Friday, January 8, 2016

I Was Diagnosed with Breast Cancer in a Dream - An Interview with Wanda Burch

Wanda Burch
"It's your time to get cancer."

That sentence kept waking me from dead sleep during the summer of 2013. By December, when due for my annual breast screening, I had a nagging feeling that this time I should ask for an MRI. Between getting the scan and receiving the results I dreamed a woman in a white lab coat told me I had breast cancer. Thanks to that MRI  I was diagnosed with Stage 1 HER 2 (+3) breast cancer that previous mammograms missed. I was forty-three years old. That was a very aggressive tumor that had not yet spread.  Would a mammogram alone have missed it again, destining me for diagnosis at a later, less treatable stage? Quite possibly.

More shocking than being diagnosed with cancer in a dream was learning that I was in good company - that this is actually a thing. In 2015 I was part of a study with eighteen other women, Warning Dreams Preceding the Diagnosis of Breast Cancer: A Survey of the Most Important Characteristics,  published in May/June 2015 issue of  Explore: The Journal of Science and Healing.

I have begun an interview series with Dr. Larry Burk, M.D., the paper's author, and several women from the study. This first installment features Wanda Burch.

M & E:
Can you set the stage of your life at the time of this dream that suggested you had breast cancer? Were dreams about health issues common for you or did this come out of left field?

Wanda Burch:
 "I was born in the South in Cullman, Alabama, and grew up in Memphis, Tennessee. My grandmother was a healer in the Alabama mountains and dream sharing was a constant in my life. Keeping a daily journal was not a part of my life until a friend, Robert Moss, encouraged me to do so. The journal saved my life. When I realized I was dreaming the diagnosis of breast cancer, Robert was in the process of developing a set of “questions,” which he called Lightning Dream Technique. In helping me work with and understand the dreams, which were nightly, I worked through the process of diagnosis, surgery, chemotherapy and healing, as Robert refined his technique, assisting me in learning how to mine the dreams for active work with the imagery for healing.

I can’t imagine having “one” dream. Each dream held unique information, crucial to diagnosis; then the dreams changed when I had acted on the information, each one unfolding, as you say, into the information I needed for the next part of the healing process. They addressed the technical aspects of chemotherapy, providing the imagery I needed for a positive experience, providing the words and phrases I needed for the creation of meditations, for drawing, for writing and for actively moving the imagery from the dream to my waking reality.
M & E:
Did you tell your physicians or their staffs about the dreams? If so, how did they respond? Do you believe your dreams and subsequent actions you took as a result saved your
life? If so, how?
Wanda Burch:
I will not repeat the entire content of the book. Read it for my story; but I shared my dreams first with my gynecologist and then with a surgeon who “paid attention.” He asked if I had dreamed the location of the tumor. I had. He gave me a felt tip pen and asked me to draw the location on my breast. The location was accurate and he passed along information to my oncologist on the nature of my dreaming and asked him to participate actively with me in the healing process. I had an aggressive cancer that did not show up on a mammogram. One of my dreams warned me of this and encouraged me to aggressively pursue the only information available on the diagnosis - my dreams. I did. Dr. Barlyn shared later that had it not been for my dreams, I would have been dead within a year with almost no symptoms."
Interesting. Mammogram missed mine, too. How did you come to be included in Dr. Burk's study?
Wanda Burch:
I don’t recall exactly how Dr. Burk came to me. I think he was aware of my book and of my friendship with Robert Moss.
Is there anything else you would like to share with our readers about your experience?
Wanda Burch:
I continue to work with women who have diagnoses of breast cancer and other chronic illness, and women veterans, who often have unique health issues. We work together with their dreams, using Robert’s technique for dream sharing and using more advanced work with dreams: dream tracking, dream re-entry, drawing, writing, and dream theater. I plan an eventual book on healing and the imagination, based on the hundreds of stories shared in workshops on dreaming, diagnosis, and healing. My current research is soldiers’ dreams, both historic and current. I believe working with dreams and the arts is a safety net that can bring the soldier home from war with humanity and soul intact.
I am a 26 year breast cancer survivor. In 2003 New World Library published the story of my experience of healing and dreams: She Who Dreams: A Journey into Healing through Dreamwork. My book still influences people and I still receive testimonials from those working with healing and dreams. In She Who Dreams, I describe how working with dreams and dream imagery saved my life, not a process of “one” dream, but a process that involves first and foremost keeping a journal, working with individual dream imagery and understanding the ongoing process of diagnosis, action, and healing, using the information and imagery in each dream. I dreamed my diagnosis of breast cancer for over two years before I understood what I was dreaming about. When the dreams became more definitive and more urgent, I paid attention and acted on the dreams, and currently, with the help of a few simple questions, I understand how to approach each of my night dreams and how to work actively with dream imagery and information as it comes. 

I am a retired historian from a 37 year career as site manager of an 18th century house museum. I continue to work in historic preservation and on boards of historic societies and museums. I continue to work with dreams and with breast cancer advocacy programs. I am a peer advocate reviewer with the Department of Defense breast cancer grant proposal program and have articles published on dream imagery in self-help magazines, in on-line blogs, and other like venues. I co-present arts retreats in the Adirondack mountains, one at Great Camp Sagamore for women surviving chronic illness and one at Wiawaka in Lake George for women veterans. These are under the auspices of Creative Healing Connections, Inc.
Most recently I have partnered with John Kenosian, singer/songwriter. We offer programs on healing through dreams and music that will allow participants the opportunity to explore the imagery in their dreams and the healing potential of music. Wiawaka will host our first three day program on Healing the Spirit through Dreams and Music, July 8-10, 2016, with one day programs offered at other venues throughout the year. Both John and myself are featured in a newly released CD, “Come Dearest the Daylight is Gone" [the 77th NY Regimental Balladeers], with an accompanying booklet authored by myself, Dreaming of Home in the American Civil War. The booklet includes excerpts from a book manuscript, working title, Soul on Paper: Dreams and the Imagination in the American Civil War, which will be published by McFarland Publishing, Inc. in 2016. Visit my website at

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