Being diagnosed with cancer or any life-threatening disease is very scary. I know because it happened to me. Not just once but twice I had the rug pulled out from underneath my feet.
After our whole life suddenly and unexpectedly changes it’s perfectly normal to be overwhelmed. In my soon-to-be published book The Art of Living, I’ve written an entire chapter about the day I was diagnosed with breast cancer. The cancer diagnosis felt even more threatening to me than when I was diagnosed with a inoperable brain tumor twenty three years before (which on the surface made no sense.). But I couldn’t accept that my poor health was not just going to continue but had gone into high gear. I was exhausted from years of struggling due to non-stop symptoms from radiation damage I’d gotten from the treatment for the inoperable brain tumor decades before. I questioned if my body was strong enough to overcome the cancer. (I didn’t yet know that the cancer was also caused by the radiation damage and I didn’t know that this wouldn’t be the last.) All I knew was I felt defeated, drained of hope and energy. I’d even momentarily wondered if it was time I finally gave up this long-lasting battle for I was also drowning in guilt because my family was finding it impossible to emotionally cope with all of my ongoing health problems. None of us had been taught how to effectively manage our feelings. My parents couldn’t teach their three children what their parents couldn’t teach them so we all suffered deeply because of this. And now on top of everything else I had breast cancer too after struggling for decades while trying to support myself as an artist?! So, yes. I really do understand how scary this can be.
Because so many people have reached out to me for my help I’ve created this page to assist as many as I possibly can by sharing parts of my own personal experience and what has successfully been particularly helpful to me. But it’s very important to remember that we are all INDIVIDUALS. It’s vital that you do what’s best for you.
I believe that we were all created with emotions so that each of us can understand our own particular needs. Pay attention to how you feel and be sure you respect this. After receiving a frightening diagnosis, please don’t tell yourself how you “should” be acting because how you react is just how you react. You can’t possibly react wrong. All of our feelings are meant to be felt so please don’t try to stifle them for this would not be healthy. Now is the time to be your own best friend and treat yourself gently and lovingly while also feeling your emotions, whatever you may feel. Let your fears wash over you like waves in the sea, over and over again. I can guarantee you that they will recede and they can’t hurt you. But emotions can help us in a significant way when we pay close attention to what we’re feeling. Listen and respect what your body is saying for our bodies never lie to us. For me or anyone to interfere with your healing journey (and tell you what they think you should do) and deny you this OPPORTUNITY to learn from this highly sensitive and auspicious time and interfere with you learning to focus within yourself and feel what you feel so that you can make the best decisions regarding your health could put you in a dangerous position.
To be able to navigate successfully through the medical world like I did, continually doing what doctors said was impossible to do, you’re going to need to listen carefully to what your body is telling you for here you’ll find crucial information that I or your doctor or your loved ones or anyone else cannot possibly give you. Listening to the answers you receive from within yourself can make the difference between life and death. After being told by five neurologists in 1986 that I was going to die within the year, I am proof of this.
Most people think automatically that we NEED someone or something when we’re feeling emotionally derailed and there are times we certainly could use the support of our loved ones and this support is extremely helpful but this is also how addictions start – by being traumatized and believing we need something outside ourselves every time we are triggered. My experience has shown me that one the best things we can do for ourselves – especially after being diagnosed – is to learn ways to help calm our nervous systems (which in turn supports our immune systems and helps our bodies heal) and to make this a lifelong habit. Others’ help is wonderful but it’s crucial that you start doing this TODAY and if you are already do this, find more ways.
Because you know yourself better than anyone only you can determine what works for you. Take time to honor whatever you are feeling before focusing on things you appreciate. Years ago whenever I felt anxious, before going to sleep I’d lie in bed each night and go through the alphabet listing things that I appreciated such as “A” is for the yummy apple that I ate this afternoon, “B” is for that sweet baby boy who smiled at me on the street this morning, “C” is for the carpet on my bedroom floor that’s feels good on my bare feet, etc. If I didn’t feel calm and sincere gratitude after listing these twenty six items, I’d go through the alphabet a second and perhaps even a third time. Personally, I love to sit and listen to the birds sing and take walks in nature. I now walk every morning at 6:15 and love that physically I finally can and feel safe walking long distances by myself. Or how about listening to your favorite music or discovering a new musician? Or just being in the presence of small giggling children? Saying your prayers or meditating or doing yoga? (See below to find where I meditate in a group every morning and where I take yoga classes, both of these on Zoom.)
