Article adapted from SHE WHO DREAMS By Wanda Easter Burch
Published by New World Library

(1500 words)
At the beginning of 1990, I followed my dreams to Africa. I was in Ghana when I fell asleep on a warm afternoon, lulled in and out of awareness by the syncopated beating
of yams in the Asantemanso village dooryards. I dreamed a warning dream, more literal and more terrifying than any of my previous dreams:

My father, who had died the year before of colon cancer, appears and seems to be checking on me. Someone else is also in the dream, a man dressed in a medical coat. He tells me, almost shouting, that I have a malignant lump in my breast and that I must have my breast removed. He is still shouting at me. He tells me that no matter what I hear, that it is not benign. He is now leading me out the door, almost pulling me, telling me we are going to the Mayo Clinic where another doctor is shouting to me that I have a malignancy and that I must act immediately.

This dream had followed almost two years of carefully recorded dreams filled with symbols and images of illness that I failed to understand and to act upon. The new dream drove me to consult with physicians as soon as I got home. They detected breast cancer, a variety that was fast-moving, non-massing, and aggressive. My condition required immediate surgery, the removal of my left breast. The dream that drove me to take action, and the healing dreams that followed, saved my life.

Robert Moss, in Conscious Dreaming, discusses the dream that finally brings the conscious mind to attention, the dream that finally kicks you awake because you have not remembered, not understood, or not paid appropriate heed to an important dream or series of dreams. Now that I had learned from my own dream wake-up call, I began to ask other men and women who had experienced serious illness if they recalled a particular dream or intuitive moment that had helped to alert them to their condition or guided their healing.

Many of the people I interviewed were women who had suffered breast cancer. Their stories were as varied and individual as the dreamers themselves and ranged from little bears helping with house cleaning to dramatic stories of physical and spiritual loss and rebirth played out in dreaming and in waking.

When we finally feel confident in exploring the elements of dream diagnosis, the next step is to explore the elements of healing in our dreams. Diagnosis is presented not to frighten us, but to allow us to begin a journey of healing.

Once the problem is diagnosed and acknowledged, the dreams begin to change, offering the symbols and metaphors each of us can use for recovery and healing. Healing is not always connected with staying alive, and that is sometimes the most difficult lesson to learn; healing is sometimes a preparation for death. Healing dreams give us images unique to our own personal mythology that can be used like a prescription in the healing process.

Galen believed one could study a patient’s imagery and dream content and learn important diagnostic information that could help the patient learn to heal themselves and bring their bodies and minds back into balance. The Renaissance physician Paracelsus, who attributed his understanding of health and illness to conversations with women, wrote about the power of the imagination as one of the greatest factors in medicine. He noted that the imagination could both produce disease and cure disease. He also believed in the magic of using medical knowledge in conjunction with the power of the spirit working through the soul.

The day I was diagnosed with breast cancer, I came home and walked into my empty house alone, angry, afraid, and confused. I lay down on the sofa and desperately tried to think of what to do first. I closed my eyes, almost, but not quite, drifting to sleep and had a dream in which I held my left breast over a pan of water, turning it over, pointing to the exact location of the cancer, and squeezing the breast like a sponge into the water, dark fluid flowing into the bowl.

That image, pinpointing the location of my cancer, and the image of squeezing the sponge breast until the poisonous liquid flowed into the bowl, became my first healing images. When my surgeon, a man who understood the healing process, told me to go home and do something to begin my healing, I took those images and used them every day and every evening until my biopsy. I used them like a prescription, stating an intention of healing, and imagining the dark fluid being pulled into one place where it could be controlled and eliminated. I began the process of using my dream images to save my life.

Healing can be a creative journey; when it comes in a dream, healing imagery is a special gift. In the midst of my own healing I had a wonderful dream in which I was in an enormous room filled with tools. The tools took on a life of their own and in the end of this dream I joined them in a magnificent ballet of active healing.

