The Will to Live



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      The will to Live



"If there is any gift in cancer, it is a deeper listening to ourselves and an examination into the life we've been living.

The tragedy of cancer often holds the seeds of grace that wake us up. The powerful trauma of cancer can open people to really profound spiritual issues. What does it mean to be a human being? What are my gifts? What is my purpose? Why am I here?

The spiritual crisis of cancer can often be a bridge to the inner guide and higher self where wisdom resides. Cancer creates the necessity that we confront our lack of security and certainty in the world. Our ego - the rational aspect of our consciousness - cannot contain or make sense of certain aspects of life. We suddenly need to look at life from a much broader and wider perspective. The existential crisis is a turning point."

-Lora Matz, MS, LICSW


    Do You really want to Live -

             And if so, why?

Amid all the effort and activity that take place in helping  people with cancer to prolong their lives, two questions are rarely asked of them. Most people will answer: "Of course, I want to live." This is a basic human and understandable response. But when asked exactly why they want to live, some individuals don't know how to respond.  

I'm aware that this is a highly confrontational question, but it is a vital one if you want to succeed cancer and it is important to reflect on this question.

The Will to Live, along with Hope; is for anyone, facing a life threatening diagnosis of cancer, an important issue. The will to live means that you really want to live, whether or not you’re afraid to die. 

In its place often comes an entirely new set of questions:

  • What  do I really care about?
  • What is the real meaning and purpose of my life?
  • What are my most important goals?
  • And also how do I want to be remembered after I am gone from this life?

As this process of inquiries begins, people have an opportunity to discover - or to rediscover in life and begin moving in the direction of fulfilling it. 

Cancer is a catalyst that can be used as an experience to investigate and manifest meaning and purpose. Cancer as a "teacher" can present teachable moments for your learning and transformation.


Why do you want to live?


When you know exactly why you want to live, you have a clear and personally compelling motivation for overcoming and healing your illness. You are able to focus on reason for living, rather than on whatever might not be going well at the moment.

We all have heard stories of individuals who were only given a few weeks to live but defied the predictions, survived and are still alive. While many factors influence the outcome of stories like these, it is clear that the individuals benefited from well - defined compelling reason for living.


People with cancer simply cannot afford unfulfilling or destructive thoughts, activities and relationships!

Many people find that cancer is the catalyst for long - avoided changes. Some people finally stop drinking, smoking, eating junk food. They are committed to to change their diet and start exercising. For others, it might mean reconsidering or changing a job or career. For others, it might mean changing or even ending a relationship, or beginning a new one.

For some people, the experience of cancer will cause  them to examine and explore some of the deepest beliefs and ideas about why they are alive.

Sometimes the biology of a cancer will dictate the course of events regardless of the patient's attitude and fighting spirit. These events are often beyond our control. But patients with positive attitudes are better able to cope with disease-related problems and may respond better to therapy. I have often witnessed incredible healing when someone has genuinely turned the corner and has chosen life.


Cancer creates an existential crisis. Through its very nature it is a spiritual one

The diagnosis often initiates a process of deep spiritual questioning about life and death. Cancer challenges people to look at purpose, suffering, and the inevitability of death. When we hit bottom and recognize that we have lost the 'will to live', words alone, even spirited pep talks, are not much help in bringing us back to life. This type of crisis, rightly called a spiritual resurrection, requires the  intervention of grace and prayer.      

Reconnecting to one's reason to live, to the meaning and purpose of life, is a mystical experience, not a rational one. It is a deeply interior moment of revelation in which one reengages with the grace of life and a profound knowing that all life, including one's own, is of great value, transcending work or money or status. That we often need to be brought to death's door to realize this is unfortunate. But in the end, only grace can mediate such a transformation of our fundamental nature.

There are as well others who, after reflecting on their situation, feel that they have lived a good life and are ready to let go.

