Healing Emotions and Cancer



Chapter 3 - Emotional Health and Cancer

  1. Cancer Personality
  2. Emotional Health and Healing
  3. Healing Suppressed Emotions
  4. Feel Your Feelings
  5. Releasing Your Emotions
  6. Stress and Cancer
  7. Stress Reduction Methods
  8. Healthy Boundaries
  9. Our Shadow
  10. The Mask
  11. The Armor
  12. Your Inner Critic
  13. Criticising Others
  14. Facing and Releasing Fear
  15. Power of Forgiveness
  16. Embrace Your Anger


Most people who are experiencing negative life events choose to suffer in silence and hold it all in. It could be something big or something small. Slowly the symptoms of these ailments begin to show, taking on names such as depression and anxiety and manifest into physical symptoms. ( when your body speaks , the message of illness)

Many people are uncomfortable with these “unhappy” emotions, and look to get rid of them somehow as quickly as possible. Some people become excellent at ignoring and brushing off the pain. Others numb their experiences by creating busyness or turning to alcohol, smoking or recreational drugs. Since our emotional well being is an important part of our over all health and happiness, it is important to seek out appropriate remedies. The first step then, is to acknowledge that there is something that we need to address.

By using our emotional wounds as growth opportunities, (instead of creating unhealthy walls around of our hearts) we become more emotionally resilient and better able to cope with the impact of the things around us. 


Investigating your thoughts and feelings related to cancer can provide rich insights. Cancer can precipitate deep tenacity and vulnerability. Exploring the scope of cancer associated thoughts and feelings will help you to increase  your understanding about yourself and will ultimately empower you.

Developing awareness for the challenging cancer-related feelings takes courage. For example, some people with cancer can experience dissociation physically, mentally, and emotionally. The physical body housing cancer cells can feel foreign and create a sense of alienation with self and those around them.

The mental and emotional body can experience disconnect due to the overwhelm from intense feelings associated with the cancer journey. Without the capacity to identify, stay with, move into, and express the mental and emotional reactions, people can reject themselves and others. Learning about your mental and emotional terrain in the midst of cancer reveals important insights to help you cope with those challenges.


Emotions are the root cause of almost every injury and illness.

Anger, fear, unworthiness and other emotions get ‘stuffed’ into the body, over time these limiting emotions weaken the physical body creating stiffness, aches, pain and general discomfort, which eventually can cause more serious conditions like tumors and cancer.      

Treating physical symptoms (pain, injury, infection, etc.) is the appropriate action to take to ease dis-ease. However, after a level of comfort or ease has been attained it is helpful to explore the possible root cause that led you to succumb to a specific illness. With this information you will be better equipped to squash or eliminate vulnerabilities and susceptibilities that could affect recurrence. Our mental, emotional, and spiritual bodies are also vulnerable to root issues erupting and causing energetic imbalances.


Mowing the lawn and cutting down the weed or leaf at the stem of it will not stop the offending plant from returning. You need to burrow down into the earth and eradicate the whole plant in order to kill it off completely otherwise it will reappear. Cutting it will likely slow down its growth, but that's all. This is the same concept with dealing with physical illness and energetic imbalances, treating the "showy" symptoms is not enough. We must dig deeper, discover the cause, and treat the root issue in order to bring about a complete healing. Depending on how deep a root cause is, healing can take a while. It may take months or years, and in some cases, a lifetime. Just remember, healing is a journey.


It is actually best to treat imbalances in the early stages before they have had the opportunity to take root and manifest into the physical body. For example in the case of hereditary dis-eases, taking life style precautions (i.e. healthy diet, regular exercise) is an appropriate preventative measure.

Even in the event of "catching a germ" root causes cannot be overlooked entirely. One might ask himself why he caught the bug from a co-worker when other employees in his work place were unscathed by their exposure to the same influenza virus. What's up with that? Immune deficiencies have root causes too.

