Barely a day goes by without hearing either that someone’s fighting cancer or that they lost (usually) or won (rarely) that fight. Today’s story, which prompted this blog, features the English-Australian singer, songwriter, actress, entrepreneur and activist, Olivia Newton-John, who’s been dealing with breast cancer since 1992. In 2013, the breast cancer metastasised to her shoulder and in 2017 to her lower spine. I’ll come to Olivia’s treatment plan later, but it was the headlines in the media which got my attention this morning. They included ‘Olivia Newton-John is battling cancer for the third time’ (CNN International), ‘Olivia Newton-John opens up about her third cancer battle’ (Los Angeles Times) and ‘Olivia-Newton-John reveals she’s battling cancer for third time’ (TVNZ media company). Comments by well-wishers from the world of celebrity also reflect the nature of these headlines. Sir Barry Gibb, British singer, songwriter, musician and record producer had this to say: “I’m very, very sad to hear about it (the cancer returning) again, what we all thought she had defeated is still there.” Sir Cliff Richard, British pop singer, musician, performer, actor and philanthropist, also offered his support saying “You can’t help but think the worst but most of the time I think: she’s thrashed this one before, she’s not going to lie down on this one – never.” It is interesting to note the use of the word ‘battle’ in these three headlines and also the focus on ‘battling’, ‘defeating’ and ‘thrashing’ the disease itself rather than fighting the negative beliefs in the mind and the destructive addictions of the body which both play a large part in increasing cancer risk.
Let’s begin with a quick recap of how the body’s addictions are a causative factor in cancer. The latest research on the preventable causes of cancer (i.e. things you can change) in the US by the American Cancer Society found that cigarette smoking is responsible for 19% of all cancer cases and 28.8% of deaths, obesity stands at 7.8% of cases and 6.5% of deaths, and alcohol intake is responsible for 5.6% of cases and 4% of deaths. Moreover, as low fruit and vegetable intake accounts for 1.9% of cases and 2.7% of deaths, this, when added to the obesity and overweight statistics, adds up to 9.7% of cancer cases and 9.2% of deaths resulting from an unhealthy diet. So, addictions to tobacco, fatty and ultra processed foods, and excessive consumption of alcohol make up the largest part of unhealthy lifestyle behaviours that increase cancer risk but which can be prevented. The American Cancer Society also concluded that, when other preventable causes of cancer (i.e. UV radiation, lack of exercise and Human Papillomaviruses infection – one of the most common sexually transmitted diseases) are included along with smoking, obesity, alcohol, and low fruit and vegetable intake, these seven preventable causes of cancer amount to 42% of cases and 45% of deaths. The US-based National Cancer Institute attributes only 5%-10% of cancer cases to unpreventable inherited genetic mutations which still leaves around 50% of cancer cases without an identifiable cause.
There are, of course, many lifestyle changes that you can make to decrease your risk of getting cancer. Cutting out smoking, drastically reducing excessive alcohol consumption and reverting to a healthy diet will not only decrease your cancer risk but you’ll feel much healthier too. In terms of a dietary intervention, I refer you to my blogs on the benefits of organic plant-based diets, juicing, health supplements like wheatgrass, cinnamon and turmeric, and alternative protocols like bicarbonate of soda therapy. It certainly doesn’t have to be ‘a battle’ in your quest to ‘defeat’ cancer.
Let’s now look at another form of addiction, but one rooted in the mind; that of negative belief patterns. There’s a great swathe of opinion which proposes that emotional pain affects the healthy functioning of the body. One example is invalidation. You might, for instance, have a family member or boss who constantly criticises or suppresses you over a long period of time. They may do this in subtle ways with a comment here and there or in humiliating and overt ways like putting you down in front of other people and trying to make you feel small and worthless. The poison that lies within invalidation is that after a while, without realising it, you might start to believe the invalidating statements. They become deeply entrenched and you give your power away. You lose contact with your self-love, and start to habitually betray yourself and the vibrant potential locked up inside your soul.
