Those of us in our 50's remember this phrase well. 'An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure'. But we don't hear it much these days. We are globally obsessed with the 'race to a cure' of all things medical. After all, it's much sexier to talk about some incredible biochemical discovery made in an obscure lab that pin points a single signaling pathway that may or may not increase life expectancy 5 months beyond current treatment for cancer patients. And we tout that as significant. So be it.
But the medical literature also contains another interesting phenomenon: that of what physicians call 'spontaneous remissions'. These are medically confirmed cases of people who were expected by medical professionals to be experiencing end-stage disease, but somehow survive. And by survive I don't mean for an additional 5 months but for DECADES. How is this possible? Is it just a miracle of sorts? Or did those patients make conscious choices to actively participate in their healing in a new and different way?
Turns out the latter may be the case. My favorite example is found in one of my favorite books, CURED by Dr. Jeffrey Rediger of Harvard Medical School. In this remarkable book he recounts the story of Claire, a retiree with aggressive pancreatic cancer. Claire is told that her only chance is a complicated surgery which she ultimately declines. She decides to forego treatment and let 'nature take it's course'. What I love about Claire is she completely comes to terms with the news and begins the arduous process of preparing to die. She was no longer preoccupied with saving her own life. But a strange thing happens in the process. Claire decides that while she is still here she won't concern herself with cancer healing but will concern herself with living well for her short time left. For her this includes changing her diet (if only to more fully enjoy her time left), resolving old, long standing conflicts (to clear the slate before she passes), cultivating positive, loving experiences with those she cares about (to leave them with wonderful memories when she is gone), deep breathing exercises to keep herself calm and centered, etc.
You might guess that Claire found health and healing when she least expected it. In fact, 5 years later when she sought medical attention for another matter it was discovered that her pancreas had healed and that her cancer was no longer. How can that be ? I propose (as do many others) that once we bathe our bodies in healthy practices (physical, emotional, spiritual) good things start to happen. But it requires a simple premise, accepted wholeheartedly by the patient: What I do matters!! What I eat and drink ... whether I embrace exercise/movement daily ... how I process anger and fear ... whether I consciously cultivate positive thoughts, feelings and emotions ... whether I recognize stress and seek to process it in a positive, productive way or maybe even eliminate its sources altogether ... whether I continue to assault my body with lotions, sunscreens, pots/pans, makeup, etc. that deliver toxins quickly into my body. All of these things contribute to a systemic disease like cancer. It isn't that one is the magic bullet - but all work together to disrupt our body's ability to fight disease and promote wellness.
We can continue to abdicate our personal responsibility and place all our trust in medical science as it races to a 'cure' one significant 5 month miracle at a time ... or we can embrace our role in the fight. I'm not guaranteeing anything, by the way. Claire certainly didn't have any guarantee. I knew for myself that there was no guarantee of healing. At the time when I began to embrace these principles my cancer had returned for a second time in 4 years and I now had a 5 cm malignant tumor in my mammary lymph nodes - I certainly wasn't looking at a promising prognosis. But I asked myself ... what does it really mean to do 'everything I can'? I hear that phrase often from patients, most often referring to having the most invasive surgery or agreeing to take the most toxic chemotherapy. To me, it meant going far beyond medical science because the best that medical science had to offer failed me the first time. It bought me a few years as best. When the cancer came back I somehow knew that it was now up to me. And doing 'everything I can' now had a new, refined definition. Coupled with embracing western medical interventions, I also participated actively in my desire to heal by taking a good, solid look at how I was living my life. This, coupled with a willingness to address areas that clearly were not feeding my journey to wellness, lead to my healing. Now, 10 years later and still cancer-free, I am committed to shouting from the rooftops for as long as I'm alive that our choices DO make a difference. We actually have more power than we realize. And the 'cure' that everyone is seeking might just be in our hands.
Hippocrates once said: "It is more important to know what sort of person has a disease than to know what disease a person has." Friends, let us think on that!