An Exceptional Cancer Survivor: Greg Anderson
Greg was one of the first exceptional cancer survivors asked to become a member of the Education Advisory Committee at NFAM. He had much to teach other cancer patients.
Greg's extraordinary and powerful personal story concerns the ability of forgiveness and emotional release to reverse the course of terminal lung cancer. His story of healing was the most compelling I’ve ever heard and it changed my understanding of how people heal. Greg considers his release of anger and extremely difficult but sincere act of forgiveness toward a former business associate to be the pivotal turning point in his illness. Greg had only a couple weeks to live when this occurred and he has now made a full recovery from his “incurable” late-stage cancer. Following his dramatic encounter and act of forgiveness with his former associate and nemesis, he spent several hours alone crying in his car, overcome with emotional relief and incapable of driving. Again and again he repeated the phrase, “I’m free. I’m free. I’m free.” And so he was. From that day forward, Greg’s physical condition began to improve. His heart, mind and spirit had already been healed.
It Really Can Happen in a Moment!
Back in 1984, Greg had only a few weeks to live when he made the decision to finally heal his relationships with everyone in his life, including his former “enemy.” He then made a full recovery from his “incurable” late-stage metastatic lung cancer. Within a year, he made the decision to help others heal their cancer based on what he had learned through his own difficult journey. In 1985, he founded the nonprofit Cancer Recovery Foundation of America.
Greg's Story: (in his own words)
"The Law of Forgiveness is a tough taskmaster. It forces us to examine our motives. It requires us to look deep within. The work of forgiveness demands that we give up the need to always be right. That is a big request.
The Law of Forgiveness can be misunderstood. It is not asking us to betray our deepest beliefs or disregard our principles. We need not compromise our personal integrity by failing to stand up for what we hold to be true. The law does not imply that we are to live our lives trying to please everyone at the risk of being untrue to ourselves. However, the law does ask us to become keenly aware of how often we engage in verbal and emotional combat that has less to do with higher principles and personal integrity than it does with our perceptions of being right.
The Law of Forgiveness demands that I come to a very important realization: in these matters, it is not my spirit that demands to be right, it is my frail ego.
Realize that this law and its demands are as true of marriages as of business transactions. Forgiveness is for the workplace and for parenting, for young and old, for black and white. Forgiveness applies to everything, to everyone, all the time. This is what is meant by life being lived most abundantly as an adventure in forgiveness.
Nothing contaminates the life of wellness more than resentment, remorse, and recrimination. These states of heart and mind do more to stand in the way of our wellness than virtually any other dynamic.
If the daily practice of the Law of Forgiveness is the only way out, what does this law look like in action? I know from vivid personal experience. I can trace the absolute turning point in my own illness directly to the work of forgiveness. Weak, emaciated, lying at home in constant pain, I was going downhill rapidly by all physical measurements. Doctors, family, even my own mind - all believed I was about to die of cancer.
Yet something kept driving me. I would place phone calls to organizations all over the country, seeking others who had gone through a similar situation and lived. I wanted to learn from their experience. I kept hearing people talk about forgiveness. "You need to forgive," said a woman in Boise, Idaho. A man from Tennessee put it plainly: "The difference is forgiveness." My first reaction was "I probably don't have many issues of forgiveness to deal with. Forgiveness isn't my problem.”
I was wrong. Forgiveness was my issue. My critical attitude was first. Why did I look at a situation and always pick out what was wrong? I'd do it constantly. People were my favorite target. I would make a quick study of someone and actively seek out his Achilles' heel. "What's wrong with him?" I'd think. It was all an effort to put someone else down in order to build myself up. Distorted thinking, bereft of charity and compassion.
The worst example was my behavior at work. When a new controller was brought in, and I suddenly had to seek approval for all our division's expense budgets through this new 'intruder, I saw the whole setup as a huge threat to my position. So, without really making a conscious decision, I began to attack. I became critical of the controller's plans. I tried to undermine his work. I threw stones at his policies. I became critical of him personally.