Others may come to the same conclusion but by a very different route. They may feel that life has been a difficult or exhausting experience.They have suffered and struggled, perhaps for a long time and don't wish to make any further efforts to keep living. We often make that mistake of trying to keep a dying person alive as long as possible, no matter what the cost. Sometimes this adds to the suffering and strain for both the person and their family.

Unfortunately, in our society this perspective is rarely supported. All to often, patients endure arduous medical procedures and treatments for all different reasons. In some instances they are clear what they want to do, but can't give themselves permission to let go. They're forbidden to do so by their religious beliefs or cultural training or the medical environment in which they find themselves may not support  such a decision. 


Our culture gives only a very few people permission to say "I want to die". Most tragic of all are people who are truly prepared to die, are at peace with their choice and also have the support of their physician, but can't let go because of pressure fro family members. The family is unwilling to face their own unresolved pain, grief, guilt or anger, so the patient must suffer through tears, pleas and guilt.


Each of us has the capacity to live each day a little better, but we need to focus on both purpose and goals and set into action a realistic daily plan, often altered many times, to help us achieve them. These resources are the foundation of the will to live.

Only by using the power of the will to live can we achieve the sublime feelings of knowing and experiencing the wonders of life and appreciate its meanings though vital living. I have often witnessed incredible healing when someone has genuinely turned the corner and has chosen life. For many people and their loved ones the diagnosis of cancer marks the most important turning points in their lives. As the illusion of immortality shatters, an opening can occur - a unique opportunity in which to explore some of the deepest and most important questions of life.


                   What is the purpose

              of your life?

When God is asking you by the end of your life:

  • Did you come to know your true self?
  • Did you live and embody the highest truths and values you discovered?
  • Did you share the gifts that you were given?

  • Did you live as fully as possible?
  • Did you love yourself as well as others - as fully as possible?
  • What is your unique mission in life that only you can carry out involving work or deed?

  • What is the meaning in your life at this specific point? Is it fun for you and creative?
  • Is it motivated by love?
  • What are your dreams and how can you pursue them? 

        Do you feel that your life has a special purpose?




What’s your mission in life?

What is your unique mission in life that only you can carry out involving work or deed?

What is the meaning in your life at this specific point?

Is it fun for you and creative?

Is it motivated by love?

What are your dreams and how can you pursue them?



   What is the vision of your life?

What are the most important goals for the next year?

  • How do you want to be remembered after you are gone?

  • What contribution do you want to have made?

  • What kind of person do you want to have been?

  • When your family and friends and your colleagues think about you and speak about you after you have gone, what kind of person do you want them to say you were?



How often do you use the expression the will to live?
  • Does it have any meaning to you?

  • Can it prolong your life?   

  • Can it bolster your immune system?

  • How much of that reason is dependent on others?

  • Reflect on what it means to be "alive", to have the gift of life. Is life alone enough of a reason to want to live?"

  • Just go into your heart right now and listen to what your inner voice is saying.



 Passion and Purpose

I belief every life has a meaning. But it’s hidden. If we never find it, we may feel that we’ve missed our life.

Luckily, there is a pointer that can reveal our purpose in life.This pointer is passion. Passion is a central power of the soul. Finding our passion means connecting all the parts of our being and feeling the special energy that can transform our life.   

Passion and purpose go hand in hand. When you discover your purpose, you will normally find it’s something you’re tremendously passionate about.

True passion is a wellspring of energy that drives our life, and aligns it with our ultimate purpose.

Life Purpose is Not Synonymous with Career.
For some people, their work is a job, a source of income, perhaps even a source of stimulation and reward, but it is unrelated to their broader life purpose. This can be by choice or circumstance. For other people, their job or career is closely interwoven with their life purpose-it is a vocation. Some of these people speak of finding their vocation based on a calling. For some, vocation is deeply rooted in the notion of service.

For those who want to integrate career with life purpose, it is not enough to simply long for more meaningful work. To explore the questions of life purpose and meaning, you need to listen and find out what is beneath the surface of your busy life. Below are some ways to explore.


