09/08/2012 11:30 am ET Updated Nov 08, 2012

Thriving While Dying: Fearlessly Embracing a Terminal Illness

"My doctors say I have at best three months left to live. I refuse to believe it and know that working with you will help me survive." That's how my work began with the client who taught me the most about living fearlessly and making every second count.

I knew right off that it would be irresponsible of me to give this woman false hope. As a hypnotherapist, I may have witnessed miracles, and I know the power of the mind to shift disease -- even terminal illness -- in our bodies. But at the same time, I would never want to promise this outcome.

From somewhere deep down inside of me I began to speak a truth to her, a promise that I knew I could keep. "I don't know if you will be able to survive this. I don't know if you'll be able to visualize away the cancer. But what I do know is that I can help you take away the fear. What I do know is that I can help you squeeze the most out of every moment that remains. We are all dying, some of us sooner than others, but we're all heading down this same path. You may live many more years, or you could get into an accident leaving here and die today. I don't know what will happen. But I do know that pain and fear are optional and I can help you navigate through and around them. I do know that suffering can be a choice. I do know that we can create a scenario that no matter what happens, you will feel as though you've won. If you live, that would be really cool, and if you die, that, too, will be really interesting. When this feels true for you, everything will change."

She appreciated the truth, and she agreed to do the work. Day one and goal one were shifting her belief so that no matter the outcome, she would feel as though she were winning. As we worked through that first session I noticed that every time she said the words "I will survive," she lost energy. It didn't have that ring of truth or the power you might expect such a statement to have.

I asked her what images came to mind as she said those words. She described a scene of herself in a hospital bed -- no hair, gaunt and clinging onto life. We both agreed that was not the most powerful image. So I asked her to imagine what she really wanted. And she saw herself radiating love through her eyes, with a smile on her face and a sense of peace and comfort. I asked her to put this into words, and she said simply, "I'm thriving."

And thrive she did. Using my core belief-shifting techniques, we weeded out every possible block to her embracing this idea that no matter what happened, she would thrive. There were times that she would come in so sad at the thought that this may be her last birthday or last holiday gathering with her family. We identified that sadness as grief, and that grief as a love for life. That gave her full permission in her mind to embrace the sadness, to be with it and experience its richness. She savored her grief, honored it and released it faster than I would have thought possible.

In the three years I worked with this young woman, she lived more life than all my other clients combined. She loved more, learned more, had more joy, more happiness, more grief, more sorrow and thrived through it all fearlessly. She had been given a three-month life sentence. She thrived for three powerful years. When she passed, every person in her life had been impacted. It was at her funeral that I saw all her homemade signs on the walls of the church, each saying in a different way, "I'm thriving." Her eulogy was all about thriving in the face of a terminal diagnosis, and the pastor invited us each to follow her example and thrive instead of cower in fear.

She had taken our work together and shared it with her world, and each person who knew her -- including myself -- will never be the same. Thanks to her, we all know that we, too, can thrive no matter the circumstances.

For more by Rick A. Reynolds, click here.

For more on becoming fearless, click here.