My criticism led to condemnation. I set myself up as judge and jury. If I was superior, then I was right. In fact, I always had to be right. Therefore, the new controller was, by definition, wrong. I condemned him and then went about proving it to others. As I look back, I see that it was only three months between the time the new controller came on board and the onset of my cancer diagnosis. I believe there was a link between my toxic behavior and the onset of my illness.
What I didn't count on was a counter attack. The new controller fought back, pointing out my failures to institute more effective financial controls. He was equally skilled at finding a person's weak point. And the battle between the two of us became a company-wide problem that began to drag everyone down.
I am saddened and mortified about how it came to a head. We were in a meeting with three other division heads and the CEO. My adversary the controller passed around a budget update. Trying to be flippant, I took my copy of the document, threw it across the table, and proclaimed, "These numbers are a crock of -----." The report hit the CEO's coffee cup, the contents of which spilled into his lap.He jumped up, glared at me, pointed a finger and said, "Get the hell out of here." I went back to my office, then headed to my car. I began to see how absolutely ludicrous my behavior had been.
That kind of behavior consumes vast amounts of emotional energy. It produces a negative and contrary spirit that is toxic to us and to others. I had my entire sense of worth invested in always being right. I suppose it was an issue of perception. I was so concerned with what other people thought of me that I never considered I might be wrong. I needed everyone to know that I was right and to acknowledge it.
But the story takes an even more bizarre twist. Within thirty days of my diagnosis of lung cancer, my adversary the controller was diagnosed with cancer. Now, I have had medical authorities tell me that he probably had been carrying the cancer for years and it had just then been discovered, as had mine. But my intuition tells me that our toxic battle contributed to the onset of both illnesses.
I underwent surgery that removed a lung. But surgery was impossible for my nemesis the controller. The disease had already spread. As the weeks passed, both of us grew progressively worse.
Four months later, a second surgery confirmed that the cancer had spread from my lung through the lymph system. The following day the surgeon made a statement that is indelibly etched in my mind. "Greg," he said, "the tiger is out of the cage. Your cancer has come roaring back. I'd give you about thirty days to live."
It was that moment that I began my journey in search of wellness. Lying in bed, at home, I continued to deteriorate physically. But I made those phone calls in search of survivors and I kept hearing 'forgive.'
One morning I awoke and I realized that I did have a monumental task of forgiveness ahead of me. I felt a deep conviction that this was the thing for me to do. From my sickbed I began the solitary work of forgiveness. I believe that this was the precise turning point in my illness.
The Law of Forgiveness carries with it the idea of process. That is, there are actions and conscious decisions that are integral to the forgiveness phenomenon. Any number of legitimate ways to proceed exist, but they each share this idea of helping us release resentment, express negative feelings, and let go of past wrongs, both real and imagined. Once the idea of process has been grasped, it only needs to be applied with consistency and sincerity to bring immediate results.
The essence of the various processes is quite simple: become aware of the person toward whom we feel hostility, express active release from that hostility, and picture good things happening to him or her.
In the privacy of my bedroom, I made a sign on a sheet of paper. It reads:
With that sign propped at my bedside, I started a list of the people in my life. I put my wife first. I closed my eyes, relaxed, and created a clear picture of her in my mind. Then, from my heart, I imagined myself saying to her, "I forgive you. I totally and completely forgive you for every perceived wrong you have done - and for anything you have left undone." And I would pause, allowing ample time to remember and release specific instances. I wouldn't dwell on the specifics. I would just recall them and release them, recognizing that it was I, not my wife, who was really being let off the hook.
I would end the work with each person by picturing something good happening to him or her. I knew that my wife wanted and needed to receive continual reassurance of my love for her. I pictured her receiving that. I knew that another person with whom I'd had a falling-out wanted a new sports car. I imagined him happily driving down the freeway in his red Porsche. The point is, part of the process I used was to actively see something good happening to the person I was forgiving.