Another source of emotional pain is that of attachment. In the 13th Century, renowned mystic and theologian, Meister Eckhart, declared that attachment to this temporary, physical world is the cause of all pain, suffering and illness, and that detachment from the outside world is the highest state that one could achieve. He explained that this can only happen if we empty our hearts and souls of all turmoil and worry so that we’re then able to access our divine “inner-most being” and share its greatest gifts and talents with the world. Similarly, and more recently, Eckhart Tolle, author of numerous best-selling books, including ‘The Power of Now’, focuses on the ego’s attachment to the mind, and how this forces us to live in the pain of the past which we then project into the future. He teaches us about the power of the present moment and how it’s only in the now that we can live a life of fulfilment, high energy, optimum health and creative expression. Dr. Caroline Myss also has much to say about the necessity for detachment if the body is to heal. In her book ‘Why People Don’t Heal And How They Can’, she points out that detachment isn’t easy to achieve, particularly in western culture where the term itself is often perceived as representing a cold and distant attitude. However, in healing, you need to see detachment as a way of separating yourself from the fears of your mind and viewing your circumstance as an experience that you’re passing through rather than as one that controls your physical life.
One way in which you can detach from the fears of your mind is to create a mantra or chant that helps you focus immediately on a transcendent perspective. You might want to create a short, easy-to-remember mantra like ‘Fears no longer have authority over my spirit’, close your eyes and repeat it in your mind or softly to yourself. If you catch your negative thoughts quickly and then say your mantra consistently, you’ll be surprised at how you’re more easily able to stop yourself indulging the fears of your mind. However, what you really need to be aiming for is to prevent the fears from arising in the first place. This is more difficult and requires more work, but hey, no-one said it would be easy! I like the distinction made by Dr. Myss between what she calls tribal, individual and symbolic power because it is the transcendence out of tribal thought which helps significantly in preventing and healing disease.
Tribal power was dominant in the early age of man as it originated from the need to develop small unified communities that had to master the external components of life in order to survive. Men were very much the hunters and spear makers while women tended to take care of the children. The communities viewed outsiders as a threat to their survival. You can still see tribal consciousness in operation today where people demonstrate the same shared values. You’ll find it in institutionalised religion, particularly Islam, Judaism and Catholicism, in high schools where groups like goths, geeks, jocks, ‘the beautiful people’ and so forth hang out together, in sport if you go and watch a Premier League football match in England for example, in the workplace when a company posts its values around the building and on its website, in social groupings like the boy scouts, girl guides, rotary club, free masons and so forth. So, what’s tribal consciousness got to do with health? The need for physical and financial survival driven by tribal consciousness creates a great deal of stress in the body and often leads to diseases of the immune system, sexual organs, colon, pancreas, gallbladder and liver.
When you move out of the tribal mind and into individual power, your focus is on development of the self. The individual mind is characterised by compassion for people outside of the tribe, forgiveness of both the self and others, and the notion of personal choice not now controlled by the tribe. As energy is now directed towards the internal self, it’s all about what you believe, love, hate and so forth. This manifests when people leave a tribal group because they realise that the beliefs and behaviours within it are too restrictive and no longer serve them. As far as religion is concerned, people will either reject many, if not all, of their religion’s beliefs and practices altogether or take on a broader and more inclusive approach to their faith. People also move out of tribal thought when they leave the area in which they’ve lived their whole lives and relocate to a place where the restrictive tribal mentality is considerably weaker, and where they can express their individualism how and when they wish to do so. As far as health is concerned, positive and empowering belief patterns characterised by individual power are much more likely to help prevent disease and assist in the healing process than the limiting beliefs which predominate in tribal consciousness and sometimes also occur within individual thought.
