Healing Trauma After a Scary Illness and Its Scary Treatment

Dear Belleruth,

Do you have a recommended sequence of programs for trauma, related to life-threatening illness?

I’m not sure where to start.  I relied on several of your guided imagery audio programs during my cancer treatment. I am now 2 years post-chemo and my scans are clear.

But shortly after I was diagnosed, I also became ill from life-threatening sepsis due to a perforated bowel, leading to multiple surgeries and weeks in the ICU on life support.

Because of the complications, I was essentially immobile, and between inpatient stays for chemo I was not able to return home. Instead, I was treated in a variety of specialty hospitals, rehab facilities, and nursing homes. So basically, I was hospitalized or otherwise out of my home for 8 months. Then it was in and out of my home for several more months, for inpatient chemo treatment. 

My family and friends were wonderful - incredibly present and supportive, and they continue to be.

But my memories are confused. One of the tumors was in my brain, creating cognitive difficulties and great fear. Nowadays I am in remission and functioning pretty well, but I am still extremely anxious and losing sleep.

I am limiting my exposure to media during this pandemic, because just the word “ventilator” results in me immediately having a dry mouth and increased tension. Because of the chemo, I’m restricted in what medication I can take. In any case, I prefer not to use medications. I would like to deal with this without drugs.

Can you give me an idea of where to start, and how to proceed using guided imagery to deal with what I know has to be posttraumatic stress? 

Thank you and God bless! Stay safe.


 Good grief, Missy!  You’ve really been through the medical wars, and just one of the things you’ve experienced could be enough to result in posttraumatic stress:  a life-threatening cancer diagnosis, prolonged stay in an ICU, being immobilized and helpless but conscious during scary procedures, enduring one medical treatment after another, extended hospitalizations, over a year of disruption and separation from your life as you knew it, and I’m also guessing several near-death experiences – and that’s just the more obvious possibilities. How could you not be anxious and sleep-deprived?

Extended hospital stays alone make people really edgy and super-fearful about being ‘back on the street’, and in these days of a pandemic, being outside or inside a hospital is certified scary anyway.  

So, first and foremost, hats off to you for getting through this series of such daunting events with your sense of self intact – and it clearly is from the way you write about it. This could have easily up-ended a less steely person’s identity. You sound like you’re still very much you.

And yes, please do keep limiting your exposure to media – and especially TV, which is especially toxic.  This is a wise decision. Print news is probably the least destructive way to stay informed if you can concentrate on a printed page (- that’s another symptom of traumatic stress: temporarily impaired focus.)

As for what mind-body interventions to use and in what order for remediating your posttraumatic stress?  The most targeted and comprehensive thing I know of is Guided Imagery for the Three Stages of Healing Trauma: 9 Meditations for Posttraumatic Stress. I’m honestly not saying this because it’s my work. It’s just uniquely made to order for exactly what you’re asking about. 

It covers the full range of PTS symptoms and after-effects, it provides its own incremental sequencing, from simple relaxation and self-soothing exercises; to deeply healing psychological, spiritual and physiological imagery; to managing the typical behavioral aftereffects of trauma.

It’s designed so you can progress at your own pace. It’s pricey as our stuff goes, because it’s 9 different guided meditations, but it fills the bill. 

I’d just go through its progression very slowly and methodically, stage by stage, spending days or even weeks on the ones that really seem to speak to you and help you regain your strength, balance, and resilience, before moving on to the next audio. You can also, as you progress, go back to the earlier ones on a regular basis. You set the agenda, depending on what you feel like listening to, day to day. Respect your ups and downs!

As I mentioned, it’s designed to be cumulative and to start with installing (or reinstating) your basic self-regulation skills first, which will help you build up your reserves again and get you ready to absorb the more active, intense, healing experiences that come later, in stages 2 and 3.

The other possibility would be to just get the app, and access this 9-part program from there, plus a vast menu of other selections whenever you feel like a change in voice or tone, topic or method (because this is not likely going to be a quick fix – more like a slow but cumulative one.) 

For instance, you might like inserting into this 3-stage, 9-part program the unique voice of Lynne Newman’s Healing Circle or Bodhipaksa’s gentle, deep mindfulness meditations…or infusing your psyche with Traci Stein’s Self-Compassion during Sleep. With the app, you would have a wonderful variety of healing + recuperating + relaxing options.

But if you prefer to keep it simple, I’d just go with my first suggestion. 

Wishing you all the best.  

All best,



PS. I’m taking another bow to your remarkable strength.