Prior to a talk about my recently released book, Healing Myths, Healing Magic (see Book Review, p. 13), a man approached me with a sense of urgency. “Dr. Epstein, I don’t know anything about you, but I noticed the title of your book and at this time in my life, I really need some Healing Magic.” He requested a few moments of my time before the program. I agreed, and the conversation began. I very vividly recall the encounter, and would like to share the details of our conversation as I remember them.
Peter: I have cancer. I’ve had it before, and had surgery and radiation treatments and it went away. That was about 3 years ago. I’ve been fine since then, but now it’s back and spreading.
Donald: I understand your distress.
Peter: My oncologist tells me that I need chemotherapy and hormone therapy, which will make me feel awful and may not work. He says that if I had received chemo in the past and not radiation therapy, I might not be in the situation I am in right now. On the other hand, my radiologist tells me that there is no real evidence that the type of cancer I have will respond to chemotherapy.
To complicate my decision, my nutritionist tells me that both treatments will speed my death by depleting my nutritional and immunological resources. I’m in total conflict, I don’t know what to do, and I don’t have the time to make the wrong choice.
Donald: It really is tough being caught between professional turf wars. Lets see if we can sort this out. First let me ask you, is the cancer what is making you ill? Or, without the cancer, would you be well?
Peter: I don’t understand your question.
Donald: If health is defined as an optimal state of physical, emotional, mental, social and spiritual well-being, not merely the absence of disease or infirmity, my question is, are you physically, emotionally, mentally, socially, and spiritually at your personal optimum providing, of course, that we take the cancer out of the picture?
Peter: (Laughing) Of course not, but what does that have to do with the cancer?
Donald: Were you told you were terminal?
Peter: I was told that without treatment I would most likely die.
Donald: Well dying doesn’t only result from lack of treatment. The Journal of the American Medical Association reported that 130,000 people last year died from medical treatment error/drug reactions in hospitals. This is the fourth largest cause of death in America.
They state that this is a very conservative estimate. If outpatient visits are added, then medical error/drug reaction is the third cause of death in America, only exceeding heart disease and cancer. So, the treatment question is not so black and white. If you knew you were dying soon, what would you need to do?
Peter: I would need to get my affairs in order.
Donald: What does that mean?
Peter: It means that I would have to clean up old problems.
Donald: How would you do that?
Peter: I would ask forgiveness from people, and tell some people I love them. I would distribute my money so that I could help some family members. I would need to make many decisions in my last days.
Donald: For what purpose?
Peter: So that I could die in peace.
Donald: Hmmmm…. Is it so you could die in peace, or is it really so that you can live in peace until you die? Remember that you are alive until the moment you are not. To live in peace requires gaining greater wellness in spite of your disease of the moment.
Peter: Are you saying that whether I decide to treat my disease or not, I must take the personal steps associated with being well?
Donald: Yes. People often use disease as a valid reason not to address the big issues or incomplete energy in their lives. Understand, this is not intentional. The disease itself, not the state that lead to the loss of health, becomes the focus of energy.
Do you know anyone who has been concerned about dying for years, and actually outlived several relatives or spouses?
Donald: Does your birth certificate have an expiration date?
Peter: No, of course not.
Donald: Well it’s no secret we’re all going to die, and no one really know when. Since trying to add years to your life with treatment can kill you, I suggest trying to add life to your years. Do you know the difference between disease and illness?
Peter: I’m not sure.
Donald: A person can have a disease such as heart disease, low back disc disease, or cancer and actually be well and never know he is sick. There are also people who are ill but have no symptoms of disease. A disease may be significant in your life; it may force you to look at things you would not have considered. It may give you permission to do an inventory and make changes in your life that you would never otherwise allow. The more you consider yourself to be terminal, the more pressing it is that you break out of the boxes that have inhibited the person inside you so that you may express yourself.
People who recover from significant illness very often not only make radical changes in what they do in life, but aLso in the story they have about life, and about what they are entitled to. Their relationships with both themselves and others change, too. They commonly must re-evaluate what is real and what is a waste of energy for them.
Peter: I am confused about illness and wellness? How can I have cancer and still be well?
Donald: People’s feelings affect their health. For example, research shows that a person’s spinal pain and disability are better predicted by life stresses than by an X-ray or CT scan.
Wellness is that state in which you are relatively invincible, nothing can ruin your day, you feel alive, vital and confident, and experience a high state of well-being. When you experience wellness, your circumstances of the moment do not easily upset your internal state.
In contrast, illness is the state of concern about your mortality, about your health. It is a state in which you feel limited, challenged, and worried. You feel as if something is “wrong”.
Therefore, a person can have advanced cardiovascular disease and not feel ill. The same is true with cancer or any other disease. Although linked in many ways, a disease does not determine if a person is ill, and treatment of disease will only rarely produce wellness. Often the more a disease (not the person) is treated, the less wellness a person is likely to experience.
Concerns about mortality, limitation, or just the feeling that something is wrong are not usually caused by disease. You currently are experiencing illness, and also were diagnosed with cancer. Often when one feels ill, one looks for a disease to match the experience of being ill. Although treatment of disease may at times save lives, it rarely results in well-being. However, a greater sense of well-being, the ability to make healthier choices, and better adapt to stress all impact on the disease state. Most disease is attributable to lifestyle, environmental factors, or habits that take their toll over a period of years. Wouldn’t it make sense that if the destructive patterns were changed, health would begin to be restored? Treatment of disease does not have to preclude getting well.
Peter: So, if I enjoy life more, forgive others and myself, make better choices, clean up loose ends and deal with stress more effectively, I can be well? That is a lot of change to make. Maybe it’s easier to just treat the cancer. Can this Network care that you invented help me with this internal change toward wellness?
Donald: Yes! Network Spinal Analysis (NSA) helps your body to be more whole and to heal. It promotes healthier choices, life enjoyment and new strategies for experiencing yourself and becoming more whole.
Peter: Thank you Dr. Epstein. I understand that regardless of what I do with my cancer, I still need to maximize my healing so that I may live more fully, and in peace for the rest of my life.