RECOVERING FROM CANCER: Three Remarkable People Who Transformed Cancer into Healing

Long term recover from cancer depends on the following two foundational issues:

  • Optimal nutrition,
  • Stress/conflict resolution

De-bulking therapies like chemotherapy, radiation and surgery reduce the number of cancer cells in the body, but they do not eliminate every cancer cell in the body and they further suppress an already weak immune system.

It is essential for long term survival to change your lifestyle and mind style and understand why the cancer developed in the first place. Basically, you want learn from the experience you have created in your life. The following 3 stories are powerful examples of the healing and transformative power of cancer.

shutterstock_299427884History 1:  Jan – lung cancer, Stage 4

In April 1995, Jan complained of a dull pain in the chest.  A CT scan revealed three tumours in her left lung and seven in her right — and the disease had spread. Her liver housed three tumours, she had another in her pancreas, and yet another was causing her abdomen to swell. Biopsy showed lung cancer, Stage IV. A registered nurse since 1971, the soft-spoken Midwesterner understood the gravity of her diagnosis.

Though her mother had died of lung cancer at 42, Jan had thought her fate would be different. She worked out three times a week and had what she assumed was a fairly healthy lifestyle. Unlike her mother, she never smoked.

When her abdominal tumour was removed eight days after her diagnosis, it had ballooned from the size of a nickel to an 8 by 11 centimeter mass. One oncologist gave her three to six weeks to live, and another suggested three to six months. She grabbed onto the more promising prognosis and agreed to participate in an experimental chemotherapy trial, hoping to extend her life by a month.

But just three weeks after receiving the first dose, she dropped 46 pounds from her already slender 118-pound frame.

Stress/conflict prior to diagnosis

She worked full time as an RN and maintained two other jobs, all the while taking care of her husband and two teenage sons.  Her already high stress levels escalated into a storm of pain, sorrow and guilt when her husband discovered an affair she was having.  After many agonizing years, the divorce finalized in 1985 and the court awarded custody of her two sons to her husband, which “crushed her”.  It was “too much to bear”.  She “couldn’t let go of the guilt” even though her husband sons lived in the same community and would come over almost daily.

Childhood stress

Our adult dramas are based upon the conscious and unconscious programming of childhood, when children automatically suppress painful and intense emotions in order to survive. In addition, they create survival oriented beliefs that remain mostly unconscious and operate throughout life, until they are discovered.  Jan was certainly no exception.  Her father was an alcoholic and her mother “would beat me because she was mad at her father”.  Jan “lived in fear” as a child, worried that “her mother would kill her of one of her siblings”.  In addition, Jan was raised Catholic, which led her to believe in a “punishing God”.

These deep and painful unconscious emotional wounds from childhood fuelled her suffering after the divorce leading to feelings of guilt that she “could not let go of”. There seemed to be no way out of the hopelessness, helplessness and despair.


Since she had failed the chemotherapy, her doctor suggested something that sounded “outlandish” – a macrobiotic diet. “The oncologists had nothing for her, and he thought it might help to change her immune system and enhance her quality of life.”

By that point, she was relying on hospice workers and had signed her do-not-resuscitate papers. But  “I would have done anything at this point to live,” so Jan found a Macrobiotic counsellor, who came to the house and uttered a statement no doctor had ever made: “You could be healed”.

Too weak to cook for herself, she enlisted the help of eight friends and her ex-husband. After learning the principles of macrobiotic cooking, they signed up for breakfast, lunch, dinner, or overnight shifts. “Basically,” she says, “they gave up an entire year of their lives to save me.”

Gasping for air made swallowing difficult, so Jan eased her way into the diet with very small portions. After two days of meals consisting of just two tablespoons of pressure-cooked brown rice, a half cup of miso soup, and some steamed kale and bok choy, her vomiting stopped. After only one week on the diet, she got rid of her medications, which included painkillers and anti-anxiety drugs.

Months passed and she began to feel better. No longer in need of oxygen around the clock, and able to get to the supermarket with help, Jan had become cautiously optimistic. “I thought I might have some quality of life before I died,” she says.

Jan continued seeing her internist. “He listened to my lungs, and we talked about sadness and death.”  She realized that sadness was her “biggest emotion” and she had suppressed so many tears in the years prior to her diagnosis.  Instead of accepting her fears, she had suppressed them and taken medicines to cover them up.  Her feelings were coming from her heart and she could release them, which is called the “natural therapeutic experience”.  Instead of fighting her illness, she embraced it to learn from it.  She read books on positive affirmations and replaced her fearful thoughts with thoughts of what she would do when she recovered.

One year after her diagnosis, and ten months after she began the macrobiotic diet, Jan turned the corner. “I was still weak, but I could feel that I was getting better.” And soon she got proof. The CAT scan that had delivered a deadly diagnosis one year earlier now brought miraculous news: The tumours were gone.

