5 Keys to Finding Healing through Forgiveness after a Cancer Diagnosis
by Eileen Barker
Any cancer survivor can tell you that the challenges brought on by a cancer diagnosis aren’t just physical. For many people, the greatest challenges are the psychological and emotional ones. It’s not uncommon for people with cancer to experience intense fear, anger, grief, hopelessness, and depression, sometimes all at the same time. And it’s also not uncommon for cancer survivors to question Why is this happening? Why me? What did I do to deserve this?
During this challenging time, it’s crucial to recognize that the way we think about cancer can affect our well-being. Our thoughts themselves can cause suffering. But, even when dealing with cancer, we can choose our thoughts. We can choose to focus on thoughts that cause us to suffer, or we can choose to focus on thoughts that enable us to forgive and heal.
When I was diagnosed with breast cancer, there were days when I was frightened to the core, and others when I was just so angry I could hardly bear it. I wept. I grieved. I did my best to cope month after month; however, I increasingly felt like I was drowning inside. I knew I had to make peace with cancer and within myself, but how? I had been teaching and writing about forgiveness for many years, but, up to that point, forgiveness was the furthest thing from my mind. Out of my despair, I decided to put forgiveness to the test to see if it could help me heal, or at least allow me to come up for air.
Anger and blame can lock you in a mental and emotional prison.
What followed was deep inner work. It wasn’t easy, but within a short time, I began to realize that cancer was offering me profound life lessons. This allowed me to finally see the light at the end of the tunnel. In time, my anger and fear dissolved, and I was able to emotionally heal at the deepest levels.
This experience confirmed for me that forgiveness is the ultimate healing force. I’ve since worked with many other cancer survivors who have been able to claim this healing for themselves. You can tap into this power too. Here are my five keys to unlocking the healing power of forgiveness after a cancer diagnosis.
1. Reclaim your identity.
Do not let cancer hijack your identity. As medical appointments and treatments overtake your life, it can be easy to slip into thinking of yourself as a cancer patient. However, cancer is not who you are. Who you are – the essence of your being – is much, much more than “a person with cancer.” Stay connected to your larger self and your true identity.
2. Be conscious of your thoughts, and own your story.
What is your cancer story? Your story is what you relate when someone asks about your cancer experience. Writing your story down can help you see it more clearly. Notice that your mind created this story. Our minds generate thoughts and stories all the time, blending facts with interpretations, assumptions, and feelings. It is essential to be conscious of our thoughts and our stories because they have enormous power to influence our emotions, our mood, and our outlook – for the good and the bad. When we are conscious of our story, it loosens the story’s hold on us. We can then choose to release those thoughts and stories that cause us pain.
Many cancer survivors say they feel anger and resentment after diagnosis. Forgiveness offers a way to release the toxic energy of those negative emotions.
3. Notice whom you blame and for what.
Whom do you need to forgive? To whom or what is your anger directed? Many people blame themselves for getting cancer; I was no exception. I needed to forgive myself for all the things that I did or did not do that might have caused my cancer. I needed to forgive my body. I also needed to forgive the medical profession for not offering better solutions. And I needed to forgive God, fate, and life itself for dealing out such painful and unfair cards.
4. Feel it to heal it.
Emotional release is an essential part of forgiving. Many cancer survivors say they feel anger and resentment after diagnosis. Forgiveness offers a way to release the toxic energy of those negative emotions. Whether your anger is directed at others, yourself, God, or the universe, anger and blame can lock you in a mental and emotional prison. Practicing forgiveness can unlock the door to freedom and inner peace. But you must choose it.
5. Find the gifts.
What are some of the gifts and lessons that have come from having cancer? I know it’s difficult to think that there could ever be anything positive about cancer, but if you are willing to consider the possibility, you may be amazed at what you discover. Have a look at these examples of how others have found the gifts in facing cancer:
- I was forced to slow down.
- I took more time for myself.
- I learned to say no and stopped doing things I didn’t really want to do.
- I had to ask for help beyond my comfort zone.
- I was forced to let others in.
- I learned to accept love, to really receive it.
- It was a wake-up call. I’m no longer putting things off, and I’m living more fully.
Everything in life, including cancer, gives us an opportunity to heal and grow. Instead of buying into the thought that cancer is the worst thing that ever happened to you, what if cancer is one of your life’s best teachers? The choice of how you think and feel about cancer is up to you.
Forgiveness invites you to look at things differently and, ultimately, to change your story. Are you willing to use the experience of cancer for learning and growth? Are you willing to find the silver linings and let more love in? If so, cancer can be the doorway to healing your life.
Eileen Barker is a forgiveness expert who leads forgiveness workshops and retreats and offers private forgiveness coaching. She is the author of The Forgiveness Workbook, Walking the Path of Forgiveness (eBook) and The Forgiveness Meditation CD. You can learn more about Eileen at ThePathofForgiveness.com.
This article was published in Coping® with Cancer magazine, January/February 2018.