The reason that medicine has not explored the issue of self-healing and patients who exceed survival expectations is that we either give the treatment the credit or refer to them as miracles or spontaneous remissions. Medicine does not study success because one cannot learn from spontaneous events but when one thinks of these cases as unique to the patient and self-induced you are more likely to ask the patient for their story and learn about survival behavior.
Psychologist Bruno Klopfer, back in the 1940’s, was given 24 personality profiles of cancer patients and correctly predicted 19 times who would have a fast or slow growing cancer. In one case he couldn’t decide and his predictions were wrong four times. Yet when a patient enters a doctor’s office and is given a diagnosis they are not handed a list which tells them how to behave and act like a survivor or a list of questions to determine their personality profile and find who is more likely to become a long term survivor and who needs psychotherapy. Doctors are not trained to communicate with patients and so our words can kill or cure. I have found that “wordswordswords” can literally become swords.
Let me share two cases of remarkable recoveries in which I was personally involved. One was a woman who lived in North Carolina and was told by her doctor that going to Duke for chemotherapy was a waste of time and energy as she was going to die anyway of cancer. Her niece was caring for my father-in-law at the time and without asking me told her aunt, “Doctor Siegel helps people to get well all the time come up here to Connecticut.”
When she arrived and I was called I admitted her to the hospital and found she had leukemia. As a surgeon I had nothing to offer her, so I called an oncologist to see her. He basically said what her doctor had said but started chemotherapy to give her some hope. She responded dramatically and went into complete remission. His last letter to me, with a smile said, “Isn’t chemotherapy wonderful.” Her niece later told me she went home and was driving her doctor crazy and that she knew she would get well when I sat on her bed and hugged her.
Another case involved Jordan Fieldman, a Harvard medical student who developed visual problems many years ago and was diagnosed with an aggressive brain tumor. He underwent surgery and woke up blind and was told he would be blind for the few months he has left to live. A week later his sight returned and he went to the medical library to research his disease. Every book he read said recurrence is invariable and death occurs within a year. Now a good student would have gone home and died, but Jordan was not a good student. He said, “How dare they say invariable!”
Jordan also suffered from ulcerative colitis and noticed that when he decided to change his life style and not die of a brain tumor that his colitis also responded. He combined traditional medical therapy with other modalities and his tumor never recurred.
The essence of the story behind remarkable recoveries can be symbolized by the image of a rainbow colored butterfly. It is the symbol of transformation and every color symbolizes an emotion; when your life is in order you are transformed and heal. It is about being born again; religions and myths show us the benefit of that act. Picking a new name for yourself and changing who you are by giving up the untrue self imposed upon us by others is life saving. He who seeks to save his life will lose it, while he who is willing to lose his life will save it.
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