Cancer: My Reason for Seeking Healing
Many of us have had occasion to seek healing from a serious illness. A Course in Miracles has much to say about healing, and much help to offer those who seek it. I tell my story of healing for one purpose: to give hope and help to those who have a similar need, and who have come to A Course in Miracles to show them the way.
In 1979 I had breast cancer, a walnut-sized tumor which was removed in a partial mastectomy. In 1983 the cancer returned, in the form of a quite large tumor inside the chest wall which doctors said was not a simple "local recurrence," but a metastasis, which meant that cancer had spread to that location via the blood or lymphatic system. Further metastases, they believed were sure to follow. The surgeon, the radiation oncologist, the oncologist, and the "second opinion" all agreed that I had a 5% chance of survival at this point, although most felt that the magnitude of the recurrence made that probability closer to zero. My oncologist told me he would not recommend radiation and chemotherapy, because he didn't believe it could help.
Nevertheless, I had surgery and six weeks of radiation therapy, followed by chemotherapy with a new oncologist, who expected the treatment to continue to the end of my life, no more than three years. When we mutually agreed to end chemotherapy after two years, he was surprised that I had survived so long. But, he told me, he expected what he called a "rebound recurrence" within a short time, probably no more than six weeks. The expectations of my doctors had been clear to me from the beginning: If I survived treatment, which was unlikely, I was certain to start a long downward slide to recurrences which would eventually end my life. Other women in my situation, they told me, had survived less than three years from diagnosis. Only a very small number had taken longer than that to die, and their recurrences had been very tiny. My second tumor had been the size of an orange (Why do they always use food metaphors?).
I had no recurrence at six weeks, or two months, or three or four or five months. I felt fine. My former energy was returning and I was beginning to feel "normal"—for two years I had adjusted to a different definition of normal, and had forgotten what "regular" people felt like every day. Now the future looked very bright indeed.
Best of all, I knew that I had survived because I had discovered my own rich and limitless spiritual resources. I had not done it alone—I had been given a set of books called A Course in Miracles, which became my tool for self-discovery and finally for self-healing. The Course has been described as "a form of spiritual psychotherapy that is self-taught." No one can really "teach the Course" to you. It is your Course, to be learned privately and in your own way and in your own time. Discussing it with others in study groups or one-to-one was helpful to me, but in the end I had to find my way through it in an intensely personal, intimate struggle. It is a Course I am still taking, still trying to live, and still learning.
Six months after chemotherapy ended my surgeon and my radiation oncologist each independently found a new tumor the size of a kidney bean. Both recommended an immediate biopsy. They believed, because the tumor was hard and immovable, that it could not be a cyst. And, because it had grown quickly, it could not be scar tissue. As the oncologist stated in his letter to the surgeon: "IMPRESSION: recurrent adenocarcinoma of the lower inner quadrant of the right breast." And the surgeon wrote in my chart notes: "Small area right medial breast suspicious for recurrence." This was the rebound recurrence they had been expecting, and it meant the treatment had not been successful. There was one more "last-chance" chemotherapy drug that had not been used because of its toxic effect on the heart, but that was the final option. More surgery, of course. But no hope. My doctors had seen such recurrences before, and they saw my future, however brief they believed it to be, very clearly.
I was in shock. Not so much because of another recurrence, but because this meant that I had not, after all, found the healing I had sought and believed I had achieved. What had gone wrong? Wasn't I "taking the Course?" I was up to lesson 130 in the Workbook already. Hadn't I healed my life, my attitudes, and my spirit? Why, then, hadn't my body been healed? Something was very, very wrong.
I bargained with my surgeon for time. "Give me a month," I asked. I was going to give this Course one last shot—it was August of 1985, and I was ready to start a month of vacation between teaching in summer school and fall term. Jack and I were planning to spend that month in the Grand Tetons. Now I would use that time in the Tetons to immerse myself in the Course and discover what was missing in my healing. "O.K.," Dr. Mac grudgingly agreed, "but the day you get back, you get in here for that biopsy!"
During that month, I did the most intense spiritual study and questioning and struggle of my life. And I did find the answer—the answer that had, of course, always been there waiting for me. As the Course assures us, in one of many comforting promises:
It is possible that His answer will not be heard. It is impossible, however, that it will be lost. There are many answers you have already received but have not yet heard. I assure you that they are waiting for you (T 152-153).
I finally heard it, and the tumor disappeared, literally, overnight. Here is how it happened:
The Cause and the Cure
Most people who knew me before 1979 probably saw me as successful, lucky, at the peak of my career and happily married. My "fast-track" lifestyle took me regularly on trips around the country and the world for speeches and consulting. I was well-paid and was married to a professor who apparently was totally supportive and tolerant of the demands of my career. My children were nearly grown, all healthy and happy. I apparently had everything I wanted, including good health and energy. And it was true. I did feel unusually lucky. I enjoyed the work, the status, and the money. My marriage, if not a union of soul mates, was at least egalitarian and comfortable.
There was no time in this busy life to be on the mountaintop. It was a life lived in the marketplace. There was competition, excitement, pride, enjoyment, anxiety, fear, anger, attack, defense and guilt, but seldom inner peace or joy or serenity.
In the nine months before my first cancer diagnosis, I had a major career setback which I experienced as a humiliating failure, my marriage disintegrated, and my last child left home. I contemplated the ruins of my life and sank into an unyielding depression, which culminated in breast cancer. At that point, it did not come as a surprise.
Whenever you are sick, it has been suggested, you should ask yourself:
- When did it start?
- What was going on in my life at that time?
- Who do I need to forgive?
