Grace Gawler Institute – How emotions can affect the healing and recovery process in cancer

Part 3. The Importance of Emotions in Healing and Recovery – Visit our jollyologist page

Continued from previous post.

Illness proved to be a great teacher for me although it was quite a shock  having been a supporter of so many for so long to find myself in a bubble of silence and isolation; made worse by living in the countryside. However, despite the situation – I considered myself lucky in that my background in supportive care and emotional therapies meant that I had ‘inner tools’ and knowledge just waiting to be accessed in my own crisis. I also knew I had the power of choice to move into victim or victor. The majority of my previous cancer patients had no such tool-kit of options – they had to start at the beginning – they had no dress rehearsals – no specific coping skills – cancer for them was a new and uninvited experience.

I now realise what a monumental quest it is to recover from a life challenging condition and how careful we as therapists must be when suggesting massive change whether it be dietary, social, emotional/psychological or physical. My professional training has had many highlights, but walking in the shoes of the patient has been my most profound and fertile learning field.  

 The Emotional connection: E-motions are energy in motion. That is… unless we repress them. When they are in movement and flowing we experience good psychological health and physical health. Albert Szent-Georgyi (1960) said “In every culture and in every medical tradition before ours, healing was accompanied by moving energy”.

This moving energy is also reflected in our bodies and immune system. In the video of real live blood (below) watch how an active neutrophil (one of our white cells) actively seeks and destroys bacteria (the black dot). This is not passive  – but pro active movement. When movement stops so does life.


When we experience a shock of some kind emotions can move with amazing force and rapid expression and can have physical consequences as in my case – my uterus literally fell out with a force that was dramatic. For someone else, an experience can be so shocking that emotions can ‘freeze’ – the condition eventually recognized as PTSD and or many dissociative states.   If we learn to deny and repress our emotional expression the chronic damming up effect can result in us becoming powerless. As I wrote in my Women of Silence poem – “Too much held too often can take its toll.”  This can reflect in a sense of deep hopelessness feeling unable to affect change and feeling “stuck” – thus our health becomes compromised.

Unresolved emotional, spiritual and physical pain results in an unrelenting ill ease. Repressed emotions can also result in withdrawal from life’s activities and create a void of loneliness and isolation from community. Sometimes this can be so powerful like ‘Bone-Pointing’ it can take away our will to live – our will to ‘be’. As a background intervention – emotional healing can have dramatically freeing consequences – the freedom to live and the freedom to die.

Recently I was asked to visit a young woman in hospital she was struggling for her life – too tired to lived – too fearful to die. I will call her June.  June had 5 children – her youngest was 18 months. Her family of origin are amazingly supportive. Diagnosed with kidney cancer – she had a kidney removed 2 years ago, declined chemotherapy, followed the books and internet advice and spent a small fortune on natural therapies. June became pregnant and then had a horrific delivery and emergency caesarean.  She kept up with the natural way to cure her cancer until advanced secondary tumours were diagnosed in her abdomen and lungs.  She then travelled to an expensive overseas clinic for treatment, with some improvement but deteriorated again as soon as she arrived back in Brisbane. Admitted and discharged by several hospitals and deemed palliative – she found her way to an oncologist who was willing to treat her. Her weight had plummeted to less than 40 kgs. 

Now there was no choice but to try chemotherapy. Her life hung in the balance for many days as her lungs slowly filled with fluid. This beautiful young woman was suffering deeply from an ailment that no-one had addressed in her recovery plan because no one had asked her about her life or emotional state….Silence. No one had dared to go there and she deteriorated. As it turned out June was in a physically and emotionally abusive relationship and had been for the course of her marriage. Her spirit and hope for a future had shattered – she was stuck – sick and tired of the battle. She almost died late last week and needed fluid drained from her lungs. She decided she wanted to live but didn’t know what to do or how to go about it.

We had a heart to heart – soul to soul discussion – and she spoke of her life.  Together we worked out a plan of intention for how her future might change in other words…. was there a possibility for things to be different.  Although too ill to act or do anything now – she now has a ray of hope and a plan to see her children grow.

Importantly – there is no chemotherapy – no natural substance with miraculous healing powers than can cure or heal this malady which is most accurately termed soul sickness.

Since these extra interventions – her oncologist reports she has turned a corner & he believes she might make it! June has gained weight, looks brighter and is keen to engage in life once again for however long that might be.

Robert Louis Stevenson wrote “Life is like a card game, it is not about being dealt a good hand but how you play a band hand well!”  Some issues in life do just appear out of left field and depending how much spiritual, emotional, psychological and physical credit that we have in that very ‘personal bank account’, we may look at the glass as being half full or half empty.  If that “bank account” is empty when trauma pays us a visit – and…If we are spiritually, emotionally, psychologically and physically bankrupt; then we will have little resources (“credit”) left to withstand the onslaught. In June’s case she was emotionally, psychologically, physically and spiritually bankrupt.

This often presents as difficulties with personal boundaries, feeling empty (a shell) and or a feeling of being numbed to life. This can be identified as post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

We are often tested in life as to how well we can play that ‘bad hand’. Preferably when traumas or shocks occur we can act from the place of the fullness of our being rather than as a victim of life dwelling on the emptiness of our being. In the early stages of healing the effect of the trauma needs to be dealt with in order to move emotional energy, place some deposits in the “bank account” and reframe the experience of life.

Next post – recognising emotional trauma in cancer patients and what to do about it – how to put deposits into your ‘bank account’.  Visit our jollyologist page