“…nothing you do will help.”
One moment, one remark, at the beginning of my cancer journey will impact the rest of my life. It was one of the cornerstones that the rest of my proverbial house has been built upon. I realize I have mentioned the comment before, very likely in a blog post here. However, I was unaware of the full impact it has had on me and how it helped shape my journey.
I am currently reading a fascinating book titled Spontaneous Healing : How to Discover and Embrace Your Body’s Natural Ability to Maintain and Heal Itself (Weil, 1995) and in it, Dr. Weil discusses medical pessimism. He first lays the scene of medical hexing in shamanistic cultures in which a witch doctor or shaman places a curse on someone and the cursed person withdraws from society, perhaps stops eating, and weakens/dies. Not unlike these witch doctors or shaman, modern western medicine and their doctors are awash with medical pessimism which can certainly amount to a hexing of their patients. In the five years since my diagnosis, I have heard story after story of a doctor’s pessimism and or grim “statistics” affecting patient outcomes. On the other side of the same coin, I have also repeatedly been told of a doctor’s encouraging and hope-filled words being followed by unexplained healing.
“Words are potent weapons for all causes, good or bad.” Manly Hall
“Death and life are in the power of the tongue, and those who love it will eat its fruits.” Proverbs 18:21
“There is one whose rash words are like sword thrusts,
but the tongue of the wise brings healing.” Proverbs 12:18
I still distinctly remember the conversation. I had prepared myself for my first meeting with an actual doctor after I received the “you have cancer” phone call from my nurse navigator. I had been warned that this particular oncology surgeon didn’t have the best bedside manner and tended to be curt but I didn’t let that bother me. I had a list of questions and a binder with medical journal articles I had printed out to inquire as to whether certain supplements or dietary changes would be beneficial. I sat on the examination table with a hospital gown open at my back, my skin prickling at the chill in the room. The nurse had been wise to warn me of the doctor’s bluntness but it didn’t bother me; I appreciated his concise assessment and initial thoughts on treatment. At the end of the appointment, he asked me if I had any questions and I answered in the affirmative. I explained I’d been doing research and came across a number of medical journal articles on various supplements and dietary changes that seemed to result in better outcomes. I explained I’d already made some dietary changes. Ever the perpetual novice scholar and eager to discuss these findings, I handed him a few pages of the studies. He looked visibly annoyed as he briefly glanced at the titles of the pages and, upon thrusting the papers back to me, he replied something to the effect of, “Why bother? Nothing you do will help.” He went on to say those were questions to ask my medical oncologist the following week.
I was shocked. Shocked at his flippant reply. Then I became infuriated that he had the audacity to project such a negative idea on me. Who did he think he was? God?!?! I’d been told many surgeons have “god-complexes” and this one certainly lived up to that stereotype. That single comment spurred me to anger and some sort of subconscious desire to defy him and prove him wrong. I’m fairly certain the majority of the drive home was spent with me expressing my disbelief in that man’s comment to my level-headed husband. That night I immediately dove back into research and I haven’t stopped since—honestly I probably never will. I am a sociologist and a researcher at heart. I love to ask questions, unfold layers, explore new ideas or uncover old ones. That comment simply lit a fire that had already been kindling deep inside my soul.
Fast forward a month or two. I fired god-complex surgeon and replaced him with one of his colleagues. A man whos kind nature resonated with me. I was in the middle of 6 grueling rounds of chemotherapy and targeted HER2 therapy (TCHP). By this time I had spoken to the cancer team’s dietician who cheered me on. She expressed her delight with the research I’d done and told me she wished all the cancer patients were as proactive as I was. My oncologist was not moderately indifferent on the matter of supplements and diet. He didn’t encourage them, discouraged a few, but plainly told me it was my body and he respected my choices. On more than one occasion though, he joked about my “snake oils” in one breath and in the next, announced that I was the healthiest cancer patient in his 40 years of practice. He was perplexed at my lack of nausea, fatigue, and especially neuropathy each cycle. I’d just joke back that it must be all those “snake oils.” Although we didn’t see eye to eye on many things, there was a mutual respect between us. I quickly began to learn that the “standard of care” model of cancer treatment is fundamentally flawed and questioning the flaws, even with mounds of scientific evidence, is often met with criticism.
If I had been another person, the words of my ex-surgeon could have, and likely would have, cut deep. They likely would have discouraged me from even making the effort to change my diet or pay out of pocket to add in supplements. Why bother with it all if nothing I do will help? Add to that the oncologist’s snake oil criticism and any shred of hope I may have been clinging to could have been dashed. Countless others have shared near identical experiences with me. Unfortunately, some have succumbed to this medical hexing, falling into depression and despair at the words of their doctors. Our entire society has elevated the medical community to some level of demigod. They go to medical school therefore they must have ALL the answers. We fail to even consider the fact that countless other societies have healed diseases long before modern medicine and we tossed the baby out with the bathwater. Herbs that can heal? HOGWASH! Emotions directly affecting healing? NONSENSE! For decades, we have bowed to idols of allopathic medicine and sacrificed every aspect of our health to the gods of surgery, pharmacology, and radiation.
I am glad to say that in the 5 years since my initial diagnosis, I have seen the pendulum swinging in the other direction. Most major cancer centers are slowly accepting “integrative” or “complimentary” “medicine” to include herbs, supplements, eastern medicine, and more. The change is painfully slow, especially considering approximately 1660 people die of cancer per day in the US alone. How many of those precious lives were cut short because they were discouraged from seeking integrative treatments? How many patients suffered horrible quality of life while they fell into a pit of depression as their health spiraled downward? How many more have to suffer before the “standard of care” includes multiple scientifically proven healing modalities?
To be clear, I am not anti-western medicine, surgery, chemo, radiation, etc. I’ve lost track of the number of chemotherapy drugs that have coursed through my veins. I’ve willingly undergone 3 breast surgeries and have a flat/concave chest to show for it. It has been part of my journey and I am grateful for the treatments I have been able to receive. I won’t lie though, I dream of the day when natural, non-toxic treatments become the norm, replacing expensive and toxic standard of care therapies. Will it ever happen? Probably not this side of Heaven. Despite that realization, I continue to research, not just because my life depends on it, but because others lives do too. I continue to post here in hopes that my random scribbles are a blessing to others. I have no doubt that this blog in some random corner of the internet is a vessel for God to bring hope, joy, and peace to you.
The Lord bless you and keep you;
the Lord make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you;
the Lord lift up his countenance upon you and give you peace. Numbers 6:24-26