Posted by: Donna Cunningham | May 18, 2009

Cancerians, Memory and Emotion

(c)2009 by Donna Cunningham, MSW

Cancerians like myself are reputed to be highly emotional, to be sentimental about our families, to have great memories, and to be hung up on the past. The point of this post is to demonstrate that these traits are all tied together and feed on one another in ways that you wouldn’t suspect.

In order to do that, I’ll have to share the experiences that led me to these conclusions. One of my aims for this blog is to become comfortable with writing in a more self-revealing way.  Unlike other goals for this blog, this one isn’t proving easy.  I’m an intensely private person, for one thing, and for another, I’m afraid it would be boring to my readers. 

 But one of the rules I’ve set for myself here is that whatever keeps stirring to the surface for several days running, I must write about.  What has persisted in stirring for the past several days, despite diligent efforts at distracting myself, is to come out into the open about my memory deficit. And to explore the connections between memory, emotion, and the sign Cancer. 

No, to put your mind at ease right off the bat, I do not have Alzheimer’s. The top neurologist at Oregon Health Sciences University says so.  After hours of exhaustive—and exhausting—testing, he says my memory is definitely not normal, but that I don’t have a single marker for Alzheimer’s.

I did have a head injury in a car accident in the late 1980s that changed my life in many difficult ways. Before that I could write for 12 hours a day when inspired, as in a book project. After the injury, it was difficult to work for more than two or three hours a day at anything that required intense concentration, including chart consultations.

I wound up leaving New York because I couldn’t earn enough of a living that way. And it’s why I seldom speak at conferences. Though I can write about what I know in short bursts, it’s difficult for me to remember the points I want to make when speaking, so I’m very tense when I lecture to large groups.

The head injury wiped out memories of what transpired a few years before and after the accident, and affected my ability to form short-term memory…which, ultimately, winds up causing long-term memory lacunae. To give an example, the more I learned about Priscilla Costello’s work, the more I admired her. (She’s an astrologer with a therapy background out of Toronto.)  So, we were at a conference together several years back, and I went up to her and said, “I’m so glad to finally meet you.”

She stared at me, dumfounded. “Donna, we were roommates at the WRAC conference in Cleveland.”  

forgetmenotflower-wikiHow embarrassing is that??  After a multitude of embarrassing—or inconvenient—moments like that, I began to develop ways of covering up my memory problem. There are lots of workarounds for when you don’t remember a person’s name or where you met or what you talked about that was so important to them. (I’ll probably give workshops on how to do that as we old fart astrologers start to need them.)

I’ll give one example of a workaround. I probably shouldn’t tell you because it might be disillusioning to those who think our sessions are etched in my memory for all time. Within a day of the time I do a chart consult, I have no recollection whatsoever of what we talked about.  When clients call back or when I meet them somewhere, they go on and on about what I said and how it all came true, and I don’t even recall doing a session with them.  So I say, “Is that what I told you? Hmm. You know, I’m in somewhat of an altered state when I do a chart, so I don’t remember.”

Plausible. Possibly even partially true, but definitely a cover up.  So, yes, up to the point when I had the neurological testing, I did quite a tap dance and even flat out lied to keep people from knowing about my memory deficit.  Why would I do that, you wonder? 

Weeeeeelllll, here goes with the self-revelation.  I don’t talk about my family. At all.  For all anyone in the field knows, I materialized here on this planet out of thin air.  (Would that that were true!) And I doubt that I’ll ever write anything about them on this blog or anywhere else until the last member of my family of origin passes on, other than this one fact: my mother died of advanced Alzheimer’s at the age of 57.  For real. Diagnosed by Cat Scan. 

Then I read an article in one of those pop science mags about how Alzheimer’s could be hereditary, and it showed a fingerprint pattern of the type that they’d found ran in families.  I looked down at my own fingerprints and freaked—they looked identical to the fingerprints in the magazine!!!! 

Fortunately, I had a client at that time who was a criminologist, and I told her I would trade her a session if she’d take my fingerprints and see if they matched the image. She came and took them, and I don’t know which of us was more nervous. It turns out that fingerprint patterns are the reverse on paper of what they look like on your fingers. So my pattern wasn’t the same. Whew!! But the fear lingered, especially when one of my mom’s sisters came down with the disease, and so my memory problem became something I couldn’t share with anyone.

The reason I finally went to the neurologist was that several years back, my memory suddenly took a turn for the worse, and I was quite terrified. Providentially, there was an ad in the local senior newspaper looking for people with early Alzheimer’s to participate in a research study of the herb sage, which herbalists say helps memory. Their top researcher agreed to test me for participation in the study.  I was intensely relieved by his ruling that I don’t have the disease.

