I Believe a Dream Saved My Life: A Tale of Breast Cancer Detection

08/21/2014 08:58 pm ET | Updated Oct 20, 2014


Sunni Ingalls had a dream that may have saved her life.

In November 2011, Ingalls awoke from a vivid dream in which she was running in a race -- she wasn't just running, she was in the lead. During the dream, she was disconcerted to find her husband pulling up in a car next to her.

"You need to get out of this race," her husband told her. But Ingalls, 44, didn't want to listen. "I said, 'Are you kidding? I'm in the front," recalls the computer systems analyst, who lives in Rochester, N.Y.

"He kept encouraging me to get out of the race and get into the car, and he told me he would bring me back" into the race, Ingalls remembers. "So, we got in the car and he drove me home. When we got into the house and I walked by the mirror, I noticed something looked odd -- I looked in the mirror and the left side of my throat, my gland, looked swollen. My mother was standing over my right shoulder and she looked visibly upset." During the dream, Ingalls didn't know what was wrong, but "I told her it was going to be OK."

Because her mother was in the dream -- and because she recalled the details of the dream so vividly when she woke up -- Ingalls thought the dream might have something to do with her physical health. Previously, her mother had part of her thyroid removed, "So I thought maybe it was my thyroid, and maybe I should go to the doctor to do an exam. I called my mom and she said, 'You should just go ahead and check it.'"

A week later, Ingalls made a doctor's appointment, and shortly after received surprising and life-altering news: She had Stage 1 invasive breast cancer. The mass had been detected early enough that Ingalls was able to recover with a course of the anti-cancer drug, Tamoxifen and surgery that took place on Dec. 8, 2011.

"I feel like that dream saved me -- I really do," says Ingalls, the mother of two grown sons. "If I had waited a few more months, it could have been Stage 2, not Stage 1."


Ingalls says she is not entirely surprised her dream was able to provide such a stark warning about her health. "I think we have a lot more intelligence than we realize," she says. "Obviously, you've heard that we only use 10 percent of our brains - there's a lot more going on up there than we know about. My body was trying to signal to me that there was a problem, and it did so in a dream."

Dr. Larry Burke, a Raleigh-Durham, N.C.-based radiologist and holistic medical practitioner, believes dreams like Ingalls' happen more frequently than most people realize - and launched a study in 2013 to explore whether dreams can offer warnings of medical conditions like breast cancer.

Burk, former head of musculoskeletal radiology at the Duke University Medical Center, says, "Of course, we have no idea about the sensitivity, specificity and accuracy of warning dreams since (the phenomenon) has not been scientifically studied." But, he adds, "This study is intended to gather information about which kinds of dreams of breast cancer are the most significant and provide a foundation for future research."

As for Ingalls, she remains healthy more than two years after her diagnosis. Her dream, she says, was a warning that she would need to, "leave the race of life" for a little while - but just as her husband promised her during the dream, she has re-entered, and is running smoothly and happily.

DreamsCloud is the world's leading online dream resource, with an interactive database of more than 1.8 million dreams. Offering a 360-degree approach to dreaming - including a real-time global dream map, dream journaling/sharing tools and the largest group of professional dream reflectors - DreamsCloud empowers users to better understand their dreams and improve their waking lives. They offer a free app for iOS called DreamSphere and curate one of the largest available online dream dictionaries.

DreamsCloud was made aware of Sunni Ingalls' remarkable story, when she posted her dream publicly on the DreamsCloud website.