In February 2001, my father was hospitalised in Vancouver during a visit. By the time I got there, he was unconscious and remained so until his last breath. For a man to whom serious illness was a stranger, it was surprising that the pneumonia got the better of him and he never came out of it. By sheer chance I discovered a book, Peace, Love and Healing by Dr Bernie Siegel MD, lying on his bookshelf. 

This experience, and Dr Siegel’s book, helped me start a journey into the inquiry of illness and well-being. Since then, I have attended several wellness programmes; read several authors and have held lengthy discussions with friends and family. Although I don’t believe in playing doctor, I realise we need to focus on what is within our control. Below, I have attempted sharing my learnings from this journey through the insights of three authors.

The Body-Mind Connection 

Dr Bernie Siegel is a retired cancer surgeon who set up Exceptional Cancer Patients (ECAP) group in the US. Although an oncologist by background, he dwelt on illness in general.  According to him, “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.” 

Dr Siegel championed the case for healing as distinct from curing. In building the case for healing, he 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 one-third or more of people treated with placebos show positive results. A placebo is just a sugar pill but placebos work because of changes precipitated by the mind. He provides scientific evidence to show how the mind can be used to direct healing

Getting to the Bottom

Although Dr Siegel’s book is enlightening, it falls short on revealing those human actions that lead to illness in the first place. I got many answers on reading Toxemia by Dr John Tilden, MD, who passed away in 1940. 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.

He arrived at 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 but reflect different levels of toxin build-up.

According to Dr Tilden, “In the process of tissue building there is cell building, anabolism and cell destruction, catabolism. The broken down tissue is toxic and 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, the body becomes enervated, when enervated (toxin) elimination is checked, causing a retention of toxin in the blood or Toxemia which will continue until nerve energy is restored by removing the causes.” So-called disease is nature’s effort at eliminating toxin from the blood” which echoes Dr Siegel’s views. 

Emperor of All Maladies

Dr Siddhartha Mukherjee, a world famous oncologist and author of Emperor of all Maladies, mentions that cancer is a family of diseases. What this implies is that the causes of cancer are several and each can overlap with those of other diseases.  For instance, an unhealthy diet and excessive alcohol may contribute to either gastritis, hiatus hernia, diabetes, liver malfunction or cancer. 

Notably, Dr Mukherjee devotes an entire section to “Prevention is the Cure”.He dwells on preventable factors causing cancer which include diet, obesity, sedentary lifestyles, smoking, alcohol, excess exposure to UV rays, ionising radiation and to carcinogens at work and cancer-linked viruses such as human papillomavirus, Hepatitis B & C.

Medicine of the Future

From my own encounters with illness, I find modern medicine super specialised. We all know that tobacco causes lung cancer and excessive UV rays cause skin cancer. These are direct attributions but what is lesser discussed is indirect attribution and the role of the immune system. Cancer, like psoriasis and arthritis, is an autoimmune disorder. Chronic stress, stimulants, processed foods, lack of Vitamin D and immuno-suppressant drugs all lower immunity. Should we not then preserve our immunity system at all costs?

The timing 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 or we could simply instil prevention awareness in our lives, which comes practically free. This calls for imbibing the maxim a stitch in time saves nine. But, then who said common sense is really common?

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  • Shakti Saran

    Inclusive World Citizen, Author and Senior Fellow

    Shakti Saran is currently a Senior Fellow with PYXERA Global, a D.C. based non-profit. Previously, he spent over three decades in the corporate sector as a banker, management consultant and strategist. He is on the Board of Trustees of V Care Foundation, a Mumbai based cancer care NGO. He considers himself to be a world citizen sporting a universal and inclusive outlook, and is a friend, philosopher, and guide to many. He is fond of the outdoors and is an advocate for Eco-intelligence and preventive medicine. He is married and has a daughter. His outlook to life can be best summed up as ‘Live and Let Live’.