What if cancer is not a disease?

Seriously… what if we could reorient the way we conceive of cancer? How would that change our approach to cancer treatment and potentially create more space for healing? I’m going out on a limb here, but if you’ve read this far I trust that you’re searching for what I call healing with a capital “H.”

Before you think I’m loony for suggesting that cancer isn’t a disease, will you read along just a bit more? I’d like to propose a paradigm shift that’s as subtle as it is powerful—one that I hope resonates deeply with you.

The truth is that we human beings are not machines; we are vastly more than a mere sum of our (irreplaceable) parts, and yet modern medicine treats us as just that—as gadgets comprised of ever-tinier bits and pieces that are as prone to malfunction as they are susceptible to the vagaries of genetic inheritance. And so we engage in an alluring pursuit of drugs to target specific genetic “defects,” forgetting that we have enormous potential to affect genetic expression through improvement of the environment genes exist in.

The mechanistic approach employed by conventional medicine has value, for it gives us a place to start. But a diagnosis of cancer is really more like a trailhead than a destination. It’s merely a place to begin. And yet we so often forget this; when we diagnose a disease we frequently stop thinking… because we imagine we’ve arrived at the destination.

We doctors, we think we’ve figured something out once we label the disease, once we make a diagnosis. Like well meaning mechanics going after a rusty spark plug, we try to fix what we perceive to be broken. But when we silence the proverbial canary in the coalmine before we decipher its song, we also lose the healing opportunity it was attempting to guide us toward.

If you have a serious illness, how often in the past week or two have you felt like you were seen primarily as your disease, as though somewhere amidst all the tests and procedures you, as a whole person, got lost? When you walk into your doctor’s office, do you ever feel like your lab work is the primary measuring stick marking your progress toward healing? If you have cancer, do you feel like you’re perceived as a “cancer patient” instead of as a “person living with cancer?”

There’s a fundamental difference! But this is what usually happens in the disease model of healthcare that dominates our present medical system: We see only the tip of the iceberg—the part we call the “disease.”

What happened to the rest of you? You’re a great deal more than your diagnosis! For healing with a capital “H” to occur we need to remember that you’re a whole person living with a particular condition—and that recovery involves way more than fixing broken parts. In spite of contemporary assertions to the contrary, healing with a capital “H” will never be found hiding amidst your genes.

What if cancer (or any chronic illness) is not a disease, but a disease process instead?

Take a deep, gentle breath, and allow that question to sink in for a moment.

If cancer is a disease process, then we have a lot more room to maneuver. Then we’re no longer stuck, because a process implies an inherent ability to change and a built-in capacity to heal. In actuality, cancer is the end result of an evolution that typically unfolds over ten to twenty years.

What if we do our best to change that underlying process, instead of addressing only its end result? What would be possible then?

Personally I find this approach incredibly hopeful, and I hope you do, too.

When we understand cancer as a process there’s plenty of room to include your lab work, your signs and symptoms, and your thoughts and feelings within the context of treatment. Once we make this fundamental paradigm shift it becomes impossible to focus solely on your disease, because we comprehend it as but one chapter in your entire story. Healing with a capital “H” asks us to pay attention to everything, from page one up until the present moment in time.

If we fully engage this exploration then there’s a good chance we’ll be able to appreciate the totality of the iceberg beneath your diagnosis. There, beneath the surface, that’s where the real Healing is to be found. Getting there is a bit of a journey, to be sure. En route, we’ll utilize the tools of modern medicine, but we won’t lose you along the way or settle for trying to fix the parts of you that might appear to be “broken.”

I’m not asking you to place your faith in me here. But I do want you to have the best possible chance at healing, and I believe modern, conventional medicine is desperately in need of a radical paradigm shift. If I could convince you of anything it would be that you’re not a machine and that your diagnosis is not reflective of some flaw, no matter what your labs or pathology reports have to say about it.

If this resonates with you, I invite you to download my Cliff Notes Guide to Nutrition and Cancer. You’ll have it in moments, and I’d also be delighted to send my eZine, Meaningful Medicine, along to you once a month in hopes that it will support you well in your Healing journey.