In the allopathic and western medicine world we have lost touch with the basic concept of true healing. We substitute a band-aid for a cure and wonder why we don’t feel better. People get ill for many reasons. Each diseased state is telling us that we are ignoring some part of self and change is necessary. While many factors contribute to healing and it happens on many levels, all require attention throughout the entire healing practice. Ignoring the mental, emotional or spiritual bodies would not provide adequate and long-term good health.


Emotions are the foundation on which we build our life.

They inspire and they limit us. Joy, bliss and happiness along with anger, fear confusion and unworthiness make us a whole person. Anger is often the impetus of motivation to accomplish goals while fear has the exact opposite effect. Confusion on the other hand, keeps whiling thoughts spinning causing a cloud of chaos. Happiness and joy are contagious and elevate everything we do. But why is it that joy is often the least experienced while fear, anger, confusion and unworthiness dominate?
Limiting emotions cause us to stay stuck in a false perception about the self. Fear plays havoc with relationships, careers, success and finances. Head colds for instance, are a direct result of emotional confusion while a toxic liver motivates anger.

Emotions and beliefs also shroud our true divine Self. As we explore spirituality it is necessary to also acknowledge and eventually release (let go) of limitation in the form of fear, denial and disbelief. This action takes courage and trust as we explore the inner workings of the Self. As our world transitions there is a real (urgent) need to change. External circumstances perpetuate the already abundant level of fear around us. Anger, confusion and mistrust all contribute to a society that is overwhelmed. It’s time for change.


Any challenge in life – and especially a great challenge like cancer – can ignite the mind and heart to search for a deeper understanding.

When cancer has been detected in any of our vital organs, medicine often fails to recognize that the heart is always involved as well. Here I’m referring not to the physical one in the middle of our chest, but rather to the emotional and spiritual centre of every human being.

This metaphorical heart is invariably affected and often transformed by a cancer diagnosis. If that transformation is a positive one, true healing can take place at every level of being. Robots or machines don’t get cancer. Living and breathing human beings develop malignant cells in their bodies and respond to the disease with thoughts and feelings that are a mix of chemistry, psychology, genetics, and the mysterious nature of consciousness itself. The interplay of all these factors in the journey through cancer is an authentic expression of the human condition: at times painful and frustrating, at other times heroic and inspirational.


Individuals, diagnosed with cancer, as well as everyone close to them, will be exposed to a seemingly infinite variety of emotions along the way. Trying to ignore or deny those feelings is fundamentally self – destructive. It only strengthens the repressed emotions and makes it more likely that they will break through with doubled force. Make no mistake: Cancer is a roller – coaster ride. There are times when you will want to scream and there are times when you want to cry.


After serving, as a therapist and mentor, friend, coach and guide for many patients and their family members over many years, I can say that not one single person has ever truly healed from cancer without undergoing a transformation and healing of their emotional self. The challenges encountered in the diagnosis and treatment of cancer is often intense and profound. The rigorous of the journey are such that the inner vulnerabilities can be laid bare and even exacerbated. Addressing these very real, understandable and human vulnerabilities – and everything that often accompanies them – is therefore of vital importance.


The roller coaster of feelings can have some steep up and downs, for which few people prepared. Fear is only the most obvious and accessible emotion associated with cancer. I have seen a full spectrum of rage, resentment, frustration, sadness, guilt, remorse, doubt and discouragement in virtually everyone who has tried to deal with cancer, including myself, during my own journey through cancer. The real challenge, however, is working through them, finding release and freedom from them in a safe and positive way.


Many people actively bottle up their emotional responses to their illness. So often I found that individuals with cancer trying with all might to present themselves as cool, calm and collected. Unresolved emotions are often expressed as irritation, impatience and annoyance. All sorts of silent messages are beamed my way when they come to visit my practice.

I do understand that cancer seems like to be a hippo in the living room and it is certainly important to deal with that hippo. But ones people with cancer give themselves permission to deal appropriately with the emotional issues associated with their illness, they can become freed from the burden that accompany both denial and preoccupation.