One common mistake we all make is to use things we appreciate to distract us from feeling our pain and discomfort. This would not be authentic. YOU DO NOT WANT TO BE A POLLYANNA and try being positive all the time. Our bodies were created with all of our feelings and all are meant to be felt. I used to use appreciation as an avoidance tactic before I knew better and actually did harm to myself. By not feeling our fears, eventually they’ll surface after they’ve been percolating inside of us and growing. Then it feels even more painful when they finally explode! For me, this felt like getting hit by a huge tidal wave as I was drowning and struggling to gain back my control. We’ve all been taught to turn against our pain. I know this sounds counterintuitive but just allow yourself to feel any discomfort as it passes right through you. What you resist, persists. The more you resist, the more pain you’ll feel. Know that there’s absolutely nothing wrong with you if you cry, scream or yell, “I hate my life and everyone in it!” regardless what others may think. Naturally, you are going to have hard days and you’re going to need to vent. Crying and expressing anger are both healthy and appropriate. Unfortunately, not everyone understands this. If someone has a need to judge or shame you at a time like this, clearly this is their problem. Don’t make others’ problems yours. You have enough on your plate and you cannot afford to take on any more.
And even if you’re not sick, start listening to your body/Inner Guide/Intuition today. This will help you tremendously too. With practice, you’ll learn what your body needs now and if ever you do get sick you’ll be that much more knowledgeable so you too can skillfully navigate through the medical world and make better decisions for yourself.
I suggest finding a professional who’s been trained in the field of trauma. (For help finding one, look below.) As strange as it sounds, I actually denied for years that I ever experienced any trauma at all. I KNEW NOTHING ABOUT TRAUMA BUT “KNEW” I NEVER HAD A TRAUMA. I’d refused to go there. When I was young, I’d been taught that I had to be strong and this is what my family insisted from me even after I got seriously ill. (For example, my brother and I have never even discussed that I had a brain tumor or ever was sick at all. I’m guessing in his mind I never needed or deserved his help like most of the members of my family due to their own inability to emotionally cope. Consequently, for years I only focused on being happy and grateful and making sure I did everything I could to increase the comfort of those around me. I didn’t want anyone to be uncomfortable because of my illness (like my family obviously was). But I paid a very high price for focusing on their fears, and how much this saddened me, and not on my own. Symptoms of trauma began to appear and I didn’t know what the heck was going on. Increasing fatigue and fears of being in public kept me withdrawn and fearful for years. I would only show myself in public when I felt safe. As things became intolerable (and I felt like a failure for not being strong enough), I finally went to counseling. My counselor, Alexis gently pointed out beliefs I’d developed and behaviors and fears I had were quintessential to someone who’d been traumatized. But I’d had no idea and am still discovering how deeply these repeated traumas have burrowed themselves inside of me. Freeing them has been liberating!
In addition to weekly counseling, using the Kiloby Inquiries to help me overcome trauma has been extremely beneficial! They’ve made me even more aware of subtle but damaging ways I’d been restricting myself and my life because of my fears. Since I never knew this before, I had no way of telling Alexis. By gaining all that I have while working with a Kiloby facilitator, the work I do with Alexis has become even more effective. I am presently pursuing my certification to become a Kiloby Inquiries facilitator. Click here on The Kiloby Inquiries to learn more about it and find out how you can get a free session with me while I’m still training.
