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October 22, 1978
Dear Friend: I am in the greatest transition of my life so far and am writing to share this experience with you. I have cancer in my right breast and the medical report is that the cells are a fast growing and invasive kind.
My search has been to discover how I might best be a full and primary participant in my own healing.
One friend encouraged me to see this time in my life as a new world to be explored not with fear but with inquisitive curiosity and interest. Another prayed for me to remain in love, not fear and this enabled me to stay open to the Lord’s presence in strength and solidness during the biopsy. . . . A counselor at the Simonton’s cancer clinic in Texas helped me focus on the secondary benefits which I get from having cancer (my answers were excitement and attention) and to begin looking for less destructive ways to get them.
A second question helped me to explore why I would want to give myself a life-threatening disease at this point in my life.
The encouragement, challenges and love of many others have been deeply important. And I want you to know my plans so that you can see where you may fit in.
Healing ministry is basic. St. Peter’s in Narragansett is a healing church which I attend regularly. Also at 6:30-7:00 a.m. and at 8:30-9:00 p.m. I will meditate and ask for healing here in Saunderstown. I welcome anyone who wants to join me at those times either in Saunderstown or wherever you are.
Nutritional therapy to build up my own immune system is also basic. I have been following a cleansing, nutritional diet in direct contrast to my usual pattern of “sweet-eating, over indulgence in refined foods and animal fats.” . . . To exercise restraint and moderation where I have been indulgent seems important in itself but even more crucial as a paradigm of the needed cellular change in my body.
The cancer cells are of a type which has already spread. One lesion is deep in my breast on the chest wall. And my breast is somewhat swollen and inflamed, and not, thank God, sore.
Yesterday I realized the strength of the word malignant. When I view cancer cells as malignant I give them power and worse I give them evil power. They are weak and confused cells that have gone on dividing uncontrolled, unlimited. I can indeed project my fears, my anger and hostility to them. It makes more sense to me to say with firmest love “Enough! I will not let you destroy yourselves and me. I will restrain you and stop you.”
I have listed the ways in which I expect to do that. And ultimately I know that I live in a paradox. I will do what I can. I will fight to live. And I may die. . . .
November 13, 1978
I decided not to have chemotherapy. . . . I found myself unable to agree to poison my body in the name of healing. It was hard to tell Dr. Leone, with both friends and Andrew present, that I would not take the chemical treatment scheduled for that morning. Andrew knew my decision and supports me in making it. The crucial thing for me was to be solid and sure in my decision. I am not ruling out chemotherapy altogether. And I appreciate my ability to give myself time to decide what I want to do.
Last week Sean Carmody, who had just returned from working with the Simontons in Texas, offered to work with me and it was an incredible hour. He worked with the deep unconscious part of me that is giving me cancer. He approached with deep respect and appreciation for that part which, having been walled up, needed to break out of the cell and to live whatever the cost. Much of the work was non-verbal.
I am seeing very few clients. So I find time to play, to walk in the woods, or on the beach, and to let out a playful light-hearted Peg who has been hidden for many years behind an earnest, serious solemn mask. I could assume surface gaiety. I begin to feel joy.
Meditating the other day, I suddenly knew with recognition the words of the Christmas story — “Fear not, I bring you tidings of great joy.” I feel tears in my eyes. . . . Fear is tightness, holding on, afraid to lose, to let go. Fear keeps me from trusting my capacity to heal myself. And my body knows it. When I get afraid, uncertain, tense and upset the cancer grows. When I relax, image myself as whole, the cancer gone, a block of ice melted into life-giving water by the heat of the sun-light at its center it does indeed diminish. The struggle wages back and forth between these two images and realities.
November 28, 1978
I see the doctors at R.I. Hospital, where I did start chemotherapy 3 weeks ago next Monday. At that time, they will evaluate whether the tumor which was still increasing has been arrested and is shrinking. I believe it is. And of course, I want it to. I have had virtually no adverse reactions to chemotherapy. . . . I believe that my delay in starting chemotherapy allowed me to choose it with the full cooperation of my outer and inner selves. It was scary to say “no” when the medical opinion was that any delay was very dangerous, but I believe it was more important for me to say “yes” wholeheartedly. And it seems to me that, as Avery quoted from the Bible in writing about the “poison” of chemotherapy: “Everything created by God is good and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving.” . . . 1 Timothy 4:4.
December 22, 1978
I am totally convinced that the ways in which I have been working to reduce stress in my life have had a powerful effect. I reduce stress by eating healthy foods with low amounts of material to be eliminated. I reduce stress by coming to better understanding of the non-productive ways in which I try to twist the world to make it work my way. I reduce stress when I let the outcome lie with the Lord and not with my efforting.
