A Cancer Healing Story: Full Responsibility
One day, in the 1970s, I had what was—for me, at the time—a revolutionary thought. I was about four years into a bout with cancer. I’d had six surgeries and was beginning a chemotherapy regimen that, unbeknownst to me, would last for three years. I was a working singer/actor, and was tap dancing as fast as I could to keep my illness quiet so I’d still get hired in theatre. Neither my doctors nor the few people I’d taken into my confidence could explain why this was happening. I took better care of myself than anyone they knew, so why was I in the hospital every 20 minutes? My medical team was terrific, and they were doing all they could to restore my health, but I began to feel that it wasn’t enough. I knew that something inside of me had to shift. And then out of the blue came this insight: I must take full responsibility for my own well-being. Although I was unaware of it, this was one of the axioms of the then-emerging human potential movement, and the energy was in the air. From that moment on I was fully committed to being responsible for my own wellness.
There is a famous Goethe quote that rings so true for me: “Until one is committed, there is hesitancy, the chance to draw back. Concerning all acts of initiative (and creation), there is one elementary truth, the ignorance of which kills countless ideas and splendid plans: that the moment one definitely commits oneself, then Providence moves too. All sorts of things occur to help one that would never otherwise have occurred. A whole stream of events issues from the decision, raising in one’s favor all manner of unforeseen incidents and meetings and material assistance, which no man could have dreamed would have come his way. Whatever you can do, or dream you can do, begin it. Boldness has genius, power, and magic in it. Begin it now.”
I began, and Providence did indeed move in. I was guided to books and seminars and health care professionals. I got rolfed, rebirthed, acupunctured, acupressured, shiatsued—I was willing to do almost anything. Ultimately I was led to a spiritual teacher and healer, Hilda Charlton, and after receiving her teachings and healing energy for a year, I removed myself from chemotherapy. I just knew I didn’t need the drug anymore, and with my doctors fainting all around, I promised to come more frequently for check-ups. I did, and thankfully my intuition was correct; I’ve been fine ever since. (Please know that I never recommend that cancer patients do this.)
For 12 years I studied with Hilda. I knew that her wisdom and the blessings from her magnificent spirit had helped save my life, and I wanted to learn all I could from her. Her teachings were based in ancient metaphysical/spiritual traditions. It’s the same quantum mechanics material now being espoused by our scientific community and many of our doctors. To summarize Hilda’s teachings very succinctly, here are three points that were life changing for me:
1. The universe, and everything in it (including every cell of our bodies), is made up of whirling atoms of energy or subatomic particles. (Regarding our bodies, Deepak Chopra says it this way: “Our bodies are rivers of energy.”)
2. Thoughts are “things.” They are constantly impacting our bodies, either uplifting them or disempowering them. “You are what you think about all day long.” —Emerson
3. Disease is literally that—dis-ease—a lack of ease and harmony in the body/mind system.
My life was never the same again. Though I loved being in theatre, my passion for the healing arts took over. I longed to share all this wondrous material that had healed and touched me so, and I found myself dancing into what continues to be the most creative period of my life. I began presenting what we called Healing Concerts, in which I sang everything from Puccini to John Denver, punctuating the songs with inspiring information. And when the market would bear it, I’d lead a meditation. As I wanted to thank all my doctors and the people who had assisted in saving my life, we produced a recording of songs entitled Gratitude. It went onto the market, as did Beautiful Dreamer Awake, music and meditation to help people relax into delicious sleep at night, and to invigorate their awakening process each morning. This project was particularly auspicious for me in that I wrote the “wake-up” song. Amazing! It had never occurred to me that I could do anything but interpret someone else’s words and music, and suddenly ideas were coming to me straight out of the air. I was thrilled.
So “taking responsibility for my own well-being” had not only been the catalyst for my healing, it had opened wide a path of creativity that stretches before me as far as my mind can think and heart can feel. It’s true that in the past 10 years there have been many difficult and painful times. My beloved mother passed away, as did my beautiful collie dog, and my husband and I endured a lengthy separation. (We’re now happily re-united and surprisingly grateful for that estranged time. Everything happens for a reason!) However, through it all, the training I received from Hilda sustained me. My new sense of well-being was based on love and the profound connection to spirit that had been born and honed in me at that time.
A lyric from a song called “Lessons to be Learned” (by Allan Rich, Dorothy Sea Gazeley and Marsha Malumet on Streisand’s Higher Ground CD) says: “No matter how many times you stumble or fall, the greatest lesson is loving yourself through it all.” And in retrospect this was Hilda’s greatest lesson to me and all to whom she ministered—Love yourself.
As I was growing up, truly loving myself had never been part of the equation. I was quite naturally a “good” girl and was taught to be kind and loving to others, but love myself? I don’t remember being taught that one. And I know now that loving oneself is mandatory for a healthy, well-balanced and fulfilling life experience.
These days, I’m often counseling caregivers —those accompanying a loved one through the maze of critical illness. And the advice I give is: you must take care of yourself so that you can really be there for the patient. I feel we all need to be, and think of ourselves as, our own best caregiver. This is not being selfish! We know what we need and what we love, and as we begin to care for and love ourselves, our lives begin to blossom, and joy shows up. Then we’re a blessing to ourselves and everyone we encounter.
Though there are myriad reasons why one hosts serious disease, surely, one of the huge contributing factors to my illness was not loving and respecting myself enough (though I ate right and got enough sleep). I was always an intelligent and gifted person, but I beat myself up all the time. Nothing I did was ever good enough. My MO was trying too hard to be what others thought I was or what they wanted me to be. Therefore, though it was usually couched in humor, there was a lot of self-denial and self-denigration. This lack of harmony within myself led to stuffing much sadness and frustration into this body. I’ve come to realize that these negative thoughts, and the feelings they engendered, helped set the stage for my illness.
Come Home to your Heart is a CD that I was inspired to make during the separation from my husband. And “come home to your heart” has become my signature phrase. No matter what’s going on in our lives, I know, from very personal experience, that there’s a well-spring of peace and love and infinite wellness in what is metaphysically referred to as the heart center—the whole chest cavity that houses our physical heart. This is truly “home.” In my work, I encourage people to relax deeply into their heart centers and be soothed and nourished there.
This is what taking full responsibility for my own well-being looks like now. It’s coming home to my heart. It’s loving and respecting myself and others and all of life, and living my life from that context. Gratitude reigns!
This article was published in print in Well Being Journal, May/June 2007, V. 16, #3. See "Back Issues" for full issue purchase information.
Elizabeth Hepburn’s victory over cancer shifted her career from musical theatre to the healing arts. She is now a Wellness Facilitator, and through her programs, CDs and the Better & Better Series she sets the stage to invigorate the magnificent healing power within us all. For more information:
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