I recently had the delightful opportunity to meet with an amazing 94-year-old man who is sharp as a tack with a quick wit and dry sense of humor that belies his age. This extraordinary man has been, and still is, a practicing psychologist. He has specialized in working with terminally ill cancer patients since shortly after World War II. Imagine nearly 70 years of working with people who were expected to die. Especially when your approach is to truly care about, and even love, your patients.
Dr. Larry LeShan speaks to therapists in one of his 18 books about the importance of truly caring about his patients. He admonishes therapists and caregivers NOT to compartmentalize feelings of grief and loss as they grieve with and about dying patients who become friends. With this approach and with this demographic of patients, it would seem that Larry LeShan would be grieving continuously. He says that the feelings of grief and loss are what drove him to what turned out to be a revolutionary approach to therapy.
LeShan found that doing traditional therapy with dying people wasn’t helping them enjoy their last days. He said that asking a dying person what was wrong with his life felt absurd. So, he began to ask what was right and good and significant about his patient’s lives. He said that the shift in the patient’s mindset was immediately obvious—facial expressions and body language spoke loudly that for those moments together life wasn’t dominated by cancer, but by what was good and significant in life.
Just weeks after throwing the book of traditional therapeutic methods out the proverbial window, Dr. Larry LeShan noticed that his patients were living beyond their dismal prognosis!
Dr. LeShan began to follow his patients’medical progress, and what he found was remarkable. Cancer cells halted growth, some tumors shrank, and some patients went into remission. Over 50% of his patients, diagnosed as terminally ill, lived at least ten years beyond their prognosis!
So what was his secret?
Dr. LeShan believes that when we focus on what’s good in our lives, find our passion, and live in it as best we can, we “unlock”our immune systems. He believes that focusing on our significance and our passion gives our bodies a reason to fight.
In his book, Cancer As A Turning Point, LeShan tells stories of people who made minor tweaks and of those who made major changes in their lives to focus on the things that were significant to them—the things about which they were passionate, who went on to live for years beyond the cancer that had threatened to kill them. He also tells of those who, for one reason or another, chose not to go in the direction of their dreams, who succumbed to the cancer.
Having read some of his books and after the pleasure of spending several hours with him, I’m fully convinced that one could put almost anything in the place of “cancer,”and use any milestone or game changer as a turning point toward finding one’s passion in life. In fact, why wait for some life-threatening diagnosis or life altering game-changer? Why not find our passion and begin to live in that now? Dr. LeShan, himself, is a perfect example of how living out one’s passion contributes to a long, healthy, productive life. At 94, he still lights up when a patient finds her passion and makes the decision to dramatically alter her life to pursue it.
As I left Dr. LeShan’s little apartment in New York, I decided that I didn’t need a cancer diagnosis to change my life. I dug out the files full of notes I’ve made for a step-by-step program for finding the intersection of passion and expertise, and I began to create the YOUR REAL SUCCESS program. Watch for it in 2015.
Rhonda Sciortino, author of Succeed Because of What You’ve Been Through, used the coping skills from an abusive childhood to start her own business and develop it, along with her other investments, into a multi-million dollar balance sheet. Through her writing, speaking, and media appearances, she shares how others can use the obstacles in their lives as stepping stones to a great future.