One in eight women will be diagnosed with breast cancer during their lives. In years to come cancer will affect a third, possibly even half the population. This pathology concerns all of us. In the industrial world cancer is the second cause of death, and its impact is still rising despite huge investments in medical and pharmaceutical research.
When I was diagnosed with breast cancer, in the summer of 2012, I had faith in the common protocol that one of the best medical institutions in France could offer me: chemotherapy, surgery, radiotherapy, and hormonal therapy. Nobody could give me definite reassurance of the results, nobody promised me that it would actually heal me – each person is different; no one knows exactly how an organism is going to respond to a treatment – but the hospital staff did their very best, both technically and in human terms. I accepted and survived the brutal treatments. I felt hopeful. But I refused to start a war with my own body.
When talking about cancer, we often use terms like struggle, fight, or battle against malignant tumours, as if our body would be able to create an enemy. The official cancer treatment is based on the concept of hostile cells attacking our bodies from within, killing it. A fantastic horror scenario: the enemy does not come from outside, but threatens us from within! Aliens no longer come from other planets but are generated within our own intimate universe. All of us are exposed to this danger and we don’t even feel it happening, that is the greatest menace. In the eyes of Western medicine the only solution is regular scans, advanced technical gadgets with the ability to pry into the hidden parts of our bodies, uncovering what we are not able to feel. This procedure is called prevention.
The object is to trace cancer as early as possible, and to treat it as extensively as possible. Not how to avoid it. We are being warned against the lethal effects of tobacco, drugs and alcohol. We are told to move, and eat vegetables. But how do we explain the fact that this disease, which one hundred years ago only affected one out of eighty people, today has become an epidemic? Could it be because we are living so much longer? But then, how do we explain that so many children and young people are getting cancer?
We don’t really know… But the specialists do. At least they make us believe they do, using violent strategies against this murderous monster, such as burning, cutting and poisoning it. The vocabulary reminds us of the fact that the inspiration for this form of cancer treatment was born in the trenches World War I, and completed during World War II.
I suffered. Not from cancer - I didn’t feel anything - but from the treatment. The ambition was to combat what is called remission. The tumour is cut out and the so-called bad cells are killed. There is no guarantee that this kind of therapy actually works. All they can give you is hope, and, of course, reliance on statistics. Numbers, which are the foundation of evidence-based medicine, give us hope because we believe in their objectivity. But I do not trust numbers; I trust life. And I do not believe that life can be arranged into neat lines or exact tables. I believe our universe to be much more complicated than statistics could ever explain. They show only one side of reality. Also, they depend on the perspective of the interpreter.
As a teacher of languages and communication, I am conscious of the importance of words. So I started to change my vocabulary. These cancer cells were not malignant but sick. When something is ill we have to take care of it, not fight it. The first needs of a sick body are support and love. We have to help its natural forces to restore themselves, consolidate, and boost the immune system. It doesn’t want hatchets; it needs peace. So I got rid of my weapons and I released myself from the image of a deadly monster. After each chemo I had treatments in Traditional Chinese Medicine, which is a completely different approach to health from the conventional treatments of Western Society. Health depends on the energy of the organism. A balanced body, with free flowing energy, is a healthy body. All natural and holistic therapies are based on this principle.
I asked myself what could be blocking that energy in my system. Not just in my body, but in my life as a whole. To me things do not exist separately. If there is a problem in one part, there must be a problem in the other part as well. We know there is interdependence between all that exists. By dividing everything into particles, just concentrating on the detail, we can only see the details, never the problem as a whole. So I decided to rejoin things.
The problem is division; the solution is unity. This motto became my truth. If I did not want this cancer hanging over me like Damocles’ sword for the rest of my life, I had to face my physical problem in relation to the rest of my existence. I had to face not the detail, but the whole: who I am.
This was my first step towards getting better. No longer did I feel like a powerless object, helplessly condemned to undergo treatments meant for the millions. I became aware of the importance of my own responsibility in the matter. Of course feeling responsible doesn’t mean feeling guilty. Illness is not a punishment for past mistakes; it is an expression of something going wrong in your life. Carl Gustav Jung used to say that we don’t heal diseases, but diseases are healing us, as they show us where to look. So I opened my eyes to look at this tumour, which was my tumour, on this cancer, which was my cancer. It is not easy to look at things that frighten us. We tend to look away, trying to escape. Not me! Not now! Like children, we believe that shutting our eyes will make the monster disappear. But of course that is not how it goes. On the contrary, facing away from a problem makes it grow bigger and bigger, until it’s so big that is no longer possible to ignore it.
If we want to get out of anything, we’ll first have to get into it. This seems to me consequential. Ok, I had cancer. This cancer was telling me that something was going wrong. I saw my illness as a message. My body was expressing something that was engraved inside me, which I was obviously unable to put into words or deeds. Things had accumulated inside me, wanting to come out. So I asked myself: Am I really happy with my life? Am I satisfied with the circumstances? Am I at peace with who I am? On the outside I seem to have a good situation: I live in the South of France, I like my job, I love my friends and family. I have sunshine almost all the year round, and oysters on Friday. People see me as a strong and independent person, who does things her own way. I had chosen to leave the security of my home country, and I created an open house in the vineyards of a charming little village not far away from the Mediterranean. But this was only one side of the coin. Inside I was not that strong, that fearless or that self-confident. Cancer told me I had lost contact with my weaker side. Developing my masculinity, while totally neglecting my femininity. My breast, symbol of womanhood, indicated where I should be looking and what I should do to change my life.
