Zen Cancer Wisdom - Introduction

Tips for Making Each Day Better


320 pages, 5x8 inches


ISBN 9781614291237

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ISBN 9781614291466

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I wrote this book to wake you up, shake you up, and hopefully at times, even to crack you up as you walk the path of cancer. It was written as much for me as it was for you. The majority of this book was written during my first and second cycles of chemotherapy for a recurrence of Stage IV lung cancer.

My story is just like yours—unique and not unique. I’m a Zen priest, Chinese medicine doctor, and qigong master. When I was 41 years old I was diagnosed with Stage IV lung cancer despite having lived the life of a meticulous health nut for over 20 years. The cancer went into remission after six months of non-chemo pharmaceuticals and an extensive complementary medicine regimen. It came back almost a year later, when I was 43. After trying everything else, I began chemotherapy and fortified my complementary medicine regimen to address the effects—ahem—I mean “side effects” of the chemo.

I went from a Chinese medicine doctor whose practice focused on cancer patients to a cancer patient myself. The world didn’t make sense anymore. I was living the ultimate Zen koan or riddle: How could my anti-cancer lifestyle have led to Stage IV lung cancer? How could true love, broccoli, and qigong lead to illness? Zen is about fiercely facing what is in front of you, not about looking longingly behind you.

Layman Wang once asked his attendant, “What would you do if a dragon suddenly arrived here?” His attendant answered, “I wouldn’t pay attention to anything else.” This is how it feels when you’ve been diagnosed with cancer. Your attention and focus shift dramatically towards just this one thing. While single-minded focus can be beneficial, it is also important to remember that you are more than your diagnosis, and that there is more to life than being a patient.

I decided early on that I wouldn’t let cancer take away my sense of humor or my joie d’vivre. I experimented and discovered first hand exactly what helped or hindered my mood, energy, body and/or spirit. I learned how to ease unnecessary suffering during my cancer journey and began sharing this information with friends, family, patients, and strangers.

Why include spiritual Zen with practical complementary cancer approaches? Because Buddhism is unique in its head-on approach to suffering, and Zen is all about the practical art of living, rather than some abstract philosophy to ponder and master. What is Zen? Zen is the act of giving yourself over to this moment, to being fully present in your life. This book is about the Zen of healing.

Each entry presents a special thought, action, or opportunity to make this and each day better. There is no correct order, so you can open to any page for some food for thought, sage advice, or a quick and dirty healing tip.

Master Jiashan once said that swarming fish don’t notice the pearl in the dragon’s mouth. They’re too distracted by the dragon to see the pearl. This too applies when you or a loved one has cancer. It is easy for the dragons of cancer to overshadow and even obscure the pearls on this journey.

They say the best a Zen teacher can do is point her finger towards the moon; to point you in the right direction. With that in mind, it is my sincere hope that this book points you towards the pearls on this path. No matter how dark it gets, the moon is always there. Sometimes we could use a gentle reminder or practice to get us back on track. With any luck, there should be something in here that will do that for you.

The purpose of all the tips in this book is to help you feel better now, and if not now, then at least quickly or soon. There is one catch: you must actually try them! Reading this book without practicing its contents is like reading the label on a medicine bottle but not taking the medicine. You know what’s inside but how can it help you from inside the bottle? Take the medicine and see for yourself!

What are you waiting for? Waiting is so not Zen. It’s time to grab the tiger by the whiskers!


How to cite this document:
© Suzannah Stason, Zen Cancer Wisdom by Daju Suzanne Friedman (Wisdom Publications, 2014)

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