In helping people make the journey through cancer, one of my greatest priorities is to skillfully and gently help patients address and resolve the feelings and emotions that must be dealt with. If this doesn’t happen, whether the tumor shrinks or even goes into complete remission, genuine healing will not have occurred. In an important way, the damage done by cancer will still be present. In fact it will always be present until hidden emotional pain is bought out into the light of awareness and healed in the light of love.


If we focus only on the cancer, or on what new chemotherapy regime to follow, or what herbs and vitamins, minerals and supplements to take, we will bypassing really vast and important areas of the process and I don’t want to do that. Seeing cancer only in terms of biochemistry and physiology is a gross oversimplification and a disservice to everyone.


I’m interested in seeing how I can support and help the human being. But this means, that the individual with cancer has to get involved, they have to participate in their healing they perhaps have never done before. They have to look at other dimensions of what is going on beside of their illness of cancer.  When I urge clients to direct their focus away from the specific details of their diagnosis and their treatment modalities, I’m not asking them to avoid or deny the serious issues of their cancer experience. Rather, I’m suggesting that the really serious issues encompasses a much wider universe than they may have realized – and all those issues must be carefully addressed in order for healing to take place at the deepest levels.


The understanding and belief that I came to throughout the last 17 years in supporting people with cancer, was that the root cause of the overwhelming majority of cancers can be found in the realm of the mind and the emotions - and their direct connection to the functioning of the immune system. To ultimately heal the cancer completely, this is the area the cancer patient eventually needs to address- whether sooner or later.

I want to offer an understanding of the reasons why illness may develop without creating a sense of guilt. I want to empower people to take responsibility for their own healing, to educate them about how and where to begin and then encourage them to take action to create their own healing miracle. If you have cancer, there is some inspirational and profound information on this website that will make you think long and hard about how you got to this place in your life- and what kind of joyful and fulfilling future you want to create as a survivor.


Evidence of a relationship between cancer and personality type has existed for centuries.

In dealing with many people with cancer over the past years, it has been my observation that there are certain personality traits, which are rather consistently present in the cancer-susceptible individual. (» cancer personality)

These individuals were often “pleasers” who had spent their entire lives trying to be accepted by others - spouses, parents, siblings, colleagues, friends etc. In fact, their very identities seemed to be derived from how they were perceived by others in their lives.

They rarely expressed anger, and rarely did they acknowledge fear and sadness. They maintained a facade of pleasantness even under the most painful or aggravating circumstances. They strive excessively to please people they cared about, to please authority figures, even to please strangers.



Type C (cancer) behavior is an extreme version of coping methods many of us employ - we appease others, deny our true feelings and conform to social standards.

But my study of people with cancer led me to convincing evidence that our physical health is compromised when we chronically repress our needs and feelings to accommodate others. I was able to find evidence that this coping style weakens our immune defenses and leaves us more vulnerable to cancer progression. It is not whether we have stress in our lives - for surely we all have many highly stressful factors in our lives. Rather it is how we cope with these stressful circumstances that is a determining factor in the state of our health. Stress per se is not a critical factor in illness - it’s the strength or weakness of one’s coping mechanism.


I strengthen again the thought that a person with cancer is not to blame for bringing on their cancers. No one can be blamed for mind-body factors in cancer, because no one intentionally develops the cancer-prone behavior pattern.


However, “compassionate self awareness of Type C behavior” can help individuals rise above self-blame or victim behavior. Those with Type C behavior patterns are notoriously prone to guilt and self-blame already. Knowledge is power and using this information to shift self-destructive behavior patterns can make the all-important difference in surviving for some people. Most of us use coping mechanisms we developed in childhood to survive life’s inevitable traumas.