This was not always a smooth experience. It became fascinating for me to watch my own resistance. It was relatively easy to express forgiveness and mean it. To actively release the hurt was more challenging, but repeating the release three or four times typically helped me make the emotional and spiritual shift that was required. Many times I would say, "God, you take this. I cannot handle it anymore."
The third element of the process was the real test for me. It was difficult to envision good things happening to many of the people I wanted and needed to forgive. But I was sincerely committed to the process. I did not have an expectation of ease. I would see this through.
I discovered I was intensely angry with my father. He never was able to express his love. In fact, his approach to child raising was to emotionally put down and never, not once, build up. I found it very difficult to totally release my perceptions of being wronged. And I found it next to impossible to imagine, with sincerity, something good happening to him. I spent nearly two days just on the work of forgiving my father. Tough stuff.
The work on forgiving my father taught me an important lesson. His actions resulted from huge hurts of his own. They had nothing to do with me. The inability to express love was a direct reflection of his own upbringing. I shifted my perspective from blaming him for all that was missing to understanding how I may also have contributed to the situation. I was rebellious. I did not obey. I was sarcastic. Perhaps the only way to reach me was through put-downs.
Down the list I went. Name people; forgive and release them; affirm them. Many times I went back to names, especially those where the memories created feelings of unease. And I offered my forgiveness with deep sincerity. This insight extended to other relationships. As I would forgive and release, I still might not approve of the way a person handled a particular situation. But after completing the process of forgiveness, I could generally understand the situation better and begin to see my own part in it.
Sometimes forgiveness requires work above and beyond the call of duty. This was the case with the controller. I had spent hours forgiving and releasing and trying to imagine great things happening to him. About noon of the fourth straight day of forgiveness, I came out of the bedroom for lunch. It was then I realized that my work with him needed to take on a more personal touch. I needed to visit him and express my apologies.
This was not easy. I made a call to the office and found that he was at home, and not doing well. I phoned and his wife answered. Her voice immediately telegraphed surprise and shock to be talking to me; she knew full well the battle that raged between her husband and me. I said, "I want to come out and visit, this afternoon. When would be a good time?" She said she'd have to check. "I'll hang on," I replied. The time was set.
When was the last time your heart felt like it would pound right out of your chest? My emotions went on overdrive. On the way to his house, I wanted to turn back. My steps in making the short walk between the curb and his front door were some of the most difficult I have ever taken. The whole time, my heart was in my throat. But I pressed on. I felt that my life hinged on this sincere effort of forgiveness.
What do you say to someone whom you have previously considered an enemy? How do you communicate your changed feelings? Are words ever adequate to make up for the emotional havoc one has caused? I was greeted and led into the bedroom, where my adversary was propped up in his bed with pillows. And with my heart pounding, adrenaline rushing, voice shaking, I barely managed to stutter out a few words to this effect:
"I have come to say I am sorry." A long pause to gather some composure. My voice still breaking, I continued: "I deeply regret the hurt I have caused you." Another pause. I remember my right hand and arm were shaking, out of my control. I tried to steady them with my left hand. In a whisper I finished: "I want you to know I wish you only the best."
Those words were imperfect, to be sure. They were delivered in a voice that was gripped with fear. But they came from my heart, sincere in every aspect. They must have been effective. Because my adversary struggled to sit up, swung his feet over the edge of the bed, and motioned me to come and sit by his side.
Greg," he said, "I am the one who needs to say I'm sorry. I'm old enough to be your father. Yet I treated you like the outcast son. Please forgive me." His wife was crying. She knelt on the floor and the three of us embraced. We all cried. Finally, it was my old adversary who found the strength to mutter a prayer: "Dear God, forgive us all."
We said brief good-byes and I left. As I started the car back toward home, I took a deep breath and said out loud, "Whew!" A weight was being lifted. I could feel it, sense it, was part of it: the clouds that had been tormenting me were beginning to part. The day seemed brighter. Was it the sun, or was it this catharsis that had just taken place?
