I think for most of us it never goes away. It’s always lurking somewhere in the background, waiting for a chance to bubble up and grip us with fear. If you are a cancer survivor I think you know what I mean… It’s the inner voice that says, “Maybe it’s back.”
It was March of 1998. I’d been sick off and on for two months. A cold would hit me then disappear. A day later it felt like the flu with fever and chills. Suddenly it would pass and then I would ache all over. A few days later the cycle would begin a new. But on this morning I woke up with a sore neck. I could hardly turn my head. As I got out of bed I put my hand on the left side of my neck and it felt incredibly tender.
I pressed deeper and discovered a lump about the size of an almond. In two days it was approaching walnut status. My doctor was calm about it. Probably just an infected lymph node. But we’ll have it biopsied just to be safe.
It was cancer. Stage IV oropharyngeal carcinoma that started in my throat and had spread into my lymphatic system. They gave me radiation, morphine, and a prognosis that I would be lucky to live for two years.
I went into a very dark place. On the brink of leaving this world, I discovered mind/body medicine and the deeper science of yoga. This saved my life. But that’s a different story.
As I write this, it’s been nineteen years since I was diagnosed. I guess that makes me a long-term survivor. Completely healed. Except for the fear. What I call “survivor fear.”
What I mean by survivor fear is that every time I get a sore throat or catch a cold, a little voice in the back of my mind says, “Maybe it’s back.” It sends chills down my spine every time.
I used to fight that voice with everything I had. The funny thing is that my resistance made it even stronger, like a scream. All my meditation, relaxation, guided visualizations and other self-help tools didn’t help at all. I felt something was wrong with me. I was a coward. A hypochondriac. Wallowing in self-pity. Going crazy. Or maybe it really was back and I had better plan for the end. It drove me crazy.
What’s taken me years to realize is that this is normal. Extremely normal. I can’t imagine any cancer survivor not hearing this voice now and then, even though we all handle it differently. What I have found that works for me is to accept it. Even “hug” it. Yes, wrap my emotional arms around that voice and and give it a hug. “You again. I don’t blame you for whispering this. It makes sense to me. Thank you. I appreciate you. I know you have my best interests in mind and are just trying to help.” Once I accept it, thank it and hug it, it dissipates much faster without all the dark scenarios I used to conjure up.
Modern mind/body science has proven the deep connection between our emotions and our inner chemistry. Fear empowers the body for an emergency, but at the same time it drains energy from the immune system. Calmness boosts our immune system. In my own healing journey, it was calmness that, along with a vegetarian diet, yoga postures and meditation, facilitated my healing. I still practice every morning. Of course, I get agitated and anxious about life sometimes, but there is always a pathway back to calmness, acceptance and gratitude… especially now that I can hug that voice of fear.
Do you ever have survivor fear? If so, try hugging it and thanking it and noticing what happens. I’d love to hear from you, so please share your experience. As survivors, we all are in this together. I’m grateful for that as well. I’m grateful for you. May you be well and thrive.
Bhava Ram is a former NBC News war correspondent who worked throughout the world, including the Gulf War, Afghanistan, Africa, South America and Asia.
A broken back and failed surgery ended his career. Then came a diagnosis of stage four cancer. He ultimately healed himself through the sciences of Yoga and Ayurveda. He now devotes his life to sharing the miracle of self-healing with others, believing fully that we all have the inherent power to take charge of our destiny, greatly enhance our capacity for healing, and effect lasting personal transformation in our lives.
Bhava Ram is the author of the highly acclaimed new memoir, Warrior Pose, How Yoga Literally Saved My Life, which details his journey from war corespondent to healer. Ram’s previous two books are The 8 Limbs of Yoga, Pathway to Liberation, and Deep Yoga, Ancient Wisdom for Modern Times.
Ram is a graduate of the Kerala Ayurveda Academy and certified as an Advanced Yoga & Ayurveda Educator through the American Institute of Vedic Studies (AIVS). He is also the founder of Warriors for Healing, dedicated to serving veterans facing PTSD.
On Warrior Pose:
“Warrior Pose is Indiana Jones merged with Gautama Buddha, a miraculous affirmation of the power
of self-healing, a war story, a love story, and a spiritual journey of epic proportion…”
–Dr. Emmett Miller, Pioneer Mind/Body Medicine
“Warrior Pose is riveting, beautiful, informative, inspiring, compelling, honest, and so very stirring
to my heart strings. It feels like The Autobiography of a (Modern) Yogi.”