by David Welch: There is no better wakeup call quite like death. It knocks on your door, stares you in the face and announces itself.
Just like that, “You could die at any moment. Even now,” it says, without so much as a flinch. And in one instant, the life you had known and loved comes to a screeching halt. The happy-go-lucky reality in which you’ve been living pops like a soap bubble. You have cancer.
I was a person who often bragged about not getting sick. I was always in exceptional health. “I haven’t had a cold or a flu in over 30 years,” I’d boast. I was healthy, happy and living a good life. I had abundance. I was ambitious and I was busy fulfilling my dreams. I had just completed an 18-year process of bringing Dan Millman’s book “The Way Of the Peaceful Warrior” to the screen. I was able to call myself a successful producer of the award-winning movie, “Peaceful Warrior” starring Nick Nolte and I was already starting work on another film. I was on a roll.
Then a crack formed in my perfect life. I was rubbing my neck one morning and I felt a lump the size of a small grape that certainly wasn’t there before. I remember thinking, “This is weird,” in a way that made me realize that I had better get it checked out.
As I was getting ready to leave for my farm in Tennessee, for what was supposed to be a month-long vacation, I called my doctor. He said it was probably nothing to worry about, “Probably just a swollen lymph gland, which happens if you’ve been sick.” I said, “Okay,” but I knew very well I had not been sick. When I said as much, his confidence remained. He wasn’t worried. He advised me to come into the office if it wasn’t gone by the time I returned.
But by the time I returned, the crack had enlarged. There were now two lumps. My doctor sent me to two different specialists who did a variety of tests, including a needle biopsy and a camera down my throat, and they all came back inconclusive. It was then decided that I should have a simple operation to remove the lymph node, so that they could have a biopsy done, which would enable them to come to a more conclusive diagnosis.
The flood gates burst open when I was diagnosed with stage IV squamous cell carcinoma that had metastasized down both sides of my neck, causing a dozen or so new tumors. And it was inoperable. I was told that I had a 40 to 60 percent chance of living past 5 years, if I immediately went through an intense treatment of chemo (the strongest possible) and radiation therapy (7,000 rds.), every day, for a period of 7 weeks. Oh, and you will have to have some of your teeth pulled… and also, you’ll have to have a stomach tube put in because once treatment starts, you won’t be able to feed yourself.
I was shaken to my core. I always had this notion that I was going to live forever. Yet sitting there in the doctor’s office, I found myself grappling with the new reality that there was, in fact, a good chance that I could die in the very near future. I half-heartedly joked, “at least it gives me the weekend to research other possibilities.”
But my doctor wasn’t feeling jocular. He just gave me a look and said that for every week I waited, there would be another 10% likelihood that I would die. He continued to make his point and added that the cancer had been there for a while and was ready to jump down into my lungs and, if it spreads like that, they may not be able to save me.
The reality hit hard and I started asking people close to me what I should do. Well-meaning friends bombarded me with horror stories about chemo and radiation and the downward spiral that would surely ensue, even if I survived. I then called a doctor friend of mine, Woodson Merrell, M.D.—an expert in integrative internal medicine—to ask for his advice. He manages teams that investigate alternative possibilities meant to dovetail with western medicine. I asked him to tell me more about some of these.
I was particularly curious about the therapeutic use of mushrooms. He explained that one of his teams had just conducted an investigation into mushrooms. Unfortunately, he explained that although there were some indications that they might be somewhat effective, it would be “unwise to put all my eggs in that basket” and that radiation was quite effective with this particular kind of cancer.
I decided to take his advice and start treatment immediately. Although I believed western medicine was a good approach, I also felt it was important to do my part, in every way I could… after all, this was my body and I knew that ultimately, I was responsible for my own healing. So while I moved forward with treatments, I welcomed the medical team around me to support me in transforming my health in what I came to see as a healing journey. From that day on, I called my cancer “my temporary challenge.”
It became obvious and very important to me to use this experience—with death sitting on my left shoulder—as an opportunity to wake up and become closer to God. I meditated every day. Being present in the moment with all my senses awake and alive. My practice was simply to experience presence and oneness and to pay as little attention to my mind and ego as possible. I also took Chinese herbs, got acupuncture twice a week, Rolfing once a week, and I began a Qigong practice.
I started sitting and walking in deep states of meditation. I came to know every rose in my neighborhood, the ones that had a fragrance, as well as the ones that didn’t. Each tree or shrub and every cloud in the sky served as an opportunity to be present in this moment. Nature is teeming with beauty and I was in communion with all of it. I learned the importance of not trying to get anywhere other than here and now. I came to appreciate the simplicity of being present with the experience of my own breathing body. I felt at one with the universe and with God. In the deeper states of presence there are no goals or outcomes, just IS-ness. Oneness.
To occupy my mind and ego, I gave them a job. I had them pray many times during the day but especially during radiation and chemo. On the advice of a dear friend who shared with me that in Judaism, the simpler the prayer the better, I developed this short prayer:
LORD GOD, HEAL ME!
