Friends, all of us have been through much, yet we are still here fighting this battle and much of it has to do with our beliefs. I had an aunt who wanted to die, she was old; yet her body was very healthy, she willed herself to die. How saddened i was and tormented to be fighting for her life and fouusght in the oposite direction. She would hit the spoon out of my hand when I would be feeding her. She pulled every trick she could, she hated me. She hated me because i wanted her to live and she wanted to die. In the end she won! How often I think of her and think if she had only turned all that will power, strength and energy into fighting to live she would have lived for many more years. For this reason even though it is the opposite of what she did, I commend each of us for our wills to fight and win this battle. Sometimes it is good to pat oneself on the back and tell ourselves we are something else. The I love me, who do you love attitude can go a long way in our beliefs. It is good to love yourself, after all if you love yourself you will treat everyone else as you would treat you.
I can't give you money, furs or car's; but I can give you love, friendship and something else very important, that is support and a good pat on the back. Hang tough dear friends, always, lillian
THE ROLE OF BELIEFS IN GETTING WELL
The single common theme that runs throughout the stories of cancer survivors is a belief that recovery is possible. How do you believe that you can get well when you have been told that you are going to die? First, you start with practicing believing that all of your beliefs are optional — it is up to you which ones you choose to hold on to. Our reality is an outgrowth of our belief system. Therefore, your health is a reflection of the way you live, and the way you live is reflection of your beliefs.
If you want to get well, start with your beliefs. As mentioned previously, Norman Cousins in his book, Human Options, stated that our belief system may be the most powerful healing system available to us. Changing old cultural beliefs into newer, more desirable ones is a process. There are three aspects to this process of change: attitudinal, emotional, and behavioral. If you just try to change your attitudes, you will most likely continue to live your life in the old ways, with the same emotional responses. If you do not change your behaviors, you will not be experiencing the reality of attitudinal change, and you will most likely slip back into old ways of thinking.
Illness, like health, is a process. Recovery from illness is also a process. We often try to get well in the same way that we have always solved other major problems in our life, using our old beliefs to help us. However, if the way we have lived life in the past has been an influencing factor in why we got sick in the first place it becomes easy for us to sabotage ourselves in the way we approach and use our self-help strategies and tools.
Many of you who are taking responsibility in your recovery process by participating in a self-help approach to augment your medical treatment may be experiencing a sense of panic about what the "right way" is to get well. While a sense of urgency is understandable, your anxiety may dissipate valuable energy that needs to be channeled toward healing. I encourage you to be more aware of, and practice, some of the more healthy thought patterns associated with the getting well process. First, it is helpful to become conscious of some of the common myths about getting well from cancer. In Chapter 1, I mentioned some of the cultural myths that Simonton, Simonton, and Creighton described in their book, Getting Well Again (1978). Additional myths are listed on the following pages.
COMMON MYTHS ABOUT GETTING WELL
- This terrible "thing" (cancer, etc.) has happened to me.
- Other people, i.e., "doctors" are in charge of curing me.
- Traditional treatment such as chemotherapy or radiation, even though toxic in nature, may be the only help I've got.
- If traditional treatments are not available or do not work for me, I'm going to die.
- I've got to get well the right way: i.e., do so many mental imagery processes a day and do them right, exercise so many times a week, eat only the "right" foods.
- Getting well from cancer is a difficult process that takes lots of hard work.
- My doctor knows from my lab tests and x-rays how I am doing more than I know how I am doing.
- I will know when I'm well — when the cancer is gone. (Health is the absence of disease.)
- Getting well from cancer is serious work. I have to understand how I got sick before I can get well.
- Other people know (better than me) what l need.
- I am helpless — maybe if I am lucky the treatment will work.
- I must not think negative thoughts or become depressed — I might get worse.
- When I am scared, I need to pretend that I'm not. If I am scared, something terrible might really happen.
- Time is running out — I've got to get well by a certain date, or I won't be able to.
