Cancer is an instance where the body's intelligence fails at the deepest level. Somehow, the balance gets distorted out of its normal process. Western medicine offers amazing and life-saving treatments and saves many lives. Early detection, prevention, healthy diet, clean environment, elimination of toxic substances, toxic relationships, toxic emotions are all factors in improving both the quality and quantity of life. Sometimes drastic measures are required and even though they cause immense side effects, chemotherapy, radiation, and surgery can make a huge difference and save lives.
Many years ago, I received a series of very touching letters from a patient of mine by the name of Eleanor. Eleanor was a woman with metastatic breast cancer who responded very well to chemotherapy and radiation. I asked her to write down the history of her disease as seen from the inside. What she sent me was a very remarkable document. It begins at the most harrowing moment of her life, when she is about to enter the operating room for breast surgery.
Undrugged, I am lying in the pre-op area by the doors of the O.R. at City of Hope Hospital. A nurse walks by carrying a huge breast in a clear plastic bag. My breasts seem so small, helpless, and innocent. I had nursed my baby sons and felt so good about my breasts; they were feminine, soft, and pretty -- I trusted them. Now I am just lying here, waiting for someone to cut away at least one of them.
I am scared and shaking. Every nerve in my body seems to be screaming or action, wanting to run away before it is too late and I am pushed through the doors to the O.R. I feel like I am betraying my body to a rape of degradation. I am 2\35 years old, and this whole thing is going against my sense of what is right.
When it's over, the emotional impact starts to set in. My image of my body is bad -- I don't want the doctors to see me, let alone my husband. I am past naked. I am stripping off my feminine shape, infected for weeks afterward, hooked to drains whose tubes are sewn to my body. The red-topped glass tubes rattle whenever I try to walk.
Eventually Eleanor healed enough to begin six months of chemotherapy. She was told that her chances of recovery were high, but when a mammogram was taken of the remaining breast, it was found to be cancerous as well. A second mastectomy was scheduled:
Now I really want to escape. For months I have heard that I had cancer, then didn't have cancer, then had cancer again. I am so weary of surgeries and uncertainty. I am sick from fever, horrible night sweats, pain, humiliation, doubt about my body, my spirit, my gender -- everything. All that I have trusted has let me down.
Bilateral breast cancer, bilateral mastectomies, and eventually bilateral breast reconstruction. I hope this is the end, and I can get on to recovering from my other symptoms. Then on to wellness again, despite my odds.
Soon afterward, Eleanor began to practice meditation. At first she approached her meditation with reservations and even outright skepticism, but these gave way to "a sense of inner acceptance." Four months later, in June 1986, she found that she was accidentally pregnant. Eleanor's doctors told her that her chemotherapy had made her sterile, which happens to about 25 percent of younger women, rising to 85 percent for women over 40. For those who are not rendered sterile, giving birth is extremely risky, but to Eleanor, the idea of having another child held a special importance:
This pregnancy was symbolic to me of wholeness and blending with nature. It was a miracle, and I was happy. Then when my doctors said that I should abort this child to save my own life, it seemed like a nightmare. As the pregnancy continued, I got even sicker. I was told that my tests now indicated estrogen positive cancer, and my chances for survival were slim. I protected these facts and carried the baby, a decision that I lived with in peace.
After the successful delivery of a baby boy, Eleanor discovered that her cancer had returned, this time to her bones:
Back to cancer, and the roller coaster ride began all over again. The City of Hope doctors predicted that I would live "perhaps six more moths, but probably not more than two years." (This was fourteen months ago, in March 1987). The cancer had advanced well into my bones (the X-rays revealed a dozen cancerous sites, principally in the ribs and vertebrae), and I felt very sick, literally to the bone. The treatment plan was full doses of chemo "for the rest of your life." That didn't sound like I'd be around too long.
Eleanor responded poorly to chemotherapy, and on the recommendation of her family doctor, who had suggested meditation before, she visited Lancaster (a center for holistic healing that I used to practice in 15 years ago) for Ayurvedic treatment in June. When I reviewed her case, I recognized that she was gravely ill; I couldn't promise her a cure but I told Eleanor that there were more possibilities than she realized -- the inner core of herself had not been violated with cancer, and we would try to bring her in touch with that core. After two weeks, she began to feel much better, both physically and mentally, and she left with no bone pain. Apparently, this was the turning point:
After returning back to work, to chemotherapy and doubts, a special thing happened. A wild dove had flown inside the company warehouse one morning and would not leave. Two or three hours later, when I came in, the bird followed my path upstairs, through the halls leading toward my office, and landed quietly on my desk in front of me. I gently picked him up and all at once felt overwhelmed as we shared each other's comfort.
A few months passed after we turned him loose in the country. In September, I found that my bone scans were not good, but not worse either. Chemotherapy was causing multiple side effects. I didn't really mean to quit chemo, but I had consistently bad blood counts, and that meant that the chemo temporarily had to stop. I immediately started feeling better and realized that I wanted no more chemo, even at the risk of dying.
In December I visited the holistic health center again. My time there was wonderful; some special herbs had come in for me, and I was given a primordial sound technique to use at home. At the end of December, another bone scan showed no change. This confirmed my belief that chemo was superficial. I continued my techniques, and when I returned in March, three months later, the bone scan showed that all but one tiny pocket was gone.
The radiologist smiled and said he didn't know how this could have happened without chemo. He hugged me, and when I left, he said, "This will make history." My family doctor called the radiologist for a full interpretation of the scans; he got off the phone and told me that I was almost completely recovered.
As I got the news, I couldn't stop the tears from welling up. I wondered how I could have ever doubted this result. Touched by love and nature's perfection, I had one quiet, soft desire, to go sit again against the earth, surrounded by peace in a celebration of spring flowers, and to enjoy all that has happened and all that I am.
In closing, I have to add that I am realistic. I understand the typical Western approach to this event. I also know that there are great possibilities here. All the truths of my experience show how add up to one truth, but when I think I've grasped it, it slips away. It leaves me feeling humble and rather silly for trying to take apart the wholeness. But I am very, very peaceful and comfortable, having been assured again and again that the wholeness is perfection.
I want to share this story with you in the hope that it will inspire you and help you in your journey of healing. Eleanor went into what is known as spontaneous remission. Eight months after undergoing the last chemotherapy, her bone cancer dwindled until there was only one small shadow on her X-rays, and this had not definitely proven to be cancerous. Her blood chemistry, which was abnormal as the result of active disease, returned to the normal range -- this is much stronger proof than the X-rays that Eleanor was getting well.
I stopped fearing for her then, even if she had to begin her battle again. Eleanor radiated the peacefulness she wrote about, and when I spent time with her it was she who made me feel happy and secure, all the more because I understand how rare her peace was. From the despair of disease she had discovered joy. At the moment when the memory of health returned, it brought her power. Eleanor's remission lasted almost fifteen years.
For more information on the monograph entitled Spontaneous Remission, please visit http://www.noetic.org/research/sr/biblio.html.
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