I would consciously repeat this prayer as a mantra, Lord God heal me, Lord God heal me, Lord God heal me, during each chemo session, which often lasted over six hours, as well as during every radiation treatment and any other time I felt the need… which was most of the time.
At some point, at about one third of the way through my treatment process, my prayer changed when a new and more powerful prayer spontaneously came forth from deep within my inner being:
GOD IS, I AM
I AM, GOD IS
GOD IS, I AM
As I continued to repeat this new prayer, I was soon in a transported state in which there was only God and me. The doctors were God, the radiation was God, the chemo was God, and yes… even the cancer was God. The sky was God, the neighborhood was God, and the roses were all God. There was nothing but God.
After a few weeks of repeating this prayer, it ceased to be just a prayer that had been produced by my mind. It began to emanate from my soul and every cell of my being was awash in it. I had an epiphany and I instantaneously knew in my very core, that I too, was God. The experience hit me as a direct realization that I was a very special aspect of God… I was separate from God, so that I could know and love God and heal myself.
Although I was still in a state of duality, I was at the same time, experiencing oneness. I was immersed in a deep feeling of connection with spirit.
Two thirds of the way through the treatments, another addition to my prayer came of its own accord:
GOD IS, I AM
I AM, GOD IS
GOD IS, I AM HEALED!
I AM IN PERFECT HEALTH NOW!
If I hadn’t been bolted to the radiation table, I would have jumped up and loudly declared “I’m healed, I’m healed.” Of course, by the time the radiation treatment was over, my ego chimed in with “Well, what if you’re not healed?” I knew in my heart, and at a very deep level, that I was healed. And because I didn’t want to freak out my doctors or my ego, I finished my treatment and concluded my journey in western medicine.
All things considered, it wasn’t as rough as they said it would be. Most of the time I was able to surf on top of the wave. I was able to feed myself via a liquid diet and was able to keep swallowing throughout the treatments. I didn’t end up needing a feeding tube—I’m glad I declined when they said I had to put it in before treatment. They only pulled one tooth and I didn’t lose my hair.
In retrospect, I feel it was the combination of it all: the eastern approach, the western approach, and especially, my commitment to stay in the present moment with my breathing body, no matter how difficult, which led to my healing and to a direct experience of God.
It is not possible to awaken in the past or in the future. You cannot awaken at 3:30 tomorrow morning or in 102 lifetimes. You can only awaken in this infinite, eternal, present moment of now. Life is always giving us what we need to wake us up, even cancer. I do not mean to suggest that cancer or severe depression, or any other hard knock is necessary for awakening, but in the event that you are hit with this sort of challenge, I would encourage you to use it as a means of becoming more present and more in tune with yourself as a spiritual being. We are here to wake up in this lifetime.
There are many degrees and levels of being awake. I woke up to the fact that I am not only the individual consciousness or awareness of my body, mind, and spirit, I am also one with infinite eternal pure consciousness, or as the awareness of my oneness and my presence with God.
Each day is sacred and I continue my daily spiritual practices which include prayer, meditation, Yoga, Qigong, walking in nature with my dog, weight training and expressing my gratitude for this life. I am living full of joy, love and abundance.
To prevent cancer in the first place or to assure it doesn’t return, diet is obviously important. I am now a vegetarian and I eat only organic foods. Since cancer loves sugars of all kinds, I have eliminated them from my diet. Some carbohydrates also turn into sugar quickly and so, I have eliminated white potatoes, white rice and white bread as well. There are many studies that show that a plant-based diet is important for cancer prevention, but if you are going to eat meat, I would urge you to make sure it’s organic and is fed its native diet.
A book that I would highly recommend, that covers all aspects of this subject, including an in-depth overview of which foods you should and shouldn’t eat is: Anti Cancer – A New Way of Life by David Servan Schreiber, MD, PhD.
Instead of starting work on another movie, I decided to venture into a project that would be more in line with my commitment to staying present as well as my desire to contribute to humanity and the planet in a more tangible way. To this end, I created , a web portal devoted to our awakening, both on the individual and collective levels. Through hands-on management of the site and its content, I am able to continue to encourage our commitment to creating heaven on earth by being proper stewards of this beautiful planet, Mother Earth.
In closing, I would like to share the simplest way to begin a mindfulness practice. Without judgment, just keep bringing yourself back to the present moment by being with whatever you see, feel, hear, touch or smell. Bring yourself out of your head and into your heart. Finally, while mindfulness is important, heartfulness is even more important. Love is the answer. Love yourself. Love life. Love this present moment.
The present moment is the doorway to the eternal. I have been cancer free for over 16 years.
David Welch is the founder and CEO of Awaken Global Media and Chief Editor of AWAKEN.com. He is a Producer of the award-winning movie “Peaceful Warrior” and a member of the Screen Actors Guild and Directors Guild of America. David has an extensive background in front of and behind the camera in production of Film, TV, and Commercials as an Actor, Stuntman, Award Winning Assistant Director, Casting Director and Award-Winning Producer. David is a master practitioner of Neuro-linguistic programming, a certified Kundalini Yoga instructor and has a continuous, committed and daily yoga, meditation and Qi gong practice.