Since then, I’ve been able to develop really useful workarounds for the things I am most likely to forget. Most of them rely on logic and consistency rather than on memory per se. I’ll write about them one day. But that’s not what I promised to explore in this piece.  I said I was going to tie this all into a general principle about the sign Cancer, so let me get down to it. 

A large part of our recollections of pivotal events and eras in our lives comes from the emotions that surround it.  The memories that haunt us, that we can’t let go of, are those with unresolved emotional charges. (The converse is true in those who have no memory of their childhood. Many of them have experienced such extreme trauma in those early years that their brains blanked out and formed no memory of the event.)

Emotions can distort our perceptions of past events as well. Have you ever swapped family stories at a reunion, only to find that  other family members tell an entirely different story about what happened?honeysucklepainting-wontner-wiki

At any rate, I now understand why my memory got so much worse suddenly that summer and fall. I had been undergoing months of extremely intense healing work that involved stripping emotional engrams of a wide range of painful events and situations from childhood that had their counterparts in adult life as well.  And, no, it wasn’t Scientology but something very different that had much to do with the amygdala section of the brain. (See  Thought Forms and the Brain.) 

When I underwent the intensive healing and the emotions behind past events were stripped out, the memories went with it, and so suddenly—and temporarily—I was very hazy about much of my past as well. The long-term effects of that healing have been nothing short of a miracle. The past means nothing to me now, and I have a lightness of being and a peace of mind I’ve never known before.

How does all of this relate to the sign Cancer?  As noted earlier, we’re said to be highly emotional,  to be sentimental about our families, to have great memories, and to be hung up on the past. So, Cancerians’ emotionality and our rootedness in the past  and family are all intricately connected, and one feeds into the other. At least that’s what’s making sense to me out of this whole experience. Does it make sense to you?

HEALING RESOURCE: The Bach Flower Remedy most recommended for Cancerians is Honeysuckle, the remedy for people who live too much in the past and so are homesick or nostalgia.  The painting at the right, of an old-fashioned girl with a bouquet of honeysuckle is the absolute epitome of the type!  Vibration Magazine, the foremost flower essence magazine on the internet, has two articles about Honeysuckle in their archives. One is Simon King’s May 16, 2009 post on their blog, “Living in the Past, the Future-Anything but Today!”  The other is Connie Barrett’s article, “Stuck in the Past? Honeysuckle Helps You Embrace the Now,” at:

More Posts about the Moon on this Blog:

Articles about Thought forms on Skywriter:

free astrology booklet by Donna CunninghamIf this post was helpful, DON’T MISS THE NEXT INSTALLMENT IN THIS SERIES.  Sign up for a subscription, and get a FREE EBOOKLET for Skywriter Subscribers Only: Mothers, Daughters, and the Moon, a 50-page excerpt from The Moon in your Life. Read more about it here: NEW: FREE BOOKLET FOR SKYWRITER SUBSCRIBERS! 

  If you’re already a subscriber and want a copy, forward the most recent email post to me at To sign up for a subscription, go to the top right hand corner of the blog and click on “Subscribe.”  Then send me an email with your subscription confirmation or an email post with a request for the booklet in the subject line.

Art credits:  The two images in this post come from and are copyright free under their license. The vintage painting by William Wontner is a public domain image, originally featured at:, which sounds like a good blog to visit if you’re nostalgic.


  1. I have to laugh at so much of your head injury story — not because I am laughing at you — but because it’s so parallel to my own experience! The loss of memory of the few years before the injury, the inability to put names and faces together, including together with context for knowing the person. I also have this problem with plants — I know I know the plant but can no longer remember its name (at least the plants are forgiving about it!). And yes, Cancer figures prominently in my chart, too. The more healed I become from that experience, the less I give a damn about remembering what I’ve forgotten!

  2. I just bought my second honeysuckle plant yesterday, and I never knew about this sweet and meaningful connection! Having Cancer ruling the 4th and 5th houses, I’ve always been a rather nostalgic person, as well as someone with a bad memory! (Maybe it’s my innate head injury of having an Aries Moon squaring Mars…) But without a strong emotional context to an event or a new person, I forget too…..and it got worse after menopause.
    So I’m glad to hear that Alzheimer’s doesn’t enter into the picture here with you, Donna, but I do have a friend around our age who is a therapist in her sixties who was diagosed with beginning stages of it about two years ago. She’s taking some great new meds for it that have held back most of the symptoms and she’s still working, her mind is sharp….and best of all, she’s happy.
    Anyway, I do love the personal aspect to your blog Donna, and look forward to more of these posts which illuminate the person behind that wise mind & soul…. ~elizabeth

  3. I’m a Cancer, Cancer rising. And my memory lapses have to do with a dangerously low thyroid.
    I often stop to ask myself – out loud – when talking to someone “What’s that word?” – only to say something simple – like: “Ah! Garden!!” – when the folks around me thought I was searching for a larger, multi-syllable, or fancier word. HAH!
    gets them every time.