Recognizing when these patterns no longer serve us and are in fact hurting us is the first step to a transformed life on many levels. Each person did the best attempt to cope with the pains, stresses, humiliations and unmet needs of early childhood. Later in life, this coping method had liabilities - both mental and physical - that the person could become aware of and change, in order to lead a healthier and more meaningful existence. Type C behavior is associated not only with cancer but with many other diseases caused by immune dysfunction.


The Repression of Anger is Common in people with Cancer. » embrace your anger

Anger can be used as a straightforward and positive force in one's life - as a agent of constructive internal change and should be expressed appropriately and released. However if this is not possible for a person, if the anger is suppressed for long periods of time then literally these toxic feelings will eat away at us.

We must evaluate the contribution that factors such as forgiveness may have on health - both across the board and for those already afflicted with serious and chronic life-threatening conditions. Some people will need to take time to process and express old angers and resentments, while some will be able to leap directly into forgiveness and release. Don’t judge yourself if this is a slow and difficult process for you. Just keep moving through it.


The basics of the Type C transformation process includes some of the following goals tailored specifically for people who are ill with cancer.

  • To develop awareness of your needs.
  • To discover your inner guide.
  • To reframe your ideas about your feelings.
  • To learn the skills of emotional expression with friends, family members, doctors, nurses, therapists,...people in general.
  • To take charge of your medical care.
  • To get the social support you need.
  • To secure your legitimate rights.
  • To work through hopelessness.
  • To cultivate fighting spirit

Dealing with the mental and emotional factors surrounding the development of cancer is not just about studying coping styles and factors. It goes to the very essence of who these patients are. Why people get cancer is the most fascinating field for the prevention of cancer that we have today. I have noticed a common pattern of traumatic loss within the 6-18 months immediately prior to the cancer’s manifestation.

Researchers are beginning to recognize that emotional stress plays an enormous role in susceptibility to malignancy.


Who Survives Cancer - and Why?

I observed certain personality traits common to the overwhelming majority of exceptional cancer survivors. Those patients who are willing to be open and dialogue about their issues allow support people to be of most help. And those patients who manage to achieve a balance between cognition, emotions and behavior are the most likely to outlive their prognosis with quality longevity.

  • They accept the diagnosis and reject the prognosis.

This type of positive attitude implies self-affirmation, being the most authentic person they can be, getting in touch with what is right about them.

Active Participation/Initiative/Commitment:

This may involve disagreeing with doctors or loved ones and choosing intuitively which treatment feels right according to their own understandings and beliefs.

To heal from cancer it is necessary to use the illness  for personal learning and growth, resolving losses, completing grief work and self-actualizing. This includes learning to receive, making oneself a priority, reconciling conflicts and purging toxic relationships.

Lifestyle changes:

Developing new supportive patterns of diet, exercise, job and/or living arrangements. Learning to play more and have more fun. In this, I often assign homework and ask clients to begin making a “Fun List.” They are to add anything to the list that seems as though it would be fun to them, and family members are to help. These choices can be outrageous, illogical or impossible, as well as small and seemingly insignificant. Then every night the client is to choose one item to do the following day. I call this a “fabulous exercise for waking up the healing potential of the body. You see, the immune system doesn’t know the difference - whether you’re actually taking the action, planning it, or just thinking about doing it.

Expression of emotions:

This relates to both positive and negative emotions that have been repressed, especially anger and resentment. I try to get clients to reconnect with the joy of childhood. In the same way one can auto-intoxicate if he or she physically detoxifies too quickly, this can apply with emotional detox as well. I suggest that, if one gets into heavy traumatic emotions, this needs to be handled in a rhythmic, balanced manner using gradual coping techniques. Of course, this implies being under the professional care of a trained therapist. This process can take many forms, including personal therapy, couples counseling, support groups, pastoral counseling, stress management, bodywork, energy work and others.

Life Purpose: the will to live

Understanding one’s place in the spiritual universe. In this, I mean that is important that the client finds “the one thing that engages them in life, a feeling of purpose, self worth and meaning, something that is all their own and unique about them - something that they should be completely selfish about. There are patients who don’t want to die, but aren’t really ready to live either. I try to find ways to engage them in life - to motivate the life force within them.

