How I beat cancer
by Bob Selden, July 2016
On the 12th April, 2015 I decided I needed to do more exercise and get fitter – ride my bike more. By 16th April 2016 I had completed 369 days straight on either the road bike or the home trainer. My starting mantra was “I’m now riding my bike regularly each day”. Notice how this is expressed in the present tense rather than “I am going to start exercising (today/tomorrow)”. Science has proven that the brain responds by at least 25% more actively to words that are expressed in the present tense rather than the future – it seems to think that the action is already happening, so it visualises us having already started the new regime. Clever brain!
All of this is by way of introducing the 17th April 2016 when I got out of bed feeling unwell and did not want to exercise. I’d had a dry cough for about three weeks without any other symptoms. My astute GP said “I cannot find anything wrong, therefore there must be something wrong, I’ll send you for X-rays”. Short answer – I had cancer, lymphoma and before I could make it to the specialist appointment some days later, was rushed to hospital for emergency treatment.
The specialist team found that my illness was of the very severe kind. The upside was that because I was so fit, they were able to start me on an extreme and harsh treatment regime. Being a so-called “positivity guru” through my coaching, training and writing for the last 30 years, now was the opportunity to put it all into real practice. As I progressed there were three things that I realised were important and would help me through this difficult period.
- Language – get the words right and the behaviour will follow.
The first thing to ensure was that I continued to avoid using the word “Don’t”. The brain has no visual image for “Don’t” and so any message that follows is what the brain visualises. For example, signs such as “Don’t walk on the grass” only tell us to ‘Walk on the grass”, “Don’t touch. Wet Paint” only tell us to “Touch, Wet Paint” (and I’ll bet we have all obeyed this one). And then there are things we say to others, such as “Don’t drop it”, “Don’t run on the road”, or “Don’t touch the hot stove”. Start to get the picture?
So in my case, it would be to avoid such sayings as “Don’t worry”, “Don’t dwell on it” and replace them with a new mantra, in my situation it is “I’m doing this” which I applied to every instruction or piece of advice I received.
- Set goals or targets to achieve.
In all such treatments, there are always medical targets to achieve, for example, six rounds of chemo with a major PET scan to check progress after three rounds. The PET scan was my first target.
However, just as importantly, the brain needs to have other more interesting goals or targets to keep our functioning behaviour in balance. These should be set around real interests such as a hobby like painting, reading, conversation, planning travel and so on. I was lucky as I had just published my new book and was able to start planning the launch which I set for immediately after the first medical milestone, my PET scan. This gave me a real focus and plenty of mental activity despite the rather debilitating physical side effects of the chemo.
And finally, keep exercising to ensure the body maintains some level of fitness. With me it has been walking regularly each day for a minimum of 45 minutes.
These three goal setting exercises ensure the mind, spirit and body are all working together to assist the healing process.
- Support your support network.
The final realisation I had was that my support network – wife, family, friends and colleagues seemed to be taking my situation much harder than I was. This was a real surprise to me, but I can now see why – they cannot do much other than offer words of support and so it is important to show them how much their support means to you. Once again positive language has the desired affect with words such as “I’m doing this – thank you so much for your help, it really pushes me to achieve my goals”.
Oh, and the result of the PET scan? I’m now in full remission!
Some final thoughts …
I trust the foregoing is useful for those who are experiencing a debilitating illness. There could also be a message or two for all who are still in good health. For those wishing to become more positive in your outlook, here are three final suggestions …
- The first step is to eliminate the word “Don’t” from your vocabulary. You’ll recall from the earlier discussion examples such as:
- “Don’t run across the road”, becomes “Walk slowly and hold my hand while we cross the road”
- “Don’t drop it”, becomes “Hold on to the glass carefully”
- Every day for the next 21 days write out one thing that you are grateful for – this starts you looking for the positives in your life. It starts out rather easily with things like partner, children, friends etc. and as you get around days 19,20,21 can become quite interesting (in my case day 21 was having a new letter box so it is easier to get the mail out with my diminished hand agility).
- Every day for the following 21 days make a random act of thanking someone for something – this starts you looking for positives in other people. This should start with family and friends and then move on to complete strangers.
If you assiduously follow these three steps, I can personally guarantee you’ll become more positive in your outlook, your self-image and self-esteem will greatly improve and you’ll start to see many opportunities that other less positive people will miss.
Bob Selden, author of “Don’t: How using the right words will change your life”