Donna Quesada: That reminds me of a story I’m wondering if you can share. It’s about using language so as to reach people.
And I remember a story you told about a Quaker patient. The doctors said, “we are going to kill the cancer cells…” And because he was a Quaker, he didn’t like the word “kill.” He had resistance to it.
Bernie Siegel, M.D.: He was a member of our group. He went for chemotherapy. The doctor said to him…I don’t know if he said, “we are going to cure your cancer.” No, he said, “you are going to get chemotherapy and we’ll kill your cancer.” He didn’t say anything about curing, except in his way of saying it. Now he said, “I’m a Quaker. I’m a conscientious objector. I don’t kill anything and he got up and left the office.” That’s the trouble with not knowing the patient’s story. If the patient had said to him, “I’m a Quaker and I don’t kill anything. Can we work something out?” The doctor might have been more careful about what he said… and said, “this will help you… this will shrink the tumor.”
DONNA: I love the way you rephrased it for him. Do you remember what you said to him? “Let’s turn it into a block of ice and God’s light will melt it.”So beautiful.
BERNIE: And the drawing he did for me was carrying the cancer cells away. Let’s get these guys out of here. The white blood cells are carrying it away. So, he wasn’t hurting them.
DONNA: In spiritual parlance there’s a saying that “dark times and challenges can be your teacher.” And I’ve heard you speak in similar ways. Could you speak to that a little bit?
BERNIE: What happens to charcoal under pressure? It becomes a diamond. So, when I say, “tell me a word that fits your cancer?” It could be… “horror.” “Depression.” “Roadblock.” “Failure.” Those are the people that need therapy. Because I always say, “if there are any negative words, what else in your life fits them?” Let’s get rid of them. That helps them to heal their lives. But, when people say things like… and they do… “Wake-up call.” “New beginning.” They are on the right path. They are rebirthing themselves.
When your body gets that message, that is when the self-induced healing happens. Because instead of dying… Look what happened? See, I can never wear a tie anymore. A young man from Florida called me, he said, “my father has cancer and they are telling him he is going to die in three months. Can you please talk to him and help?” And I was down there giving a lecture, so they had… because you see, this is survivor behavior. I said, “I have things to do, I’m giving a lecture,” but he never quit. So, I said, “okay, we’ll meet in the hotel and have breakfast together, and we’ll talk.” And we did.
And he really picked up on what I was saying to him about enjoying your life. He went home and changed. His wife said, “let’s buy that house on the ocean you always wanted.” So, they bought a house on the ocean and other things. I’m back in Florida in the Miami area, and giving a talk, and he was going to introduce me. And he came in a sweater… an open collar, looking so casual, and I thought, what the hell are you doing? We’re here at this big event and you are dressed like that? So, I said to him, “why are you dressed like that?” He said, “when they tell you that you have two months to live, you cancel the dress code and you tell all your employees that you don’t care what they wear.”
DONNA: You come back to what really matters.
Bernie: Now I can’t put a tie on. Because every time I look in the closet and see a tie, I think of him. I cancelled the dress code at work. I’m not needing the tie. If I ever someday need a tie, fine. But,I don’t really feel the need to put a tie on. And a lot of times my wife would say to me, “where are you going looking like that?” I said, “don’t worry about me.” She cares about me so she wants me to look nice. But I would say to her, “it’s how I feel. I’m not worried about what the people there feel. It’s how I feel and what I want to wear.”
DONNA: And so, if someone is watching and they are in pain right now, or they are facing some grave challenge, what would you say to them?
BERNIE: I’d say, number one: ask what the pain feels like. Whether its burning, pressure… whatever it is. What else in my life fits those words? And there are a lot of women who say, “my marriage.” Okay. Then go home and straighten out your marriage. It doesn’t necessarily mean you need a divorce, but speak up. Stop being so submissive. See… that’s the key word. Don’t be submissive. Speak up. Take care of yourself. Define your life because what is interesting is, there are men who will say, “I can’t work anymore… what’s the point of living?” And there are women who say, “I can’t die ‘till they are all married and out of the house.” The women end up living longer, and they do with the same cancers because they are into relationships.
