In Feb 2001, my sister from Vancouver called informing that my father, who happened to be visiting her, had fallen critically ill and was in hospital. For a man who had never taken seriously ill, and had never been admitted to a hospital, it was surprising that the pneumonia got the better of him and that he never came out of it. By the time I reached Vancouver, he was unconscious and remained so until his last breath. By sheer chance I discovered a book “Peace, Love and Healing”, authored by Dr Bernie Siegel M.D., lying on his bookshelf gifted to him by a man whose entire family had perished in the Air India explosion over Ireland in 1985.
At first, I did not see the connection between this person’s gift and my father’s illness. Obviously, the man who gifted him this book had been through awful trauma in his life and this book had touched him in some way and contributed to his healing. I started reading the book during my hospital visits but by the time I finished Chapter 1, my father passed away. On returning to Mumbai, I finished the book, from where my journey to embrace well-being began.
I started an in depth inquiry into the causes of illnesses and unravelling the path to well-being which has spanned almost two decades and I continue to gather insights often. I have read extensively; attended programs on wellness by different gurus and held lengthy discussions with friends and family. Although the world has no dearth of good doctors, I realised we need to take charge of our own lives. The authors I read were both contemporary and from eras gone by, some medical doctors and some wellness professionals. Below, I have attempted sharing my learnings and insights from this journey.
Understanding Illness and the True Interpretation of its Causes
Dr Bernie Siegel is a retired cancer surgeon who set up Exceptional Cancer Patients (ECAP) group in the U.S. According to Dr Siegel, “Illness is one of the ways we are reminded when we deviate from our personal blueprint and if we view disease this way we can open ourselves to resurrection for a disease may serve as a re-direction or a reset button.” However, I remained thirsty to understand the true causes of disease.
Fortunately, a cousin of mine shared a book called “Toxemia” written by Dr John Tilden, M.D. a doctor who passed away in 1940. I have never needed to look beyond Dr Tilden to understand the cause of dis-ease. In the latter half of his career, Dr Tilden turned his back on the medical profession and took a position opposing modern medicine. Although I do not accept Dr Tilden’s opposition to medical interventions, his work serves as a primer for prevention and seen through this lens, his work makes remarkable sense.
Dr Tilden was influenced by the Natural Hygiene movement led by Herbert Shelton at that time. He came up with a simple explanation for the cause of all disease. According to him, there is only one disease, which is “Toxemia”, and all illnesses be it a cold, constipation, arthritis or cancer are different manifestations of the same disease. What exactly is Toxemia?
The Tree of Toxemia Depicting the Causes and Manifestations of Illness
According to Dr Tilden, “In the process of tissue building – metabolism – there is cell building –anabolism– and cell destruction –catabolism-. The broken down tissue is toxic and in health, when nerve energy is normal, it is eliminated from the blood as fast as evolved. When nerve energy is dissipated from any cause, physical or mental or any bad habits, the body becomes enervated, when enervated (toxin) elimination is slowed or paused, causing a retention of toxin in the blood or Toxemia. This accumulation of toxin once established will continue until nerve energy is restored by removing the causes. So-called disease is nature’s effort at eliminating the toxin from the blood.”
Healing versus Cure
For any normal person it is customary to have at least one attack of severe illness in his or her lifetime. Dr Siegel remained faithful to the medical profession but conceded that it represented just one-half of the response needed for a holistic approach to healing. He writes, “I have always made a distinction between healing and curing. To me, ‘healed’ represents a condition of one’s life, ‘cured’ relates strictly to one’s physical condition. In other words there may be healed quadriplegics and AIDS patients and cured cancer patients who are leading unhealthy lives.”
Establishing the Body-Mind Connection
In building the case for healing, Dr Siegel suggests the need to view the body and mind as one integrated system. He provides research as well as anecdotal evidence on how the mind can contribute to the healing process. Citing the example of clinical trials, about 1/3rd or more of people treated with placebos show positive results. A placebo is just a sugar pill so how do they work? Placebos work because of a person’s will to live. According to Dr Siegel, any change would have to be precipitated by the mind. The placebo suggests to us that we may be able to change what takes place in our body by changing our state of mind. Dr Siegel provides scientific evidence to show that neuro peptides or messenger molecules functionally integrate cells of the nervous, endocrine and immune systems and these can be secreted by the brain to facilitate the movement of white blood cells (WBCs) to the immune system.
Retired Cancer Surgeon Dr Bernie Siegel on his Life Story: Run time 3” 53’
Emperor of All Maladies
Dr Siddhartha Mukherjee is a world famous oncologist and author of “Emperor of all Maladies”, a biography on cancer. In his book, he mentions that cancer is not one but several diseases all clubbed in a family. What are the implications of cancer being a family of diseases rather than a single disease? What shifts in thinking does this cause? What this signifies is that the causes of cancer are several. If you dig deeper, the same causes of cancer overlap with causes for other diseases. For instance, an unhealthy diet and excessive alcohol may contribute to either gastritis, hiatus hernia, diabetes, liver malfunction or cancer. This is synchronous with the “Tree of Toxemia” drawn by Dr Tilden who writes, “From the first irritation, like a cold or gastritis, to extreme degeneration such as diabetes, syphilis or cancer, the whole pathologic panorama is one continuous evolution of intensifying effects (of toxin build-up). The pathology may be studied until doomsday without throwing any light on the cause.”
Notably, in his book, Dr Mukherjee devotes an entire section to “Prevention is the Cure.” He dwells on the preventable factors causing cancer. These include diet, obesity, sedentary lifestyles, smoking, alcohol, excess exposure to UV rays, ionizing radiation and to carcinogens at work and cancer linked viruses such as human papillomavirus, hepatitis B & C.
Medicine of the Future
From my own experience with illness, I find modern medicine super specialised in its outlook. We all know that tobacco causes lung cancer and excessive UV rays cause skin cancer. These are direct attributions of cause. What is less prominent is awareness on indirect attribution and the role of the immune system. Cancer, like psoriasis and arthritis is an autoimmune disorder. We must, therefore, inquire what lifestyle causes weakening of our immunity system. Chronic stress, stimulants, processed foods, lack of Vitamin D and immuno-suppressant drugs all lower immunity.
Dr Mukherjee builds the case for immune activation as a therapeutic tool. He goes on to say, “Immunologists have shown that reactivating the immune system can indeed have a therapeutic benefit in some cancers such as melanoma. The role of the immune system has emerged as a powerful new focus in cancer therapy.” Should we not then preserve our immunity system at all costs?
The timings is right for modern medicine to join hands with alternative therapies that could lead to an integrated form of medicine gravitating towards prevention. Meditation, yoga, visualisation, music, hypnosis, prayer, psychotherapy are all mind-altering processes which have the potential to contribute to healing and well-being. A healthy diet and periodic fasting helps in avoidance of toxin build-up and toxin elimination. We may spend colossal dollars on health care, cures and newer treatments without understanding the implications or we could simply invoke prevention awareness in our lives, which comes practically free. This calls for imbibing the maxim a stitch in time saves nine or should I say nine hundred or nine thousand. But, then who said common sense is really common?
Shakti Saran is a Trustee on the Board of V Care Foundation, an NGO focusing on providing emotional and care giving support to cancer patients and is a Senior Fellow with PYXERA Global. All views expressed are personal
Featured image courtesy: http://www.yos.org