Cancer isn’t easy. I know it very well. When I was diagnosed with a brain tumor in 1998 at 24-years-old, everything changed. I endured a flood of emotions, especially significant fear and concerns about mortality. In a new world with tenderness and trepidation, parts of me moved with shakiness and were seemingly completely disconnected from myself. Thankfully, necessity became a powerful teacher. Adversity inspired me toward actions to save my life and live it more fully.
My brain was cut open three times for awake brain surgery over the last 17 years to remove brain tumor cells. I also had radiation, chemotherapy, immunotherapy dendritic cell vaccines and thousands of integrative therapies. While those experiences were raw and real, the journey was profound. Over the many years of twists and turns, highs and lows, pains and glory, I’ve learned tried-and-true strategies to support optimal health and healing.
From my healing journey, and watching thousands of people turn health challenges into improvements—alongside some scientific study results—here are nine tips to live life more fully, for people with or without cancer.
1. Incorporate integrative healthcare for wellness.
Integrative healthcare addresses the whole person—the entire physical body, mind-body vitality, spiritual connections, social support and a clean environment. Since many health challenges and diseases come from lifestyle and environmental factors, integrative healthcare is a necessity. Top priorities must include eating healthful foods and avoiding obesity, tobacco, alcohol and environmental pollutants.
“Everyone needs to know the full spectrum of integrative [healthcare] to optimize healing and well-being,” says Daniel Friedland, MD, chair of the Academy of Integrative Health & Medicine. “The power of integrative healthcare is that it combines the best of what conventional medicine and whole system approaches have to offer while truly caring for the whole person—mind, body and spirit.”
2. Build a team and create a plan.
With a commitment to thrive, a health and healing focus brings forth positive benefits, including an integrative whole-person team of doctors and providers. If you can’t put a team together on your own, ask others for recommendations. Navigators and coaches are further resources to help identify the team and maintain a plan. In the journey, it’s paramount to assess and reassess what works and doesn’t work. In all chapters of life that are constantly changing, this is especially important.
3. Apply self-care daily.
Daily self-care involves quality sleep, eating well, stress reduction, exercise, enjoyment, quiet time, being in nature and more. Create a daily self-care planner and then evaluate yourself every day, week, month and year. Notice what you’ve done, how you feel, what you’ve experienced, what you’ve accomplished, what needs more attention and areas that aren’t appropriate. You can revamp your self-care plan depending upon specifics. Make sure your decision-making gives you what you deserve to live life more fully. Self-care is optimized by a personal commitment as an absolute priority. Strong levels of self-care with awareness and attention will also help move you toward wholeness. Know that moving with self-care into wellness is possible.
4. Mobilize the healer within.
Each person has the ability for empowered health and healing. Mobilizing the healer within comes through key roles from body, heart, mind, soul and spirit. These constructs need profound awareness and embodiment to heal. That means no longer just being in the head and also out of the body. New self-knowledge, changes and an integrated self are necessary. As your new alignment becomes more grounded to the core of the self, it generates healing from within.
Just understanding the possibility helps mobilize the healer within toward some self-awareness. Then ask yourself questions about what needs healing and how it’s possible. It can be cancer, heart disease, Lyme disease, diabetes or another condition. Track your body and in specific locations. Increase your healing focus and explore further into your body. It’s like a conversation and there are sensations within you, and you must listen, feel and go deeper. The experience happens with meditations and also when you least expect it. Through it, the process unfolds specific actions for the healer within to perform.
5. Choose optimism, positive well-being, hope and trust.
This may sound simple to some people and challenging to others. For people with cancer, fear and uncertainty present psychological challenges. For many in general, optimism and positive well-being are tricky, especially with blocks and patterns from negative thoughts, beliefs, behaviors and the ego. With core improvements from various strategies such as cognitive behavioral therapies, meditation, movement, exercise, dancing, imagery, affirmations, art and music, you can shift body-mind-spirit functions into positive benefits.
“The most important thing for any clinician, or anyone wanting to be helpful to anyone else, is for that helper to have a sense of hope, to be able to access a basic trust in life,” says James S. Gordon, MD, founder and director of The Center for Mind-Body Medicine. “This doesn't mean denying doubt, negativity, fear or even despair. It simply means allowing those emotions and attitudes to arise, accepting them, suffering through them and allowing the change that naturally happens to come about.”
6. Love yourself and others.
The heart is an expansive mechanism to function and support healing strategies. As people truly and tremendously love themselves, more energy emerges. The physical body becomes stronger and psychological clarity increases. Sometimes forgiveness is necessary for one’s self and other people. Loving others with the heart wide open gives peace and happiness.
There are many ways to explore self-care and giving love to others, some of which can take tremendous amounts of time and can even be painful, with patterns of attachment sometimes holding people back. Yet this can be very important in personal understanding. Other strategies are also possible for quicker personal transformation. The following practice may sound simple, yet some people experience vast benefits from it. Look in the mirror and say, “I love you. I really, unconditionally love you.” Tune into what you feel and the emergence of specific thoughts. Continue the process on a daily basis for one month. Releasing and reviving can create more love for the self and others.
7. Get to know your identity.
Life can move so fast and we can feel like we’re only scratching the surface. Everyone has the invitation to go deeper in understanding who they are. Exploration with curiosity and creativity drives new insights. Evaluate yourself in all ways. For people with and without cancer, life involves many journeys. Embrace the adventures and perspectives. As you learn, new possibilities emerge for you to live life more fully.
Exploration of your identity may come from journaling or other writing, reading compelling books, attending events, taking classes in your area or online, going on retreats, connecting with certain groups online and/or in person, movement, yoga, other forms of exercise, creating art, photography, drama, singing, storytelling and many other whole-person strategies. Also, it’s vital to explore meaning and purpose, which are fully connected with your identity.
8. Connect with your soul and your soul’s evolution.
Spirit is universal for people to be aware of and receive support in living life more fully. Soul is individual. The path with the soul involves developing a relationship and becoming more connected together. Through that, the soul’s presence can continue to illuminate and with stronger messages, leading into changes toward being more alive and awake. The soul’s expression also can include purpose and meaning in this lifetime. As you acquire those insights, more directions and experiences will occur, including your soul’s evolution into higher levels of consciousness.
Meditation is a power strategy for your soul, as well as other forms of body-mind-spirit. Ultimately, silence and stillness are the most impactful vehicles in the process to help you consistently reside with your inner core and expanded universe of spirit.
9. Dwell in gratitude.
Identify what occurs on a daily basis with what you appreciate, accomplish and achieve. Be aware of whatever surfaces and continue to inquire about gratitude in your life. The process is not only from the mind. Feel your gratitude throughout your body. Ask and listen further. Then write it down each day with at least three experiences of gratitude.
For example, in my world, yesterday I felt gratitude for a great work meeting, a conversation with my brother and feeling his love, and looking at flowers in a health food store. Today I’ve experienced gratitude for my focus on optimism, making plans with a new friend, and looking at photos on my computer of my angelic and stunning nephew and nieces. The list is really endless. Although it doesn’t happen 24/7 with each human being, personal joy and happiness occurs time and time again. Dive into and dwell in those levels of delight.
These tips to live life more fully happen best with ongoing commitments. What are your strategies and priorities? Create your list and strive to maintain it as you shift and shine into eternal awareness of light and love. Know that endless possibilities are always with you.