10 Things I Learned About Living From Studying People Who Almost Died
I study cancer patients who were told they had only months to live, that there was nothing more that could be done, and yet are walking around cancer-free years later. I call these cases radical remissions — instead of spontaneous remissions, as they are more commonly referred to — because what I’ve learned from analyzing more than 1,000 (out of an estimated 100,000) of these cases is that there are common threads among the behaviors of the people who have radical remissions.
(Please note, these common threads are hypotheses only. It will take many more years of research before we can draw any firm conclusions.) But, after conducting worldwide research, I see overcoming cancer against all odds as more than just a completely random miracle.
Here are 10 ways I've changed the way I think and live after studying this group of remarkable survivors:
1. I need to be the CEO of my life.
When their doctors told them, “There’s nothing more we can do for you,” radical remission cancer survivors had no choice but to take control of their health. In hindsight, all of them wished they had taken an active, as opposed to passive, role in their life decades earlier.
2. No emotion is worth holding onto for too long.
Radical remission survivors believe that holding onto emotions like stress, fear, anger, grief, or jealousy weakens the immune system (and many studies agree with this). Even happiness, when held onto, quickly turns into nostalgia for the past, as opposed to joy for the present. Therefore, radical remission survivors live life under an “emotional waterfall” – they let emotions in, feel them fully, and then release them fully.
3. I should really eat my veggies.
Salty, fatty, sugary food tastes amazing, I know. But that’s only because our hunter-gatherer taste buds still think those nutrients are hard to come by. Radical remission survivors have gotten over their addiction to sugar, carbs, fat, and salt, and have retrained their bodies to crave fresh, organic vegetables and fruits. Broccoli and blueberries, here I come.
4. Laughter truly is the best medicine.
Radical remission survivors consider smiling and laughing to be as important as flossing. They commit to feeling happy every day, even if just for 5 minutes. While they may experience days or weeks filled with fear and sadness, that doesn’t keep them from taking a daily, 5-minute YouTube break so that cuddling cats can get their oxytocin flowing again.
5. I should listen to my intuition.
Radical remission survivors listen to the voices in their heads that whisper, "Your job is killing you," "Move your body," or, "Look for other options." These gut feelings come from the oldest parts of our brains – parts that we all have but rarely use, because we no longer need to predict hurricanes or know when a tiger is lurking. These natural instincts sense sources of danger and paths to safety long before the other parts of our brain even know what’s happening – so it’s worth at least listening to them.
6. Bodies need a spring-cleaning, too.
For better or worse, we live in a world that provides wonderful innovation along with lots and lots of chemicals. These chemicals wreak havoc on our bodies, including the immune system, which is in charge of noticing and removing cancer cells. That’s why radical remission survivors choose to take a personalized regimen of vitamin and herbal supplements to get rid of toxins, absorb food better, and strengthen their immune systems.
7. I need to connect to something deeper – every day.
Radical remission survivors develop a spiritual connecting practice that they do every single day. This could be meditation, visualization, prayer, affirmations, or simply napping in the sun. Whatever the method, they “recharge their batteries” (and their immune system) by stopping what they’re doing, quieting their thoughts, and sinking into a beautiful state of deep, soulful rest.
8. I see friendships and family as essential and healing.
Radical Remission survivors tell me all the time, “I don’t know how to explain it, but I know that the love I received from my friends and family helped me heal.” Well, guess what? Researchers know it, too. In study after study, loneliness has been associated with more illness and an earlier death, while feeling loved by friends, family, or even pets has been associated with less illness, quicker recovery times, and a longer lifespan.
9. I must follow my dreams.
This is a biggie. Radical remission survivors love life more than they fear death. Some of them aren’t afraid of death at all, believing that it will “happen when it’s meant to happen” – but until it happens, they try to pack in as much passion and purpose into their days as humanly possible. There’s nothing like a cancer diagnosis to get you thinking, “If I only had five years left to live, what would I do?”
10. Anything is possible.
When I’m sitting across from someone who was told they were going to die, and then I realize that that was over 10 years ago, a spark of awe flutters up my spine as I’m reminded, for the thousandth time, that anything is possible. In the words of one of the alternative healers I study, "you just need to keep changing until you come across the change that your body-mind-spirit was asking you to make."
Based on the New York Times bestselling book Radical Remission.