Health and Healing: Visualize the Future You Want

by Carolyn S. Ellis

Your focused thoughts, images and emotions are powerful medicine." Peggy Huddleston

If all we really can control are our thoughts and beliefs, why not harness that power for healing and health?

I spoke recently with Peggy Huddleston, a pioneer in mind-body medicine and author of Prepare for Surgery, Heal Faster: A Guide of Mind-Body Techniques.

I first met Peggy in 1994 while undergoing chemotherapy for ovarian cancer. The circuitous way Peggy's name and phone number came to me convinced me that I should call her.

In my bleakest hours, I was able to tolerate the chemotherapy I feared and embrace it for healing by using Peggy's techniques for relaxation and visualization. With these two steps, I went further, allowing myself to visualize my ultimate desire: long-term good health.

At that time, Peggy was codifying her five healing steps and writing her book. For those facing surgery there are three additional steps to the Huddleston method: organize a support group, use healing statements, and meet your anesthesiologist.

As research has shown, with these techniques one can feel calmer before surgery, have less pain after, use less pain medication, recover faster, strengthen the immune system, and save money on medical bills. With the first two, anyone can learn to find their core of inner peace deep within.

My favorite childhood story was Heidi, Joanna Spyri's classic about an orphaned Swiss girl who is sent to live with her elderly uncle in his alpine cabin. Heidi does what none of the adults or medical experts can do; she helps her cousin Clara, who has been confined to a wheelchair, to walk again.

Heidi was my ideal: positive, strong, and free. I always remembered how she tapped her inner wisdom to guide Clara back to health.

I had no idea if relaxation and visualization would work, but Peggy's certainty matched my desperation. We could have been Heidi and Clara. I found myself simply doing what she proposed. I listened regularly to tapes of her guided visualizations and created an image of the outcome I wanted.

With ovarian cancer, the odds are 2 in 10 of making it to five years. To begin, I let that be my goal. As I have experienced five, then ten, and now sixteen years of good health, I am confident that these mind-body techniques work.

Four years ago I received a call from a dear friend, a medical doctor, who had been close to me during my months of treatment. She wanted to know about visualization and all I had done in my recovery from cancer.

Stephanie was bracing for a second facial surgery. Her first surgery 18 months before, although seemingly successful, had concluded with pain and panic. Now a recurrence of cancer catapulted her into a different stage and survival odds.

Stephanie was ready to step way beyond her comfort zone because she could not bear to repeat the terror of the first surgery. She met with Huddleston and used her tapes daily to enter a state of deep relaxation. She also worked with a massage therapist and a doctor specializing in nutrition.

"What Peggy Huddleston wanted me to do was actually very difficult for a doctor," Stephanie recalls. "She wanted me to tell the operating room staff what I wanted them to do -- NOT to say negative things in the operating room, or shout, or shake me awake, but to tell me, 'You will wake up without pain and able to move your face normally."

Visualization is key to the Huddleston method. Stephanie practiced and practiced. "I couldn't visualize my life in five years' time," she recalls. "I told Peggy, 'I can't visualize something that won't happen.'"

Peggy urged her to visualize what she could. At the end of summer, in three months, what would she like to have happen and where would she like to be? She wanted to be able to smile and present an animated face to her friends. Slowly they moved forward toward that goal.

Stephanie met with her anesthesiologist and reviewed the healing statements she had prepared. He agreed to read them to her in the operating room and to her there in their meeting. Her husband reports that in the recovery room following the second surgery, she was peaceful and alert, as she had hoped.

While Stephanie had plenty of time to prepare, Mary had just one day before neck surgery. I sent Prepare for Surgery, Heal Faster to her by overnight mail.

"I didn't have lots of time," Mary said, "so I basically flipped through the book. Something about it got my attention. This wasn't magic. It was, 'This is who we are and how we work. And this is what you can do to improve the chances of a good outcome.'" She liked the idea of healing statements and wrote some.

The next morning as her surgical staff came in one by one, Mary told them what she wanted them to say in the OR and asked them to visualize the outcome she hoped to have. Each agreed. The last was her surgeon. He listened but said he didn't think things would happen as she hoped.

Mary countered, saying she needed him to believe that the minimally invasive version of the surgery would be sufficient and she would recover well. Mary had had years of experience with doctors and nurses on behalf of others in her family, but she had never done anything like this. She wondered where she found the courage.

"Peggy's book showed me the way," Mary recalls. "I remember entering the OR with a sense of peace. I woke in the recovery room and saw that the clock said 10:30. I couldn't believe it was 10:30 in the morning. My hopes and dreams had come true!"

Mary was released from the hospital the next day and at home took just one dose of pain medication.

"Each of us has tremendous power, and I believe in positive thinking," Mary says. "However, it wouldn't have occurred to me to think or speak as I did without Peggy Huddleston's method. My recovery went better than I could have imagined, and today I feel great."

Peggy's method isn't the only way to harness the mind-body connection. In 1975 Dr. Herbert Benson published The Relaxation Response, which introduced simple techniques to reduce the harmful effects of stress, a proven contributor to modern-day illness.

Dr. Benson, on faculty at the Harvard Medical School, founded the Mind-Body Institute at Boston's Deaconess Hospital in 1988. Today he heads the Benson-Henry Institute for Mind Body Medicine at Massachusetts General Hospital.

Benson's ideal model for medicine is a three-legged stool comprising drugs, surgery and procedures, and self-care. The first two are done to the patient, but for the latter, the patient actively uses nutrition, exercise, and stress management and contributes her or his belief system. At the Institute medical doctors use mind-body medicine for conditions like heart disease, infertility, gastrointestinal disorders, and chronic pain.

I welcomed Dr. Benson's sixth book, Timeless Healing: the Power and Biology of Belief. It hit the bookstores as I was in my second year post treatment. I liked what he had to say about remembered wellness and the faith factor, and his findings were consistent with my experience with the Huddleston method.

In the foreword to Prepare for Surgery, Heal Faster, Christiane Northrup, MD, author of Women's Bodies, Women's Wisdom, says, "Now imagine what would be possible if every patient openly and wholeheartedly embraced his or her part in the healing process -- with the full cooperation and acknowledgement of their surgeon and anesthesiologist!"

We would be setting the stage for the miraculous to become commonplace.

Learn more about healing visualization at:

Carolyn Ellis

Carolyn Ellis has been well since initial treatment for ovarian cancer in 1994; she is grateful and pleasantly surprised to be one of the 2 in 10 who make it to five years.

She writes to increase awareness of ovarian cancer because early detection is important.

Carolyn wants to help women dealing with ovarian cancer focus on positive possibilities because hope is critical to recovery. She invites you to visit her blog about ovarian cancer and life in general at

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