But I tell them that they have to have a relationship with yourself. Because one lady actually lived 20 years with her nine kids. When the last one left home… because that was her statement, “I can’t die till they are all married and out of the house.” 20 years later, her cancer came back and she died. Now, you tell me how you manage to control something for 20 years! Well, that’s who she was. And I can tell you… I used to use this with patients because one family came in and the kids came to talk to me first. The adult children. “Our mother has 12 cats. Her house stinks. We don’t even visit her. We will clean the house and get rid of the cats and then she can go get her treatment for cancer.” I said, “no.” They look at me. I said, “you get rid of the cats, your mother is dead.” So, what you do is clean the house and tell her, “nobody wants 12 cats.” And they did. And they used to come into the office with her with big smiles on their faces, thanking me for what I had said about the cats. Because I said, “you get rid of those cats…” We know from studies, too, that people after a heart attack… I think it was a doctor in Australia… he looked to see a year later, the mortality rate of people who had a dog in the house and people who didn’t have a dog in the house. And it was something like three or four times higher if you didn’t have a dog.
DONNA: I’m a dog person. I believe it.
BERNIE: I can’t remember the exact numbers, but it was about one fourth the survival rate of those who had a dog.
DONNA: So, in simplest terms, what is healing?
BERNIE: Healing isn’t about the body. That’s something I always say. There’s a difference between healing and curing. If you heal your life, more people will find out they were cured. Because what happens in their lives again, you can turn it into the chemistry. What happens within them.
DONNA: Is it over simplistic to say that all illness has emotional roots?
BERNIE: I would say so. Again, it’s not blaming. My wife developed multiple-sclerosis. We had five kids, including twins, in seven years. I ended up in a hospital with a severe infection. It wasn’t a surprise to me that the two of us were exhausted and came down with illnesses at that time. So, what do you do? You start getting help. We had every teenager and parent on the block come and help us with the kids. And if we went on vacation, some of my patients would come and live in the house, like grandparents, and give us a chance to get away and have a break, you know? Take care of ourselves. It doesn’t mean that you are bad parents. No, you are good parents. And I taught them about liking and loving being two different things. So, I love you but I may not like your behavior. So, let’s work on that. Also, they had a sense of humor about me. ‘Cause when I told them that I was going to be given an award that many well-known people had already received, they said, “I guess they have lowered their standards.” So, we can laugh and interact, and humor was always appropriate. You can’t be angry with someone who makes you laugh. So, I learned that healthy humor was good for everybody.
DONNA: In our last minutes together… you were talking about taking care of yourself. I’d like to know what that means for you and if you have any tried and true personal practices, like prayer or anything that you rely on?
BERNIE: Earlier in my life I ran a bunch of marathons. And that was work to condition myself but the reason… you talk about disease… I get a phone call, “will you please run a marathon. My daughter has Leukemia and I want to raise funds to cure the disease… and a lot of people know you… you wrote your books. Please.” I said, “you are out of your mind. I’m not going to run 26 miles. You have to be crazy.” He never stopped calling me. He’s a survivor. So finally, I said, “stop calling me. I’ll run the marathon.” And I did. But I asked God, “where does prayer fit into my life?” Pennies from heaven. I said to God, “I’ll need a sign that I will be able to run 26 miles.”
At the beginning, on Staten Island, with thousands of people ready to run, I looked down at my feet. There is a quarter between my two feet. Thank you, God. All I need is a penny now. I’m running through Manhattan… what is on the street? A penny. So, I knew if I stopped, I’d get trampled. So, I ran off to the side, circled around slowly, so people could see that I was walking. I had to laugh because I bent over, picked up the penny… The guy running behind me said, “how poor can he be?” But when you talk about pennies from heaven in the spiritual… My mother, my wife. We literally had pennies delivered after they died.
DONNA: As a sign that they are still around?