When I have talked to doctors about the possibility of working immunologically with myself I have been told of research with self-immunization, with other kinds of injections. I wonder why the relatively simple steps of building my own immune system have been almost totally ignored by the medical profession. I have not encountered within traditional medicine anyone (and I have met concerned and caring doctors ) who encouraged my belief that I could reverse the breakdown in my body which allowed me to get cancer.
I find myself angry and determined. I do want to know why so much money is poured into trying to discover the cause of cancer and so little into experimentation with other forms of treatment which give more responsibility to the patient, and which help the patient to believe in her own ability to mend disease. My image of the medical delivery system is a giant teat. Everyone is sucking on it as though to let go is to die. The reality is we can grow up!
January 9, 1979
I provided a perfect seedbed for cancer by long-time neglect of some basic rules of good health and by ignoring signals of stress in my life. Where is the balance point when medical science has eliminated the major threat and my body can now resume its own protective functions? How can I know that place? Who can help me to recognize it? These are my questions. And the door is not yet open. I am impatient to know.
One thing I have already learned is that each new decision is almost like making the original one all over again. Each time my will to live must be reaffirmed if I indeed intend to do so. I will also decide how I can best do that. I have had to let go of my picture of Peg as a healthy person to get used to Peg as a woman fighting breast cancer. The bigger jump is still ahead of me. As I began to succeed I scared myself. What will it mean to be someone who wins; who does conquer cancer? The jump now is to Peg — the winner. For me that is a leap, especially since my body, which I learned so early to distrust as weak and unreliable, will need a whole new image!
February 22, 1979
Many of you have heard me wish for an indicator in my body like the blinking red light on a motel phone which would signal me to pay attention. I wanted an indicator of malfunction so that I could know when I was being destructive. I’ve got it. I laugh ruefully to myself realizing that my wish has come true.
I hate going to Rhode Island Hospital. I always come home discouraged and fearful and in touch again with the enormity of trying to work towards health using tools and methods that the experts within the medical system, whom I was taught to trust, believe to be ineffective, primitive quackery. And I cannot agree to radiation. I am thrown back on what I do know of alternate health care and my own experience of psychological and spiritual healing. The only sure sign of bodily healing came in the three visits to Greg Schelkun, a psychic healer who reduced the tumor, which had grown in California, by one third. When I returned home to the stress and jolt of normal patterns the tumor began to enlarge again and is now larger than before. (It is also firmer, more solid, with clearer boundaries and Dr. Leone is suggesting surgery may be an option.)
However, the medical delivery system can be destructive. I cannot change it. And I do not need to let it destroy me. These are strong words. And it feels good to say them. Doctors, nurses, secretaries, and technicians as well as patients get chewed up. It is not easy to go through the pain of transformation and self-examination, which is necessary if you do not buy the authority of the system and make your own choices. We are all part of that system. We’ve absorbed it into our beings. So it’s very difficult to take the good and say no to the rest and to decide which is which. It’s also lonely. And in the end I am the only one who can know what is useful for me.
March 9, 1979
I did not pay attention when I had a hysterectomy for fibroid tumors, varicose veins, hemorrhoids removed, gained a lot of weight or any other symptom of disorder. This time the message is drastic enough to make me pay attention. As you know I have taken many steps towards a healthier, more harmonious life, on many levels.
I am so relieved to see cancer as beneficial rather than enemy. I’m glad to have a firm understanding. Identifying cancer as an enemy, separate from myself, and attempting to wipe it out, has never made sense to me. But how could I include and accept, let alone welcome a life-threatening disease? Seeing it as a messenger and teacher, I can. I know this is my work as therapist. It doesn’t work to blame my parents for my troubles. I can use them as indicators of the problems I need to clear up in my own life.
Our medical system works valiantly to help us all perpetuate our mythology that it is good to avoid pain and death. And so now we have increasing numbers of people with cancer — an epidemic. Cancer is a slow disease. It gives the patient and all those involved with her the experience of facing death as a personal event. Instead of welcoming the opportunity, we have built hospitals and nursing homes to “care for” the person who is ill. The best of these institutions do care for their inmates, but most of us are then able to forget they exist and continue to believe in our own immortality as though we will not also die. We try to block this message, too.
Yesterday, with Cynthia, I faced death and talked with him. It is a beginning and I learned much. Death, you are familiar. I will face and know you. You will come in your own time. You told me “not now.” And as I experienced the closed door with richness, I will also live fully with the time I have. To confront my mortality directly is a powerful message of cancer.
Another is that I had wearied myself with a compulsion to serve others. I literally and figuratively poisoned the source of the nourishment. Time now to nourish myself, since I will not nourish others much right now. I’m not seeing clients for at least two to three months.