My posture changed. I went from being hunched over to sitting erect in the seat. I held my head more upright. The tension in my shoulders lessened dramatically. The wrinkles on my forehead melted away. I relaxed. The pain was gone. The quivering hand was steady. A smile came across my face.
I'm frre!" I whispered. "I'm free," I repeated, this time louder. In a crescendo I exclaimed, "I'm free! I'm free! I'm free!" I shouted it: "I'm free!" Tears gushed down my cheeks in torrents. My vision became blurred. I quickly pulled off onto a side street, parked the car, and wept, out of control, for a long, long time. I remember the eyes of a lad who came to the window. I wonder how long he had been watching me. "Hey, mister," he said, "you need help?" No, no. I'm fine." And I made my way home.
RELEASE. SET FREE. I look back to my week of the sincere work of forgiveness and realize this was the absolute turning point in my physical healing. From that point in time, I began to gain back lost weight, manage pain more readily, and hold more positive thoughts about my future.
Do I believe there was a link between this deeply spiritual work and my physical improvement? Absolutely. I believe that practicing the Law of Forgiveness changes us bio-chemically. And in the process, the body is released toward its optimum wellness potential. I know that my doctor and scientist friends get very uncomfortable when I share these beliefs. But it seems we can all agree on this: life quality soars when we sincerely practice the Law of Forgiveness. And this just may be an important determinant in releasing the body's self-healing potential.
Life can indeed be lived most abundantly as an adventure in forgiveness. Forgive. Set yourself free."
Reprinted with permission from “The 22 Non-Negotiable Laws of Wellness: Feel, Think, and Live Better Than You Ever Thought Possible” (HarperCollins/HarperSanFransisco). Copyright © 1995 by Greg Anderson.
The Cancer Recovery Foundation of America
In 1985, during the year following his recovery from lung cancer, Greg Anderson founded what would later become The Cancer Recovery Foundation of America (CRFA), to help other cancer patients learn from what he had experienced. CRFA produces a variety of educational resources. It continues to reach out to cancer patients anywhere in the world, and has expanded with branches now in Canada, Europe and England. Greg has appeared on over 1,100 radio and television programs teaching his holistic recovery philosophy and techniques. There are seminars available—call for a schedule.
Any cancer patient can call CRFA at 800-238-6479 and request help. Part of the packet of information that will be sent is a brochure written by Greg, summarizing the self-described changes among 600 of the 15,000 “terminal” cancer survivors in the CRFA database. It is called “Cancer: A Message to Change,” and it asks the reader to consider: ”What message to change is cancer asking of me?”
Greg’s quest with this research was to find out if there were common characteristics of survivorship that could help others. What he found at the most basic level, underlying all of the research, was the fact that cancer survivors change—both their lives and themselves. “They create a state of body, mind and spirit where they are well and they live from that state. Survivors heal the whole person…The changes come first; survivorship follows.” These survivors were essentially asked the question: “What did you do to get well again?” Research results include summaries relating to six areas: physical, mental, social, emotional, vocational and spiritual.
The following statistics seem especially relevant and important to consider:
“One of the most common perceptions among survivors was a new and greater level of emotional awareness. 7 in 10 survivors cited emotional and psychological factors as playing a ‘major’ role in how and when they became sick. 8 in 10 felt the same factors played a ‘major’ role in how their immune system functioned.”
“5 in 10 survivors cited releasing the past as a ‘major’ factor in survivorship. This was not forgive and forget; more accurately it was forgive and learn. Survivors gave no tacit approval to abhorrent behavior from others or themselves. Rather, the focus was on detachment from hostility that freed personal energy for healing.”
Greg summarizes the research study with the following observation:
“Personal change is pervasive among long-term cancer survivors….By approaching cancer as a message to examine change, on as many levels of being as possible, patients make it much more likely that their healing capacities will be fully mobilized. As a bonus, quality of life improves, making it infinitely more worth living for whatever time one is given.”