BERNIE: Yeah. Now, after my mother died, I started finding them where they weren’t before. And one of the grandchildren suddenly said, “oh, they are pennies from heaven.” I thought, “where is that coming from… out of this little pip squeak?” But that’s what it became in our family. And when my wife died, I had a phone call from a mystic, who said… lady who was an opera singer… lovely lady called to tell me, “your wife is fine… back together with everyone from the family.” And my wife’s mother was an opera singer. Now this woman doesn’t know any of that stuff. Because my mother in law died 20 years ago, or more. But then, what do I start finding? I go to Stop and Shop. I hear a voice say, “go down to the first aisle.” I step into it. There’s a dime and a penny on the belt. What day were we married on? The 11th. I found a dime and a penny, three times, checking out at Stop and Shop. You could say to me that people dropped the coins. It’s sitting on a belt, you know? They wouldn’t stay there if someone was checking out. But this was the weirdest. While walking the dog, a dime and a penny. But I left the house one morning and a voice said, “go clean the birdbath.” I made one out of a satellite dish. It just sits outside and the rain goes into it. But when I walked over, I realized it was filthy. Full of leaves. I dump the water and leaves out. What’s sitting in the bottom of it? A dime and a penny. Now, you tell me how the hell that got in there?
DONNA: And so, life is eternal?
BERNIE: Absolutely. I’m writing a new book now. It might end up being called, No Beginnings, No Endings. We are immortal. I know that. I can tell you my own experience. My wife was born on 9/9. My heart had an arrhythmia in October. And I knew. I had a broken heart. I lost the person that I love. So, I go to the hospital and what room do you think they put me in, in the emergency? I heard a voice that said, “put him in room 9.” Then they said, “we don’t have a room that is ready for you.” Then, they sent me upstairs to room number 819. Then you get the wrist band to mark you with a number, and I guess whatever the episode is has a code to it. All the numbers added up to nine.
DONNA: I love it.
BERNIE: Now, there was an eight with it. I knew the number of eight is a new beginning. Like seven days in a week, everywhere. See, every religion has seven days in a week. So, the cycle is seven. So, I see an eight and then all the other numbers add up to nine. It would be like 2, 8, 1, 7 ,6, 3. Every single one, when added up together, was nine. It was unbelievable. I saved them all.
DONNA: That’s beautiful. Well, I was born on 9/1, so.
BERNIE: Let me conclude with this because when I went to get treatment to reverse the arrhythmia, I was telling stories like I am to you, about pennies and things like that. And one of my older children was with me and thought they gave me medication if I was driving. We were talking about the pennies and after the procedure was done, I’m resting on a table… what’s called “the gurney.” I’m lying there and I sit up… there is a penny on the floor. And it wasn’t there when they put me in that room. And then I heard my son say, “I found a penny in the hallway here.” As we were going to go out. And all the nurses were like, “oh, that’s what you were telling us about.” Because they didn’t see the pennies. They weren’t there hours before.
DONNA: I’ll never look at pennies the same. Can we close with the story you were going to tell us about immortality? In these last two minutes?
BERNIE: Well, I have lived everything. At age four, I put a bunch of parts of a toy in my mouth, imitating carpenters putting nails in their mouth. Because in those years, you didn’t have all the automatic equipment. I was sitting on my bed with a bad cold and I took the toys apart and put the pieces in my mouth… aspirated them and was choking to death. And I left my body. I suddenly realized that I wasn’t in pain anymore. I’m not choking. Yeah, you are not in the body. What I also learned is that we are not our bodies. Because when I would talk to it and say, “what happened to me?” I would say, “the kid on the bed” or “the body on the bed.” I never said “me.”
BERNIE: And I thought, what are you saying? And I realized that you are not the body. You are this spirit, consciousness, whatever. You can see, hear, think. And I have to say this… I have an angel. He’s been seen by other people and I’m sure he was even there then. Because suddenly the body on the bed… That’s what comes out of my mouth. I didn’t say, “me.” The boy on the bed vomited and the pieces came out. And I thought later, it was like a Heimlich Maneuver. So, maybe my angel did that. But as soon as it came back, I had no choice. I always say, “like a vacuum.”
