Exploring the Link Between Stress and Chronic Illness with Cort Davies

Episode 296

Exploring the Link Between Stress and Chronic Illness with Cort Davies

Earlier this year, I accidentally FaceTimed a man named Julio. Julio had just raised approximately $80,000 on a GoFundMe for today’s guest, Cort Davies. At the time, I was in the process of starting a nonprofit that was to be called Support the Unsupported, and Cort was founding his own, doing exactly what I wanted to do.

His nonprofit, Conscious Cancer, helps cancer patients get the knowledge, holistic resources, and money to help them navigate the stress of bills they can’t pay. He’s also creating a documentary, which led not just to him filming at my house but to us having a long conversation about transitioning from chemo to holistic medicine.

Today, Cort joins the podcast to discuss how his cancer journey has reshaped his life and his relationship with chronic stress. You’ll learn how it gave him the power to become heart-centered, to live with compassion and empathy, and to kick major ass – and how he’s working to help others do the same.


Cort Davies

Breathing into your heart and remembering things you're grateful for and joyful for, literally can transform your life in a few minutes a day.


  • How Cort discovered that what he thought was chronic stress was actually a one in 2 million cancerous tumor that required seven surgeries to treat over a period of several years.
  • Why Cort’s cancer led him to start exploring the relationship between stress and cancer – and why coping with cancer is so much harder than dealing with the disease itself for so many patients.
  • Cort’s Freeze-Frame Technique for managing stress – and how it’s helped people reduce symptoms of seemingly unmanageable chronic illnesses.


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Hal Elrod: Alright. Achieve Your Goals Podcast listeners. You are talking with Hal Elrod. This is Hal. I’m with my friend, Cort Davies. We’re actually recording a video right now, which I don’t normally do. Cort, it’s good to see you, brother.


Cort Davies: Great to see you, Hal. Awesome to be here.


Hal Elrod: Yeah. And I actually see you twice. So, we’ve never met before or we had never met before except over the phone and then now we’ve seen each other twice in a matter of what? It’s been like three days or something since your house.


Cort Davies: Yeah. You invited me to your house. That was amazing.


Hal Elrod: I know. That’s pretty good, man. So, alright, everybody listening, let me tell you how Cort and I met. It’s the craziest most serendipitous story. So, a friend of mine, Pat Dylan, actually a friend of Cort’s as well, a mutual friend. Pat introduced me to this guy named Julio over text just because Julio had raised a bunch of money like $80,000 on a GoFundMe for Cort. So, Pat connected Julio, and Julio was texting me a few resources. That’s it. I was never supposed to have a relationship with Julio beyond him texting me a few resources. One day I butt FaceTime, right, meaning I don’t even know how Julio showed up. Somehow, I look at my phone and there’s a Spanish gentleman and he goes, “Hello?” I go, “Hello.” He goes, “This is Hal?” “Yeah. Who’s this?” “Julio. Why are you FaceTiming me right now?” “Because you FaceTime me.” And we end up talking for like 30 minutes and it turns out, yeah, I mean all the things, man, and then he connected me with Cort and, Cort, we’ll talk about this later, but he’s starting a nonprofit called Conscious Cancer. And I was in the process of starting a nonprofit called Support the Unsupported with regret because I realized I’m not ready mentally, emotionally, logistically to run a nonprofit but I just want to support people.


And it turns out Cort was starting a nonprofit that was doing exactly what I wanted to do, helping cancer patients with knowledge they need to heal, with holistic resources, with money so that they don’t have the stress of having bills they can’t afford to pay because they’re out of work and I go, “Cort, wait a minute. I’m not going to refile for my nonprofit. I’m just going to support yours. How does that sound?” And one thing led to another. Cort’s creating a documentary. He was at my house the other day with three people, another serendipitous moment. I’m looking for somebody to help me through the post-chemo transition to holistic and I asked your buddy who he is, why is he here. He goes, “I help guide people from chemo to holistic,” and I go, “I’ve been praying for you like what do you…?” Anyway, so, Cort…


Cort Davies: He showed up for you, Hal. He showed up for you.


Hal Elrod: Man, he showed up for me and you showed up for me and just I’m looking at you right now and I feel such a sense of gratitude and also like woo-woo spiritual, you know, serendipity synchronicity in ways that I, I mean, I don’t think we yet fully know what the connection that you and I are creating and have created is going to do for us and for the world. So, thanks for being on the Achieve Your Goals podcast, brother.


