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

Part 2. The Importance of Emotions in Healing and RecoveryPlease pass on this blog URL to anyone you know who is dealing with cancer
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It is challenging to find the words to discuss emotional material. Our feelings and emotions are so personal, internal. Emotions – be they positive or negative – up or down, have an influence on the brain and brain chemicals. Those chemicals, neuro-peptides, hormones, endorphins to name a few, can influence the body’s chemistry. Day to day more flippant emotions are natural – they come and they go. Where emotions begin to be significant in terms of our health, is in the areas of chronic stress and trauma especially long term or unrelenting trauma. Feelings and affects associated with traumatic events can alter chemistry in mind and body. Below I relate my own experience around this important issue as an example. When talking of emotions and illness it is important not to lean into self-blame or the “I caused my cancer” trip. This article is adapted from my previously published article in the British Holistic Medical Journal. For more on emotions see Reviews on the menu or purchase  Women of Silence the Emotional Healing of Breast Cancer – book and eBook format.

For 13 years of my life I was intimately involved as a patient; not a cancer patient, although the ultimate outcome was, so I am told, the same type of residual nerve damage. It was life threatening many times due to bowel obstructions. My surgical procedures, including ileostomies, colostomies and associated procedures that have left me with little remaining bowel – even my ileum and small bowel was affected 1.7 meters (~5 ft)  How could this happen to a healthy, disease free person who had attended to their self–care far better than most.  I meditated, did yoga,  practised Tai Chi daily, enjoyed my four children and lived my passion. I am also blessed with a vibrant gene pool of long livers most of whom died from old age causes. So – what happened? I had looked after others, cared for my physical self – but in the background a shadow lurked. This “shadow” appeared from time to time but I “thought” I had it under wraps – after all I worked with women with breast cancer specifically in emotional healing!! I understood emotions intellectually, felt them physically yet somehow as a powerful woman and personality, I felt powerless to do anything about a particular group of traumatic events that added up over the decades.

For many years I had been aware of all the “signs” and “messages” in my life and relationship. I taught these concepts but pushed my own significant emotional material into an invisible container hoping that the other attributes of my life would over-ride the issues. Hmmm! How wrong I was!  I was completely vulnerable to the emotional effects of one traumatic incident – I will name it uninvited change. One day; ill-prepared, an incident best described as “the straw that broke the camel’s back” suddenly appeared. My  invisible, shadowy “container” suddenly flowed over manifesting as a overpowering downward force that this time, I could not control or hold back – a experience to which I had no immunity. The power of my own emotions and my vulnerability to experience sudden loss and grief shocked me.  I was also shocked by the absolute authority that my emotions had over both my body and rational mind and my utter lack of control to do anything about it. Intellectually I understood this; but to experience it was a different issue.

 Like many issues in life one never knows grief or loss until one experiences it at that raw primal level. My trigger for this event was a deeply personal one. My partner and husband of twenty- three years had suddenly left the family.  It is no coincidence that my uterus totally prolapsed. A great metaphor for the bottom falling out of my life! This was a direct demonstration of the power of emotions. I had birthed four children, was exceptionally fit and had been told that my pelvic floor was in good condition. My surgeon described my condition as an “emotional prolapse”; he had seen it before! But, it did not end there. Following the subsequent hysterectomy and repair, my rectum and lower bowel became paralysed and did not function again.  Reactions to this whole scenario by friends and colleagues were also interesting. New age friends as expected all talked of karma, causes and astrology as if this occurred because I hadn’t paid taxes in a past life! The more conservative did not know how to handle it and so went into silence and denial but a wise mentor said something helpful and simple to me. She said “Bad things happen to good people you know. Just because we do all these things to promote our health doesn’t mean we are immune to the effects of life!”

 I began to realize at first hand, the loneliness and isolation that can come with a diagnosis and as well, how people’s fear of emotional material caused them to react in surprisingly different ways around me. Their discomfort was palpable. Patients are happy to discuss diet, supplements and stress management – but so many shy away from the power of discussing the truths of their own emotions. I have seen people die rather than disclose a secret or a traumatic event that severely impacted their life. Sometimes family members come to me identifying a place on the patient’s life time-line where they witnessed the impact of an event that changed the way that person could “be” in the world.
To be continued in my next post