Holistic Approach to Cancer Recovery


Any change to our state of health is challenging but a cancer diagnosis is different.  Those three dreadful words “you have cancer” have an amplified effect that breeds suffering and fills our hearts with terror.

Before you heard those three words you were first a mother, father, son, daughter, friend or relative.  You had hopes and dreams, you had goals.  The instant those words reached your ears, you became a cancer patient.

According to Dr. Alastair Cunningham of the Ontario Cancer Institute, “Suffering is a mental reaction to events perceived as unwanted.  Much of the suffering cancer causes comes from reflecting on the diagnosis and what it implies, rather than directly from the disease itself.  Cancer is thus an existential crisis, not simply a physical problem.”

From this perspective, healing is therefore the relief of suffering and this is what this article focuses on.

Why Modern Medicine May Not be Enough?

We are fortunate to live in this day and age where the miracles of modern medicine are abundant, and we should rejoice in the fact that more patients survive cancer today than in any other time in history.  Having said that, medicine still operates on the basis of the old paradigm where cancer is viewed as a local event within the body, a failure of a particular organ or group of organs.

The old cancer paradigm still focuses only on the physical, the tumor, and employ the traditional treatment regimen of surgery, chemotherapy and radiation.  These treatments, while saving lives, tax patients mentally, emotionally and physically and many survivors struggle to maintain their quality of life, sometimes even years later due to late treatment side-effects.

Another unintended outcome of modern medicine is the separation of the patient from the illness.  Because modern medicine evolved through scientific research on the anatomical and physiological composition of the body, there was no room for anything else.

We now know however that illness is a multi-dimensional event, and this false sense of separation is in many cases the root of suffering for many patients.  Since the body and mind are an integrated system where if you affect one part, you affect the whole, we must acknowledge that for healing to take place, the person and the illness cannot and should not be separated.

The Whole Person Approach

The whole person approach to healing and recovery is not a new idea.  It has been around since Hippocrates (460 BC – 357 BC), the father of modern medicine, said “It is more important to know what sort of person has a disease than to know what sort of disease a person has.”

As a Cancer Recovery Specialist my view is that for true and lasting healing we must transcend the mechanistic-reductionist Newtonian view of disease and recognize that illness is a whole person event.  We should further recognize that for true and lasting recovery, illness must be treated not only on the level of biology, but also on the level of the mind.

When it comes to cancer, we are far from helpless and there are various ways we can increase our odds for recovery.  In a nutshell, while our medical team can do everything in its power to heal our body, we must do our part and engage our own resources so we can benefit from the many blessings modern medicine has to offer.

Healing from the “Outside” vs Healing from the “Inside”

Looking at illness through the lens of modern medicine is, in my opinion, smart.  It does not mean we have to accept the offered medical treatment options, but knowing all we can about our body and condition translates into being realistic and pragmatic.

Modern medicine is one avenue of healing from the “outside”.  Another avenue is alternative remedies and methods.  The main difference between the two is the amount of research and documented evidence.  Without getting into the politics of it all, suffice it to say that alternative methods and remedies have in comparison to medicine little rigorous research to support their efficacy.