I’m on the way. Experiencing the importance of the relationship we have with ourselves. Do I accept myself as a whole? Do I love myself? Do I take my place in this life? Which part do I choose to play? The image of cancer cells invading a body could be a reflection of us letting other people invade us, putting their needs and wishes above our own. This is my observation: illness reminds us of the fact that we are forgetting ourselves. This is a powerful message – and so is the answer. If we see our body as a communicative entity, we can interact with it. We can listen to it, but in return we can send information too. Experiments in neuroscience have proven that our brain unequivocally accepts the idea we have about reality. This is one of the revolutions of modern science, as it confirms that the orders being sent from the brain to the organism are conform to what we think and feel. This indicates our capability of creating our own reality!
When you realize how so many scientific experiments confirm the power of the mind - e.g. its capability to direct flying objects, like drones – it is totally imaginable how visualisation and meditation could affect healing processes. However, despite these huge developments in neurosciences and quantum physics, Western medicine still excludes the energetic methods of healing. This amazes me. Why should dietetics, the backbone of health, not be a basic subject taught at school? It isn’t even it an integral part of the syllabus of future doctors. Why are holistic and non-invasive therapies still frowned upon, or even being ridiculed? Is this maybe why pharmaceutical research still hasn’t come up with a definite solution, despite gigantic investments?
My personal research on cancer expanded from just my own story into the realm of public health and our current society. We have to admit that scientific progress and achievements are generally not made for the benefit of the individual, but in the interest of multinational companies. We live in a world ruled by money, not by human values. In the capitalist world, the highest value is economic growth. We are literally selling out: our health, our lives and the lives of the ones we love. This pill is not easy to swallow, but we have to admit that capitalism has resulted in conflicts, terrorism, exploitation, destruction, natural disasters, famine, life-style diseases and epidemics, affecting the entire world population. Meanwhile, the increasing gap between rich and poor causes our planet to lose its equilibrium. And so we are responsible for the destruction of our own environment.
I believe this is what a sick body is communicating too: we have lost orientation. We have lost a sense of life. We have cut ourselves off from our surroundings. We have drawn up screens, living in isolation, hiding behind all sorts of security systems, conversing with others through the web but forgetting to communicate with those who share our physical reality. Everybody separated from everybody else, filled with suspicion and fear. We live in a bubble. Evolution proves that our body reflects our way of life. Tumours are exactly this: bubbles, having lost the ability to communicate with their environment, developing their own rules, invading the organism in an erratic manner, without purpose or destination. Just like us. Like our own lives.
In our society it looks as if the purpose of our lives is to consume as much as possible. Unlimited growth. The same goes for cancer cells. But their mission is not to kill even if it is the consequence. I believe cancer to be a call for life, not death. So shouldn’t it be our ambition to find a different orientation, a new meaning? Cancer cells do not conform to apoptosis, the programmed dissolution of healthy cells. So cancer tells us there is a desire for life, more life! Thus, instead of killing our bodies, we should be looking for new ways of providing that life with a meaning and a purpose.
When our bodies talk to us we can be sure that, even if there is real danger, it is to show us the way and help us find a new sense of orientation. These bodies are the result of millions of years of evolution, built to survive. All we have to do is to connect with them, finding a new balance to get the energy flowing again. Then we can heal. Sickness to me is an invitation to trust in the power of life, so we know what to do: lose the voice of fear and distrust. Those who try to divide us - from our bodies, from other human beings, from nature - do so with one single intention: to make themselves bigger, to grow at the expense of their environment. Confidence will bring relaxation, not just individually but even on a global level. The fog clears up, showing us what we already know: that we can only survive when we are at peace. We need to come together, cooperate, and share what we have. We must help everyone to grow. Right now, at this moment. Rich, poor, healthy, sick, there is no controversy or opposition, as we are all interdependent.
So this is my message: I am inviting doctors, specialists, therapists, scientists, pharmacologists and patients to act together, as a team. All of us will benefit from this. In my books, written in French and German, I expand on this philosophy. La maladie guérit – de la pensée créatrice à la communication avec soi, Quintessence 2014. (Sickness heals – from creative thinking to communication with oneself) describes my thoughts about healing cancer. Traverser le miroir – de la peur du cancer à la confiance en la vie. L’Harmattan 2016. (Through the looking glass – from fear of cancer to confidence in life) analyses cancer as a problem of modern society and opens new perspectives. Das Licht fliesst dahin, wo es dunkel ist. Zuversicht für eine neue Zeit. Europa Verlag 2017. (Light flows there, where darkness reigns. Confidence in a new era) exposes how the outside universe coincides with the universe within us, a reflection of who we are. If we want to make things better, we have to make peace with ourselves. This is my contribution to the development of a new human consciousness: more responsible, more open-minded, and brighter.