The ballet was performed in the air in a classroom; and the entire dream was so permeated with magic and healing images that I felt, when I woke, that there was no barrier between my mind and my body, that they were indeed working in a magical harmony to effect the healing and balance of both. This dream helped me form intent in my mind, in my imagination. Intent granted power and healing energy to the imagination.

Scan your dreams for diagnosis and for the symbols and images needed for your healing. You will find there a direct correlation between intent and dreaming images and will be able to chart a course for healing. In our daily communication with one another, we share language symbols that we each recognize and use for fluid communication. Our dreams give us a different set of symbols that our sleeping self must share with our waking self so that communication with the body can continue beyond the dream.

Once we begin to recognize and understand our own unique set of images in our sleep dreams, then we can begin to translate them in the day and use them to create active healing.

Keys to Healing with Dream Imagery:

1. Keep a journal; record every dream.

2. Catalog and study your personal dream images until you can translate them into active healing images you can use for your own prescription for healing.

3. Trust your spontaneous imagery. A woman with colon cancer dreamed about a whale covered with barnacles.

4. Allow your active imagination to work with the dream image. This will give the image power and energy. The woman who dreamed about the whale imagined herself cleaning the barnacles from the whale’s flesh. In her next check-up, the healing that had occurred within her body surprised the doctors. Using the dream in an active manner effectively extended her life.

5. Welcome dream helpers. If a guide appears - animal, human, sometimes even an object - accept the help offered and call on that specific guide when needed. Little bears saved a woman’s life. They came time and again in her dreams, guiding her and giving her energy for treatments and recovery.

6. Carry your favorite images into your everyday life. Think about them when you are shopping for groceries, when you are driving the car, when you are doing your daily chores. Make healing an active part of your life.

7. Trust your dreams and your ability to heal. Every thought, every action, is a message to your immune system. Create positive messages based on the active healing images in your dreams.

8. Let your dream imagery develop into personal rituals of healing. I dreamed of a field in which I could harvest all the parts of my body. I chose each part, washed each part in hyssop and reconstructed my body with everything cleansed and renewed. I used the imagery in this dream as an active healing prescription, imagining myself choosing, cleansing, and reconstructing a balanced healthy body, free from disease.

I am alive because I dream. My dreaming has led me to a new purpose - a life of sharing and giving in a positive, appropriate manner, a life of exploring every day the vibrant confirming messages of life and purpose available to all of us in our dreams. This sharing and giving belongs to all of us, and communication with our dreams can bring us together and teach us a way of healing that can be both unique to our individual experience and common in the larger universe of dream diagnosis and healing.

Adapted from “SHE WHO DREAMS” by Wanda Burch, Trade Paper, $14.95,
New World Library,, Toll-free ordering: 1-800-972-6657 Ext. 52

Author's Bio: 

I was born in Alabama and grew up in Memphis, Tennessee, where I went to both the local public schools and the local college. My father worked in the Memphis GE plant, a foreman for a machine crew that made Christmas tree “lamps” [lights]. My mother was a traditional housewife who loved plants and whose lawn was always a showplace of colorful dahlias, roses, azaleas and beautiful flowering trees. I married Ron, a person I had known since I was a child and had one child, a son – Evan - born in the mid 1970s. My roots--a line of strong Irish-American women in the southern Alabama hills--encouraged the importance of dream imagery and the keeping of journals from the time I was a child. The first person who encouraged me to dream was my maternal grandmother, a “wise woman” who returned to me in dreams – after she passed – to show me healing plants and to advise me on the nature of the soul’s journey.

My education focused on history, English, architecture, southern literature, and math. I never found this mix incompatible – one fed into the other and created a harmony that would have been dry and uninteresting if any one element were missing. Studies led me from a basic degree at the local university in Memphis to studies at Oxford University [Oxford, England] in British history and literature and in British architecture and landscape design. Back in America I completed a master’s degree in museum administration in 1971, supplemented with additional graduate studies in architectural history, English, and British history from Penn State University.

