Full stop. Or is it just a comma…

I heard that word used again last week. Terminal. It’s a word that stops you in your tracks. It’s a word that causes great distress. It’s a word that makes me angry. Not because I’m not okay with death, I am, it will happen to us all one day. But because when someone in the prime of their life hears those words, they take away hope. And people can just give up.

The thing is there are many people who’ve been diagnosed as terminal and they’re still here. Years later, cancer free, fully alive. Anita Moorjani, Petrea King, Ian Gawler to name just a few. Their stories are well known. Then there’s Stamatis Moraitis the Greek man living in America. Diagnosed with lung cancer in his sixties, given nine months to live. He returned home to Ikaria to die but instead found reconnection with his faith and his community. Thirty-six years later, alive and well the New York Times published an article about him. The Island Where People Forget to Die. It’s an inspiring read. Closer to home I work with a man who was diagnosed as terminal twelve years ago. Aggressive prostate cancer they said. Three years to live. Get it out of me he said and I’ll do the rest. Well he’s still here. Alive and well. Cancer free. And then the good friend of my good friends. Diagnosed twenty years ago with a brain tumour. Terminal they said. Couldn’t remove it all. Get your affairs in order. So he did. Closed his high pressure business, bought a yacht and sailed the world despite half his body being paralysed. Then he decided to become an artist. Twenty years later he’s still exhibiting paintings. And the hospital have finally discharged him – a miracle – fully cured.

Makes you wonder what they did differently, doesn’t it?

Put simply, the medical diagnosis of ‘terminal’ just means there’s nothing more medicine can do to help. But that doesn’t mean there isn’t help and hope available by shifting our attention to mind-body medicine. And with over ten thousand university research papers demonstrating the positive impact of mind-body medicine on health and healing, it’s not hocus pocus. It’s measurable, predictable, reproducible science. It’s just that it’s slow in coming to light.

I think Dr Herbert Benson puts it best. Optimal medicine is like a three legged school. One leg is pharmaceuticals, essential and so beneficial when used appropriately. The second is surgery and other procedures. Again life-saving in certain circumstances. But the third leg of the stool and the one most often overlooked is what we can do for ourselves. Self-care. The domain of mind-body medicine. What we can do to help ourselves heal physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually. And it’s where I believe miracles are made. In Dr Benson’s words, it’s not that we should stop using surgery and drugs, it’s that we should elevate self-care to the same level of respect.

That’s medicine at its best. When it gives us options.

And as Dr Bernie Siegel says in Love, Medicine& Miracles it’s important to remember that one generation’s miracle may be another’s scientific fact.

Is the diagnosis a full stop? Or is it just a comma? I guess in the end we get to choose whether we believe the diagnosis of terminal or choose instead to see that there are other avenues of hope ready and waiting to be explored…

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