Marshall Cancer Research Group, LLC
combines Modern Medical Treatments with Buddhism Practices
Cases & Analysis (Continued) ...

One lesson learned: My Healing Journey written by Lynne Zeller (a cancer patient) with a comment from Dr. Siegel
My Healing Journey
by Lynne Zeller

It was a day like so many others, a day in which I was trying to help my son with a high school science project. I was trailing behind him in the craft store as he looked for supplies, and my cell phone rang. "You have mantle cell lymphoma," said the doctor on the other end. Me? I continued my afternoon functioning normally. In fact, I was incredibly calm. On the inside, though, I was in shock and disbelief. Cancer? Not me. I'm healthy; I eat well, I exercise and stay fit, and I'm committed to daily spiritual practice. Other people have cancer, not me. All of a sudden, my ideas of who I was and my sense of control over life were shattered. This was not fair!

I soon discovered that the cancer had spread, not only throughout my lymph system, but also into my spleen and my bone marrow. The prognosis was not great, and my chances of dying from this were very real. My experience of the following weeks was surreal. I was detached from my body and the "normal" world around me, vacillating between feeling numb and disconnected from any emotion, and feeling raw and weepy. How could I tell anyone around me what was happening, especially my family? My concern was that I would have to take care of not only my pain and fear, but theirs too.

At the same time, as a student of Religious Science, I had been taught to view all disease as a wake-up call, to remember our inherent wholeness and perfection, and to let go of false beliefs in separation from our good. I was beginning the second year of an intense two-year training program at my church to become a licensed practitioner. I could see that this was an opportunity to take what had been just abstract concepts before, deep into the core of my being. The way I viewed my cancer shifted from fear and resistance to hope, trust, and expectancy of good.

I brought that same view into the classroom, telling my classmates not long after starting chemo that "I wouldn't trade this experience for anything. It has catapulted me into a new level of experiencing life. I feel so alive and present. I see so many gifts that wouldn't have happened without the cancer. I am confident that this is all divinely guided, that I'm in this experience to learn."

Today I feel just as strongly that cancer was a gift in my life. Deepak Chopra, a physician and a teacher of meditation and therapeutic lifestyle changes, defined health as "the state of perfect physical, mental, social and spiritual well-being" where spiritual well-being is "a state in which a person feels at every moment of living a joy and zest for life, a sense of fulfillment and an awareness of harmony with the universe around him." I am experiencing this well-being in a way I did not know was possible before experiencing cancer.
I've summarized eight practices that have supported me in moving into this wonderfully expanded experience of life, in the hope that they will help others:

1. Reaching out for support. A friend of mine warned, "Lynne, do not do cancer the way I did it." She'd told few people about her cancer, went to all of her chemotherapy and radiation sessions by herself, and relied only on her husband for anything she couldn't manage on her own. They were both exhausted and emotionally drained by the experience.

I had always been the strong, giving type and was uncomfortable receiving help, let alone asking for it. But I took her advice to heart. My husband went with me to all of my doctor's appointments. I had friends and family members sit with me for the four-and-a-half-hour chemo sessions. I thought of ways people could help- a friend helped me clean my house, while my family bought me hats and friends quilted with me.

I also paid attention to the many ways people showed they cared. What I learned in this process of asking for and receiving support was how deeply connected we are. Not only did I receive support, I also found that it is a gift to others to gratefully receive.

2. Choosing to stay present in this moment. When my doctors told me that this cancer is resistant to treatment and it will recur, my life suddenly felt very precious. Practicing mindfulness in each moment took on more significance for me. I really saw what it meant to be an impartial witness to my experience. Judging things as good or bad would just take me on a roller coaster of emotions that wouldn't aid my healing. By practicing mindfulness before, during, and after the procedures, the pain of my bone marrow biopsies stayed within a short window of time. Mindfulness also means embracing uncertainty in every moment. I realized that everything, not just my medical condition, was ripe with possibility in every moment.

3. Choosing an attitude of gratitude. From my hours in the treatment center, a few people stand out in my mind. I remember one woman who was in her eighties. Besides having uterine cancer, she had recently lost her husband and was adjusting to a move. Yet, in talking to her, she seemed so alive and positive; I just wanted to be near her. She wasn't waiting until things got better to live her life.

