Karen Dennis stops fighting against cancer and starts healing.
Karen Dennis had been battling her slow-growing carcinoid cancer since 1992, and by 2001 she was told by her doctors that she needed to get her affairs in order. Her cancer had metastasized throughout her body and the single mother of three girls had reached stage four, and there would be no stage 5.
Karen had fought long and hard during her battle with cancer. She had undergone three surgeries that removed one third of her digestive tract, she endured 63 scans, had several rounds of chemotherapy, and even traveled to the Netherlands to undergo an intensive radioactive treatment that went straight into her bloodstream. She had used traditional, experimental, and alternative methods, but eventually found out that she had run out of options.
As instructed, she wrote her will and picked guardians for her children, and then began planning her funeral. As time passed she updated her will a second time, and all the while, she continued to have scans and to receive intensive palliative care. She says that she spent four years planning to die and it had taken an emotional toll on herself and her family.
In 2005, she spoke with her primary care physician, Dr. Tim Bartholow, and told him that she wished to refuse all further treatment. “I didn’t see the point in all these scans and diagnostic work when there was no remedy,” Dennis said. “There’s anxiety that accompanies all this testing – not only for me, but for my family and friends. I told Dr Tim, I’m feeling pretty good right now, and I just want to be that way for as long as I can.” Then she asked her doctor: “Do you think I’m crazy?” Dr. Bartholow was hesitant for a long period of time and finally he said” No, I think you’re wise.” He took out his prescription pad and wrote, ‘you have my permission not to accept your diagnosis, you have my permission not to accept your prognosis. Go celebrate the miracles of life.’ She says that she decided at that moment that she was going to do all of the things “that made her heart sing.”
Two years later, in January of 2007, the Social Security Administration sent her a letter asking about her health status, as she had been receiving disability all this time with the assumption that she was going to die. She went in to have a scan. She says that the best she could have hoped for was to hear was that nothing had changed. Instead she heard, “You are not a cancer patient any more.”
After taking time to celebrate she wondered what this really meant…was it a cure…a miracle…or something that is referred to as spontaneous remission? “I realized in that moment that part of this miracle was influenced by me – and not by luck or divine intervention. My getting well was a consequence of me once again inhabiting my body and trusting in it. And I did that when I had exhausted every other option.” She says she felt elated and blessed,…and guilty as she wondered why she happened to be one of the lucky ones.
Shortly thereafter, she began teaching classes at an integrative cancer center in south central Wisconsin, showing other patients what she had learned as a cancer patient for the last 15 years. In the classes she discussed the art of transcending fear. She says that she had the members of the group write in journals, practice meditation, and also discuss nutritional therapies. She encouraged the patients to take control of their care by searching for the right doctors for their treatments, and to question the care that they were prescribing.
She says, “I tell people that based on 15 years as a cancer patient, it’s my goal to teach them the useful things that happened along the way. I’m acting as a guide to help people line up with their own bodies. I don’t have a magic potion, but what I’ve learned is that healing comes from within and it is teachable. I look back on this now, and after 15 years of gritting my teeth and desperately trying to hang on and not be afraid, all I got for my effort was more and more cancer. So, my strategy in the end was let it come and get me- I surrender. But in the meantime, I going to have a lot of fun and do all the things that make my heart sing because these are my final days. I never dreamed it would have any impact on my outcome, but it did.”
Notes from her doctors- Dr Tim Bartholow is now a senior vice president with the Wisconsin Medical Society, he says. “It is my belief that the patient has the power, sometimes restrained or timid, to advance their own health. The physician’s role is limited to coach or cheerleader, but certainly not the ‘giver of health.’ We need to say, ‘You’re right. It’s yours to choose.'” He recalls the moment that Dennis did just that. He says, “I could see that medicine hadn’t brought her any hope.”
Her healing also attracted the notice of Marc Ian Barasch, author of the book Remarkable Recovery: What Extraordinary Healings Tell Us About Getting Well and Staying Well. Marc is an expert on mind-body connections in regards to healing and cited Dennis’ case in his writing. “I have often seen, in cases of what I call ‘remarkable recovery,’ a profound shift in attitude toward life,” But he added the strong caution that “it would be absurd to say that anyone with cancer can just change their mind and be healed. Though these unexplained cures can be proven to occur, no one knows how often, and how or whether they can be replicated. Remarkable recoveries must be approached as rare and as yet unexplained phenomena.”
Dr. John Niederhuber, was Dennis’ surgeon at UW Health, and later became director of the National Cancer Institute responded to her news of the spontaneous remission with a letter in April 2007. “I do not have a ready explanation for the miraculous recovery you have experienced,” he wrote. “Because of cancer’s complex nature, and the uniqueness of each individual affected by the disease, unexpected cures can rarely be attributed to any one factor…”
Practicing the art of surrender
Although I cant speak for Karen, I can share how Dr Wayne Dyer describes the idea of surrender in his book There Is a Spiritual Solution to Every Problem. He writes, “I simply do not know how to resolve this situation so I am turning it over to the same force that I turn my physical body over to every night when I go to sleep. I trust in this force to keep digesting my food, circulating my blood, and so on. The force is there, it is available, and I am going to treat this force that I will call God, as a senior partner in my life. I will take the words ‘All that I have is Thine’ in the scriptures at face value. I am willing to turn any problem over to the invisible force which is my source, while always keeping in mind that I am connected at all times to that source. I surrender to my source and turn this huge problem over to that some power that moves the stars. You can do this same thing in times of strife, ‘let go and let God.’ Turn your problems over to your senior partner and move to a place of peace.”
Just to clarify, turning your problems over to God does not mean that you are sitting around waiting for God to heal you. Instead it means being open to receiving unexpected gifts from the universe. I have heard several stories from people who were handed a book on alternative healing during this time of surrender, and this opened up a whole new world of healing that they were completely unaware of. They could have ignored this unexpected gift, but instead they chose to explore it further. So surrender is the art of allowing God’s work to unfold and following through with action when that plan reveals itself.
The act of surrender allowed Karen the ability to find joy and peace in her life and to stop fighting the things that she had very little control over, and as she states above, “I had no idea it would help in my healing, but it did.” Karen stated that she discussed nutrition and mediation in her classes, so perhaps these were some of the tools that she began exploring and implementing as part of her own healing plan.
The practice of surrender
Source article- Wisconsin State Journal
Footnote- Karen Dennis passed away on April 17, 2012, this was approximately 11 years after doctors told her that she was terminal, 7 years after she asked for no further treatment, and 5 years after she officially found out that she was in remission. While I don’t know the details of her passing, I do know that some form of cancer returned in the fall of 2011. How she chose to address the recurrence, I do not know. Her obituary states that she died “following a life altering experience with cancer.” I made the decision not to remove her story from this collection of survivor testimonials because her story had inspired me greatly when my own sister was battling cancer. I am hoping to fill in more of the details of her recovery from cancer one day.
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