by Bernie Siegel, MD
After reading Joyce’s book and thinking about the title I was reminded of the Biblical message that when life and death are placed before us we are to choose life. By that I do not mean simply to try and avoid dying but to choose to live a meaningful life involving us in a demonstration of our love for our selves and others. When we live that way our body knows we love our life and does all it can to sustain us, heal our afflictions and wounds and keep us healthy.
When we do not love our lives and bodies our body interprets the messages it gets as our desire to end our lives and it then tries hard to please us, as Monday morning demonstrates, with its increased incidence of major diseases and suicides. Choose to Live demonstrates what its title says. It lives the message. It can show you how to turn a curse into a blessing and through life’s difficulties, or what I call the labor pains of life, help you to be reborn to the life you desire and enjoy the emotional and physical benefits which come with the new life. Then your problem becomes a gift and wake up call because it provides you with a new beginning.
Life is not unfair but it is difficult. We all need help and coaching so that we are prepared for the difficulties we will all encounter. If we have not been taught at an early age, by the authority figures in our lives, we have to learn from others and reparent ourselves so we have self worth and the desire to heal our lives. We can learn to face the sun and not see the shadows, as Joyce shows us, and not let a doctor’s wordswords become swordswords which can kill instead of curing us. There is no secret to survival. We can learn from others who exceed expectations what survival behavior is and how to accomplish it. That is what this book is about. Yes, it is a story but stories are truer than the truth and we can learn from them.
Yet doctors rarely ask patients why they are doing better than expected so they could pass the word on. They think you are lucky or have a spontaneous remission when it is really self induced healing. Just as hunger leads us to seek nourishment our physical and emotional problems can lead us to nourish our lives and derive the benefits that comes when we create our authentic lives and no longer live the one imposed upon us by others.
One must love one’s self to accomplish this. Information does not solve the world’s problems, nor the individual’s, if it is not accomplished by inspiration. To derive the benefits inherent in the reading of this book you have to care about yourselves and not be fearful of guilt, shame and blame if you do not have the result you desire. The question is; are you willing to give it a try and participate in your life and health and take responsibility for your choices and actions. It is not about not dying, death is inevitable, it is about participating in and taking responsibility for your life.
If you value yourself and do not fear failure you are what I call a respant, or responsible participant, then read on but if you are a good patient, or submissive sufferer, who fears empowerment then close up shop. What we are trying to communicate to you is related to your potential. You are not a statistic and survival mechanisms are built into you but you must give your genes a live message if they are to respond. If you are open to sharing the mystical aspects of life and not closing your mind and refusing to accept what you cannot understand then read on. Yes, there are practical experiences too like the advantages of humor and how to be empowered when interacting with health professionals.
Authority figures’ words can kill or cure. When we listen to the side effects we are told will happen they can happen even when given a placebo. Our mind is very powerful and we need to know our thoughts and emotions create an internal environment which needs to be related to healing and not the complications of treatment. To quote Joyce, “Adriamycin, by the way, is known as the red death.” If that’s what your mind believes, it can be, but if Adriamycin were seen as a gift from God then the side effects would not be a problem. She also talks about receiving ACT, short for Adriamycin, Cytoxan and Taxol. What if they called it CAT? I know of four chemotherapy drugs in a protocol which was called EPOH. One oncologist noted if you turned the letters around it became HOPE. He changed the name for his patients and more of them responded to therapy. So learn to visualize what you desire and not enter therapy in conflict. Your thoughts and feelings need to be in unison as Joyce demonstrates. The will to live is a real force which affects everyone’s life and health. When you draw a picture of your therapy as the devil giving you poison you have a problem.
The message you live and transmit to your body is the issue. Survival behavior can be learned from the behavior portrayed by Joyce and Kevin and their family. They worked at healing their lives and bodies and thus did not empower their enemy, or disease. When you fight a war you empower your enemy because that is what you focus on and the kill approach does not enhance your immune function or life and then death becomes a failure on your part and you are a loser. When your focus is related to healing your life and body you are a winner and have much to teach others about living rather than avoiding dying. I always say that the bitterest people in Heaven are the vegetarian, meditating, joggers who die anyway and wish they had done some things they enjoyed with their life’s time.
Joyce shares some very meaningful wisdom, “This is my lesson to share: Be happy with what you have right now.” “If you put your arms up and ask for what you need, you’ll get it. Well, I was about to be hit with that brick I’d prayed for.” Joseph Campbell writes that we need to love our fate and no matter what the hell happens accept that it is what we need. When we are capable of that it shifts our thinking and we learn from our wounds and the despair and darkness like charcoal under pressure becomes a diamond. It is no longer, why me? but try me. You realize your disease is not God punishing you but that nit is a loss of your health and when you lose something you go searching for what you have lost, as Joyce and Kevin had the courage to do. They were not focused on not dying, but upon living, and the traditional and alternative choices that made sense to them. They decided which prescriptions to fill.
Their motivation led them to travel to Switzerland and have the courage and energy to do so and the ability to reach out to family and friends for help and support, emotionally and financially. That is survival behavior. Others have the right to say no to what you ask for but you have to have the courage to ask for help and survivors do that. When they join a support group it is a group which truly supports them and their efforts and not a victim group which spends their time whining and complaining and if they do not do well blames them for doing things wrong.
Joyce shares the concept of getting people to pay attention to their feelings when choosing what path in life to follow. I ask people, “What would you do if you had fifteen minutes to live?” The answer that taught me the most came from one of our sons, “I’d buy a quart of chocolate ice cream and eat it.” So no matter what your answer is ask yourself if it is your chocolate ice cream. If not then change your answer and your life and be born again.
Women live longer than men with the same cancers and married men live longer that single men. Our lives are about our connections and relationships and meaning. Studies show even pets are therapeutic. However, it is important that we do not live a role. Joyce’s life should be mean more than her being a mother and Kevin should not simply be the wage earner. Why? Because I know women whose cancers recurred and died when their kids left home and men when they can’t work anymore. I want you all to live your authentic, meaningful life and relate to the world through your unlimited and unconditional love for yourself and others.
What happens when you live that way? I have many stories I can share about people who did not deny the likelihood of their impending death but went home to live until they died and that is what has kept me counseling and coaching people for over thirty years. One letter I received ends with, “I didn’t die and now I’m so busy I’m killing myself. Help, where do I go from here?” I told her to take a nap. Or my landscaper friend John, age seventy when I operated upon him, who just wanted to go home and make the world beautiful before he died. He refused treatment and died at age ninety-four with no sign of cancer.
There are no guarantees but if you have self worth and self esteem and were brought up with love you understand what I am saying. Do not fear participating and giving it your best shot. If you grew up with indifference, rejection and abuse let my words, and Joyce’s book, convince you that you are loved and worth the effort. False hope is an oxymoron. There can be false expectations but hope is real, not about statistics and necessary for survival, just as is your motivated spirit filled with desire and intention.
It is a spiritual journey and not just a physical one. I love getting the wisdom I learn from country western music: There are times in life when you gotta crawl.
Lose your grip and stumble and fall,
When you can’t lean on no one else,
That’s when you find yourself.
The going’s easy when the road is flat
Them danged hills will get you every time.
That’s when you learn how to climb.
So read on to find your true self, how to climb, heal your life and give your body a live message.