Illness as a spiritual initiation

The evolution of the soul

So far, you have read what I have learned and experienced as a doctor who became a breast-cancer patient. I have talked about treatments and what I did to find healing on all levels—physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual. What I am about to share is what I have learned about cancer from the perspective of the spiritual life and the evolution of the soul. For my approach to breast cancer was greatly influenced by my experience as a minister.

Some of what I will share I have learned from others. Some of these things I have learned in the crucible of the cancer experience, and I can only say that they are true for me. These things may not necessarily be true for others, although when I have shared these thoughts with other cancer patients, some have said that my experience mirrored their own. I hope that in speaking my truth, I will not offend others or their beliefs, for truly I respect all beliefs.

I believe that illness can be a teacher, teaching us lessons that we may not be able to learn in any other way. I chose to see the experience of cancer in this light. Cancer certainly was a teacher to me—a hard one, perhaps even seemingly cruel at times. Cancer was often a stern taskmaster, bringing me face to face with myself. Its messages were often unexpected. I had to listen and be willing to listen, even if what I learned would be painful—and it certainly was painful at times.

Spiritually speaking, we can see cancer as a time of soul testing and spiritual initiation. I have not found any books on the subject of cancer as an initiation on the spiritual path. I can only share my experience and tell you what I gleaned from it.

Tests in Life

An Eastern adept once said that we will be tested in life as we walk the spiritual path, and that these tests are for the proving and perfecting of the soul. In fact, we do not choose the tests in life—they choose us.

I think that this is true. I would never have chosen cancer as a means of initiation, but as I look back on the experience, I can see that it was all in divine order and that there was a higher purpose for my experiences. I learned so much and I gained so much. I cannot do anything but continue to praise God, for with every test, God also provides the means to pass that test.

I am often struck by the word “patient.” It implies one who waits for healing. Like all cancer patients, I often had to “hurry up and wait”—wait for the test results, wait for the doctor, wait for the chemotherapy to be finished, wait for the healing to take place. And perhaps this is as it should be.

Cancer does not appear overnight—this cancer had been growing in my breast for some time. The healing of cancer does not happen overnight, either. Like all healing, it takes patience. And yet, the diagnosis of cancer came upon me suddenly, and with it, the spiritual initiation of cancer began suddenly too—ready or not. It’s like losing your hair—within a few days it can be all gone!

While these tests come suddenly and unexpectedly to our outer awareness, I believe that in our higher consciousness we know ahead of time what our tests in life will be and that we have been prepared for them in the heaven-world. God wants us to pass our tests, and he conspires with our Higher Selves to give us the best possible preparation for them. We carefully choose our families and circumstances in life before we take embodiment, and angels rehearse with us the tests we will have to pass and the tools we will need.

I believe that I was prepared for this test in many ways: through my work as a doctor, in my experiences as a minister, and in the work I did with others as they passed through their tests. Maybe that is why I got so involved in the life of my patient Cheryl and what she was experiencing. Perhaps my Higher Self was whispering to me, “Pay attention, because you will need to know about this one day.” At a soul level, I believe I knew that I would also one day have to walk the same path that Cheryl did. Knowing her and helping her was a part of the preparation for my own healing journey.


Excerpted from A Journey through Cancer, by Neroli Duffy