Mentally Mastering Chemotherapy

David Nethero
August 26, 2014
· David Nethero

David Nethero is an author and a colon cancer survivor who used self-reflection, meditation, and the development of positive mental imagery to help manage some of the physical side effects of chemotherapy. He currently promotes the beneficial effects of this approach within the cancer community and seeks to help others by sharing his story.

On December 13, 2012, I was diagnosed with stage IIIB adenocarcinoma of the colon. After reflecting on this news, it dawned on me that nothing had really changed. None of us knows when our last day will come or how we will leave this world. My life expectancy was uncertain before the cancer news and remained just as uncertain after. However, I recognized that this news changed things for those around me. It forced everyone to envision what their lives would be like without me.

As I came to this realization, the impact that my cancer would have on my wife and two daughters became my first priority. Their discomfort and uncertainty became my focus. I realized that I could help them by being an example of living in the moment and treating each chapter of life as though it may be the last. The last chapter is simply a symbol of living fully and being focused on the present.

When I talk about being present to the moment, I mean really hearing what those around us are saying—hearing not just the words, but the intent and the feelings of their words as well. Being present is not a passive event that happens by simply believing in a greater force or spirit. Being present occurs when you still the mind and allow the power of the subconscious to be fully realized. You will know that this is happening when you begin to sort out complex situations quickly. Your conscious mind lets go, and your subconscious mind takes over. You demonstrate those “out of body” moments. In sports, this may be manifested in superb coordination and technique in things like playing tennis or skiing. In business, it may be manifested in keen understanding and analysis of a complex business situation.

I had learned how to use meditation and positive imagery to kick my smoking habit in the past, but was not a daily user of meditation. It was the news that I had cancer and was going to undergo chemo that motivated me to become a daily meditator. The pre-chemo “information sessions” had left me feeling overwhelmed by the long list of side effects. I had a range of emotions as I took the final steps into the chemo treatment room. I was scared, nervous, and maybe even a little excited that the chemo would be helping me get rid of the cancer. From the beginning though, I was determined not to let the mental suggestions of discomfort and pain take over and become my reality. I was committed to using the power of the subconscious mind to mentally master chemotherapy!

Every morning before I got out of bed, I meditated on two mental images, although they were more like a video than a still picture. The first was “perfect health” because I wanted to overcome the negative news of cancer and the fear of chemotherapy. The image that best reflected this perfect state of health was a doctor’s visit several years earlier when my doctor pronounced that I was in excellent condition. I tried to re-live each frame of my experience so that I flooded my mind with the emotions as well as the images.

For my second positive image, I choose that of “perfect fitness” because I had been told the chemotherapy side effects could be so severe that they might be disabling. I’ve always been an active and athletic individual, and the thought of being immobilized by the chemo was frightening. I didn’t want this fear to be dominant or even present in my mind.

The positive mental image I choose occurred on Thanksgiving morning after I completed a half marathon. I had been preparing for this race for nearly a year and ran my personal best. During my meditation I didn’t just recall finishing the race, I also replayed the strength I felt during the race, the challenge of maintaining my rhythm, and the success I had pacing myself with the other slightly faster runners. I immersed my thinking and feeling on every aspect of my performance, including the endurance and focus of my breathing.

One of the unexpected outcomes from my focus on mentally mastering chemo was my body and mind’s response while on a skiing trip with my family. During the second week of my fifth chemo session, we went to Park City, Utah, to a lodge with a base altitude of about six thousand feet. Our skiing would take us to nearly ten thousand feet! I was concerned at those altitudes about shortness of breath and my general level of fatigue, given how rigorous skiing can be. To my surprise, I skied four days in a row and had no shortness of breath and very little leg fatigue. In fact, my general energy level was similar to the level I normally have without chemo.

This is a perfect example of how imagining optimal health and fitness sets up an end game for your mind and body. The subconscious mind, properly programmed with the desired mental imagery, drives the desired outcome. The subconscious mind, properly programmed with the desired mental imagery, drives the desired outcome. Remember the subconscious mind is one million times more powerful than the conscious mind. This means that with the subconscious mind on board, the conscious mind will simply follow—it has no choice.