I am learning that I do have the inner understanding, which shines from my portion of the Light, to decipher my message. The message is a personal one, rooted in my being, in my history. For me the journey which has absorbed me since October has been one of discovery, struggle and chaos, of uncertainty, excitement and joy. I have trusted that I would find teachers. I have. My teachers are right for me. And my faith is that the process, the search, is my message to you.
April 11, 1979
Fear of annihilation, I’ve tripped over you for years and now I see you clear. I had not realized before the grip and subtlety of your tentacles. I have raged at insensitive parents. Now I see how my fear of being forgotten when out of sight led me into all kinds of crazy behavior. My fear was so great I couldn’t even connect to it at first when Tom asked me to look beneath my anger to see what I found. So I have continually made up marvelous logical reasons why the other person’s behavior was explanation enough for my fury. As I saw the process, Tom invited me to explore what I would consider the opposite of being forgotten. “Remembered, loved, eternal” came to mind. “Find the specific phrase or word that fits for you,” he said. Finally I realized that I am held “eternally in love.” I went on to experience that wonder and then to experience my forgiveness of the human failings that helped to hide this Truth from me for so long.
I felt the presence of bright Light which increased and I was getting glorious. And I suddenly began to laugh. I had remembered the last 15 minutes of Ben Bentov’s day-long workshop at Interface last month. He traces the path of evolution from minute particles to larger and larger organizations of vibrative matter in the void until he gets to the largest of all. It’s a Deva, a Beam of Light shaped like a tunnel and invites his exploration. He enters and emerges from the tunnel to discover a figure, the God of Gods and sees . . . himself. I laughed, Tom laughed and I felt healed and well. I usually take myself so seriously, and I laughed harder than ever.
I’m not even going to try to sort out how I can be the source of my universe and at the same time know that God holds me eternally in love. I just know both things are true. And in this Easter season I am deeply moved by the events in the Bible and their parallel in my life. Christ’s willingness to experience humanity as I do seems especially precious. And I have history and knowledge on my side as I go through the events of Holy week, knowing that Easter wlll come. Death itself cannot obliterate me.
May 4, 1979
Dear Friend: The puzzle of cancer and its cure continues to absorb my interest and attention. Three times now, once with chemotherapy, once with Greg Schelkun and most recently with Dr. Revici I have announced to you an improvement in my physical health only to have the process reverse itself as soon as I proclaimed it. “What is going on?” I keep asking myself.
A workshop with John Grinder and Judith Lozier in Cambridge last weekend has helped to provide some understanding. Many of you have written to me concerned that I somehow felt guilty or sinful as I emphasized my responsibility for my own health and cancer. I knew I did not feel guilty and I had trouble enunciating what was true. John’s position is that we who come to be healed whether in mind or body have already tried as hard as we can with our conscious minds to correct the problem. If that had worked we would not be seeking a healer. Obviously then we are searching for a different way.
We must look to our unconscious intention below the level of our awareness. What is producing this destructive behavior whether it’s overeating, getting cancer, or smoking? John’s belief is that the intentions of that buried part is in our best interest even though the behavior is not. Even more; this part is doing the very best it can to protect us but it is acting on out-dated or insufficient information. Fulfilling this intention is a secondary gain. For example: a woman is able to lose weight until she gets close to her ideal when she immediately regains it all. Working with John, she learns that her unconscious part wants to save her marriage. Getting thin, she is unable to say “no” to men who are attracted to her and so she eats to save her marriage, the secondary gain in being overweight. The resolution comes as she is able to separate the good intention from destructive behavior and then chose new ways to meet a very worthwhile objective.
Medicine works from a basis of scientific proof. You repeat the treatment in the same way with so many different people until you can show that in 50, 60, or 90% of the cases you get a remission of disease. I believe that all illness has secondary gains. Cancer destroys body cells. In order to have a high percentage of remissions, medicine has had to come up with powerful treatments not only to reverse cell breakdown but also to OVER-RIDE our secondary gains. When the gains from having a life-threatening illness are not dealt with, many of us will find other ways to meet our intention which still feels so important. Cancer may recur or accidents will “happen.” For others the experience of coming close to death and returning to life may meet the goal.
Without considering psychological and spiritual factors, medicine has no way to predict or understand who will respond to treatment. And it must also then lump all of those who do recover by following alternate healing methods as “spontaneous remission.” At some time, this catch-all phrase will seem as ridiculous to us as “spontaneous generation” did to explain the presence of maggots.
