By Bernie Siegel, MD
The reason that medicine has not explored the issue of self healing and patients who exceed survival expectations is that we either give the treatment the credit or refer to them as miracles or spontaneous remissions. Medicine does not study success because one cannot learn from spontaneous events but when one thinks of these cases as unique to the patient and self induced you are more likely to ask the patient for their story and learn about survival behavior.
Psychologist Bruno Klopfer, back in the 1940’s, was given 24 personality profiles of cancer patients and correctly predicted 19 times who would have a fast or slow growing cancer. In one case he couldn’t decide and his predictions were wrong four times. Yet when a patient enters a doctor’s office and is given a diagnosis they are not handed a list which tells them how to behave and act like a survivor or a list of questions to determine their personality profile and find who is more likely to become a long term survivor and who needs psychotherapy.
Doctors are not trained to communicate with patients and so our words can kill or cure. I found that wordswordswords can literally become swords. Authority figures are hypnotic but most doctors are hypnotic in a negative way and induce more side effects and earlier deaths with their words by referring to statistics and eliminating hope. Statistics do not apply to individuals and there is no false hope.
Psychiatrist George Solomon, when working with AIDS patients early in the epidemic, came up with eight questions which define an Immune Competent Personality. He said from the questions one could predict who would be a long term survivor. On a personal level I know individuals who have gone from HIV+ to HIV- because of changes in their lifestyles and beliefs and were dying until it was discovered computer falsely reported HIV+ when patient was negative.
Psychiatrist Caroline Thomas, at Johns Hopkins had medical students fill out a personality profile and draw pictures of themselves. From the profile and drawings she found a connection with diseases they developed later in life and could predict what disease they were likely to get and the part of the body likely to be involved from their drawings. Even she was surprised to find a correlation with cancer too.
Our bodies love us but if we do not love them and our lives then our body tries to get us out of here as fast as it can. Monday morning there are more suicides and serious illnesses than on any other day of the week. That is no coincidence. Our relationships play an enormous part in making our lives meaningful and helping us to survive. As W. H. Auden wrote about cancer in the poem Miss Gee, a doctor says to his wife, “Cancers a funny thing. Childless women get it and men when they retire. It’s as if there had to be an outlet for their foiled creative fire.” Jungian therapists call it growth gone wrong.
Women live longer than men with the same cancers. Does that make it remarkable? I read an article on malignant melanoma in which the oncologist suggested estrogen and progesterone must have some beneficial effect in suppressing the growth of the cancer cell. My conclusion is then that since married men live longer than single men with the same cancers and smoke as much but develop less cancer that sleeping with estrogen and progesterone must be protecting them.
I am kidding of course. It is obvious from many studies and my own patients that a reason for living also relates to the will to live and survival. I hear men say, “I can’t work anymore. What’s the point of living?” while their families are sitting next to them. While women say, “I can’t die till you’re all married and out of the house.” She died of her cancer twenty three years later when her ninth kid left home. She, like the men, needs to live an authentic life and not just a role as the wage earner or mother. Recent studies show how loneliness affects the genes which control immune function and lead to cancer, infections and autoimmune diseases.
On a personal level let me share several cases I was personally involved in of remarkable recoveries. One was a woman who lived in North Carolina and was told by her doctor that going to Duke for chemotherapy was a waste of time and energy as she was going to die anyway of cancer. Her niece was caring for my father-in-law at the time and without asking me told her aunt, “Doctor Siegel helps people to get well all the time come up here to Connecticut.”
When she arrived and I was called I admitted her to the hospital and found she had leukemia. As a surgeon I had nothing to offer her, so I called an oncologist to see her. He basically said what her doctor had said but started chemotherapy to give her some hope. She responded dramatically and went into complete remission. His last letter to me, with a smile said, “Isn’t chemotherapy wonderful.” Her niece later told me she went home and was driving her doctor crazy and that she knew she would get well when I sat on her bed and hugged her.
Jordan Fieldman was a Harvard medical student who developed visual problems many years ago and was diagnosed with an aggressive brain tumor. He undergoes surgery and wakes up blind and is told he will be blind for the few months he has left to live. A week later his sight returned and he went to the medical library to research his disease, He said every book said recurrence is invariable and death occurs within a year. Now a good student would have gone home and died but Jordan was not a good student. He said, “How dare they say invariable?”
Jordan also suffered from ulcerative colitis and noticed that when he decided to change his life style and not die of a brain tumor that his colitis also responded. He combined traditional medical therapy with other modalities and his tumor never recurred.
John Florio is retiring as a landscaper and develops an ulcer. When it doesn’t heal a biopsy reveals carcinoma of the stomach. When John came to my office I told him we needed to get him right into the hospital, “No, you forgot something. It’s Spring time I am going home to make the world beautiful. So if I die I’ll leave a beautiful world.” Several weeks later he returned and I performed surgery which could not cure his problem. I told him he needed more therapy and he said, “You forgot something. It is still Spring time. I am going home to make the world beautiful so when I die I will leave a more beautiful world.”
To make long story short John returned to my office four years later. I thought he was dead since he had not come back for any follow up visits. He had two complaints, “I have a hernia from lifting boulders in my landscape business and can I eat whatever I want to now?” I fixed his hernia. John became my therapist and taught me about the beauty of life. He died at age ninety four with no sign of cancer.