In 1971 I married Ron and moved to Little Rock, Arkansas, where he was stationed in the Air Force for four years. There I held a job as curator of the Arkansas Territorial Restoration. Both Ron and I became involved in local preservation organizations, and Ron worked briefly with archive preservation after his tour of duty in the air force. I followed Ron to upstate New York in 1974 where I had received my degree in museum administration and where he now pursued his own education goals to become an architectural historian.

I took a job as historic site manager at Johnson Hall State Historic Site, an important historic site in upstate New York, an area that is rich in the traditions of the Iroquois Indians. We moved into our own preservation project, a Victorian house built in 1878 in a small hamlet called Glen, which was only a ten minute drive from my place of work. Ron became curator of art and architecture at the New York State Museum, a longer commute of an hour away. Our son, Evan, went to school in the area, grew up and decided on a career in the Coast Guard, where he is presently stationed – married with two children – in California.

Ron and I had moved to the hamlet of Glen in 1978. My dream diagnosis of my breast cancer occurred in the year preceding 1990, and my battle with my disease became tied to my dreaming and to my relationship with friends and family in the areas I then [and now] call home. I had breast cancer surgery--a modified radical mastectomy followed by six months of aggressive chemotherapy—now over thirteen years ago, joining the epidemic ranks of women in this country suffering from this disease. I had met Robert Moss, a popular writer and speaker, in the 1980s while he was researching material for books on Sir William Johnson. He had begun his own dream journey of discovery among the Iroquois in upstate New York, which led us to an incomparable friendship of dream sharing and investigation. It was Robert who suggested- when I was recovering from breast cancer surgery - I search back through my journals of dreams, many of them disturbing, attempting to decipher the symbols and images that had escaped interpretation at the time.

With a better understanding of the importance of my dreams to my diagnosis, I then sought dreams for healing during chemotherapy and during dangerous bouts with depression. My dreams – faithfully recorded in journals and used for imagery and healing exercises – changed character as I needed them for the different phases of my healing, recovery, and confirmation of life. My dreams provided images that assisted me through the days and nights of depression, providing me with guidance and hope. In my journey I battled in my subconscious with one specific warning dream of my death. The power of that dream drifted through the period of my healing and haunted me until I received a marvelous dream of re-negotiating my life contract. The new dream gave me a new lease on life that brought with it a claim of responsibility to those who might benefit from my story of dreams and healing.

During this period of time I met many other women who shared my experience, women who had dreamed specific dreams that helped them through their own illnesses. We all shared the same opinion--that our dreams had a common source and a common goal but that each of us had experienced our own unique healing experience within that commonality.

After the remarkable dream in which I re-negotiated my life or soul contract, I made a vow to become more responsible to my small community where I live and work and to a larger community of people searching for meaning in their dreams, I sought ways to find my voice in my home community and world community.

My hamlet has a nineteenth century general store where my neighbors have taken to sharing dreams with me on an everyday basis, weaving a fascinating web of interlocking dreams that guide and energize our lives. To continue to honor my love of history and my new exploration into dreaming, I published articles on colonial medicine and on dream diagnosis and healing. I have written articles for professional publications such as New York History and the Dublin Seminars for American Studies, including an article on 18th century medicine and healing. I co-authored a booklet [with my husband, Ron] on the architecture of upstate New York villages in an area near our home in Glen, New York.

I work as a volunteer “wish bringer” for Make-A-Wish Foundation. I am an advocate for breast cancer research, chosen to attend the National Breast Cancer Alliance LEAD workshop in the northeastern region in 2000; and, as a hotline volunteer, I talk to women about their dreams and share stories of my own. Every cancer patient with whom I have spoken has a story about intuition or dreams; and, though some hesitate at first to share, they all have at least one dream or one interesting intuitive experience they recall as a precognitive event. When they do share their dreams and intuition stories they find that they open themselves to new possibilities of healing.

When I was a child visiting my grandmother in the hills of Alabama, she would take my hands in hers and ask me what kind of dreams I dreamed. After a remarkable journey into a dreamscape that literally diagnosed a dangerous disease and then gave me imagery for healing, I can answer that question: I dream my life.

Wanda Burch
PO Box 308
Fultonville, NY 12072