Our Dreaming Mind - A Sweeping Exploration Of The Role That Dreams Have Played In Politics, Art, Religion, & Psychology
Robert L. Van de Castle

Dreams: Exploring The Secrets Of Your Soul
Marilyn Barrick

All About Dreams: Everything You Need To Know About *Why We Have Them *What They Mean *and How To Put Them To Work for You
Gayle Delaney

Dr. Ann Faraday's Dream Power
Ann Faraday


Several times in my life, I have had dreams that contained a special message for me. These dreams had an entirely different quality from other dreams. They were very vivid and “real.” I always had a sense that there was an important meaning in them. Sometimes the message would be clear, and sometimes the message was in symbols that needed to be decoded. Shortly after the diagnosis of breast cancer I began to have a series of very significant dreams that proved to be beneficial in a number of ways once I understood them.

The close correspondence between physical illness and the content of dreams is a concept that goes back a long way. Hippocrates thought that some dreams had the potential to indicate diseases and physical conditions. Aristotle wrote, “The beginnings of diseases and other distempers which are about to visit the body … must be more evident in the sleeping than in the waking state.”[1] In more recent times, therapists and authors have written about dreams, dream analysis, and dream interpretation. Freud said that dreams were the “royal road” to the unconscious.

A number of researchers today believe that dreams may be helpful in diagnosing illness. They provide a window into the subconscious and a means of communication between the body and the mind. Dream researcher Robert Van de Castle explains that in some cases dreams can almost seem to serve as X-rays, giving very specific information about illness and often predating the appearance of physical symptoms or other signs of the illness.[2] He gives many examples of dreams that have heralded the onset of physical illness in his book Our Dreaming Mind.

Bernie Siegel describes dreams as messages from the unconscious that can be interpreted at two levels. The first is at the level of “personal meanings.” He says that this can almost always be worked out in discussion with the patient and that almost anyone can understand the personal meaning of dreams if they take the time to apply some basic principles and if they talk about their dreams. The second is the “deeper, unconscious level of symbols and myths, which is more problematic” and difficult to interpret.[3]

Answers from my own dreams

I approached my dreams at both of these levels and got many important answers. As far as I am aware, I did not have any dreams that gave a premonition of my cancer, but on two occasions significant dreams helped me to confirm a course of medical treatment and enabled me to take actions that were necessary to my healing.

The first dream happened after my second surgery, which was to sample some of the lymph nodes in my armpit to see if they contained cancerous cells. It occurred when I was back home, some days after I had recovered from this operation. I was in the midst of deciding whether to go ahead with chemotherapy, and I was mentally preparing myself for it. I want to stress that this was not just an ordinary dream. It was almost a waking dream—it was very vivid. On the night of February 24, I dreamed that I was shown that three of the seven lymph nodes were indeed cancerous. There was no fear in the dream, but it was clear to me that I needed to know the information.

When I awoke, I knew its meaning. While I was happy that the medical pathology revealed that the nodes were negative, the dream helped me to make the difficult decision to go ahead with the chemotherapy. It confirmed my intuition that the cancer was more serious than the test showed. I felt that the prayer and spiritual work that I and my friends were doing was making a difference and holding the disease at bay. And while I trusted the spiritual work, I also got the message that this was a serious situation and that I had to do everything that I could to arrest the cancer at all levels.

This dream spurred me on and encouraged me to pursue every avenue. Chemotherapy was not my preference, but I felt compelled to go forward with it in order to leave no stone unturned. As my friend Kate said, “It’s an insurance policy.”

The next dream occurred about a month later, when I had already begun chemotherapy—which was a scary thing for me to do to my body, knowing of the potential side effects. On the evening of my first day of the chemotherapy, I went to sleep, very concerned over whether I had done the right thing, and I had another vivid dream.

I dreamed that I was standing at the top of a huge cliff with my husband, Peter. He was dressed in flowing Oriental robes in brilliant colors of green, blue, and purple—colors I associated with healing. He began instructing me and was writing in Chinese symbols on a wall a little way back from the top of the cliff. He indicated that I should dive off the cliff into the deep, dark blue waters below. He was not asking or directing me, but he was telling me that I had that option. I was very afraid and very reluctant, but he told me that if I chose to dive, I would go very deep into the water, and then I would surface again.

With his reassurance, I dived off the cliff. It was indeed a long way down before I finally hit the water. I went down deep into the water and eventually swam up to the surface. Later in the dream, I met a friend from Australia, and we walked hand in hand along the beach. I said to her, “Did you know that I had breast cancer?” She said that she did know, and then the dream ended.

Chemotherapy certainly felt like that dive off the cliff to me. Diving off the cliff into deep and dark waters was very scary, but the dream told me that although it would be intense and potentially dangerous, I would make it and resurface in the end. It helped me to keep going, and I would often remember that dream when the chemotherapy became intense. I also noted in the dream that I told my friend that I “had” cancer (past tense). In other words, after the dive into the water (the chemotherapy), I would no longer have cancer.

There were other dreams—too personal to share here—that taught me lessons about what the illness of cancer meant to me from a spiritual and emotional standpoint. Marilyn Barrick, my therapist, was particularly helpful in discerning the meaning of these dreams. Not long after she helped me with my dreams, she wrote a book on the subject, called Dreams: Exploring the Secrets of Your Soul. To me, the importance of the right therapist cannot be overestimated. Although I was often on the right track, I am not sure that I could have unraveled all the intricacies of my dreams without Marilyn’s help.


1. Robert L. Van de Castle, Our Dreaming Mind: A Sweeping Exploration of the Role That Dreams Have Played in Politics, Art, Religion, and Psychology, from Ancient Civilizations to the Present Day (New York: Ballantine Books, 1995), pp. 364–65.

2. Ibid., p. 369.

3. Siegel, Love, Medicine, and Miracles, p. 114.


Excerpted from A Journey through Cancer, by Neroli Duffy