If patients really don’t want to be here anymore, I attempt to clarify that with them as well. Sometimes they’re ready and just need a way to get out of their body. Some patients just want to let go and be with a loved one who has passed…. In connection with others involve in the clients health care, we help them to die spiritually at peace because they have gotten in touch with where their spirit really is. Because sometimes it has already crossed over long before the body goes - and that’s ok.  the will to live


Over and over again, I have seen one of two things happen when the total environment of the person with cancer is mobilized for life and his or her inner ecology is thereby changed in a positive way. For some, the patient's life is prolonged, not in an arbitrary way, but in order that there may be more experience of the self, self-recognition and the recognition - and often fulfillment - of dreams. And then there were the genuine miracles - not magic, but dedicated devotion and hard work which made the cancer a turning point in the person's life rather than a sign of its ending.

The more we learn about human biology and psychology, the more we learn about how to change and improve the quality and ambiance of life both internal and external, the more this second result may become commonplace. And when it is time to die, we need to understand what our life was about, to know and accept who we have become.


Aim for Emotional Wholeness

When you’re upset or feeling sick, try to get to the bottom of your feelings. Figure out what’s really eating you. Always tell the truth to yourself. Find appropriate, satisfying ways to express your emotions. And if such a prescription seems too challenging, seek professional help to feel better.

Last but definitely not least, health is much more than the absence of illness. Live in an unselfish way that promotes a state of spiritual bliss that truly helps to prevent illness. Wellness is trusting in the ability and desire of your body and mind to heal and improve itself, if given half a chance. Take responsibility for your own health - and illness.


A research in psychoneuroimmunology suggested that one's emotional state influences the body's biochemistry in a manner that can either promote good health, or interfere with it.

Several studies have shown that a positive attitude or emotional state can boost your chances of surviving cancer. In one study, among patients with metastatic (spreading) cancers, those who expressed greater hope at the time of their diagnosis survived longer. In another study, over 400 reports of spontaneous remission of cancer were reviewed and analyzed. The patients themselves attributed their cure to a broad range of causes, but only one factor was common to all the cases - a shift toward greater hope and a positive attitude.


There is evidence available about unexpected tumor shrinkage to favorable changes in the psychosocial situation of the patient. Examples of such changes include "a sudden fortunate marriage; the experience of having one's entire order of clergy engage in an intercessory prayer; sudden, lasting reconciliation with a long-hated mother; unexpected and enthusiastic praise and encouragement from an expert in one's field; and the fortunate death of a decompensated alcoholic and addicted husband who stood in the way of a satisfying career."


The late Norman Cousins described a national survey of oncologists (completed during his stay at the UCLA Medical School) in his last book, Head First: The Biology of Hope. Of the 649 who offered their opinions on the importance of various psychological factors in fighting cancer, "More than 90% of the physicians said they attached the highest value to the attitudes of hope and optimism."

All of this research is consistent with the findings of a recent study showing that when actors where asked to generate the emotion of joy within themselves, showed an increase in the number of natural killer cells , circulating in the blood stream within 20 minutes. (Remember, a key role of natural killer cells is to seek out and destroy tumor cells throughout your body.) Once they got themselves out of this positive state, their levels of natural killer cells quickly dropped again.


Joy, of course, is the emotion we experience during humor and laughter. So these findings are also consistent with the findings discussed in an earlier Humor Your Tumor article (see the April, 1998 column) showing that watching a humorous video increases the number of, and activity of, natural killer cells.

There have always been doctors who have emphasized the importance of a "will to live" (» » the will to live )in fighting serious diseases. Most recently, this banner has been carried nobly by Dr. Bernie Siegel. He emphasizes the importance of hope, determination, optimism and a "fighting spirit" among patients who are battling cancer.

 Next page: Cancer Personality





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