    I’ve been told it’s the librarian in my brain – she is getting lazy – she shelves everything – just not always in the right place for me to retrieve it.

  4. Ms. Cunningham…i too am a cardinal yet moody and emotional Cancer Sun/RS, 4th House. i enjoy the words you share with the world, and your sense of humor and insight be like a force one would want to be reckoned with. Please keep up the positive work! Sincerely, Luna Mama.

    • Thank you all for your kind comments! It means a lot, since it was so difficult to write about the topic. Donna

      • On the wane…

        Ms. Donna, you are welcome! FYI, two weeks ago I purchased, Moon Signs, The Key to Your Inner Life, and OMG this be such an eye opening read!

        A great source of knowledge and a must have in one’s library!

  5. Hello Donna,

    Thank you for sharing “Cancerians, Memory and Emotion”. Reading these three words lit up my brian big time. As you can well imagine I am a Cancer. I am emotional, and memory has always been something that has “plagued” me over the years. My memory can best be described as “quirky”. Some thinks I remember, other things I don’t. However if there is a strong emotional tie to person, place or thing my memory servers me exceptionally well. Just today, I was walking around my garden admiring……um…..”gee what is the name of that shrub?”……um… I write this I still can’t think of it! AH! Relief…..a Viburnum. Sigh. I know you get the drift of this. Yes, things are always on the tip of my tongue. God forbid I should ever have to do a mental status exam and recite digits backward. I know I’d be in BIG trouble. On the other hand I have not sustained a TBI which further complicates matters. I too have wondered if I am at risk for developing Alzehimer’s. When this fear arises I simply “remember” that I have alway had what I refer to as a quirky memory and consider all that I DO remember during the course of a day. We cannot discount the bombardement of auditory and visual media we take in on a constant basis. So, I silently say “Thank You”. Hey, in the big picture, we only have this moment. No sense in worrying about what we forgot or thinking about what we will forget. Better to get out there and smell the honeysuckle. This was a favorite of my Dad’s. Ah……..what a memory! it was an honor to have shared your thoughts on this topic.
    ALl the best,


  6. This really caught my attention, being a Cancerian and realizing I can’t recall so many incidents that my children tell me happened. Right before menopause years, I got really foggy. I learned that Lecithin could help the brain and it really has helped me.. I am way past those meno years now, still take Lecithin and my memory is much better. However, I still don’t recall a lot of things from my early years or that my kids tell me happened. I know a lot of the incidents I do recall are connected to an emotional charge. We had honeysuckle in our backyard growing up and I loved it. I must get some more. I have really loved your book “An Astrological Guide to Self-Awareness” and refer to it so often when doing charts for clients. I wrote articles for a local newspaper for 7 years and always love sharing through writing what I know about my favorite topic: Astrology. I think You are an excellent writer and I’m happy to have stumbled on your blogs through Twitter.

    • Thanks for sharing those hints, Peggy. It does stand to reason that since menopause is one of those lunar phases of life it would affect our memory as well. Years ago I wrote a book called The Moon in your Life, now out of print, where I had chapters about many of the lunar parts of our nature, including menopause. It was especially meant as kind of a self-help book for Cancerians and others whose lunar side is emphasized. You might be able to get it used on Donna

  7. It was nice of you to respond to my email. I noticed in another blog that we are both born in the sign of Cancer in the same year. My birthday is 7/11, which I always thought was a lucky number. I’m soon heading back to my home state of NJ to visit my grown kids, I will surely hear more stories from them about their early years with me. It’s strange to me that since I love water so much, I wound up living the 2nd half of my life in the desert and like it here too. We are surrounded by mountain chains around the Phoenix valley and they always felt very protective to me. I will look for that book on Amazon, thanks for the information.

  8. I want to say that as a Scorpio Moon, I can’t enough admire what you’ve shared, especially because it would have made you feel so vulnerable. It also shows the willingness to trust that the Universe is a benevolent place and will not abuse that trust. It humbles me and at the same time elevates my spirit. (Oh my, how soppy I sound!)

    We all need role models and heroes: thank you!