Jan is now 18 years into remission and her disease has produced a profound transformation in her life.  Her friends “loved her to life” and “gave her a sense of value”. The punishing God in her childhood became a loving and forgiving friend who guides her in her life.  Her passion for healing and macrobiotics led her to study the ancient healing art and become a certified Macrobiotic Counsellor, helping many cancer patients.

She transformed self-punishing guilt and sorrow with self-love. “I’m no longer afraid,” and “I don’t care about impressing others, and I don’t judge myself.” “All the cells in my body are different,” she adds. “I’m really not the same person I was before.”  Perhaps the purpose of cancer is healing and not death.


shutterstock_362873228History #2:   Marlene – melanoma, stage 3

In 1983, at the age of 37 years, Marlene had a mole widely excised which turned out to be melanoma.  No further treatment was given. One year later she felt a lump on the right side of her neck which was removed, along with node dissection, which found a “few melanoma cells”, but no chemo was advised at that time.

Approximately one year later, she developed abdominal pain, weight loss and anemia, requiring blood transfusions.  Abdominal evaluation and exploratory surgery resulted in a 20” small bowel resection. Six abdominal tumors were identified, showing metastatic melanoma.  She was told there “was nothing more we can do for you”, except for an experimental drug that “might increase her life by one year”.

Stress/conflict prior to diagnosis

Marlene’s education prepared her for the intellectual side of life.  She attended an all-girls prep school, and then on to an eastern college, and finally graduate school. She began her career in state government and later worked in the financial services field.

She married a man “just like her mother” in 1973 who already had two children from a previous marriage.  In addition to the stress of the new children and a husband who was busy at work and unable to help, she maintained her work as a stock broker, which was “always” stressful for her.    Over the years, her husband gradually became mentally and physically abusive and she endured the family and work stress for 15 years prior to her diagnosis of melanoma.

By the time of her cancer diagnosis, she felt like a “wreck”, with a constant trembling in her hands and bouts of anxiety and depression.  She felt overwhelmed and saw no solution to her work and family problems.  She wrote later in her book, When Hope Never Dies: “I realized that one of the major characteristics I shared with my mother was that we were both constantly struggling for our survival, and that our way to survive was by constantly staying busy.”  She also wrote: “Beneath all my church-going and respect for the traditions of my religion, beneath the veneer of faith, there was a terrible fear that controlled and drove my life.  It was the source of my physical, emotional and mental tension.  It was the source of my disease.”

Childhood stress

Marlene’s childhood was “okay” until her father died when she was 11 years old.  Her mother, who was not a nurturing person to begin with, became depressed at the loss of financial security and status. Her mother was forced to work and Marlene had a babysitter every day and became “the mother for her younger brother”.

Her mother’s emotional stress gradually intensified and she became physically and mentally abusive, with bouts of anger and violent outbursts.  Marlene entered her adult life “never wanting to get married” and unable to express her anger or tears.


In 1986, her brother handed her a book titled The Cancer Prevention Diet, by Mishio Kushi.  Thinking that it was too late for prevention, she started the book anyway and recognized a whole new way of living life in balance and healing from disease.  She also read Recalled by Life, the story of Anthony Sattilaro, a medical doctor who recovered from metastatic prostate cancer using the macrobiotic path.  She traveled to Boston to study macrobiotics at the Kushi Institute.

She resumed psychological counseling, in order to “to cope with her fear of death”.  She realized her life had been a fearful struggle for the past 15 years, which must have weakened her immune system and made her vulnerable to cancer. She began to understand that the source of the “terrible fear” that “controlled and drove her life” was the death of her father.  It was at that time when “my mind took over my life completely and buried my heart”.

She read Love, Medicine and Miracles, by Bernie Siegel, and many other similar books, which helped her to take responsibility for the lessons she had created in of her life.  The emotions she had buried to survive childhood, along with mostly unconscious primitive beliefs, became the programming for the dramas arising later in life.  She realized that the stressful challenges in life were actually opportunities for healing the wounds of childhood, but only if the feelings were felt, owned and released. She realized how she had suppressed so much emotion in her life.  The early joy and excitement of her family and work had transformed into a dreary, repetitive landscape of worry, frustration and eventually despair.

She felt better and lighter as emotions poured out of her during her inner child writing sessions.  She became a friend and a loving parent, to the wounded little girl that lived inside her unconscious mind.  As the months passed it became clear that her years of denial and suppressed feeling had solidified into her cancerous cells.  But instead of a death sentence, the cancer had become a reminder to live her life in truth and self-love, instead of fear and denial.  Her cancer had become her teacher.

She conceived her last son Joseph within two years of her terminal diagnosis and, against the advice of her doctors, continued with her pregnancy. Joseph was born healthy and is currently attending college.

Marlene is now a 22-year terminal cancer survivor and author of When Hope Never Dies. She replaced her struggling life with a passion for living and helping others. She has been a guest speaker at holistic health conferences nationwide, appeared on national TV and radio talk shows, and has been featured in magazines such as Ladies Home Journal and Your Health.

