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From Issue Nineteen, February 2012 « Previous Article Next Article »

The Healing Power of Stories and Consciousness

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Ed. note: Our feature article “When Cancer Disappears: The Curious Phenomena of Unexpected Remission” by Kelly A. Turner, in Issue 17 of Noetic Now, not surprisingly generated a considerable number of responses. One reader was so moved by the piece that she submitted an article to us. Leigh Fortson is the author of a new book titled Embrace, Release, Heal: An Empowering Guide to Talking About, Thinking About, and Treating Cancer (Sounds True, 2011), which is full of healing journeys and inspiring stories. This is her story.


I cheered when I read Kelly Turner’s article on unexpected remission of cancer and promptly sent it to all my friends who know that there’s more to the cancer story than what’s being told through mainstream channels. Giving scientific time and energy to these “miracles” is long overdue, and those of us who have resolved our cancer in unorthodox ways are vigorously applauding her efforts and wondering with great anticipation where this might lead.

According to Turner, “unexpected remissions are estimated to occur in one of every sixty thousand to one hundred thousand cancer patients; however, the true incidence rate is likely higher than that due to underreporting.” I couldn’t agree more. In fact, I’d bet that the rate is far higher than any of us imagine.

Before I extrapolate, let me say that I am not a scientist or a medical researcher. I’m an author with a firsthand understanding of what it’s like to have cancer, go through the rigors of conventional treatments, and find myself deposited on a lonely and frightening island after those treatments didn’t work. Most of all, I’m a believer in the power of stories and how they are an integral component of consciousness and healing. I know this not only from my own story but also from the stories I heard as I healed.

From Despair to Hope

In 2006, I was diagnosed with anal cancer, right around the time Farrah Fawcett was diagnosed with the same. I was given a 90 percent “cure rate” using chemo and radiation. This was a hard course for me to follow because for years I had written or edited books on nutrition and alternative medicine and I wanted to take another path. But even doctors in Germany who offered more innovative treatments urged me to stay home, save my money, and do the conventional protocol since it was so successful.

It was a brutal several months, and the radiation changed my body forever. My doctors said this was the price to pay to cure the cancer. But a year later they found another tumor requiring radical surgery that left me with a colostomy. My oncologist reassured me that I’d be back on my bike within a month of the surgery, but what my well-meaning doctors didn’t comprehend was how badly the radiation had destroyed my skin. I didn’t have enough healthy tissue to heal the surgery site, and I needed two subsequent operations and nine months of mostly prone rest before the wound came together. Again, my doctors reassured me that this was necessary to combat the disease.

Three months after everything seemed back to normal, my radiologist, a very kind man, told me in the quietest and most telling voice that there was a small tumor near my sciatic nerve, which was spotted on a routine scan. This meant the cancer had metastasized; there wasn’t much they could do. This news grew in me and became the horror story of my end days. My husband and I spent weeks in the grip of terror, wondering who would help raise our two beautiful children.

A first inkling of hope came from my therapist. She was reading Candace Pert’s The Molecules of Emotion, which explains the relationship between mind and body. My therapist urged me to harness the magnificent power of my mind to create a pathway to wellness. Catching her enthusiasm, I shored up my inner resources and decided that if the doctors couldn’t help, then it was up to me.

I became a raw foodist, turned off the news, and refused to read sad books or watch violent movies. I gave myself completely to the belief that my mind and body make up an inseparable partnership that creates my emotional and physical well-being. I got my hands on everything I could about using the mind to heal and accessing whatever tools consciousness had to offer. I did undergo a progressive type of radiation called Cyberknife, which is considered less harmful than the “wide field” that was used on me after the first diagnosis. But I opted not to undergo the chemo that a specialist said “might do something.” It sounded like a dice roll at best.

The choices I made during those months launched me on an empowering and fantastic journey, largely because of my dedication and clarity of mind to get well. Even so, I still had moments of panic that this “metastasized cancer” was going to defeat my best intentions. That’s when I realized that to truly and fully believe in my own healing, I needed to hear the stories of others. I decided to compile their stories, as well as those from doctors using cutting-edge cancer treatments, into a book.

