Creating a Vision of Health
Nurse Mary Hallman shares healing techniques.
By Ashby Semple
Mary Hallman, 65, a registered nurse in Minneapolis, has always believed in the power of the mind and spirit to help heal the body; for years, she led her patients through relaxation exercises to reduce their stress. So in 1995, when she was diagnosed with a rare form of fallopian tube cancer, she decided to use her own techniques to help her through the difficult time. Hallman’s prognosis was guarded, and her treatment required surgery followed by six months of chemotherapy. Throughout, she made time in her day to practice deep breathing and relaxation to preserve a sense of harmony and balance in her body. “The exercises helped reduce my anxiety a lot,” she says.
Soon, Hallman started to notice something unusual. “I found that when I relaxed very deeply, I would start to visualize imagery that seemed to have a positive effect on me,” she says. She describes the abstract images that came to her as cell-like, at first expanding and then shrinking and disappearing completely. She thought of these images as a metaphor for what was happening within as the cancer left her body. “I felt like I was making a significant contribution to my recovery, which was important,” she says.
Out of curiosity, Hallman later did some research on cellular elimination and discovered light micron photographs of human cancer cells dying in the process of apoptosis, the body’s natural way of eliminating damaged or unwanted cells, including cancerous ones. Remarkably, the photographs looked exactly like the images Hallman had seen in her mind’s eye.
Though it can’t be scientifically proven that guided imagery contributes to the death of cancer cells, Hallman was nonetheless stunned and excited. “To be perfectly frank, it was a little bit strange,” she says. “But I also thought: This is good, I need to pursue this.” She decided to create a visualization DVD to help cancer patients integrate mind and body during all phases of treatment and recovery.
Hallman’s daughters, Molly Russell Ford and Jennifer Russell, were eager to help their mother with the project. They already had busy lives. Both worked full-time—Jennifer, 43, as a radio producer and Molly, 37, as a fashion designer—and were also raising small children. But their commitment to their mother was paramount. Jennifer describes her mother’s initial diagnosis as “a dark and scary period. We are lucky to have her. It may sound corny, but the opportunity to work with and for her was a gift.” Molly adds, “This is Mom at her best. She used to relax me from head to toe every night when I was little. Even now, when I can’t sleep, I think of Mom saying, ‘Relax your toes,’ and then going all the way up.”
With Hallman providing the vision and the bulk of the research, Molly worked on pulling together the art and a soundtrack while Jennifer generally oversaw the production process. It was a daunting undertaking that took four years to complete—much longer than any of them had anticipated. “When we finally finished, we all fell back and said, ‘My goodness, we’ve done it!’” says Hallman. “It was a tremendous sense of achievement.”