I did recognize the major conflicts in my work and personal life as the roots of my first cancer, and made some major life style changes. Two years after my divorce, I married Jack, a widower I had known for some years as a colleague and friend. We moved to a farm 60 miles from town and commuted to work. I cut back on travel and took the vacation days that had accumulated over the years. I began to look for, and in 1983 accepted, a university teaching job that would be less demanding and less exhausting, and would allow me more freedom to decide when and where I would work.
Nevertheless…a recurrence. A Course in Miracles came into my life after that second cancer during a period of rage, helplessness, fear, and fierce determination to prove the doctors' bleak prognoses wrong. I would survive this! During that same period, a nurse advised me gently that it was time for me to "get out of Denial" and begin to move on through the five stages of dying. My anger at this suggestion propelled me to search for an alternative to those five stages. I knew that the power of my belief—"self-fulfilling prophecy"—would make the last stage inevitable as soon as I moved out of the first stage. If I expected to die, and began to work on death instead of life, I would no doubt experience all five stages of dying, and would most certainly die. Denial seemed to me to be the only sane response to a death sentence.
I began to work on the stages of healing instead. The first stage became true Denial, as the Course defines it: "to deny the denial of truth" (T 203). With the third cancer, I learned about the final stage: Acceptance. But in healing, this stage is not Acceptance of death, as it is in Elisabeth Kubler-Ross' Five Stages of Death and Dying. It is Acceptance of God's Will for you—even if it means dying. Because only when you totally accept God's Will do you realize that God's Will for you is not that you die—God's Will for you is perfect happiness. God does not will that you be sick, suffer, and die.
The month that I dedicated to healing that third and final tumor "just happened" to be the month I was studying Lessons 131-140, which focus on healing. The first morning of that month, I opened the Workbook to this promise:
No one can fail who seeks to reach the truth. (W 233, lesson 131)
And the next morning, struggling to pray, I clearly heard an inner voice tell me, "Your prayer was answered before you spoke it."
With these promises, I felt like a person who had come in at the end of the movie, saw "how it comes out," and then had to sit through two hours of conflict and trauma to see how it evolved into the happy ending. I knew I was healed, in spite of the unyielding lump I could still feel in my chest.
By the end of the month, my understanding of true healing, permanent healing, had increased immensely. But the tumor was still there, and seemed even larger than before—I couldn't resist checking it constantly. We returned from the Tetons, and the surgeon called that same day, to tell me the biopsy was scheduled for the following day. I was beginning to feel desperate.
I went for a long walk in the hills above our farm, and became aware of a Presence walking with me. Not visible, but just a "sense" of a Presence, always facing me as I walked. I argued, accused, challenged and demanded to know from this Presence, which I experienced as God, why I was not healed when I had done everything I knew to do. I had forgiven. I had given up judgment and attack. I had become defenseless. I had accepted God's Will.
The response came: "Have you really accepted My Will?"
"Of course I have!" I insisted.
"But I have accepted Your Will!" I insisted again, and again.
"Have you really." Not even a challenge, just a calm
There was a long period of silent walking. Finally, the Presence asked me a question.
"Would you accept My Will if it meant that you would die?"
Fear asserted itself immediately. "Of course not! That's what this whole struggle has been about! Getting well! Not dying! Of course I wouldn't accept that!"
After another mile or so of inner turmoil, I realized that reserving out one area in which I would not, could not accept God's Will meant that I had not accepted His Will at all. I saw what I had to do. Accept God's Will, surrender totally to God's Will, even if it meant that I would die. It meant, after six years of fiercely battling cancer, that I had to give up control, give up the effort, and allow God's grace to heal me, or not heal me, and be at peace either way. I couldn't heal myself, no matter how hard I worked.
Finally, I accepted. It was, for me, totally out of character and awfully difficult to do. I had resisted with all my strength. And finally, I yielded to that Presence and accepted His will for me, even if it meant that I would die. The peace and sense of lightness, freedom, and joy that immediately followed that surrender was indescribable. And that was when I understood the truth that permanent healing is, first, healing of the spirit. Healing of the body may follow, and often does.
But even if physical healing has not occurred, to die with a healed spirit is a happy death. It didn't matter anymore if I died soon, or later. While death of the body might be a part of Holy Spirit's plan for me at this time, I knew that God's Will for me would never be death, inner death, but rather a passage to "freer air and gentler climate, where it is not hard to see the gifts we gave were saved for us" (Song of Prayer, "False versus True Healing" p. 16).
I didn't check the tumor that night. It didn't seem important any more. And the next morning when the doctor examined me, the tumor was gone. Completely gone. "There's nothing there," he said, puzzled and disconcerted in spite of his happiness for me. The joy nearly wafted me off the table, but I couldn't pass up the opportunity to drive home the lesson.
"What could have happened to it?" I asked. He and my other doctors regarded my trust in spiritual healing as hopeless, but harmless as long as I also continued conventional treatment.
"Well," he pondered, "it could have been a cyst."
"Hard and immovable?" I prodded him with his own words.
"Well, then it might have been scar tissue."
"Does scar tissue go away? Overnight?"
"Well, no. Of course not." He was getting testy.
"What could it have been, then?"
"I don't know what it was. I just don't know. I just don't know." He clearly wanted to drop the subject, so I let him off the hook. Now, nearly seven years later, he finally uses the "C" word with me: Cure. He still doesn't understand it, but he shares my joy, and celebrates my continued wellness.
God's Will for me is perfect happiness. Now I understand the final stage of healing.
Judy Allen wrote a book about her experience with cancer, entitled, The Five Stages of Getting Well. She and her mother Francis Reed founded the Portland ACIM center which ultimately became the Reed Miracles Center.