Cort Davies: Dude, thank you so much for having me.


Hal Elrod: Yeah, man. So, tell me briefly, I know we have a limited time here but I want to know as much as I can here, what is your story. Tell us your story and how we arrived at this moment other than what I just shared, obviously.


Cort Davies: Absolutely. Absolutely. So, 2014 I started coming down with some side effects of I don’t know. I don’t know what it was. Maybe chronic stress and I was dealing with pelvic pain and I had chronically high blood pressure. And so, I saw about 30 doctors over the course of three years and no one knew what was wrong with me. I thought I was going crazy. I literally was at the point where I thought I was going crazy. And here’s me, I was an entrepreneur. I was working with startup companies. I was consulting for mostly software companies do marketing and it got to the point where I couldn’t work. And it took one emergency room doctor in a small town in Connecticut to tell me to do this what’s called a 24-hour urine test. And so, I did the urine test and as it turned out I had 100 times the adrenaline in my body than normal humans do. The number was off the charts, like literally off the charts. And so, he called me and he said, “Listen, you have a neuroendocrine tumor. We don’t know where it is, but you have one.” And so, you know, obviously, my world was just like, boom, like holy crap.


Hal Elrod: And then a tumor as in you have cancer, right?


Cort Davies: Exactly. Well, at that point, there is benign and malignant version.


Hal Elrod: Ah, okay.


Cort Davies: Okay. So, we didn’t know. So, at that point, it’s not cancer. At that point, it’s you have a tumor. And so, then we did the CT scans and the MRIs and this is the medical world, Hal. You and I talked about somewhat of our frustrations.


Hal Elrod: Yeah.


Cort Davies: And so, the first CT came back and it’s like, “You have a 2-centimeter tumor in your bladder,” and we’re like, “Okay, that’s manageable. It’s small.” And then they did the MRI and it turned into an 8-centimeter tumor in my bladder. And so, I guess the imaging didn’t see it. And so, what they did is they diagnosed me with this thing called malignant paraganglioma. It is a one in 2 million cancerous. It’s super, super rare. And over the course of that time, I’ve gotten surgeries on my bladder. They took out a baseball-sized tumor in my bladder. I got a tumor taken off my spine, a 2-inch screw put into my hip to get rid of another tumor, two more ablation therapies, and then I had a really serious surgery in January of this year where they had to take out my T6 vertebrae. It was literally jelly. It was literally all tumor. We had to replace it with a cage. It’s called a corpectomy. And so, you know, the last two years have been experimental drugs, pain isolation, high medical bills, insane amounts of surgery, and as you can imagine, it’s been a crazy journey.


Hal Elrod: Well, I like to say I can imagine because I’ve been through my own but I haven’t been through yours, right? I mean, I haven’t had, how many surgeries?


Cort Davies: Seven.


Hal Elrod: I haven’t had seven surgeries, man. Yeah. Well, tell me how is your experience with cancer reshaped your life, your mindset, the way you live, all of the things? What are the lessons that you’ve put into practice?


Cort Davies: Absolutely. You know, Hal, I read your book years ago and it’s crazy talking to you and it’s crazy listening to you. And so, I think you and I probably learn from the same great minds back in the day. You know, the Tony Robbins of the world and the Brian Tracys of the world, the Jack Canfields of the world. You know, we really did a lot of mind preparation, right? And so, you and I had this brief conversation the other day. I’m like, Hal, how was your stress level during cancer? And you had said to me, “Well, I actually managed it pretty well.” And I kind of felt the same way like I almost felt like the last 10, 15 years of my life were prepping me for this moment. I don’t know if you feel that way.


Hal Elrod: Sure, absolutely.


Cort Davies: And so, I really realize and I think a lot of people have a hard time with this but I really realized that cancer was the gift that I was waiting for. And it’s so crazy to say that but it was like I was so scared to make the necessary changes in my life. Until now, I have this life-threatening disease that basically says, “You need to make these changes or you’re going to die.” And so, death is a funny thing because in the positive sense when you see death so closely, you go, “Well, what am I waiting for? What am I possibly scared of?” Right? Because death can be anytime. So, all of a sudden, it’s like, what’s this? I know I have a lot of gifts to share with this world so what the heck am I waiting for? So, cancer really kind of fast-forwarded my desire to really help people on a global level to really be heart-centered and to really kind of live with compassion and empathy and just kick major ass.


