Radical Remissions. Radical Ideas Ep10.

During this week, October 3-7 2022, there is a repeat free airing of the Radical Remission Docuseries https://www.discover.hayhouse.com/radicalremission/, created by researcher and author, Kelly Turner, PhD. 

I commented daily on each episode as it was launched back in March 2020 in order to elaborate on my personal experience and hard-won convictions regarding cancer and cancer treatment and they are all still available here on my blog, Reflections. All of the episodes will be available for the duration so perhaps my commentary will give you a sense of which you want to dip into. I am sure that after this timeframe the documentary will be available through Hay House in other forms. 

One of the reasons for writing my play, Breastless, was to share the perspective that healing from cancer takes many forms. Even the writing of it played an important role in my healing of breast cancer.

I use story to reflect on these matters and to encourage others to ask themselves what they would do, what they believe and how they might help others. Kelly Turner uses her 15yrs of research into hundreds of cases of remission from life-threatening disease. 

This documentary leads us through the 10 elements that people who put themselves into remission had in common. It includes interviews with some ordinary people doing extraordinary things. Out of the ordinary, because their stories do not fit into our modern-day assumption that the scientific Western medical model has all the answers. These people all heal themselves as they embrace a wide range of approaches, including mainstream and “alternative” methods. 

For many years there has been a move amongst practitioners to avoid having their work described as “alternative” and instead use the word “complementary”, but I would even like to call into question that term too. To complement means to use Western medicine as the mainstay of treatment and to add into it other modalities to enhance it. What would happen if instead we started to view Western medicine, with all its brilliance and applications, as a complement to our own internal healing abilities; as just one of a broad spectrum of choices with which we can boost our own healing potential?

I would like to help shift our bias away from solely relying on Western Medicine, and instead see each person getting encouragement to first look within themselves for clues to solutions. Then, from that empowered place, seeking professionals whose perspective and approach feel in alignment with the person’s desires and needs. This would constitute taking responsibility for our own health and healing, as opposed to relying solely on an expert to tell us what we need based on the parameters of their specific training.

I am not wanting to throw the baby out with the bathwater, but equally I would like an end to obscuring the issue with words like “complementary” to appease the medical gods of the past 200 years. It is time for a revolution; turning things around. It is time for some evolution in our thinking and actions. And it is time for the resolution of us individuals who experience health differently to speak up and be counted.

I am grateful to Dr Turner for doing her part.

EPISODE TEN: Embracing Social Support

So the very last piece of the 10-part puzzle is in recognising that we need others. We need support.

“One of the paradoxes of healing is that the body is fully equipped to heal itself, and we can’t do it alone.” Dr Lissa Rankin.

Kathryn Alexander was diagnosed with Stage 3b liver cancer in her early 60s and as an adjunct professor in the US, she had no healthcare insurance. “If I’m going to live, it’s because other people want me to, because I can’t do this on my own.” And thanks to her Unitarian Church community for their selfless assistance; emotionally, financially and socially, she is now cancer free.

Ryder Sternagel was only 11 months old when his parents received his diagnosis of Stage IV neuroblastoma. Imagine how their world was turned upside down. But parents Ryan and Teddy were supported by complete strangers who added to their confidence, resources and comfort by supporting them via a Facebook group, “Fighting For Ryder”. As they made the difficult decisions of how to treat, they made many new friends who were more in line with the choices of treatment that they were choosing.

“This is the time when we need to be needy. We need to let ourselves say, ‘I need help’. Cancer is a good time to learn to receive and it is a good time to work on any part of you that is resistant to letting other people serve you, take care of you, be kind to you and give you what you need.”, says Lissa Rankin MD.

For me, the single most difficult and welcome question from friends was, “What do you need?”. I would prefer not to be needy and there was even pride in being able to manage, so it was very hard to respond to that question truthfully. A close girlfriend had to sit me down and say, “We are all feeling so helpless and yet so want to make things easier on you. We hate to see you struggle with all this. So please, you need to let us help. For us as much as for you.” 

And I came to see what Kathryn Alexander says best here; “I came to see that there is a gift in allowing people to give. It’s not one-way, but a cycle; the receipt of a gift is as important as the gift.”

Dean Ornish MD, “Tens of thousands of studies have shown that people who are lonely, depressed and isolated are three to ten times more likely to get sick and die prematurely of virtually all causes, when compared to those who have a sense of love and connection and community. I don’t know anything in medicine that has that powerful an impact.”

He describes a landmark study by David Spiegel, reported in The Lancet, where they took women who had metastatic breast cancer and they randomly divided them into 2 groups. Both got the same chemo, radiation and surgery but one group of women had a support group for 90 minutes once a week for a year. Five years later, when he looked at the data it was shocking. Those women had lived twice as long. Ornish adds that if a new chemotherapy came out with that data behind it, it would be malpractice not to prescribe it.

Lorenzo Cohen of The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center states, “If you don’t have the appropriate support network to allow you to be successful then you’ll be able to make an acute change; you’ll be on that diet for a month or two, maybe even 3 months of a new exercise routine, but it won’t be sustainable if you don’t have that community support.”

My own family were far away, but I enlisted them to support me in something they do well; regular exercise. My brother set-up a digital map and mileposts for us all to walk the Pennine Way in England together, even though I was in Canada and he in Florida. I made sure I got at least 1 mile walked every single day during chemo and plotted it on the map and even read accounts of others who had walked it. There were moments of gratitude that I wasn’t actually up to the tops of my wellies in peat bog and driving rain! I felt I had it easy on the flat grass in warm sunshine often with a friend by my side.

I know I would not have completed the 268 miles without logging it and seeing him shepherding me along the way.

Wishing you the strength to ask for what you need,