Until recently, any recovery from serious disease not involving medical intervention was usually dismissed as little more than “spontaneous remission,” generally defined as the unexpected disappearance of a particular ailment by inexplicable means. These days, however, there appears to be a growing willingness to re-examine such dramatic changes in an individual’s health as potential harbingers of how even “the emperor of all maladies,” as cancer is described by author Siddhartha Mukherjee, might be treated.
Take, for instance, the story of Susan. After living with an abusive husband for 15 years, she divorced, remarried, and again found herself in an unhappy marriage, ultimately suffering from a debilitating disease.
“For the next two and a half years, I sought medical help, endured endless medical tests, and took countless prescription drugs,” she writes in a published account. “But my health continued to deteriorate. Finally, during one visit, the doctor told me that I had stomach cancer, and that this particular type could not be treated medically.”
As her symptoms worsened, Susan found that she was unable to eat most foods and could hardly sleep. Then one day she tried to commit suicide by downing a bottle of sleeping pills, leaving her in a coma and eventually in the hospital on life support. When she regained consciousness five days later, she realized the only thing she had neglected to do through her many years of misery was to pray to God for help.
While perhaps not unusual, this sort of last-ditch effort to reconnect with the Divine is not what most would consider an effective treatment plan, especially for someone in such dire straits. And yet according to cancer researcher Kelly Turner, this is precisely what many have found leads to healing.
As part of her doctoral dissertation, the author of Radical Remission: Surviving Cancer Against All Odds spent 10 months interviewing both patients and healers from around the world who had experienced or been witness to a spontaneous remission of cancer. This included individuals who had been diagnosed and then chose not to receive conventional medical treatment, as well as those who had given conventional treatment try only to give it up for something else.
What Turner discovered was that the vast majority of these individuals had relied on decidedly non-physical approaches to treating their disease, choosing instead to address various emotional and spiritual issues through such methods as prayer, meditation and reconnecting with loved ones.
“I was fully expecting a lot more physical stuff to come up,” she said during an interview in 2013, “but it didn’t.”
For Susan, who was not interviewed by Turner, this translated into a renewed commitment to seeing herself as the essential expression of a consistently loving God or Spirit, not the plaything of a capricious, matter-based body. The effect was almost immediate.
“As I lay in the hospital bed over the next three days, unable to sleep at all, much of what I had learned in… Sunday school 30 years earlier flooded into my thought,” she writes. “To the astonishment of the physicians, I recovered from the effects of the overdose in those few days.”
Still, she found herself having to confront the larger problem of the cancer diagnosis. After being released from the hospital – and with encouragement from a friend – she continued with her prayers and began studying the Bible, along with Mary Baker Eddy’s Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures. This gave her a sense of hope that she could be healed. And within five months, she was.
That was over 25 years ago. Since then she hasn’t experienced a single symptom of cancer.
“A wonderful transformation of my character has also taken place,” writes Susan, “and, in turn, my marriage is now harmonious and happy.”
When looked at in the context of how many people continue to suffer from cancer, it’s tempting to write off Susan’s account as little more than a quaint anecdote, a simple case of someone getting lucky. But according to David Agus, a medical doctor and author of The End of Illness, such out-of-the-ordinary stories demand more, not less, of our attention.
“We need to focus on outliers,” said Agus during an AMA (“Ask Me Anything”) interview on Reddit last year. “The physics world has learned the most by explaining the outliers. We have ignored them unfortunately.”
It’s unlikely, though, that we’ll be able to ignore these sorts of stories much longer, given both the accumulating evidence and humanity’s inherent longing for better health. The two can’t help but intersect. As they do, we’ll be able to better understand and utilize them.
The extent to which this trend is going to be explored, both individually and collectively, remains to be seen. What is certain, however, is that it’s a trend that’s been around for millennia, that is here to stay and that cannot be – indeed, must not be – dismissed.