In the wake of our Cancer Battle Plan conference, I got to thinking again about cancer and what it means to be a victim of the most complex and most untreatable (in conventional terms) illness of our times. We focus on environmental agents and nutritional deficiencies - and they surely play a major role in causing cancer - but the kinds of treatments that are working best for cancer suggest a type of causal agent that is possibly more profound.
Cancer is nothing less than a spiritual crisis. Many of the most forward-thinking cancer specialists, from Ryke-Geerd Hamer to Waltraut Fryda, postulate that cancer is the physical manifestation of hopelessness. It is a person who has temporarily lost his way, lost his faith, lost the inherent belief that every day in every way, I am getting better and better. It's hardly surprising that cancer is the body eating away at itself. It is the biological equivalent of a suicide.
Recently, I spoke at length with Lothar Hirneise, who runs People Against Cancer in Germany and asked him about alternative cancer therapies.
His comments were insightful and instructive. He emphasised that the most reductive approach was to believe that the tumour was the illness and to focus all therapeutic attention on getting rid of it. In most cases, this isn't necessary, he said. Indeed, it could even be dangerous to kill the cancer cells.
'Through years of research, I've come to the conclusion that each tumour is a gift in a way most patients just do not understand,' he said. 'A tumour is symptom, like pain or fever, and it helps us to survive.'
Lothar's view is that the cancer is a 'red-alert' signal - a physical demonstration that something is wrong with the cancer victim's life, that something must change immediately. The tumour is being presented, rather than something much worse. Nevertheless, the conventional approach is to look upon the tumour as the foreign invader and attempt to chop it out, so that the patient can resume life as he has always known it.
'The advice from an oncologist to live life as you always have is the most dangerous of all,' says Hirneise. He also says that cancer is not a single entity. Every breast cancer, like every woman, is individual - a manifestation of a unique crisis.
After interviewing hundreds of survivors of end-stage cancer, Lothar found one major similarity threading through all of their clinical histories. Although some had embarked on a change of diet and detoxification therapies, the one area of common ground was a major mental or spiritual shift, after a great deal of emotional and spiritual stocktaking. Most such patients had undergone a great deal of spiritual work, usually with trained therapists, and most viewed their cancer as the factor in their lives most responsible for snapping them awake.
The most successful therapies today focus on the patient's spirituality, rather than his physicality; Hamer and his newer acolytes believe that once you find the source of the emotional stress or trauma, the tumour will no longer be needed and will disappear, as it were, of its own will.
The current mortality rates suggest that medicine needs to reconsider not only what cancer is, but also the role it plays in the life of a patient. Far from being the enemy, cancer is the kind of friend we all need at one point or another, the kind with the courage to hold up a mirror to ourselves.