An Unyielding Belief in Healing

I thought I’d have to take out an ad in The New York Times to find people who are now cancer free despite a dire prognosis, but it didn’t take any advertising at all. Friends and clergy were both curious and supportive when they learned about my project, and they eagerly stepped up to help. They didn’t know I was writing the book to save myself, but they did know a distant cousin, a spouse of a client, a friend of a friend, or even someone from the local Lyon’s Club who had faced a death sentence after conventional treatment failed but was now thriving.

The first several interviews revealed the dualistic relationship these people had with their recovery. Most were intensely private about it, partly because they were finished with cancer and didn’t want to carry the cultural associations of having a disease or being a survivor. Some said friends or family didn’t consider their approach to healing legitimate because it was outside the box or believed the cancer would return or perhaps wasn’t even there to begin with. A handful of people disappeared from the lives of those I interviewed, uncomfortable with the mere notion that these things happen.

The other reason interviewees were private about their stories is there’s no place to go with them. As Turner’s article points out, today’s pharmaceutically based medicine doesn’t track this stuff. I was told how doctors were mildly interested, stymied by the clean blood tests or scans, or critical and dismissive. Perhaps that’s why the people I spoke to lit up when I told them I was compiling a book about healing in unconventional ways—including how consciousness plays into the mix.

Again, there was no scientific arm—or aim—to my interviews. I just wanted insights into the dimensions of mind that helped forge a pathway to good health. And indeed, there were many. Those I spoke with employed a vast menu of tools, including food and forgiveness; qi gong; creative visualization; prayer and meditation; Traditional Chinese Medicine; crystals and herbs. Plus, they engaged their consciousness—meaning that they understood their healing was ultimately up to them. It was not just a “think positively” fest. Depending on their personalities, they developed and refined their healing approach either intuitively or pragmatically, or both intuitively and pragmatically. It was work in every sense of the word, but it was the work they saw as right, true, and necessary to transform the cancer in both their mind and body.

One thread seems to be common to every story: all of these people harnessed an unyielding belief that they would heal—or die trying. Most admitted that disempowering relationships, jobs, self-judgment, or all of these played into why they believe they got the disease, and so, most made significant life changes after getting cancer. All believed that consciously and deliberately making the choices that were right for them and committing to a new, more empowering life is partly why they healed. Some were more at peace than others with the fact that they might die in spite of their efforts. But they had no regrets about changing their lives for the better for as long as they were alive. Everyone fostered a new and infectious zeal for living.

Hearing their inspiring stories, I became increasingly convinced that I could do it too. I could craft my own story to resolve my cancer. I was conscious of everything I ate and drank, everything I exposed myself to in my environment, and mindful of every strain or stress and where it was located in my body. I also worked with professionals and friends to know myself as deeply as I possibly could: the admirable parts, the unsavory ones, and those with self-destructive tendencies—however unconscious they may have been. In doing so, I healed layers of myself I didn’t even know existed. A year after the last tumor was detected, I was found to be cancer free.

Consciousness Matters

While conducting these interviews, I also soaked up what I could from various masters of consciousness (Jesus, Thich Nhat Hahn, Viktor Frankl, Eckhart Tolle, Deepak Chopra, Byron Katie, Gregg Braden) and learned all I could about how the mind impacts the body (Bruce Lipton, David Hawkins, Candace Pert, and others). I realized that using the power of our minds has less to do with will and might than most of us realize. There is a supercharged energy that accompanies us on quests of such clarity and intensity; I call it spiritual adrenaline. In that space, we are willful, yes, but we quickly learn that will is a product of a finite mind-set or ego-based reality. What happened for me is that I gave way to something much bigger than I could control or instruct. It propelled the wave of my intention as I stepped aside and allowed it to guide, heal, and soothe me. It was the most peaceful, accepting, loving, and powerful energy I have ever known. It was pure consciousness, in love with my desire for life.

I believe we are in a unique and potentially liberating moment in the history of understanding health. While cancer rates are on the rise and the cost of allopathic treatments is skyrocketing, there is a fledging but rapidly growing public interest in new and more humanistic ways to treat this vexing disease. It’s clear, for example, that accepting disease as more than just a physical problem—by using our consciousness—is a wise and holistic prescription for approaching wellness.

