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Home  /  Integrative Cancer Care  /  Spirit  /  Cancer and the Soul

Cancer and the Soul

By Jeannine Walston


“Whenever or however that line from health to illness is crossed, we enter this realm of soul. Illness is both soul shaking and soul evoking for the patient and for all others to whom the patient matters. We lose an innocence, we know vulnerability, we are no longer who we were before this event, and we will never be the same. We are in uncharted terrain, and there is no turning back. Illness is a profound soul event, and yet this is virtually ignored and unaddressed. Instead, everything seems to be focused on the part of the body that is sick, damaged, failing, or out of control.”
-Jean Shinoda Bolen, MD, Close to the Bone

“Just as you ought not to attempt to cure eyes without head or head without body, so you should not treat body without soul.”
-Socrates, approximately 500 BC

What is soul?

Soul is each person’s unique essence and being.
Soul is our true self.
Soul is individual.
Soul is the cohesive force embodied through the unity of each person’s total self with full integration of an interconnected body, heart, and mind.
Expressions of the soul include purpose and meaning in each individual’s life.
People connect with and integrate their soul to varying degrees.

What is spirit? What is the relationship between spirit and soul?

Spirit is an essence that comes from and is the divine.
Spirit is our true nature.
Spirit is universal.
The ways in which people experience, embody, and express spirit are individual.
Spirit and the body must be one for soul to be present.
Universal spirit moves soul through spiritual guidance.

What is soul pain?

Soul pain is the experience within an individual of disconnect and alienation from the deepest and most fundamental aspects of self.

What is the relationship between cancer and the soul?

Illnesses such as cancer can open a soulful conversation about life, death, purpose, meaning, and other core components of the human experience. Some people view illness, including challenges such as cancer, as opportunities for soul growth.

Dealing with cancer is a vehicle for the soul’s evolution. The disease experience opens gateways into the soul. Illness is an invitation to look deeply into self, cultivate new levels of knowledge, and understanding about who you are.

“We go to doctors and to hospitals with the expectation that they will take care of our bodies. That the soul might also be engaged is not our expectation. Yet, a life-threatening illness calls to the soul, taps into spiritual resources, and can be an initiation into the soul realm for the patient and for anyone else who is touched by the mystery that accompanies the possibility of death. When life is lived at the edge—in the border realm between life and death—it is a liminal time and place. Liminal comes from the Latin word for ‘threshold.’…Whenever we participate in something that will change us, and change how others relate to us… that experience is a liminal one. Whenever we are initiated into knowing something we did not know before on a body level… we cross a threshold. Here the mystical, spiritual, or psychic awareness of what is happening, however, determines its significance as a soul experience. So it is with a life-threatening illness, which similarly happens in and to the body and yet can profoundly affect the soul.”
-Jean Shinoda Bolen, MD, Close to the Bone

Through the cancer journey, you can learn further connection and embodiment of soul and spirit guiding you through life. Soul and spirit provide guidance through your intuition. You have answers within.

 What are some soul questions?

Soul questions help people journey into their deeper self for reflections and information. In Close to the Bone, Dr. Bolen proposes the following questions. Some of them apply to all individual lives and others are specific to people dealing with illness.

  • What did you come to do?
  • What did you come to learn?
  • What did you come to heal?
  • What and who did you come to love?
  • What are you here for?
  • When you die, how will your life have been worthwhile?
  • What do you regret doing or not having done?
  • What do you still want time for?
  • In what ways do you matter?
  • What people in your life deeply matter to you?
  • What do you perceive about God?
  • What do you perceive about an afterlife?
  • What is your unfinished business?
  • What long-buried thoughts and memories are coming back to you now?
  • What are your dreams saying?

How do people evoke a deeper communion with their soul?

Many avenues help people connect with and integrate their soul. The journey includes hearing the soul’s expression and learning how to embody it through attunement with the total self. Some paths toward deeper soul expression include the following.

  • Awareness of synchronicity
  • Awareness of imagery, signs, and symbols
  • Awareness of dreams
  • Exploring myths and archetypes
  • Listening in the midst of a quiet mind
  • Immersion in silence and stillness
  • Deep relaxation
  • Deep breathing
  • Deep listening
  • Open, relaxed heart
  • Full integration of an interconnected body, heart, and mind
  • Movement
  • Meditation
  • Prayer
  • Listening to lyrical and other soulful types of music
  • Expression through art
  • Time in nature
  • Exploring non-linear expressions
  • Reading and writing poetry

More information about ways to evoke a deeper relationship with soul are available in our Mind section, Intuition and Instinct, and throughout the Spirit section.