    • Thank you so much–like a true Scorpio Moon, you DO understand how scary it was to post that. Donna

  9. Dear Donna,
    I laughed and laughed so much at your article on Cancerians and memory loss! We both have lots of coincidences, like I don’t remember anything about my early childhood. I start remembering after I became eleven years old. Almost a teen ager. I would like to thank you about this wonderful article because it makes me feel more normal. (Pheuuu!) Also asked my psychologist, just last week, whether I was suffering from this that or the other. Nevertheless, I have one question.I did not understand much about the healing process you undertook. Could you elaborate more on this subject?
    And thank you again

  10. oh really you make me feel relief… i always find my self in an embarassed situation listening to my sister telling stories about our childhood years…
    surely i remember almost NOTHING….
    recently i realize that all my interactions to the external surrounding ( friends, relatives, children….etc) are based on feelings, emotions…
    difficult , i get so influenced by them…and this is bad
    i am also a scorpio moon , ascendant scorpio and
    my moon is in cancer 25degree in eight house…

  11. I’m not a Cancer Sun but Cancer rules my 5th and 6th house where I have Saturn Mars conjunct in Cancer that touches almost everything in my chart. I had a head injury when the bike I was riding hit a brick mailbox and my head hit the pavement. I woke up at home many hours later.

    Have had problems with memory and it has gotten worst since menopause. When we have family get togrthers I think I must have the wrong family because I don’t remember what they do.

    I am going through a painful thing with a family member now and would love to know more about the healing work you did. where I can read about etc.

    Really appreciate your sharing these events in your life with us it has been very healing for me.

    • Sorry to hear it, Adrienne. People really have no idea how drastically a head injury can change your life–even when it’s pronounced “minor” by the medicos. Mine took place right at the menopause, too, and it worsened the emotional upheavals and hormonal imbalances terribly.

      What saved me at that time was homeopathy, as there are a variety of excellent remedies both for head injuries and for menopause. These would be high potency homeopathics, and it’s not safe to make it a do-it-yourself project, so you’d need to work with a homeopath or naturopath. If you don’t have any near you, write to me and I’ll give you some names of people who can work at a distance. Donna

  12. Interesting post and I like that picture of the girl with the honeysuckles. I have those all over my back deck and can make some essence for my son who lets the past drag him down. Great timely info. Thanks Donna.

  13. Hi Donna….hope all is well with you. Have not been here since last Fall when I moved off the grid. Now I have an office in a town 25 miles away from Hobbit House and got the computer hooked up. So its nice being back to read the Skywriter postas again!
    About the memory….mines always been good and I have never forgotten my infanthood so never had to remember it. I have always found the emotional world to be the most irritating and place I do NOT like to go. versus Physical, mental or spiritual. The Spirit and Physical being the most comfortable and the differnt parts or levels of the mental realm always fainating.
    I remember shortly after I was born , being in a crib against a left wall with a window to the footside and beside the right of the window was a woman softly crying. Steady crying like water against the shoreline. I did not identify with it and only listened in a detached manner.
    I remember peeing and the warm sensation spreading on my lower part that would startle me and then when I woke again it would be cold itchy and uncomfortable. Consequently I have always been a very attentive mother when I had my own babies.
    I have Venus conjunct parrallel Saturn exact in Cancer in the tenth house. Its also quincunx my moon in Aquarius.
    The Venus/ Saturn conjunction is also conjunct the north node of Pluto and parrallels Pluto in Leo It parrallels the MC and the Mar/ Uranus conjunction in Gemini as well….so its a snarled mess.
    Whatever it is, it gave me the propensity NOT to let the Raw Emotional Solar Plexus emotional nature RULE over the Compassionate Wisdom of the HEART center. Extreme physical activity was also a healer.
    In my youth it was like riding a raging torrent but I would always stock pile it by holding it back and use it like amo when I needed it. In my elder years there is no need and the beasts within have long been tamed and brought to calm waters.

  14. I also have a stellium in Cancer, and a terrible memory! Long term, short term. I have done a massage on someone a couple days earlier, and will have no memory of them! Served dinner to someone, and didn’t recognize them a couple days later. I had trouble trying to find the word ‘dirt!’
    Ack!! I have had serious stress over the years, and now I just don’t worry about looking bizarre; I just say I have a nervous system problem, and apologize.

  15. I remember things others never remember. I have Jupiter in Cancer and a Sag moon in mutual reception. I finally in conversations realized, “Why argue with someone that does not have the memory” 0f the situation or event.

    it is rather brainless to argue with the a blank space. I realized it was not nice to the other person. they became frustrated.

  16. also, I have read one of your books. well written about co dependency.
    there should be another name for this. it is miss leading. HealthyEmotionsAgain.

    The Counseling Astrologer, great book. and articles from Dell. I once read them every month or so, but they took them off the shelves.

    Plus, I did not know you had an accident. Life can throw some big ones.

  17. Thanks, Mary. I recently brought out a new edition of CPA in ebook format. Donna

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