May 29, 1979
I am beginning to understand love not as an emotion but as having a whole separate quality. . . . The heart chakra in my chest is the source of love energy and is the first uniquely human chakra. . . . I need to focus on love, on my ability to send love which comes from the heart. Sentiment, grief, rage, fear and even joy are emotions which can side-track this heart energy. I am learning not to be so emotional or easily toppled and very surprised to discover that I am then able to be more loving.
My question still is “AM I WILLING TO LIVE?” The time will come when the question is “Am I willing to die, to let go?” but right now I am still struggling with my willingness to live and the possibility that my death is not so far away has sharpened my understanding of what it will mean for me to truly decide to live fully.
I also see why I have had such a terrible struggle with the medical community. They see the enemy as death and pain. I see it as inhumanity.
I talked to my dead sister, Mary, who told me that I must let go of my buried anger and resentment, which was killing me.
I buried my sorrow, covered it with resentment, and then buried that as well. . . . I’ve been unpacking it not at Andrew this time but in a safe place where my raging will not add further hurt. I see more and more wisdom in Elisabeth Kübler Ross’ suggestion that every hospital, school, home or office, wherever humans live together, should have a “screaming room.” Only I, realizing how enraged I have been, would call it an outrageous room.
June 25, 1979
Fear constricts, limits, and bounds me. I fear the future and I buy insurance. I fear death and go to doctors for solutions. I fear pain and I take aspirin or tranquilizers. I fear hell and I go to church and follow the teachings without question. I fear loneliness so get married and have children whom I cannot release to their own lives. And over and over I see how often fear Is used to motivate and control us. I am getting sensitive to those people who would first scare me in order to sell me their remedy for my panic. From halitosis to communism, from anti-nukes to prolifers, I see that whether I agree with the cause or not I distrust those who sell a cure by painting a picture of the horror of being without it.
July 30, 1979
Dear Friends: Many people responded to my last letter. One friend asked for particulars of my physical state and I do want you to know. The cancer in my breast continues to grow. My nipple has broken out into sores, somewhat smelly and weeping so I wear a bandage to absorb the stuff which reminds me of childhood bouts with poison ivy. Occasionally I have pricklings of pain in my breast or along my rib cage under my arm. My breast is probably twice as large as the healthy one.
My belief in doctors is dying hard. And I am discovering other healers whom I can trust. I believe that I have given myself months of activity and normal life by changing my diet, working to heal my relationships, and especially to heal my estrangement from God.
The literature on the dietary cures of cancer consistently reports cessation of pain as the first noticeable effect when diet is changed. I imagine that these pain-free months have been a response to that shift in my own diet. And I am determined to find the way to respond to this disease in my body that will be effective. I do know that I am well, sleeping, eating and working comfortably and I do not believe that I would be doing any of these had I agreed to radiation. The future may indeed hold darkness, pain and fear. I know this and I am enjoying my life as each day goes by.
Many doctors have been upset by my words. In my last letter and again this week I acknowledge that some of my anger comes from my need to cling to medical truth as a savior. In going back to my sources to write this letter my anger flamed up. And my anger awakens echoes in many others who share with me their stories of deceit, lack of information and paternalistic decisions made by medical staff alone without involving the patient in any way even in the face of a clear request.
Several of you have written concerned that my silence is not a good sign. You are right. The past few weeks have been dark. I have been very wiped out, feeling low in energy, discouraged and in pain, which has been steady though not always intense. I am coming to understand how debilitating it is to live with constant pain, since even when it’s below the level of my conscious awareness, it’s there dragging me down. At the same time I continue to learn and understand my life and its events.
I am involved in a process that is most similar to my experience of giving birth. Whether I live or die, I am in a major transition. I want competent professional helpers, who do not lose sight of me as a person. I want to be respected as an intelligent participant in my own process.
It is totally evident to me now why I started the birth center and why I needed to do all that I could to assure other young human beings that their new beginning on this earth would be attended to with as much love and caring as possible. And if I survive this experience with cancer it is equally clear to me that I will work to implement the concepts about support and help which I know to be crucial at birth, so that they be extended and implemented for those facing possible death. And that this is especially important for those people, with a life-threatening illness, who choose to explore avenues outside of the narrow, restricted band of treatments presently sanctioned by the medical profession.
And if I don’t survive to do this work, I want those of you who read this and who respond to my words to do what you can to make my dreams a reality.
With my love,
© Peg Staley
I have been following Peg Staley’s letters over the months and have been impressed by her beauty and openness and her faith in her search. She touched home, as my mother had breast cancer in the early 60’s. Happily, she is still with us. Though Peg is not, physically that is, I feel the glow of her spirit.
I cried upon reading of her last days. Thank you so much for publishing all of the letters. They mean so much to me and my family.
I know Peg’s strength is best served through another medium not on this plane.
Much love to all of you.