In 2011 I overcame breast cancer in just five months using a natural protocol developed by the late Bill Henderson, author of the book titled Cancer Free. I’d been told I had to get a mastectomy within a month or it would be far too dangerous. Is the protocol I used for everyone? Absolutely not for we all are individuals and what’s good for me may not be good for you. But whether you decide to use conventional treatment or use a natural remedy, know that there are practically always choices and time to decide. Take time to do research to find the best treatment for you. There are many ways of treating cancer but I am not a doctor.
For those of you who live locally I highly recommend a doctor who’s been a Godsend to me – Dr. Jaime Lee, who practices in Groton, CT. To those of you who live elsewhere no matter what kind of treatment you choose to treat cancer, please make an appointment with any doctor who practices natural medicine because even if you are having having chemotherapy or radiation, for example, she’ll have ways that will not only make you more comfortable but will support your body to heal more efficiently. Also know that I get a thermography test every year from Dr. Lee which shows if there’s any sign of cancer SEVEN years before conventional tests do, giving plenty of time to treat it. If everyone got this test annually, NO ONE WOULD EVER DIE OF CANCER (and the same thing with alzheimer’s). I highly recommend all to get this test! And you can call Dr. Lee to find a doctor that’s near to you.
I have also found Kripalu yoga to be invaluable. I now am taking classes three times a week on Zoom with Priscilla Humphrey, KYT who wrote: When facing an unexpected diagnosis, fear and a deep stress have a way of slowly taking hold of your mind, emotions and then the body. We all need tools for self-care to get through challenging times. We need something that really helps. YOGA. BREATHWORK. MEDITATION are here for YOU. Each of these gentle healing practices can become a comfort that reduces your stress, lowers your fatigue, lifts your spirit, cleanses your lymphatic system, calms your nervous system, quiets your mind and is emotionally relaxing. It will also help with joint pain, strength and flexibility. Yoga will teach you how to be with whatever you’re facing with more ease, confidence and self-love. Yoga, breathwork and meditation helped me on my own healing path. I now teach combination of Kripalu yoga, Energy Medicine, Yin Yoga, Mindfulness Meditation and Relaxation. Having support as you heal is essential. Each week I offer yoga classes online that can be accessed from your home. You can find my class schedule here: https://www.facebook.com/groups/priscillayoga/ and the Zoom link to easily access all classes I teach that are offered on a donation basis. You can reach me by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone or text at 860-608-3731.
Alexis Heitman, MA, LMHC, LCDP is a certified AEDP therapist who practices psychotherapy in Rhode Island. AEDP is a model of therapy that is both relational and experiential. By working experientially with trauma, loss and pain in the context of a supportive therapeutic relationship, AEDP helps to transform human suffering. Recognizing that we are all wired for healing, it seeks to foster this innate capacity for growth and transformation. To help you find a therapist here is the AEDP Therapist Directory which “has roots in and resonances with many disciplines — among them interpersonal neurobiology, attachment theory, emotion theory and affective neuroscience, body-focused approaches, and last but not least, transformational studies.”
Lynn Fraser is the founder of the Stillpoint Method of Healing Trauma. She has 22 years of experience teaching meditation to thousands of students around the world, and specializes in holding safe, trusted spaces for people healing trauma. Lynn is a senior meditation teacher in the Himalayan Tradition of Yoga Meditation and a Certified Facilitator of the Kiloby Inquiries, a somatic mindfulness method of healing. She is the founder of and interviewer for the Radical Recovery Summit, an online exploration of addiction recovery with a diverse group of thought leaders and innovators in the field, including Gabor Maté, Rick Hanson, Resmaa Menakem, Irene Lyon and James S Gordon. I cannot speak highly enough about her!
Join Lynn and her group (to which I am a faithful and grateful member) live every day at 8AM Eastern for a free, online guided relaxation practice on Zoom: http://zoom.us/j/645904638. Password: 397228. “Lynn’s the real deal.” Dr. Rick Hanson, neuropsychologist and author of the best-selling book Resilient, How to Grow an Unshakable Core of Calm, Strength and Happiness. “Lynn has experienced a profound recognition of present moment awareness and embodies it naturally.” Scott Kiloby, founder Kiloby Center for Recovery, the first mindfulness based addiction recovery center in the US.