So let’s get busy spreading the news of research like Dr. Turner’s and the work being done at IONS. As they find the technology to scientifically prove that consciousness matters, that our photons emit light for miles away, that the field of energy we occupy mingles with the fields of every living thing on our planet and maybe even in our universe, those of us who have experienced something phenomenal will be the first to defend and announce that consciousness was part of our own healing process.

Perhaps I may never be able to teach, measure, or prove in quantifiable terms what happened to me or the people I interviewed. Although there is living proof throughout the globe that remarkable recoveries occur (even if they are secreted away in silence), how do we capture the consciousness behind them to see how it happens? Perhaps that’s the new frontier of medicine that we’re only now dreaming up. So, for now, maybe the best thing we can do is to keep telling our stories; they are life-giving medicine all by themselves.

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  • 5 Comments
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    jcrna1 Feb 02, 2012

    I had breast cancer 14 years ago, and I too was treated with chemo and radiation. I was happy to receive these treatments, but I also felt that something was lacking. This feeling intensified a spiritual quest that included listening to my inner voice, shamanism, herbs, and meditation. I am well today. Jane

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    lisab9 Feb 03, 2012

    Thank you Leigh for this wonderful story and information. I have been interested in the bodymind connection since the early 80's when my first husband died of colon cancer at age 39. That loss prompted me to begin a training in Rubenfeld Synergy Method, a body, mind therapy- on the cutting edge at the time. Thank goodness for places like IONS who have shown so many people how important it is to think outside of the box. And for people like you to share your experiences. I am presently writing a second book about the interplay of consciousness and visualization and the awareness that there is so much more at work in the world of spirit than we can possibly know. I am so happy for you that you are enjoying wellness in every sense of the word. Take care- Lisa Barstow

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    NVBMD Feb 04, 2012

    Thank you for sharing your story. I have a similar one. I am a retired physican. I was diagnosed in 2001 with stage 3 lobular breast cancer, mammogram negative. I had the standard treatment of surgery, chemo and radiation. Seven years later it spread to the abdomen. I underwent two more years of chemo. In retrospect, of the seven chemos I tried, one helped for 5 months before failing, and all the others failed from the beginning. In May 2011 my oncologist told me she had no more options for me. I had always believed that if my body could make and support this cancer, it could unmake it. I asked the universe to put in my path people who would help me. In short order I was seeing a mind-body therapist, an acupuncturist, and a "bodytalk" energy worker. I meditated, did qi gong, and avoided stress. In January 2012 tests showed that the large tumor wrapped around my stomach, the only visualizable evidence of the cancer, was gone!

  • jmysin1 Feb 05, 2012

    As an Oncologist searching for answers beyond allopathy, I appreciate the insights of you and others about your journey. I ask that as you each find the path that resonates with your inner calling that you don't abandon those of us in allopathic medicine who are trying to take the best from allopathy and combine it with all other forms of healing to create a truly integrative way to heal. I have many patients who have been healed with a combination of allopathic and other approaches including diet, exercise and stress management to name a few. An integrative oncologist should know when to offer traditional therapeutic options but also when to go in a different direction. A key feature is to empower the patient to take an active role in his or her healing. It is not the failure of the AMA or pharmaceutical companies if we don't take responsibility for our well being. I am sure that many of my colleagues have less of a belief in integrative medicine than I do but that is not my concern. Blessings to all of you committed to the path of healing using your amazing human body and mind.

  • Leigh Fortson Feb 12, 2012

    It's heartening to know that the coversation about how the mind and body work in consort is spreading to a wider audience. I love that there are responses here from doctors, and so grateful that you are exploring, open to, or practicing a new understanding of health.
    I get emails from people every week who are either scared out of their wits from the treatment that's been assigned to them, or thirsty for everything they can learn about how to augment their conventional treatment, or wanting to find a new one. I trust that this wave will grow and that by the time my children are my age, the menu of options will be so much more sophisticated than it is now. Thank you all for writing! Let's keep this conversation strong and loud!

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