Last but not least was a woman who came to my office to have me document her healing with God’s help. I told her it was hard to be a saint and I suggested she let me operate and let God keep her well. She was enraged at my suggestion and left the office. Eight years later after lecturing in New York City she walked up to me and said, “Do you remember me?’ I said “No.” Then she explained and I told her I was glad to meet a saint.
I also had a patient with a pancreatic cancer who went home to die and returned to the office with no palpable tumor mass and feeling well. Her comment, “I went home and left my troubles to God.” Likewise Susan Duffy was diagnosed with Scleroderma decades ago and told what would happen to her. Everyone in her family committed suicide and her parents asked her to also. Well thirty years later she is still kicking and has found God and “When I let love into my prison it changed every negative item, meaning the experience in my life, into something meaningful.”
Our attitudes and mind and body are one. Medical students are never told that decades ago Carl Jung interpreted a dream and correctly diagnosed a brain tumor. Bruno Klopfer deceived a patient into health who was in a study of Krebiozen. The man had responded dramatically but when the reports came out saying it didn’t seem beneficial Klopfer told him a new supply of super refined Krebiozen was coming and he waited a week to build the man’s intention and then gave him a saline injection and of course his tumor melted away. A year later the final report concluded Krebiozen was of no use in the treatment of cancer and the man died within the week.
Oncologists start a new protocol with four drugs and call it the EPOH protocol using the first letters of the four drugs. One doctor noticed if you turned it around it spelled HOPE and he started calling it the HOPE protocol and had three times the success rate with exactly the same treatment. Another oncologist in Chicago said he noticed that patients who lived over fifteen miles from the hospital did far better than those who lived near the hospital when he started a new protocol. That is a big reason people respond to trips to various parts of the world to see healers or go to shrines. It is their belief and expectation. To quote physicist Fred Alan Wolf, desire and attention alter the physical world causing things to occur which would not normally occur if they were not desired.
Yes, there is intentional reversion. That is a term a botanist used describing how plants alter their genes to survive climate changes and disease. So do bacteria and viruses because the mechanism is built into us so we will survive. Bacteria make intelligent genetic changes to survive antibiotics and turn them into food in time.
The problem is creating the state that lets that happen as we have a far more complicated life than bacteria, viruses and plants. Monday is no threat to them. The key lies in words Solzhenitsyn shares in his book Cancer Ward. He had cancer and so is a native and not a tourist. The men are sitting around the ward and one has found a book in the hospital library he is reading. “It says here there are cases of self induced healing. Not recovery through treatment but actual healing see.” It was as though self induced healing had floated out of the great open book like a rainbow colored butterfly for them all to see and they all held up their foreheads and cheeks for its healing touch as it flew past. It was only the gloomy Podduyev who with a hopeless and obstinate expression on his face croaked out, “I suppose for that you need to have a clear conscience.”
There is the essence of the story behind remarkable recoveries. The butterfly is the symbol of transformation and every color symbolizes an emotion and so when your life is in order you are transformed and heal. The essence is age old. It is about being born again and religions and myths show us the benefit of that act. Picking a new name for yourself and changing who you are by giving up the untrue self imposed upon us by others is life saving. He who seeks to save his life will lose it, while he who is willing to lose his life will save it. Twin sisters do not get the same disease at the same time. The good little girl who pleases Mom and Dad and internalizes anger is far more likely to develop cancer than her independent twin.
So what is the answer? We know from studies that actors alter their immune function and cortisol levels related to whether they are in a comedy or tragedy. We see this every winter on Broadway when actors drop out due to the flu when in Death of a Salesman but not when in The Producers. The answer then is to act and behave as if you are the person you want to be and for doctors to teach survival behavior and coach their patients in that endeavor. The inspired will always exceed expectations. I know from experience.
I will close with an interesting thought that Ernest Holmes, the founder of Religious Science and Science of Mind mentioned: What if Jesus was the only normal person who ever lived? Think about that and realize the potential we might all have. Most of us feel inadequate and so hope to be normal in the sense of feeling better about ourselves and similar to other people. But what if normal really allows us to accomplish incredible things and remarkable recoveries? I can accept this even though I don’t have all the scientific answers but I do know our genes do not make decisions. Geneticist Bruce Lipton discusses this in his book The Biology of Belief. They are stimulated into activity by their environment and the messages they get. So be born again into a new life you love and watch what happens to your body since it loves you.
Klopfer, B., Psychological Variables in Human Cancer, Journal of Projective Techniques, 1957, 21(4), 331-340.
Solomon, George F. and Temoshok, Lydia. A psychoneuroimmunologic perspective on aids: research: questions, preliminary findings, and suggestions, in: Baum, Andrew and Temoshok, Lydia. Psychosocial Perspectives on AIDS: Etiology, Prevention, and Treatment, New York: Informa Health Care 2000.
John W. Pearson, Thomas A. Mead, Lucy A. and Thomas, Caroline B. A possible relationship between figure drawing data collected in medical school and later health status among physicians, Journal of Clinical Psychology 2006, 42(2), 363 – 369