Hal Elrod: Well, and you recently did that. I know we didn’t get to talk much about it so I’d actually love for you to share a little bit about it. You just gave a TED talk in Houston, which is why you were in the area and you came to Austin to visit me. So, what was it? And I know it’s not even – it might be up by the time this episode releases.


Cort Davies: It should be.


Hal Elrod: Okay. Tell me a little bit about the TED Talk.


Cort Davies: Great. So, it was called The Missing Link in Evolving Cancer Care. And so, what I’m really interested in is how stress affects the body, really, when it comes to epigenetics and the human genome. And so, I got to befriend this great professor, this researcher at UCLA named Steven Cole, and he’s kind of the forefather of this thing called sociogenomics. And what he does is he studies how chronic stress affects disease and it’s fascinating. So, there’s some data that I’ll take away from my TED talk, but they did these studies on mice where they injected tumor cells into them and they isolated the mice. They left the mice alone and what they found is that an isolated mouse gets really stressed and so the cancer grew quicker. And then they put the mouse with a lot of other mice in an area where it was too condensed, and it was under a lot of chronic stress again, and so the tumors grew quicker. But then when they headed the mouse, then when they coddled the mouse, they gave the mouse a lot of love, they put the mouse with its parents, the tumor has actually slowed down. And so, what’s amazing is they’ve transitioned that into human testing.


One test that’s the most interesting is out of Mass General Hospital’s Benson-Henry Mind Body Institute, where they took 20 people, 20 novices and they taught them meditation and over eight weeks, they measured their genetic expression. And so, eight weeks of meditation changed on average 1,500 genes in these people’s bodies. Just eight weeks of meditation, 1,500 genes were changed. 800 of them…


Hal Elrod: Positive I’m assuming. Okay. Got you.


Cort Davies: What were you saying?


Hal Elrod: I was saying changed positively or is it…?


Cort Davies: So, 800 genes were turned on for health and 600 genes were turned off for stress.


Hal Elrod: Wow.


Cort Davies: Incredible. And so, I translated this into when you sit down with your doctor like I did and I’m sure you did as well, my doctor said, “Hey, Cort, you have three years to live.” And you absorb that information. It would be amazing to have this care facilitator or someone where you go in the next room and you sit down and say, “Hey, you just got a bomb dropped on your lap and here are all the tough questions that you should be asking and here are all the things that you can expect.” Because that high level of chronic stress that we receive from getting a cancer diagnosis can literally kill us. It can literally speed up the cancer. And so, I believe that the medical world is missing this component and it’s this person that helps with mental and emotional stress. And again, you and I were maybe more prepared than most but what I experienced in talking to hundreds of cancer patients was coping was harder than the actual disease.


Hal Elrod: Coping harder than the actual – yeah. I told you that the other day that what I’m experiencing now, the cumulative effects of the chemo in my brain, the mental and emotional challenges that I have now are infinitely immeasurably more difficult than on death’s doorway in a hospital bed weighing 127 pounds when I was one sick like that was a cakewalk compared to this. And again, it’s the stress. It’s the mental and emotional component. So, how do you personally whether it’s stress from your cancer diagnosis or just from everyday life, Cort, how do you deal with stress and how can that method that you use, how can your approach help anyone, not just cancer patients?


Cort Davies: Yeah, absolutely. So, you and I talk about Joe Dispenza a lot. So, his meditations have changed my life and, again, I do probably two to three of those a day and what he figured out is he used music, binaural beats, and essentially it puts you in a trance. It essentially changes the brainwaves. It changes your brainwaves composition. So, we operate in beta brainwaves and we want to get into alpha or theta to actually get into the operating system. So, meditation is a great way to get into our operating system and to reframe what’s going on to calm us down. But there is something like super simple that has really changed my life and that has changed my thinking from my head to my heart. And I think you and I, I mean, you’re a very heart-centered person. And so, there’s this organization called the HeartMath Institute, and they teach you this really, really cool thing called Freeze-Frame and it’s amazing. It’s so, so simple and essentially what you do is when you’re feeling a high level of chronic stress, you put your hands in your heart, you start breathing into your heart, you freeze the image of what you’re stressed about in your mind, meaning stop the movie. You put your hands in your heart, you breathe into your heart, and then you think of something you’re grateful for.