- Recurrence of disease means that there is very little hope left that I can get well.
HEALTHY BELIEFS ABOUT GETTING WELL
- Health, like illness, is a process.
- Getting well from cancer or any other illness is a participatory process. I can decide to get well.
- It is okay that I got sick, and it is okay to die if I decide to.
- I am not a victim who is helpless in getting well. Neither am I totally in control of my environment.
- Cancer, or whatever illness I have, represents a signal for change in my life.
- Illness represents a major problem in how I have been living and responding emotionally.
- Illness helps me get what I need — and since I respond emotionally and physically to my needs, all of my needs are real.
- Getting well from cancer, or any other illness, involves my learning to be aware of my needs and to meet them.
- The getting well process needs to be fun — not drudgery or hard work that I need to do perfectly; otherwise that's a good reason to die.
- Getting well involves more than thinking "I will be well" or just using positive thoughts.
- When I feel — even if it's "depressed" or "scared" — that's a healthy sign that I am feeling.
- Just because I'm scared that I'm going to die, doesn't mean that I'm not going to get well.
- There are many different ways to get well.
- I don't have to solve all of the problems in my life to get well — it's a shift in the process of how I'm approaching life that's needed.
- The changes I need to make are attitudinal, behavioral, and emotional.
- More long-time survivors have had a recurrence during their recovery process than those who haven't. Recurrence of disease is often part of the recovery process.
Your Power to Win with Cancer supports:
- A belief system that recovery from cancer is possible.
- A belief system that recognizes your power to take action and create results.
- A belief system that does not view cancer and death as failure.
ILLNESS IS A SIGNAL TO CHANGE
As far back as 1926, Elida Evans stated in her book, A Psychological Study of Cancer, that cancer was a signpost in the road of life, calling for a change. We have a different internal rule system about how to live life when we are sick than we do when we are well. Illness helps us to change in ways that we don't even think we can change. It helps us to expand our beliefs about what is possible. You may want to start by adopting a stance of curiosity about what your illness is guiding you to change in your life.
As we stated earlier, change is a process that has three components: attitudinal, behavioral, and emotional. If you want to get well, then it is important to address all three of these areas in your recovery process as you make changes in your life. Our health is a reflection of the way we live our lives, and the way we live our lives is a reflection of our beliefs. Therefore, everything begins with belief. What we believe determines the options that we think we have. If we want to increase our options, then it becomes important to expand our beliefs.
Our core attitudes about who we are have been grounded in emotion. If you want to strengthen the feeling that you are entitled to be happy and healthy, then it is important to deal with any emotions that are associated with these core attitudes. If you grew up in a family where either one of your parents was sick or depressed to a significant degree, then you may have at some level (out of your awareness) decided that it is not okay for you to be happy and well.
To change this old attitude requires changing some of your emotional responses. For example, you may have old pain or sadness that is connected with your belief that it is not okay for you to be happy. It is imperative to express any old emotion that is connected to an attitude that you want to change. Once you express this old emotion, it becomes much easier to change your attitudes in a desired direction. You can begin believing in the attitudes that you want to believe in, even if you don't believe them right now. Then the third step requires incorporating new behaviors that reflect your new attitudinal position. An example is presented on the next page:
CHANGING: ATTITUDES, EMOTIONS AND BEHAVIORS
BECOME AWARE OF:
Old attitude: "I can't get well."
Become aware of and express any emotional pain, anger, or fear you have so that you are available to feel pleasure and excitement in the present about getting well.
Begin to change behaviors that reflect your being sick and being in a hopeless, helpless situation.
Desired attitude: "I can get well."
Become aware of and practice getting emotional needs met so that you experience pleasure and optimism and expect more of the same.
Incorporate behaviors that reflect your getting well: i.e., setting two ten year life goals, or beginning to play daily will increase your energy, and it will be easier to believe that you can be happy and well when you are feeling better.