In Chapter 14 of her book, she writes:

Healing oneself begins as a process of peeling away one layer at a time, discovering how we have physically and mentally imprisoned ourselves.  . . . . My “terminal” cancer sentence caused me to realize how little control I had over my destiny.  The control I had so carefully exercised over my life turned out to be killing me! Losing the arrogance of “being in control” and searching for the universal connection with all life that is within each of us was perhaps my hardest lesson.


shutterstock_195635468History #3: Gina – breast cancer, metastatic

In 1994, at the age of 34 years, Gina discovered a lump in the upper and outer portion of her left breast, but did not have it checked. Her grandmother died of breast cancer at a young age so when Gina first felt the lump she “knew what it was”. She felt “consumed by fear”, but wanting it not to be cancer, she lived in denial for two years. Then in July of 1996, when the skin around the lump began to wrinkle, she went to see a surgeon.

After an examination, the surgeon announced that she had “very advanced breast cancer”, and recommended immediate bilateral mastectomy. A biopsy later verified his diagnosis.

Instead of the recommended double-mastectomy Gina opted for a lumpectomy and axillary lymph node dissection in order to spare her breast. The surgery revealed that the cancer had spread to 12 axillary lymph nodes. She was told “she had only six months to one year to live” and needed therapy immediately.

Stress/conflict prior to diagnosis

At 17, Gina dropped out of college and left for Israel to stay in a Kibbutz, a move that angered her parents terribly.  She was happy with her boyfriend until her parents “forced her” to marry him. After years of turmoil, her husband gradually sided with her parents as they continually tried to control the marriage.  The marriage became a “nightmare” and she divorced in 1986, which “devastated her parents”.  She felt abandoned by her husband and her mother, who “was awful to me”, because I did not do what she wanted.

She studied nursing during this time and became an RN, but her personal life continued with drama and relentless conflict with her mother. She met a new boyfriend who turned out to be a drug addict, creating recurrent emotional dramas in her life, such as police arrests and passing out in public.  He left her in 1994.

During this time of cancer growth, her health was deteriorating in general. “I didn’t feel good. I was in terrible pain due to my back injury. I was weak. I was overweight and very out of shape. Basically, I looked terrible. My hair was unhealthy. I had a terrible case of colitis. I had blood in my stool and urine. I had dark blue black circles under my eyes.”

Amidst all this turmoil and loss with personal relationships, she felt abandoned by her parents as well.  She felt her “parents did not care about her”.  She felt overwhelmed and hopeless.  At one point before the cancer diagnosis, she recalls thinking “if I got sick maybe my parents would stop their life and love me”.

Childhood stress

Gina was the first of two children.  Her father was a busy physician who wasn’t around much, leaving her with her mother who was a “narcissist”, intent on “controlling everything”.  She “frequently yelled, screamed” and was “extremely critical”.  She often made threats to get her way.  If Gayle did not do what her Mother wanted, she would threaten suicide. She recalls her parents would go out almost every night, leaving her alone and frightened.  Her mother “didn’t know how to nurture” and Gina felt like “she did not have a mother”.

All the while, her parents were pushing her to be an “over-achiever”.  If she did not obey, they would take something from her.  She felt unable to trust.  She had high levels of stress in school and experimented with drugs and alcohol.

Her childhood stress seeded into her unconscious mind fear, abandonment, grief, anger and other powerful emotions that created the relationship dramas later in her life. However, she lacked the tools to express and release the emotional pain, and, instead became caught in recurrent cycles of pain, sorrow and despair.


“My doctors initially recommended a stem cell transplant, but I chose instead to have a lumpectomy and node dissection, followed by nine months of chemotherapy, six weeks of radiation, and Tamoxifen for two years.”

She committed to a Macrobiotic diet, and switched to eating whole and natural foods. She was excited about her new nutritional program and “couldn’t wait to get home from surgery and start my new way of life.” “An incredible will to live came over me.”

After surgery, Gina vividly remembers an epiphany, a vision, in which I actually “saw” her death. “I saw my family at my funeral. I saw my parents glancing at their watch, impatiently wanting to get on with their life.” She realized that dying wouldn’t work and she had “wasted her life trying to please her mother”.  She realized she could be happy without her parents and “decided to not hide who I am”. “An incredible will to live came over me and I totally woke up. And in that waking up, I SO wanted to live.”

Her healing within consciousness rested on a blend of Eastern and Western approaches:  a psychotherapist and a spiritual teacher from India.  During years of visits, the therapist helped her to explore the “story line” of her childhood and release anger, frustration, sadness and feelings of abandonment.  She gradually uncovered the truth in her life story and released the dysfunctional beliefs and intense emotional pain.  During the same time, she felt an “outpouring of kindness” as she listened to discourses from Ganga-Ji, an Indian teacher, who taught her meditation and detachment. She learned to “stop buying into the drama as real”.

Almost 19 years since her cancer diagnosis, Gina says, “I found myself because of my illness – I fell in love with me”.  For Gina and many cancer survivors, the disease creates healing and in many ways a “new person”. Gina’s illness transformed her into a new path in life as she and her partner developed a new business based on teaching and preparing macrobiotic food for other people pursuing health and healing.