And the amazing thing about the human body is we can bring up chemical emotions that we’ve experienced before. We can bring up the feelings of love, the feelings of joy, the feelings of gratitude. And so, from a perspective of, yeah, this sounds easy to sound soft but Joe Dispenza actually did this with 120 people over and over again. And what he found was that, in the beginning, they measured cortisol levels in IGA which is immunoglobulin A, which is the strongest antibody in the entire human body. It’s stronger than a flu shot. What he found is that doing this for just four days, 10 minutes a day, literally tripled the IGA level and lowered the cortisol levels by a standard deviation of three. So, breathing into your heart and remembering things you’re grateful for and joyful for, literally can transform your life in a few minutes a day.


Hal Elrod: Well, I love this and a couple of things that are kind of wild, Cort, and it just kicks into the synchronicity between us. One of my best friends, Jon Berghoff, who I interviewed earlier today, we had a conversation. It wasn’t an interview, but a conversation. He’s working with the HeartMath Institute and he’s leading their global forum here in the next week or two.


Cort Davies: That’s amazing.


Hal Elrod: Yeah. So, I have to connect you guys.


Cort Davies: Of course.


Hal Elrod: But the beauty of what you said is you’re talking to a soft audience, right? Meaning if you’re talking to a bunch of practitioners of the SAVERS, silence, which is meditation or prayer, affirmations, visualization, exercise, reading, and scribing or journaling. So, you just gave a practice that people can do in the morning. In fact, I’d love to actually take a minute for you to even give a timeframe so even repeat what you said. So, what do you do? Walk us through with your hand on your heart. How long do you do it? And you pick an image. Just tell us again.


Cort Davies: Absolutely. So, it’s called the Freeze-Frame Technique and this is what you do. At any moment where you feel those chemical hormones and those emotions of stress coming to you, when you feel your heart racing, when you feel sweat, again, Hal, maybe it’s different for all people. But when you feel high levels of stress, what you want to do is you want to focus on what you’re stressed about but freeze it. Freeze it in your mind. Literally, look at the picture. What if it’s a, you know, say it’s a mother and she is overwhelmed about all the screaming kids in her car. She freezes the frame. All the kids are frozen. Everything’s frozen in her car, right? And then she puts her hands on her heart and she breathes into her heart for a minute or two minutes, just breathing into her heart, right? And it’s literally breathing into here. And it’s amazing when we focus on breathing into our heart. It’s really in the middle of our sternum. And as we’re doing that, we bring up things that we’re grateful for. We think about things that we’re really happy, the birth of our children, our wedding day, when we fell in love. And what we can do is we can actually reframe and rethink about what’s actually going on.


And then there’s actually the last component which I didn’t actually bring up. And so, as you have your hands in your heart and as you’re thinking about something grateful, ask yourself, ask your intuition. How can I handle this better in the future so that it causes less stress? Or how can I handle it better in the future so that I can feel these emotions instead of the emotions that I’m feeling? And your intuition actually is amazing. It actually speaks to you. It talks to you and it says, “For me, I know what it says to me every time.” I have a sense of overwhelm, I get overwhelmed a lot. So, when I do this exercise, my intuition says, “Slow down. Just Slow down, slow everything down,” because we’re moving so quickly, we’re moving so fast. So, that’s the Freeze-Frame technique. It’s awesome and you only have to do it a few minutes a day. You can do it wherever you are. You can do it multiple times a day. There are so many incredible studies that show that people that do this over months, they get off their high blood pressure pills, they get off their cholesterol medicine, they get off their beta-blockers, they get off their antidepressant medication just by doing this little exercise.


Hal Elrod: I wrote this down so that I can do, I’ve got the step-by-step.


Cort Davies: I could share it with you, man. If you need me to email it to you again, I got it.


Hal Elrod: Email it to me. I think I got it but I may not. I have been known to miss a word or two. Cort, that’s fantastic and thank you for that because that is something people can integrate into their Miracle Morning and I will be integrating into my Miracle Morning.


Cort Davies: Right away. Integration.


Hal Elrod: I love that. So, tell me a little bit. Tell us all about the project and the foundation that you’re working on and your goals with it.


Cort Davies: Absolutely. So, we’re shooting an eight-part documentary. It’s called a docuseries. A lot of people don’t know what a docuseries is. I didn’t know that.


Hal Elrod: Sure.


