocked or unable to move forward with something.

This time I wrote to God, asking God to forgive this particular person in my name until I was ready. I accepted that I was willing, but I wasn't able yet to do it on my own. I immediately felt relieved of the burden and in a short period of time realized that my attachment to those old feelings had dissolved.

Forgiving myself was perhaps even more difficult. I wasn't always sure what it was I felt guilty about and I pondered over it. I got out my journal and wrote about it. I noted all of my imperfections. I struggled through tears, feelings of worthlessness, wanting to be somebody else. But I persevered.

In the end I got to the other side where I found someone I actually liked - myself. I began to realize what it really means to love ourselves. Not narcissistically, but for the courage and honesty it takes to see ourselves as we truly are and to have the same compassion for ourselves that we extend to others.

When I was able to release all that negative energy I began to heal from the inside out. Most of us aren't consciously aware of the big picture but we can feel and experience an inner awareness of our connection to something bigger than ourselves.

My experience taught me that death is not to be feared. We will all die at some point and letting go of the timing frees our energy to work on healing. The kind of healing this refers to is not always physical healing but that profound healing that frees us to continue our soul's journey whether we heal and go on in this life or heal and pass on to the other side.

My youngest grandson’s birthday is an anniversary of sorts for me. I was told at the time of my diagnosis that I might not be here to see the birth of the child my daughter was pregnant with. Nate’s birthday is much more than a marker of my physical recovery. It’s a reminder not to take life for granted. Our time here is precious and some of our biggest challenges can bring about our greatest growth and healing.

Cheryl Canfield, CCHT, 2023