Extraordinary Books for Cancer Patients - Or Anyone Who Just Wants a Better Quality of Life
A Modern-Day Parable: “The Cancer Conqueror”
Greg Anderson is the author of several extraordinary books. One of his most popular, now translated into 19 languages, is “The Cancer Conqueror,” the story of one individual’s search for help and healing. It begins almost like a fairy tale: “There was once a man who had just received a diagnosis of cancer….” The truths it contains are profound and universal.
Surviving cancer is a process... and with good strategies and good physical care, whether conventional, integrative or alternative, people do it all the time. This book is a roadmap of much of that process. Some highlights are offered here, but you can choose to learn more by ordering the book and reading it ALL (highly recommended)! It is available, along with Greg’s other fine books, from CRFA.
Some selected highlights from “The Cancer Conqueror:”
“The Cancer Conqueror encourages us to acknowledge that attitudes, beliefs and thoughts go together to create a mental and emotional outlook toward life, an emotional lifestyle. Those emotions, either positive or negative, translate to the physical…..emotions can play a central role in cancer’s outset and course…Not only changed emotional states, but CHARGED emotional states. Fear. Anger. Guilt. All commonly the result of mismanaged stress. Actually the issue isn’t stress, but how we manage stress.
In response to the idea that our negative attitudes and emotions contribute to our disease: The question is asked: “Does this mean I gave myself cancer?” And the answer: “Now here is the hopeful part: If you believe that you may have contributed to your illness, then you must also believe that you have the power to contribute to your recovery. The psychological and spiritual components can work either for us or against us. The choice is ours.”
“…..Let me leave you with one of the Cancer Conqueror’s favorite stories about his beliefs. One of his heroes is Christopher Columbus. At that point in history everyone believed the world was flat. But Columbus decided to challenge that belief. He took a chance, and the world has never been the same since! He was a real conqueror! Our beliefs about cancer are like that. You are a modern-day Columbus about to start a journey. Some people will tell you there is no hope, that the world is flat. Don’t believe it! Instead, take a chance. Start the journey. Become a cancer conqueror!”
And--become a Frog-Kisser! In continuing the “fairy-tale” feel found at times in the book, an old story with a message is adapted for cancer patients. We all remember the princess who encounters a frog who has had a spell cast over him, turning him from a handsome prince into a frog who can only be returned to his natural state with a kiss from a beautiful maiden. He tells the princess his story and asks for a kiss. She doesn’t really feel like kissing a frog that day. It’s even distasteful, why should she do this? Still, she considers: “What if there really was a handsome prince under all that ugly green skin? What if he really was telling the truth? Just because I’ve never encountered this before doesn’t mean it isn’t possible. It might actually be exciting to be involved, a whole new adventure….” What did she have to lose? So of course she took the chance, trusted her positive instincts and she and her handsome prince live happily ever after.
The Cancer Conqueror suggests that our job is to become frog-kissers! Frog kissing is about love. “If I could give you just one piece of advice on how to conquer cancer, it would be to love, to be a frog kisser. Nonjudgmental, unconditional love conquers cancer! And my advice would be to love yourself first—to kiss the frog in the mirror…. Healing has at its roots the ability to both give and receive nonjudgmental, unconditional love.”
The Twenty-Two Non-Negotiable Laws of Wellness
In addition to the very powerful Law of Forgiveness that was illustrated by Greg’s personal story of healing given previously, there are many other profound truths to be found in this book. It is filled with inspiring stories of people whose lives have been enriched by adopting the practices and beliefs that Greg outlines.
One of the most surprising is the Law of Stress Hardiness; it is worth considering because we all have stress to deal with in our lives, sometimes huge amounts of it. Greg suggests that stress is not only to be expected but actually preferred: “...we can and should develop a positive, workable approach to stress management...Think of it. The perfect no-stress environment is the grave... The problem isn't stress, it's toxic stress….When we change our perception we gain control. The stress becomes a challenge, not a threat. When we commit to action, to actually doing something rather than feeling trapped by events, the stress in our life becomes manageable.”
