Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Strange phenomena

This year, one of the top news stories about cancer was grim: The disease is projected to replace heart disease as the leading cause of death worldwide. But at a Monday session on "Alternative and Complementary Health Practices for Cancer and Chronic Diseases," APHA Annual Meeting-goers glimpsed a more upbeat cancer topic that gets little attention from researchers.

Doctoral candidate Kelly Turner, MSW, has been focusing her research on trying to understand why and when spontaneous remission of cancer occurs. She told session attendees that spontaneous remissions are rare events, and defined the phenomenon as the "complete or partial, temporary or permanent disappearance of a tumor, metastasis or blood cancer." But the most important part of the definition, she said, is that it happens in the absence of Western medical treatment or after Western treatment has failed to produce results. According to Turner, there are only about 20 cases of spontaneous remissions published each year in medical journals.

To study the topic, Turner traveled the globe to study unpublished cases. Interviewing healers and survivors alike, she zeroed in on the physical, emotional and spiritual commonalities that resonate through survivors' and healers' recollections of how they were able to lick cancer. For example, one woman attributed her cancer's spontaneous remission to diet. In other words, the woman simply stopped eating for two weeks, and when she did begin to eat again focused her diet mainly on vegetables — no meat, no dairy, no sugar — and juiced cabbage. Other survivors attributed their spontaneous cancer remissions to various herbs and vitamins.

One Japanese man attributed his spontaneous remission 22 years ago to surrendering to his cancer by increasing his positive emotions. Simply stated, after being sent home from a hospice with no hope, the man decided to just embrace his cancer and decided that he would "think of his cancer as his child," Turner explained. The man sent his "unconditional love to it."

Surrendering, being at peace with dying and being at peace with living, as well as deeper spirituality, also resonated throughout Turner's qualitative research.

Turner believes that such occurrences can shed light on how cancer goes away.

"It is very rare and a lot of people don't study this because it is so rare," Turner said. "But the implications of what it could mean, if we could understand what is going on, are quite huge. From a public health standpoint, it also might reveal inexpensive cancer treatments."

— T.D.J.

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