What I’ve Learned From Cancer Survivors

What I’ve Learned From Cancer Survivors

In This Article

Surviving Cancer

Perhaps your worst nightmare is when your doctor reports to you that you have cancer after a routine mammogram or colonoscopy. What would you do?

For lots of folks, this is a defining moment in their lives. Would you just throw in the towel? Hand over the reins to your doctor, relinquishing control of your own destiny? Or use this diagnosis as an opportunity to make some major changes in your life?

When I was the co-director of Deepak Chopra’s Ayurvedic Center back in the late eighties, we had a handful of Ayurvedic centers around the country. The most severely ill patients were referred to our center, which became known as the country’s premier Ayurvedic Cancer Clinic. My eight years there gave me a wealth of experience juggling western medicine with natural and Ayurvedic cancer strategies.

We had patients who fully embraced the allopathic strategies for cancer such as chemo and radiation, and we had folks who chose to treat their cancer naturally, without any western intervention. While I am not an advocate of stiff-arming western medicine, the success rates of these patients seemed to have less to do with what their therapeutic choices and had more to do with their attitude and the positive life changes they made after the cancer diagnosis. 

The folks that seemed to have the best recoveries were those who would say things like, “This cancer was the best thing that ever happened to me. It totally changed my life.” I would hear patients regularly tell me, “Before my cancer diagnosis, I was racing through my life, running around super stressed, working way too much, never had time to do the things I loved, or love the ones I loved.” They often had terrible relations with family and friends or were estranged from family members. To self-medicate, they often found themselves becoming addicted to work, money, shopping, coffee, wine, dark chocolate etc… The bottom line is that they were either chasing happiness or numbing sadness in a myriad of creative ways. The ones who made it and had the best recoveries found joy – and they did it by changing everything.

I saw this process of how our mind and emotions can either make us sick or make us well often enough to suggest that maybe we don’t have to wait for a cancer diagnosis to heal, change our lives and find that joy. (2) What if we decided to make those changes right now, without the motivation of a life-threatening diagnosis?

I remember being amazed when cancer patients would look me in the eye and tell me that they were grateful for cancer. I thought maybe they were just mood-making, but after watching this process for years now, there is no doubt that what we think, we become. (1-3) There is now science to back this up. The gut-brain connection is now well documented, linking emotions, mindsets and stress to the immune response of the microbiome and vice-versa. (1)

So, let’s imagine for a moment that you were given a life-threatening diagnosis and were given 3 years to live. After some initial sadness, frustration, anger and depression, what changes would you make? I’m not talking about traveling the world or buying a Ferrari. Yes, these things may be bucket list items, but the changes I saw that delivered the most profound results were the ones of the heart.

Instead of ramping up the dopamine-based reward chemistry with a new car or fancy vacation, the chemistry of love is the formula for healing and joy that my patients experienced. Acts of kindness, expressions of love, giving, caring, and being in the moment trigger the release of a health and longevity-promoting hormone called oxytocin, which is linked to happiness and improved cancer survival rates. (2,3)

So, what do you have to lose? Why wait for a life-threatening diagnosis to make the changes in your life that will actually give you the peace, joy and happiness that you have been looking for your entire life? Like the Tim McGraw song, “Live Like You Were Dying,” let’s make those life changes now, and let the inner healing and the joy begin.

>>> Watch the free podcast with thriving cancer survivor David Evans, ”Wake Up Without The Wake-Up Call”

Let’s all take this journey together. Imagine you had 3 years to live and, today, you get to start living your life fully.

  1. Start by making that famous “Bucket List,” if you have not already done so.
  2. Look at your bucket list and filter out the desires of the mind from the potential actions of the heart. For example, buying a new car or caring for the needy, a fancy vacation or planning a special day with a loved one. Ask yourself, “Which will bring more lasting joy?” Yes, a new car or a vacation may be on your bucket list and may fulfill these desires, but in addition, you must fulfill your heart with actions of love, kindness and caring.
  3. Make a list of all the things you love to do, that you are passionate about, that you have dreamed of doing and start to do them. If you have a passion, follow it and dig deeper into it. For example, take up painting, flying, equestrianism, etc…
  4. Make a list of all the things you don’t love and make peace with them. Sometimes this requires compassion and understanding to accept why things are not the way you think they should be. For example, if someone has been harsh to you, perhaps understanding their pain may explain their harsh nature, and allow you to replace judgment with compassion.
  5. Look for the people in your life who you love, forget about their flaws, and take action to show them love fully and regularly. Have you been too busy to appreciate, spend time with or love a family member fully? Don’t do it only when you think they deserve it, these actions of love and affection are expressions of your true nature.
  6. List all of the things that keep you in the rat race – racing from here to there. Comb this list and leave only the truly important things.
  7. Practice the “Royal Pace,” go through your days as if you were a king or queen, not racing, but pacing elegantly through each part of the day smelling the roses along the way. >>> See my article, “Take the Royal Pace Challenge.”
  8. Don’t waste minutes! Make each moment, each seemingly meaningless interaction, special. You do not have to wait to live fully. It starts now with each passing moment.
  9. Finally, express gratitude! It is good to be grateful for the life you have, but even better to express your gratitude. Gratitude in action!


  1. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3788166/
  2. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3037818/
  3. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2972642/

Thank you for visiting LifeSpa.com, where we publish cutting-edge health information combining Ayurvedic wisdom and modern science. If you are enjoying our free content, please visit our Ayurvedic Shop on your way out and share your favorite articles and videos with your friends and family.

Dr. John

Leave a Comment