THE BLOG
10/13/2015 05:24 pm ET | Updated Oct 13, 2016

Dreams That Warn of Breast Cancer

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Kat O'Keefe-Kanavos, author of Surviving Cancerland, is not your ordinary dreamer, although her story of discovering her own breast cancer through her dreams is not unique. Neither is her experience of having doctors be skeptical of the importance of her warning dreams. In fact her dreams predicted her initial diagnosis and two recurrences including the exact locations in each case. When her doctor couldn't find any palpable mass on physical examination the confirmatory imaging studies were only ordered due to her insistence upon following the guidance from the dreams. Her dream messenger in the form of a robed monk delivered the specific warning messages:

Enjoying my dream, it suddenly stops, much like what happens when a computer screen freezes, and a pop-up window appears, also similar to that of a computer. My spiritual guide/guardian angel, in the brown robe, rope belt, and leather sandals of a monk, steps through the window and says, "Come with me. We have something to tell you." I obediently follow him into a room I call the Room Between Realms, a place that is neither of the living nor the dead, yet both can visit to share information. It is a parallel universe of consciousness. A guide takes my hand, places it on my right breast, and says, "You have cancer right here. Feel it? Go back to your doctor tomorrow. Don't wait for an appointment."

I found out about Kat's story when she agreed to participate in my 2013-2014 Breast Cancer Warning Dreams Research Project which was sponsored by the social networking site for dreams, DreamsCloud. The resulting peer-reviewed study, "Warning Dreams Preceding the Diagnosis of Breast Cancer: A Survey of the Most Important Characteristics," was approved by the Institutional Review Board of the Rhine Research Center and published in the 2015 May/June issue of Explore: The Journal of Science and Healing. Eighteen women from around the world including England, Austria, Columbia and the United States reported warning breast cancer dreams, many of them life changing experiences.

The most common five characteristics of warning dreams in descending order of frequency reported in the survey were: a sense of conviction about the importance in 94 percent; more vivid, real or intense than ordinary in 83 percent; an emotional sense of threat, menace or dread in 72 percent; the use of the specific words breast cancer/tumor in 44 percent; and the sense of physical contact with the breast in 39 percent. In more than half of the cases, the dreams prompted medical attention, were shared with consulting doctors, provided the location of the tumors, and led directly to diagnosis.

Wanda Burch, author of She Who Dreams, and also a participant in the study, had a series of dreams about a cancer that was not palpable, and the imaging studies were equivocal. She was fortunate to have a very open-minded surgeon, as described in this excerpt from my 2013 PsiberDreaming Conference presentation for the International Association for the Study of Dreams:

Dr. Barlyn listened to my dream and handed me a felt tip marker. "Draw the location on your breast." I drew a dot far underneath the right side of the left breast and told him that another dream had shown me a ledge, the dream debris -- or tumor -- hidden underneath the ledge. Dr. Barlyn inserted the biopsy needle in the area I designated and felt resistance, an indication of a problem. The surgical biopsy gave Dr. Barlyn the details of a fast-moving, extremely aggressive breast cancer whose cells were not massing in a fashion that allowed them to be seen on a mammogram.

My friend Sonia Lee-Shield was not as lucky in her interaction with a doctor about her dream which unfortunately led to her untimely death, and she even had symptoms to go with it:

I had a dream that I had cancer. I went to the G.P complaining of a lump and spasm-like feelings on my sternum. The G.P. concluded it was normal breast tissue, and the feeling in my sternum was dismissed, a devastating mistake. A year later, a different doctor diagnosed stage 3 breast cancer.

I dedicate my talks on this subject to Sonia's memory, as I don't want any other women to have a similar experience with their warning dreams. I just gave an invited presentation, "Anticipate the Diagnosis of Breast Cancer: Screening Controversies and Warning Dreams," at the Anticipation in Medicine Conference, an international academic forum in Germany devoted to "understanding how anticipatory processes take place and what the practical implications of this understanding might be."

Considering the current contentious debate about screening mammography, I anticipate that additional research including randomized controlled trials will be needed to determine the role of dreams in self care programs for breast health. In the meantime, Kat O'Keefe-Kanavos and I are working on a book about warning dreams of cancer including examples of dreams about colon, prostate, lung, brain and skin cancers. If you have had such a cancer dream, please tell your story in the comments section or contact us directly.