Ever wonder just how much our attitude impacts the outcome of an illness? According to Dr. Jerome Groopman, Chair of Medicine at the Harvard Medical School, the impact is huge. “Hope, I have come to believe,” says Groopman, “is as vital to our lives as the very oxygen that we breathe. Hope is at the very heart of healing.”
During his medical career spanning decades, Groopman discovered that a patient’s emotional outlook had an impact on their recovery. In his book “The Anatomy of Hope, How People Prevail in the Face of Illness,” he chronicles numerous case studies where “those who had hope not just lived longer but also lived better.” Though never discounting the value of medical treatment, Groopman does, however, make a case for what he calls “the biology of hope” i.e, how a patient’s belief and expectation actually alter their brain chemistry, and therefore their healing process, for better or for worse.
He found that those who believed in a good outcome had more ‘resilience’, a word he defines as “the maintenance of high levels of positive feelings and well-being in the face of a significant adversity.” He points out that while his resilient patients were well aware of their negative circumstances, and certainly experienced gloomy episodes, these did not last. Courage, he noted, was also present, and a close companion to the qualities of resilience and hope.
Nearly a decade before Groopman’s findings, psychologist Al Sibert had already spent more than 40 years studying what’s been called the ‘phenomenon of survival’. In his book “The Survivor Personality: Why Some People Are Stronger, Smarter, and More Skillful at Handling Life’s Difficulties…and How You Can Be, Too,” Sibert reports that the kind of people who survive natural disasters, assaults, crises, and/or illnesses are those who fight back, determined to overcome the adversity. He declares that depression, doubt, fear, hopelessness, and despair are the enemies of survival and healing.
In 2012, we experienced this first hand. My husband was unexpectedly diagnosed with deadly bladder cancer. At first, we were overcome with shock, fear, hopelessness, and despair. Gradually, as we began our quest for a cure, we pursued several different medical opinions.
Sadly, traditional oncologists had a very poor prognosis and said my husband’s kind of cancer could not be helped even by chemotherapy or radiation. They offered an alternative treatment with only a 25 percent chance of success.
I felt the prognosis would crush my husband, and believing that his ability to remain hope-full would be essential to his healing, I chose to keep these dire statistics to myself for several months. Though keeping them secret forced me to battle my own terrors about losing him, it proved to be the right choice, for his positive attitude proved a powerful contributor to his ultimate recovery.
For us Christians, hope is a form of faith. Hebrews 11:1 describes it as “being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.” During this ordeal, I clung desperately to Jesus. I pleaded with him day and night for strength, wisdom and mercy. Candidly, faith for my husband’s healing came alive only after a period of intense spiritual struggle. After all, God does not always physically heal this side of heaven and, at the beginning, I had no sense of how was God was planning to move in our situation.
The Lord quieted my desperate heart with many assurances from the Scriptures, pastors and prayer partners. There came a moment when I truly believed that God would heal my husband, and from then on I was able to ignore all the negative predictions and statistics, and remain steadfast in my hope. My husband’s resolve also got an enormous boost after he saw my unwavering faith for his healing.
Over the ensuing months, God led us to a wealth of ‘integrative medicine’, an approach that combines the best of conventional and alternative therapies. We persevered in faith despite many advances and setbacks. In January 2013, contrary to conventional predictions, my husband was declared cancer free. He continues to enjoy wonderful health to this day! All our life-saving treatments are described in our book “Healed, Healthy and Whole, How We Beat Cancer with Integrative Therapies and Essential Healing Strategies” (http://www.healedhealthyandwhole.com)
In retrospect, we would have drowned in confusion and despair had it not been for the hope that God provided though His promises, the guidance of our pastors, and the prayers of our family and friends.
Today, wherever you find yourself start the year with hope. Consider these steps, ignite your faith and remain steadfast until your breakthrough comes.
- Draw near God. Spend time with Him alone daily in study of the Scriptures,in prayer and in reflection. Quiet your heart so you can hear His voice.
- Find His promises in Scripture that are unique to your situation. God never sends us a trial without offering a provision. What is He promising you?
- Medidate on these promises. Memorize them and pray them back to Him throughout the day. When the enemy comes to taunt and frighten you, refute him with these Words from Scripture.
- Seek out pastors and prayer partners who can stand with you in faith and let yourself be strengthened by their prayers. Don’t try and go it alone. God created us to be in community.
- However long and hard you have to dig, find your faith. Once it ignites, guard it fiercely and be steadfast. In the end, you will recognize that your faith not only was essential to your victory but was, in fact, at the very heart of your healing.
“O Lord, my God, I called to you for help and you healed me.” ~Psalm 30:2