Characteristic of Symbolic power is the belief that we create our own health and can achieve our own healing. It is holistic in nature, recognising that addressing the symptoms only, as the western medical tradition does, is insufficient to heal the body but instead can only come about when the whole organism is treated through diet, exercise and complementary and alternative medicines. Symbolic power encourages people to explore their higher selves beyond the boundaries of their physical bodies to access the internal resources to heal their illness. Symbolic power is the unconscious dimension which contains the profiles of archetypal influences like “the child”, “the hero”, “the victim” and so forth that are part of our spiritual development. If the behaviours of these archetypes are recognised and challenged, the body can heal extremely quickly. So, for instance, a woman with a self-pitying victim-like personality and thoughts of “poor me”, “no-one cares about me” and so on has no real sense of self-love and, as a result, the nurturing breasts may be more susceptible to the growth of cancerous tumours. Such symbolic perception allows people to see that a health-related crisis presents an opportunity to heal by learning about themselves whereas tribal consciousness tends to blame external influences for their condition. God is usually a prime target, even if the person isn’t particularly religious, but blame can take almost any form including so-called ‘bad’ genes, pesticides on food, pollution in the air, insidious advertising on behalf of companies selling cigarettes and alcohol, peer pressure to partake and so forth.
How then might someone transform a typical tribal thought about disease into a symbolic one in order to help in the healing process? ‘Illness is a long and painful process’ is a typical tribal belief. However, if you perceive it with symbolic insight instead where there is no time and where pain can be a teacher, you can transform it into an empowering belief like ‘Healing transcends linear time and can occur instantaneously’. Your individual power which, as we recall, is focused on self-development and energy directed at your internal self, provides the action step to make that transformation with a mantra like ‘I commit to focusing my attention and will on maintaining my energy in the here and now.‘ When considering your negative tribal and individual beliefs, it is extremely important that you distinguish between those which actually hold authority within you and those which are just intellectual ideas as the latter have no power to heal you whatsoever since you don’t really believe them. To help yourself in this process of uncovering all of your beliefs, you should keep a notebook to record your thoughts and memories, and also be aware of your negative behaviour patterns which usually arise from your beliefs. So, as far as cancer is concerned, for example, if you’re uncomfortable with your diet of fatty and processed foods but can’t quite put your finger on the reason why, you might be able to trace it back to your tribal belief ‘I have nothing to do with the creation of my illness’.
And finally, back to Olivia and the way in which she’s chosen to have her breast cancer treated since she was first diagnosed with it in 1992. If she’d been operating fully out of tribal power, she’d have opted only for conventional treatment in the form of surgery, chemotherapy and radiation. However, although Olivia did undergo a modified radical mastectomy and six months of chemotherapy with the usual side effects of headaches, fevers, and fatigue, as well as the discomfort from a cocktail of anti-nausea medication, she also integrated complementary therapies into her treatment plan to care for her health and spirit which were integral to her healing. These included regular massage therapy, acupuncture sessions, yoga, meditation and consultation with a herbalist. Olivia, clearly, didn’t subscribe to a typical tribal belief that ‘Only conventional treatment can heal cancer’. Interestingly, in a 2009 interview with Diana Price on www.cancerconnect.com, Olivia also echoed the victim-like archetype that I mentioned earlier, saying “I think one of the problems with women and cancer is that because we’re such care takers, we don’t take care of ourselves.” She acknowledged that she’d thought only about her band, her audience and everyone else when she was first diagnosed, to which her therapist had advised “You have to wean everyone off of you because your breast is your nurturing thing”. After her treatment, Olivia lent her name to a cancer centre in her home town of Melbourne, Australia on the condition that it incorporated a wellness centre into the project design. Since then, the Olivia Newton-John Cancer and Wellness Centre has developed a core, non-medical program that provides patient-centred support and complementary therapies to patients diagnosed with cancer. She then set up her own spa, a healing retreat near Australia’s Byron Bay, and named it Gaia after the mother goddess who, in Greek mythology, presided over the earth. After her most recent diagnosis, Olivia again plans to combine conventional treatment in the form of a short course of photon radiation therapy together with a range of complementary and alternative therapies which include cannabis oil to help with the pain from the radiation treatment and completely removing sugar from her diet.
Olivia considers herself ‘thriving’ in life rather than ‘surviving’ and no doubt a positive mindset, a strong support network including her husband, John, who legally grows the cannabis for her at their home in California, and a refusal to operate out of tribal power evidenced by her faith in complementary and alternative therapies all play a major role in why she still lives a healthy life 26 years on. Go Olivia!