Life Purpose Assessment

To improve health and create positive outcomes, you first need to identify where you need to improve. It is also beneficial to identify where you have strengths because these can provide you energy to change.

  • I make some time for contemplative practices each day:

Never - Rarely - Sometimes - Often - Always

  • I have meaningful connections with other people:

Never - Rarely - Sometimes - Often - Always

  • I have a spiritual community that provides help and support:

Never - Rarely - Sometimes - Often - Always

  • I live by my values:

Never - Rarely - Sometimes - Often - Always

  • I have a strong, fulfilling spiritual faith:

Never - Rarely - Sometimes - Often - Always

  • I have enough activities in my daily life that give meaning and purpose:

Never - Rarely - Sometimes - Often - Always

  • I have ways to cope with activities that are life-draining:

Never - Rarely - Sometimes - Often - Always

  • I feel I am contributing my gifts to my family or community in a satisfying and helpful way:

       Never - Rarely - Sometimes - Often - Always

Assessment Results

It’s a good thing you’re starting to look into a healthy lifestyle now.

Consider writing down any life purpose skills not reflected in the previous questions under My additional strengths and My additional areas of improvement.

Additional Strengths:




My Areas of Improvement:

  • I do not make time for contemplative practices each day
  • I do not have meaningful connections with other people
  • I don't have a spiritual community that provides help and support
  • I do not live by my values
  • I don't have a strong, fulfilling spiritual faith
  • I don't have enough activities in my daily life that give meaning and purpose
  • I do not cope with activities that are life-draining
  • I don't feel I am contributing my gifts to my family or community in a satisfying and helpful way

Additional Areas of Improvement:




Next Steps

Your assessment results offer a great starting point. Read them over and consider what you would like to improve or change about your life purpose and spirituality. Pinpointing your intentions is a necessary and empowering first step to achieving goals.

Once you have identified an area you would like to improve, proceed to set a goal.

  Go to Motivations and Goals

My Areas of Improvement

  • I do not make time for contemplative practices each day

  • I do not have meaningful connections with other people

  • I don't have a spiritual community that provides help and support

  • I do not live by my values

  • I don't have a strong, fulfilling spiritual faith

  • I don't have enough activities in my daily life that give meaning and purpose.

  • I do not cope with activities that are life-draining

  • I don't feel I am contributing my gifts to my family or community in a satisfying and helpful way.




If you had one day left to live, how would you spend it?

Imagine that you wake up in the morning and you know you’ll die at midnight.
Will you continue sleeping if you’ve already slept enough? What do you say to your partner?
What about your children? Is there something you want them to know, but you haven’t found “a proper time” to tell them?

Do you miss going to work? If you don’t, do you really enjoy your job enough to justify doing it for 40 hours a week?
Does the thought “I wish I had …” come to your mind?

What is it that you always wanted to do, but never did do. Were there genuine reasons or did you only have excuses?
What would you choose to do?
Who would you call?
Who wouldn’t get your time?
What would you do with your day?

How would you act toward every person you met?

How would you live life differently if today was the last day of your life?

If today were the last day of your life, would you want to do what you are about to do today?
And whenever the answer has been NO for to many days in a row, you know you need to change something.




Some other questions to reflect on for you to inquire about your will to live.  

Be bold, be venturesome and be willing to experience life to the fullest to enhance your enjoyment of life. As long as fear, suffering and pain can be controlled, life can be lived fully until the last breath.

What activities and experiences in your daily life are joyful and provide deep fulfillment?

  • Are you engaging these activities and experiences now? Where does your sense of what to do come from?
  • What gives your life meaning?
  • What is your clearest sense of the meaning of your life at this time?

  • What is your purpose? Where does that sense of purpose come from?
  • Does your life reflect these beliefs and values? How can you embody your meaning and purpose more?
  • What is your style of action?

  • What are your greatest hopes and dreams?
  • What encourages your hopes and dreams?
  • How can you maintain a steadfast connection with your dreams and pursue them more fully?
  • What do you fear?