DONNA: You were back in.
BERNIE: Back in the body.
BERNIE: I yelled at God, thinking that is probably who makes the decisions. I said, “who did that?” I wanted to be dead. And I have to say this. What kids are going through… When you go through that, as a kid, it’s like, WOW! Who wants to be a normal kid? We can be floating around doing all this. So, there’s an enormous amount of kids who have near death experiences and are upset that they didn’t die.
DONNA: It’s only the fear that makes it (scary)…
BERNIE: That’s something we talked about… My mother came in. I vomited. She knew. There wasn’t any discussion about this wonderful event. Then, many years later, I’m so busy doing so many things… A friend of mine said over the phone, “why are you living this life?” Her intention was to get me to slow down and take it easy. Not travel all over the world talking and trying to help people, and having no time for myself. Why are you living this life?
I went into a trance. I said to her, “oh my God.” The way I described it. It’s like watching a movie of yourself. Right there in front of you. I said to her, “oh my God, I’ve got a sword in my hand… Killing.” I won’t go in to all the details. Maybe that is why I became a surgeon. To help people, with a knife. Because it was so emotional. I had to seek help. James Hillman, the Jungian therapist. Again, no coincidences. I saw his name in a journal I was reading and I called him. And he said, “come on up here.” My faith and my lord.
Let me put it this way, because it always disturbed me. Abraham is asked by God to take the life of his child. If I was standing there I would say “what the hell are you talking about? Take me. Leave the kid alone.” But then, also reading it in the bible, I realized he said, “we will be back,” to his men. Now, if you are going to kill your kid, you should say, “I’ll be back in a little while.” But he said, “we will…” I think he knew that if he had the faith… and I have to say Jesus in the same way. Because I would say, “yes” today, if God came to me and said “I want to use you to save many millions of people to teach them something.” I would say, “fine, go ahead. Do you want to take my life? That is okay with me.” Now, could I have said that 20 or 30 years ago? I doubt it. I would have bargained. But today, I understand because of what I’ve been through.
DONNA: Complete faith and surrender.
BERNIE: Yeah. My wife was a part of that past life, too. And then, I know why we came together. Our coincidence. We were working at the same camp. We happened to talk while watching the kids swimming in the swimming pool.
DONNA: No coincidences.
BERNIE: Yeah. It was a total accident. But not really. Because my wife said to me, “are you asking me for a date?” I was just talking about the pool and how nice it is that the counselors can swim there later in the day if they want to… or night. And she said, “you are asking me for a date.” And I wasn’t! I thought she was too pretty to go out with me! Ha. But when she said, “are you asking me for a date?” I said, “oh yeah.” And that was the beginning of our life together. It’s another aspect of it. We very much were like one person. We didn’t need anything when we got together.
DONNA: That’s a pretty place to leave it, Bernie. Forever. Eternal.
BERNIE: We could sit in the kitchen with a TV set and be happy. We didn’t have to travel. Go to restaurants. You know what I mean?
DONNA: I do.
BERNIE: It was amazing to me to just sense that completeness.
DONNA: That’s inspiring. I want to thank you for spending this time with us. It was a pleasure for me and I know that our listeners will enjoy your stories and be inspired.
BERNIE: You are here in front of me! You have a pretty smile, so it’s easy to talk to you.
DONNA: Thank you. I appreciate that. And I appreciate your stories and your time and your wisdom and all you’ve done for people.
BERNIE: From a lady who had AIDS, “when you live in your heart. Magic happens.”
DONNA: That’s a nice message. Thank you for passing that on.
BERNIE: And she didn’t die. I say to everybody… Let your heart make up your mind.
DONNA: I love it. Thank you, again.
Read and Watch Part I Here: Awaken Interviews Dr. Bernie Siegel, M.D. Pt 1 – Love Warrior
Read and Watch Part II Here: Awaken Interviews Dr. Bernie Siegel M.D. Pt 2 – The Power Of The Mind