I've always been an optimistic person. I believe this attitude of seeing the glass as half-full instead of half-empty was a vital part of my healing and of those people I so admired in the treatment center. I believe that we can always find things to be thankful for, and our body responds to this positive outlook. I was grateful to be alive, to spend time with family and friends, to get some exercise, and for some sleep when it came.

I remember I'd often be in tears from the depth of love I felt. I worried less about what people thought of me; instead I let people know how much I loved them.

4. Holding firm to my dreams. I am so grateful that I read Larry LeShan's Cancer as a Turning Point early in my experience of cancer. I kept reminding myself that if 50 percent of Larry's patients who had been given no hope of survival went into long-term remission, I could certainly regain my health. I need only bring my dreams to life with passion and zeal.

Another person who helped me stay focused on my intentions was Terry McBride. Terry wrote a book called The Hell I Can't after enduring a hellish nightmare with E. coli over a period of eleven years. What I learned from Terry is that there are dedicated people out there ready to convince you of your limitations. After a while, doubt sets in; perhaps God has a bigger plan for me, perhaps I'm not meant to be healed in my body, perhaps I’ll have to go through even more treatment. After talking with Terry, I created a new intention. I took time every day to focus on this intention, actually creating in my mind the experience of being cancer-free, of feeling vitality, well-being, joy, and ease. Whenever fearful thoughts came up, I'd remind myself of these two men and refocus on my intention.

This served me well in June 2003, when I had a consultation with a well-respected lymphoma expert. He was blunt about my poor prognosis. I told myself that I wasn't relying on the medical model for healing and that I was not a statistic. As he spoke, I kept repeating in my mind, "This is not my truth, this is not my truth."

5. Trusting in, a universe that is in a conspiracy for my good. I believe that we do not live in a random universe. As spiritual beings having a human experience, we have a purpose on earth to wake up to the perfection that we already are. Everything we encounter in our lives is purposeful and is our unique pathway into the experience of our inherent wholeness. We are like beautiful jewels that have been so crusted over with dirt and grime, we think of ourselves as less-than or lacking. I viewed cancer as a heavy-duty solvent that could support me in experiencing my true, brilliant nature.

I chose to lean into my experience, just as, if I were to fall overboard, I would lean into water, letting it lift me up. I paid attention to whatever I felt myself resisting. For example, one day while getting my chemo infusion, a woman next to me was talking about how she couldn't stand it anymore and wanted to die. I watched myself pulling away from her, wanting to block out the negativity. Only later was I able to see how she triggered my own fears. With that realization, I could embrace the parts in me that didn't want this experience either, and to hold both of us in compassion.

6. Treating myself as the beloved being that I am. I had been aware of my pattern of compulsive busyness as an attempt to prove to myself and others that I was okay. However, that didn't stop me from driving myself, judging my performance every step of the way. I wish I could say that my cancer wake-up call immediately cured me of that behavior, but it didn't. Now I have the opportunity to judge the way I did cancer.

A couple of months into my treatment, I described in my journal the experience of jogging with my sister. I was feeling tired and nauseous. I realized that I still had an image of how I should be moving powerfully through treatment. By resisting my experience of exhaustion, of discomfort, I was actually creating more suffering.

The shift was gradual and hard to pinpoint. However, I'm much gentler with myself today and less worried about pleasing other people. I'm saying no more often to those activities that fill my day but don't feed my soul. That judgmental voice in my head is less active today, and I usually remember that it is not who I am.

7. Connecting with my inner source of intuition. Cancer treatment can be such an overwhelming experience of decision-making. I've been an alternative health care user for years. My natural health practitioner felt we could successfully treat the lymphoma without chemotherapy. Yet, conversations with my oncologist didn't support her optimism. I am grateful that I had been meditating for years and often turned within for guidance. My inner guidance led me to follow through with my oncologist's recommendation of CHOP chemotherapy in combination with the monoclonal antibody treatment Rituxan, spaced three weeks apart. Throughout this time, I also relied on complementary therapies such as energy work, body work, spiritual guidance, and nutritional changes and supplements to promote my healing. After the sixth session of chemotherapy, the consulting oncologist recommended two more sessions and stem cell harvesting. My intuition led me to stop. I did follow up with two more sessions of Rituxan over the next year. I am so grateful that I could turn to the guidance of a higher source of wisdom throughout my care.

8. Paying it forward. I believe that we are all connected. Part of our healing journey is reaching out in our unique way to make this world a better place for others. I have used my own experience with cancer to develop an eight-week class called Revealing Wholeness through Physical Challenge. In addition to teaching this class, I facilitate a couple of support groups and counsel individuals. This work feeds my soul and keeps the lessons fresh in my life as I support others on their healing journeys.

