Less than a week ago and following Patrick Holford’s seminar, I purchased ‘The Cancer Whisperer’, by Sophie Sabbage. It’s been a long time since I last read a book that was so brilliantly written, filled with facts, advice, a personal story, touching and inspiring – all at the same time. In my thirst for knowledge, I have started to read many books and check out information here and there but this was different. Needless to say it took me less than a week to read and I will be going back to it multiple times for things I’ve highlighted. As much as physical books are more pleasurable to read, there’s something to be said about having e-books on the kindle app that you can read on the go, on the iphone, between work emails on the Mac while being able to highlight sections quite easily and switch between book and google so seamlessly.
About a year ago, Sophie was diagnosed with terminal cancer, multiple tumours in lungs, lymph nodes, bones and her brain. Her book follows her journey through conventional medicine, alternatives, spiritual and physical healing. Most valuable also, is a list she compiled of recommended further reading, practitioners she works with, clinics etc. In the confusing maze that surrounds cancer and I’m sure many other conditions, this kind of guidance is gold dust. There are a number of points made throughout the book, which I want to note down here as they resonated most and for me to remember:
In the introduction
“Perhaps it is time to ask not only how we can heal the cancer in our bodies, but also what our cancer is telling us about how to heal our lives.”
On coming to terms with the diagnosis
“A cancer diagnosis confronts you with your vulnerability and there is no getting around that. It doesn’t make you weak; it makes you human. In fact, if you’ve been mistaking vulnerability for weakness most of your life, you can now thank cancer for slaying that ludicrous lie.”
On understanding your disease
“Understanding your disease is not just a matter of understanding its biology and its treatments. It’s a matter of understanding what it has to show you about yourself. In my experience, cancer is a great awakener; a siren continually calling me home. I cannot afford to be at war with my own body anymore. I am finally learning to nourish, uphold, prioritise, dignify and appreciate it. I want to get rid of my cancer, but I don’t want to ‘battle’ it. This doesn’t mean being passive, by any means. It means adopting a different attitude to warfare and becoming a peacemaker in the battle between my own cells.”
“Once you start identifying the contributory factors that may have led to your cancer, or may simply be exacerbating it, then you can begin to form a response. Some contributory factors are physical, some are environmental, emotional or psychological. It is very unlikely that you can definitively prove any of these factors caused your cancer, but you can follow your intuition about those that seem most pertinent. For example, you know your own history of eating, smoking and drinking. You know what environments you have lived in. You can find out if there is mould in your walls or strong electro-magnetic radiation in your house. You can ask your doctor to test your blood for bacteria and parasites. It doesn’t matter if you can prove these things led to your cancer. What matters is that you begin to identify as many potential causes as you can so you can form an integrated plan that addresses all possible factors. What matters is that you are weeding your garden, regardless of whether each change you make directly impacts you.”
“Purposes are different from goals. Goals are particular results or outcomes you are after, often very specific and time-based. Purposes are the underlying guiding intentions behind your goals, the ‘why’ behind the ‘what’. For example, you may have a goal to lose ten pounds in weight and a purpose to feel healthier, happier and more at ease in your own skin. It is the purpose, not the goal, that will get you there– or not. If you believe you have to lose weight because you’re too damn ugly and your partner will leave you if you don’t, the chances are you will be devouring chocolate biscuits by the second day of your diet. We need conscious, loving, heartfelt purposes to motivate us, not judgments and fearful consequences. Your goals are where you’re heading. Your purpose is the rudder on your boat.”
“There are exceptions to every rule, like this one when you are researching your disease: Don’t look up, look at or listen to statistics. Just don’t. So, here’s why.
You are not a statistic, but the moment you buy into the statistics you are more likely to become one. They are frightening– in some cases (like mine) horrifying– and you do not need fear and horror in your precious cells and bones! Those little numbers infect your mind as surely as cancer has infected your body. I am the greatest exponent you will ever meet when it comes to embracing reality, but statistics, while representing some past realities, are not reality. Your unique outcome cannot be determined or predicted by what has gone before.”
On directing your own treatment
“Fortunately, there are some doctors and health practitioners who really get it. For example, my marvellous acupuncturist and dispenser of truly disgusting, but surprisingly effective Chinese herbs put it beautifully when he said, “You have terrorists in your house, Sophie. The chemo and radiation are the SAS, there to take ‘em out. The rest of us are taking care of the citizens, the land and the building structure, which are so often destroyed by chemo. It’s the best kind of teamwork.”
“Recently, I heard Dr. Contreras speaking about cancer at his hospital in Mexico. He’s an oncologist by profession who has dedicated his life to ending cancer, one patient at a time. I was expecting him to focus on the disease, its causes and the treatments he has developed (which he did on other occasions when he spoke). Instead, he spoke of cancer as a gift. ‘Justice’, he suggests, is getting what you deserve – appropriate punishment. ‘Mercy’ is not getting what you deserve – unqualified clemency. But ‘Grace’ is getting what you don’t deserve and letting it transform your life. I know what he means. I am battered by blessings. And if feeling strangely, unexpectedly grateful for this mortifying disease is what he was talking about, then little by little, inch by inch, I find myself living in a state of grace. Cancer, like any life threatening experience, is more than a disease to survive or succumb to. It is an opportunity to change, to become more of yourself, not less, and to transform your perceptions, even if you can’t change the course of your disease.”
On breaking the shell
“If cancer whispering is an ability you want to develop as you steer your ship through these unchartered waters, then instead of “Why me?” and “What did I do wrong?” these are the kinds of questions you can ask:
What behaviours is my cancer calling on me to change?
What beliefs and judgments does it invite me to challenge?
What emotions does it invite me to release or express?
What have I shut down or ignored that I can no longer ignore?
What ways of being is it exposing that I didn’t want to look at before it came along?
Where in my life is it calling me to be more authentic?
Where in my life is it calling me to be more vulnerable and human?
Where in my life is it calling me to be more forgiving and loving?
What is it reminding me to value what I have forgotten or neglected? What unexpected gifts have come my way since I was diagnosed?
What is my cancer teaching me about my relationship with myself?
What is it teaching me about my relationship with others?
What is it teaching me about my relationship with life itself?
“I was choosing to steer my own ship through the storm instead of handing my treatment over to medical professionals. I was taking a big risk by putting my own wisdom at the wheel and using my own ingenuity as the rudder. It was time to trust myself as I never had before. I didn’t need to convince other people I was doing the right thing, I only needed to convince myself. From that point on, I took full responsibility for my treatment plan and my choices, and I haven’t looked back. That experience gifted me with the long-sought trust in myself that now infuses my cells and colours almost all my days.”
One thing that struck a chord quite deeply is this last paragraph on long-sought trust. This experience is teaching me to listen to myself and to ultimately trust myself. As someone who has notoriously been bad at making decisions, a procrastinator, someone who goes back and forth on even the smallest of decisions, I am slowly learning to develop this trust in the decisions I make. Thank you Sophie for sharing your journey and for inspiring me profoundly to transform my mindset on a few things.