Sheldon Bilsker, HT, RCC is the Director and founder of Orca Institute, Canada's longest running hypnotherapy school. You can contact him at 604-808-3703.
In 1983 I was diagnosed as having Melanoma Carcinoma, a potentially lethal form of skin cancer. Needless to say, it came as a shock. It was more the word though. The word seemed to have so much power, “Cancer.” My immediate response was that Cancer was something which happened to other people. Not me. However, it was a surprisingly short time I began to accept that it was I who had Cancer.
In retrospect, at the time, I had a complete belief in my own ability to heal myself. I still hold that belief, but admittedly it has become a bit tainted over the years. It is not the pure unadulterated belief which I had back then. Sometimes I wonder if what I did would be as effective if I was in the same situation now. I don’t know. In my two years (of a 30-year practice) of working with clients who had Cancer, I have witnessed many healings which I believe were due to, or enhanced through belief in our own power (or a “higher power”). I also found that sometimes my clients would “heal into death.” That might seem like an odd thing to say, but I have witnessed incredible healing as some of my clients were preparing to die.
I have seen very few examples of the type of peaceful state exhibited clients as they were dying. A cynic might argue that it was the drugs, but I saw and felt something far beyond the drug response in my opinion. I believe there is much we can learn from moments like these. As Ram Das has said, “if nothing happens after you die, then why do so many people experience so much growth when they are dying?”. I don’t know the answer to that one either.
The one thing I do know is that everyone is different and responds differently to treatment, whatever the type of treatment. When I work with someone, I always encourage my clients to create a method that they feel would work most effectively for their individual situation. Sometimes my clients would look at me incredulously as if to say “this is what I’m paying you for, so you can tell me I should do this myself?” My answer, verbally or non-verbally was always “Yes I’m here to support you, not do it for you.” I can’t do it for you. I do not have that power”. What follows is my personal experience with Cancer.
I had just moved from Montréal to Vancouver, but in that short time, I had taken courses in a variety of alternative and/or complementary fields. I had studied hypnotherapy in Montréal and had a small client base there, so I was I was eager to get started with my practice in Vancouver. Then I got Cancer. The realization came that everything else I was doing in my daily life had to be put on hold. Within eight days of seeing the oncologist, I was in the hospital. The Melanoma was almost directly over my heart, and there was a concern that it would spread quickly. Afterward, I learned that another month and I probably would have been dead. It was decided that surgery was needed as soon as possible. My surgeon was great. She explained to me in great detail what would happen in the procedure as well as post-surgery.
Although I wasn’t thrilled that at least two lymph nodes would be removed at least, I wouldn’t be losing any muscle. In deciding to have the operation, I also chose to do everything possible to stimulate my body's own immune system. Since there was some question of the cancer spreading, using hypnosis, I started visualizing my healthy cells being protected. I breathed in deeply while imagining a white light surrounding all of my healthy cells. I mobilized an army of PAC men (1983 reference) seeing them devouring all unhealthy cells moving them swiftly out of my body. After that, I breathed in Pink energy to enhance healing. I began seeing the future operation as entirely successful. That night after the surgery I had a very vivid dream. I have heard that this is common after an operation but what amazed me is not just the vividness but the effect. After the dream, I knew, beyond a shadow of a doubt that the cancer did not spread and I was fine. I hadn’t talked to anyone, but I knew.
The next morning I awoke, and although experiencing some pain as a result of the skin graft for the sites on my chest, I was secure in the knowledge that all was well. The situation I was in became a challenge for me. The skin graft from my thigh to my chest was left partially open to drain. The pain and discomfort were getting worse, so using hypnosis I visualized an orange colour surrounding and penetrating the afflicted area. Although not disappearing, the pain or rather my perception of the pain had definitely subsided. That night the nurse arrived with some morphine. She proceeded to get very flustered when I refused the shot. Throughout the following few days’ pain killers of various sorts that had been reserved for me were piling up, and I became the center of considerable controversy among the staff, especially when it was discovered that I was using hypnosis.
I started getting visits from Doctors, nurses and social workers, all of whom expressed a healthy curiosity about what it was I was actually doing. My favourite person in this group was probably the Social Worker who in no uncertain terms let me know that “hypnosis was the work of the Devil.” She seemed to have a genuine interest in saving me, but I guess I just wasn’t ready for that at that time. Being in a shared room and getting a bit bored I began to teach two other patients self-hypnosis. One of them even refused a painkiller or two. He told the nurse he was using self-hypnosis for the pain. I kept practicing self-hypnosis and visualizing myself getting healthier.
Shortly after my stay at the hospital, it was recommended that I see a physiotherapist. I could only lift my extended arm about 1 inch above my waist. The graft would have to stretch. The physiotherapist said it would take six months of therapy before I had full movement in the arm. I told her it wouldn’t. In six months tennis season would be over, at least outdoors. Three weeks later I had 100% movement in my arm. Using hypnosis and visualization, I imagined my arm going higher than it actually was each time.
On the other hand, maybe my arm was going as high as I imagined it but just not in this reality. I’ll leave that for another article. If I had believed the physiotherapist, it would've taken six months (possibly precisely six months). A Harvard University study was conducted in which they chose 10 cancer patients and taught them self-hypnosis hypnosis. After recording their white blood cell count, the researchers had their patients use their self-hypnosis and visualize their white blood cell count increasing.
This method was practiced every day for five days. Each day the patient's white blood cell count increased significantly. Medically, this was considered impossible. Although it was a small study, the possible implications are interesting. Many people know, or at least have heard of someone who has overcome what seemed like insurmountable odds to achieve success. Hypnosis is an ability we all have which is just as natural as sleep, although it isn’t a sleep state. It can be very a very useful tool in opening the doors to the power within each of us.