Through this process, I have come to understand the experience of cancer as a journey -- filled with ups and downs, periods of calm and tumult, and extraordinary opportunities for healing and transformation. I have also seen, again and again, what powerful roles the mind, heart, and spirit can play in impacting every individual's journey through cancer.
It is normal and common to feel overwhelmed by a cancer diagnosis, as anyone who has been through this experience can attest. Unfortunately, it is not yet normal or common for individuals and families to receive skillful, coherent, and comprehensive help in navigating the mental, emotional, and spiritual aspects of cancer. For many, this is a painful and tragically missed opportunity. But it doesn't have to be so.
Over many years of running an integrative cancer center, I was repeatedly asked: "Doctor, in addition to radiation, chemotherapy, and surgery, what else can I do to help myself? What should I eat? What vitamins should I take? What alternative therapies should I use?" And, "How can I deal with the mental, emotional, and spiritual challenges I am encountering?"
In searching for meaningful and practical answers, I saw an important pattern. I recognized that all questions and concerns encountered by patients and their loved ones fall into one of seven distinct, but inter-related domains of inquiry and exploration. I call these The Seven Levels of Healing and describe them in detail in The Journey Through Cancer: Healing and Transforming the Whole Person. They are a powerful guide for navigating all aspects of the cancer journey, including the mental, emotional, and spiritual -- as well as physical -- ones.
Alternative Cancer TreatmentThe Seven Levels are briefly summarized below, along with some practical suggestions for using them right away:
Level One: Education and Information. Understanding your medical care is important to achieving the best outcome. Feeling clear and confident about your care helps put your mind at ease and enhances your ability to enter the deeper dimensions of healing. Find an experienced oncologist whom you trust, and who answers your questions fully. Don't make hasty decisions. Make decisions based on knowledge and understanding, not on fear.
Level Two: Connection with Others. This is a powerful component of healing. Family members can only do so much. Seek additional support from friends, clergy, and self-help organizations. Join a support group. Talk with others who have navigated the journey though cancer and found positive solutions.
Level Three: The Body as Garden. Conventional treatments remain the foundation of leading-edge cancer care. However, taking an active role in caring for your body also includes good nutrition, exercise, massage, relaxation, and other complementary therapies. These can nourish and strengthen the body, soothe and calm the mind, and invigorate the heart and spirit.
Level Four: Emotional Healing. Cancer can be an emotional roller-coaster. Everyone involved can experience feelings of fear, anger, depression, and doubt -- as well as gratitude and love. Keep a journal to explore and release your innermost feelings. Work with a counselor or therapist. Don't neglect your emotional self.
Level Five: The Nature of Mind. Mental anxiety is often another part of cancer. The mind can work for or against you, depending on your focus. To avoid feeling overwhelmed, examine your thoughts and beliefs and see if they are serving you. When fear and doubt are replaced with clarity and understanding, anxiety often diminishes. Ask yourself, "What are the blessings in my life? What am I truly grateful for?"
Level Six: Life Assessment. It is very empowering to discover the deepest meaning and purpose of your life, especially in the face of cancer. Answering three important questions can help clarify your priorities and liberate enormous time, energy, and resources for healing:
- What is the meaning and purpose of my life?
- What are my most important goals for the coming year?
- How do I want to be remembered by those whom I love?