Cort Davies: So, it’s a series of documentaries and essentially, it’s based on coping with stress. And so, you met my business partner, Jeff Williams, who is an absolute stress expert. So, he is taking me through some modalities that I didn’t even know existed. So, basically, what happened is I got into this the meditation, the breathing, and then getting deeper and deeper and deeper in learning. That’s how we grow. I mean, Hal, you’re such a grower. You’re constantly learning. And so, what I learned was that coping and stress, we have the ability to literally change the genetic expression in cancer patients. We literally have the ability to slow down their cancer and I’m going to teach them how to do this in this docuseries. From this, we’re creating the Cancer Consciousness Foundation, which we’ve asked you to be a part of. And so, essentially, what that’s going to be is we’re going to essentially help support the unsupported, Hal, just like you said. We’re going to help not only provide monetary needs for basic necessities because cancer patients shouldn’t be worrying about groceries and gas and mortgage and car payments but we’re also going to provide them with resources to help them coping with stress.


And so, we’re creating a crowdfunding campaign right now. Actually, we’re launching it as we speak and I’ll be giving it to you, the link and all that stuff. And so again, the crowdfunding campaign is to help us raise money to shoot this docuseries and a portion of that crowdfunding campaign is going to go directly to these patients. We’re going to find nonprofits, we’re going to find the cancer patients that are most financially strapped, and we’re going to buy them groceries. We’re going to help them pay for their car, we’re going to help them pay for the rent, we’re going to help them with their basic living necessities because, Hal, as you know, when you have cancer, the worst thing that you can do is stress about these basic survival needs. And so, that’s the basis of our project.


Hal Elrod: Yeah. No, you’re right. My wife and I on multiple occasions throughout our cancer journey, I was very fortunate that my income came in when I wasn’t working. It was book income so the books were still selling and I met so many people in the hospital. That’s why I did it for Support the Unsupported. I would tell my wife who would meet someone who, you know, the husband who was the sole provider or the wife who’s the sole provider, they’ve got cancer, they can’t work. The family’s burning through savings, no income at claiming bankruptcy. The number one cause of bankruptcy I believe is medical bills.


Cort Davies: 100%.


Hal Elrod: And I told my wife, I go, we would just hold each other and hug each other and thank God that we had our finances covered and I’m paying that forward right now. I’ve been paying a friend of mine. She is fighting cancer as a single mom. While she’s fighting cancer, her ex-husband’s trying to get full custody and take her kids away saying she’s not fit. I mean, it’s horrific and they fired her from school. She was a teacher and the parents said, “Your appearance is frightening our children.” So, anyway, not to go too deep…


Cort Davies: I can’t even believe that.


Hal Elrod: So, all of my money that used to go to charity every month out of my book sales just goes to pay her bills. She’s in my charity right now. And so, firsthand, not only have I experienced it, but I’m seeing it from someone who would benefit from the foundation that you’re creating, the docuseries you’re creating. So, the link will be in the show notes. I’m guessing you don’t have the link yet to give over the area.


Cort Davies: The link will be in the show notes. Yeah.


Hal Elrod: Okay. Go to HalElrod.com/Podcast and you can find the episode today with Cort Davies. Well, brother, thank you for taking your tragedy and turning into a triumph for other people. I really, really I appreciate you, Cort. I’m so grateful that I butt-dialed our friend Julio somehow and now you’re sitting on my couch three days ago. And yeah, man, I’m grateful to be a part of the docuseries. I’m grateful to be on the board for the charity which called Cancer Consciousness and I look forward to sharing your work with more and more people, man.


Cort Davies: Hal, thanks so much for your time, man and we were definitely supposed to meet for a reason. Let’s see where this relationship goes. It’s going to be exciting.


Hal Elrod: Absolutely, man.


Cort Davies: All right, brother.




Hal Elrod: Goal achievers, thank you for tuning in. And here’s what I would like to leave you with. From the spirit of today’s conversation, Cort, me, taking, essentially helping other people, helping those that are less fortunate than you, those that can’t help themselves. And when I say less fortunate, that might mean that they don’t have the emotional resilience that you have. I’m not saying they have less money than you, right? But I would say for all of us, look at every human being on the planet as a part of our family. We’re all part of the human race, the human family. It doesn’t matter where we live, who our parents were, we are all one. We are all in this together and let’s treat each other that way. And let’s dedicate at least a small part of our lives to supporting the unsupported, those that needs our love and our support. I love you, I appreciate you, and I will talk to you next week.



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