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Dream Images of Cancer

Posted Nov 17 2008 11:50pm

Some time ago, an old man came to me because of my interest in dreams and cancer. His wife had just died of cancer, and he wanted to tell me something that he thought might be important. Prior to his wife's diagnosis, she began to have terrible nightmares filled with conflagrations and vicious, pursuing animals. She woke in the night screaming in response to dream images of dogs tearing at her stomach, fires burning her flesh, and other horrors. These nightmarish experiences lasted about two weeks. Several months later she was diagnosed with terminal stomach cancer. and within three months she was dead. The old man told me: "You know, those dreams were the beginning of it. The cancer was announcing itself. I felt the truth of it in my bones. But people won't listen to an old man."

Cancer in Myth and Dreams; Russell A. Lockhart, in PsychotherapeuticTreatment of Cancer Patients, edited by Jane G. Goldberg, Page 18.


Similar to other diagnostic dreams mentioned in this blog, there are images of vicious animals, terror, fire often associated with serious disease.

,A Russian psychiatrist, Dr. Vasily Kasatkin, reviewed ten thousand dreams form 1200 subjects. These were his findings regarding common features produced in dreams by physical illness:

  • Illness is associated with an increase in dream recall

  • Illness causes dreams to become distressful and to include nightmarish or violent images of war, fire, blood, corpses, tombs, raw meat, garbage, dirty water, or references to hospitals, doctors, and medicines.

  • These dreams generally appear before the first symptoms of the illness.

  • Dreams caused by illness are longer than distress dreams caused by ordinary annoyances and persist throughout the night and throughout the duration of the illness

  • The content of the dream can reveal the location and seriousness of the illness.

(Cited in Our Dreaming Mind, by R. Van De Castle, page 363.)
Kasatkin's Theory of Dreams, published in 1967, has never been translated into English. Again, how is it that the medical world is ignoring this important source of information? Could there be something missing in the medical model and treatment of illness?

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