  • What encourages your fears?
  • What is the meaning in your suffering?
  • What activities or experiences in your life are not life-giving and feel life-draining?
  • Do you have enough of the meaningful experiences and a way to minimize or cope with the others? If not, how can you create more of the meaningful experiences?

  • What are you grateful for?
  • How do you define beauty? Where do you have beauty in your life? How can you create and experience more beauty?
  • What do you value most in life?
  • What do you value the most in your life?

  • What people do you have meaningful connections with?
  • What people do you have deeply meaningful connections with?
  • What characteristics give those connections their meaning?
  • How do you engage those connections and relationships?

  • What are the ways in which you feel a sense of connection with the world?
  • What do you hold so closely that you do not tell anyone?
  • What do you want to give voice to?
  • What do you think people see as your predominant qualities?

  • What qualities in you are less visible that you would like to show more?
  • How and where do you give your love?
  • How and where do you receive love?
  • What are the greatest gifts you have given?

  • What are the greatest gifts you have received?
  • What sustains you during difficult times?
  • What comforts or encourages you the most?
  • What are the different ways in which you communicate, think, and make decisions more from your intellect or your heart?

  • How can you love more?
  • What are your most significant accomplishments and successes?
  • What are you most proud of about yourself and life?
  • What have been your most formative life experiences?
  • What people have influenced you the most in your life and how have they impacted you?

  • What are your biggest regrets and disappointments?
  • Do you feel a need to incorporate acceptance and forgiveness in these areas? If so, how can you do that?
  • Where do you live your life fully?
  • Where do you not live your life fully?
  • Where do you hold back?

  • What can you do to come more fully into yourself and life?
  • What will be your legacy?
  • What do you believe in spiritually that gives meaning to your life? How do you define that presence?
  • What importance does your belief and faith in your life? How do you define your belief and faith?

  • How do your religious and/or spiritual beliefs and faith influence the way you look at your disease and the way you think about your health? Do those beliefs and faith influence how you take care of yourself?
  • What are your spiritual values and how do you live them?
  • Are you part of a religious, spiritual, or other type of community? Is it a source of support, and if so, in what ways?

  • What people in your life do you talk with for reflections and guidance about religious and/or spiritual matters? How do you nurture those connections?
  • Who in your life truly sees who you are?
  • What is your daily practice of contemplation and spiritual connection?
  • How do you define and use prayer or meditation in your life?

  • What are some of your life experiences, if any, where you felt a strong religious and/or spiritual presence? 
  • What is your relationship with silence and stillness?
  • Who are you? Are you more than your physical body?
  • What is your core essence?
  • What is your center? 



 Reflect and Listen

Contemplative practices, such as those listed below, can help you identify where you find meaning and energy in life and provide a way to connect or heal.

Reflection: Review the day's events each evening for five or ten minutes to determine which experiences were life-giving, and which were life-draining. This could help you discover where you find purpose and meaning.

Meditation: Meditating can be another path to self-knowledge and it has numerous other benefits. Modern technology actually shows positive changes in the bodies and brains of meditators. Link: Meditation

Journaling: A journal can be a good way to reflect. You might write about some basic questions: What experiences give me life? What experiences drain life? Considering these questions can help you find purpose and meaning. Link: Healing through writing

Prayer: Research shows that prayer, in whatever form you use, benefits health through the physiological effects of positive emotion. You might select a daily reading (for example, a psalm or an excerpt from a book of meditations). To enter a contemplative state more quickly, it helps to do this at the same time and place each day.

Go on a Retreat

Retreats present a unique opportunity to slow down and listen. There are many kinds of retreats - silent retreats, retreats that are entirely unstructured and retreats that are structured and based on a particular theme or topic.

Talk to Others

Many people find that the best way to explore life issues is by talking and listening to others. Sometimes hearing other people's useful questions and insights can illuminate one's own life purpose.


 Next page: Living and Dying 

      Nurturing hope