Sometimes we can all use reminders for how we should be living—to keep our ideals foremost in our hearts and minds. Here are Greg’s suggestions for resolving toxic stress and developing high self-esteem in the process:
- REFRAME stress as a challenge and an opportunity for growth.
- INTERRUPT your cycles of fear, anger and guilt, and the build-up of stress and tension in your body.
- LEARN AND APPLY the simple but profound Serenity Prayer:
God, grant me the serenity
To accept the things I cannot change,
Courage to change the things I can,
And the wisdom to know the difference.
- QUIET AND ATTUNE your body-mind-spirit organism daily:
Step 1: Find a place where you can minimize distractions for a few minutes.
Step 2: Sit quietly in a comfortable position.
Step 3: Close your eyes; relax your muscles.
Step 4: Breathe slowly and naturally. Silently repeat a focus word . . . "peace."
Step 5: Keep your attention on your breath and focus word. When other thoughts come to mind say, "Oh well," and return to the repetition.
Step 6: Continue for 10-20 minutes, once or twice per day. You are positively changing your very physiology with this practice.
- ALLOW your playfulness to operate, especially in circumstances where you are likely to tense up.
- CHALLENGE irrational beliefs:
"My worth is dependent on never making mistakes."
"My worth is dependent on being approved by others."
- SUBSTITUTE more objective beliefs:
"Yes, I goofed. I make occasional mistakes like everyone."
"Approval is nice but I did the right thing. I feel good about that."
- GROW beyond a victim of circumstances to a master proactive creator of circumstances.
There are other excellent books by Greg, including “Cancer: 50 Essential Things to Do” and “The Triumphant Patient” available from CRFA. These are invaluable resources for anyone dealing with cancer—or for anyone who wants to find the motivation to make positive changes in their lives.
The Cancer Conqueror’s Companion Ten Key Beliefs
The following beliefs are explained fully and available in a brochure that is sent to cancer patients who contact CRFA. They are based on what Greg discovered in his own healing journey, as well as what his scientific research on 600 long term survivors consistently revealed.
“There are moments when you are frightened, when it seems cancer may be getting the upper hand, when it seems all hope is gone. These thoughts were written for those moments. Can the human mind and spirit really affect the body? Certainly. After I was diagnosed with lung cancer and given 30 days to live, I went in search of cancer patients who had lived when they were supposed to die. Here, in summary, are the core survival beliefs I found. Use them.
You, too, can conquer cancer!
I Believe . . .
- I am in charge of my cancer, my cancer is not in charge of me.
- Cancer is a reversible disease!
- My treatment is effective and has minimal side effects.
- My immune system is powerful.
- My body, and thus my immune system, is affected by my mind and by my spirit.
- My mind and my spirit are affected by my emotions.
- Cancer is a message to change.
- Peace is the goal.
- Genuine peace comes from understanding there is a God who knows me and loves me. And God loves me even though God knows me.
I believe I become a Cancer Conqueror not because I go into remission, but because I become a new person!”
There is nothing like the sudden realization that our life may soon end to focus our mind and heart on important personal issues. Many people have put their lives on hold emotionally with respect to family, loved ones and former relationships. From this perspective, the diagnosis of cancer can be seen as a kind of gift. It brings people together to share the burden of fighting against a life-threatening disease, but more importantly, to resolve any unfinished business in the process. What a shame that most of us bury these issues away until the end looms in sight.
But this is reality and it happens. If this applies to you, you aren’t alone, so forgive yourself. But do you really want to leave the moment of reconciliation and healing to the very end? That’s for the movies. We don’t need that kind of drama in our lives! Why not contact anyone with whom you have unfinished business and try to resolve things now? That way, however the fight against your cancer turns out, you can experience the remainder of your life in peace. And maybe kiss a few more frogs along the way!
Note: The Cancer Recovery Foundation will schedule a free telephone consultation to review your treatment options with you—whether you wish to discuss conventional, complementary or alternative choices. First call them at 800-238-6479 to request a packet of information to review.
- I am in charge of my cancer, my cancer is not in charge of me.