When I turned fifty in 2002, I thought my life was good. Little could I imagine the fullness, the joy, the loving connection to others and the sense of purposefulness that cancer, of all things, would bring into my life later that year. It was three and a half years before I had a recurrence much longer than the doctors expected. I am confident that these eight practices made a difference. A new drug treatment, Velcade, helped bring me back into remission. My life is so much bigger now than it was as I stood in the aisle of the craft store that day. Just as my son has moved beyond high school science projects and into a college world of greater freedom and possibility, I, too, have moved into a much richer world.

There are many side effects to accepting your mortality, and they're not all bad.

Lynne Zeller has said it all. To express the wisdom she expressed in this story, most people would need to write a book. Her wisdom did not come easily, however. It came from experiencing a disaster. She doesn't sound like a survivor at the beginning of her journey. She begins by expressing how she lost her sense of control and how she did not share with her family because she didn't want to upset them and have to deal with their feelings. That is far from survival behavior. If you are facing a life-threatening illness, and focusing on what you can't control and how to not upset your family, you are in big trouble.

But as the story moved on, Lynne underwent a transformation or rebirth. Remember, no one can change you. You have to be willing to learn how to change, to become responsible and participate in your change. Religious Science is a great teacher, and I have always loved the work of its founder, Ernest Holmes. Lynne combined all of her resources in order to heal, and with that came a momentous shift. She was no longer a victim who was not in control. She realized her thoughts and actions are, what she could control, and that made all the difference in her perspective of her disease.

Because of what cancer taught her about life, Lynne came to view it as a gift. I am sure she would like to be completely cured of her gift, but she would not give up the education it provided her. I disagree, in a way, with Deepak Chopra's comment about health being about perfection. I see many people who are in good health and who have incurable diseases. They are still very much alive and see their lives as gifts, too. I think Helen Keller was one of the healthiest people ever, but her body wasn't perfect. I could cite many more examples, people like Max Cleland, who lost his legs and an arm when a hand grenade exploded but has served in the U.S. Senate and is a healed man. His autobiography is entitled Strong at the Broken Places. Health is about attitude and your state of mind more than it is about your body.

Lynne's list offers concrete tools to stimulate survival behavior and enhance immune-competent personality characteristics. I believe it would benefit patients greatly if doctors would share such a list with their patients. Lynne speaks of reaching out to others, and this is supported by studies that reveal we experience less pain when we are accompanied to the hospital by a loved one, whether it is a child being inoculated or an adult receiving chemotherapy. Living in the moment is another important point Lynne awakens to. When you live in the moment, you are actually creating the future in a much more positive way than worrying about it would do.

Being grateful also makes an enormous difference. What others think of you is what occupies many people's minds. In Lynne's case, having cancer gave her the courage to be able to stop worrying about what other people thought of her.

Lynne practiced meditation to tap into her intuition and use it for guidance and direction. Another method I have found is to pay attention to your dreams and drawings. Your inner wisdom- call it intuition if you will- and your body can speak to you through many modalities. Not enough is taught about this in medical school. Lynne speaks of her desire and the difference it made in her life. Also, doctors don't often emphasize how important attitude and intention can be in the healing process.

I remember my friend Larry LeShan, whom Lynne mentions, writing about a gang leader with life-threatening cancer who had lost all interest in living because of his illness and inability to be involved in a gang. Larry got him a job in the fire department, which provided the same environment of camaraderie and danger as his gang. His cancer went into remission and he became well. He called Larry years later, worried because they wanted to promote him to an office job and he was concerned his cancer might come back in that environment. We always need to stay aware of what feeds our soul as well.

There is intelligence and survival behavior in nature, but we have much more complicated lives that require work in order to achieve the state of mind and healing that we are naturally capable of. Most so-called miracles are not accidents. They begin to happen when we do what Lynne did. She started to say no! That is the most important thing you can do with your life's time. Use it in the way you decide and not the way imposed by others' requests.

In closing, let me say that if you don't die from your disease in the time you were originally given in your prognosis, please note as Lynne did that other treatments become available. So technology and science are to be acknowledged for their gifts, too.

Remember, as Lynne did, to keep beginning. There is no end to the number of transformations, rebirths, and healings you can achieve and experience in your life's time.