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Art transforms into compassion

Healing and Curing

The Starting Point for Informed Choice

(Adapted from Choices in Healing written by Michael Lerner)

Healing Goes Beyond Curing

There is a fundamental distinction between healing and curing that lies at the heart of all genuinely patient-centred approaches to cancer treatment and care. This is not some "flaky" New Age distinction, but one rooted in the greatest and oldest continuous traditions of medicine. It is a distinction yet to be fully recognized and honored in mainstream medicine today. But while the distinction between curing and healing is widely recognized, the significance of these two complementary approaches to recovery from cancer is rarely explained to people with cancer.

As the term is generally used, a cure is a successful medical treatment. In order words, a cure is a treatment that removes all evidence of the disease and allows the person who previously had cancer to live as long as he would have lived without cancer. A cure is what the physician hopes to bring to the patient. Curing is what the doctors hope to do, the external medical process of effecting an outcome in which the disease disappears.

Healing, in contrast, is an inner process through which a person becomes whole. Healing can take place at the physical level, as when a wound or broken bone heals. It can take place at an emotional level, as when we recover from terrible childhood traumas or from a death or a divorce. It can take place at mental level, as when as we learn to reframe or restructure destructive ideas about ourselves and the world that we carried in the past. And it can take place at what some would call a spiritual level, as when we move toward God, toward a deeper connection with nature, or toward inner peace and a sense of connectedness.

Although curing and healing are different, they are deeply entwined. For any cure to work, the physical healing power of the organism must be sufficient to enable recovery to take place. When a physician sets a bone or prescribes an antibotic for an infection, he is doing his part for recovery by offering curative therapy. Yet when the inner healing power of the organism is insufficiently strong, the bone will not knit or the infection will not subside. Healing is thus a necessary part of curing - a fact with profound implications for medicine, since the authentically holistic physician is deeply aware of the essential role his patient's recuperative powers play and will do everything he can to encourage the patient to enhance those recuperative powers.

Healing, however, goes beyond curing and may take place when curing is not at issue or has proved impossible. Although the capacity to heal physically is necessary to any successful cure, healing can also take place on deeper levels whether or not physical recovery occurs. I have had many friends with cancer whom curative treatment ultimately proved impossible. Yet, even as their disease progressed, the inner healing process - emotional, mental and spiritual - was astonishingly powerful in their own lives and in those of their families and friends.

That you can participate in the fight for life with cancer - by working to enhance your own healing and recuperative resources - is a profoundly important discovery for many people. Cancer patients often experience themselves losing all control of their lives. They become the passive objects of all kinds of decisions and treatments by their medical teams. They feel they must do what their physicians tell them. They may feel that they can do nothing to help themselves. Often, no one has offered them the opportunity to consider the distinction between healing and curing.

It is not yet known scientifically how much difference personal efforts at healing can mean in terms of life extension. However, it is clinically known by most psychotherapists who work with cancer that a patient engaged in personal healing work can make a transformative difference in his quality of life. An ever-increasing body of scientific evidence now suggests that a strong desire to live - a willingess to engage in the struggle for life - and a continuous movement toward a healthy relationship with life, do help some people in their fight for physical recovery. Conversely, long-term chronic depression, hopelessness, cynicism, and similar characteristics tend to diminish resilience and increase physical vulnerability.

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