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When the extraordinary becomes the ordinary in health care

Written By | Apr 14, 2014

LOS ALTOS, CA, April 14, 2014 – When asked during a recent AMA (“Ask Me Anything”) interview on Reddit what he thought about spontaneous remission of cancer, David Agus, M.D., was quick to respond: “We need to focus on outliers. The physics world has learned the most by explaining the outliers. We have ignored them unfortunately.”

Outliers – in medical parlance, something that stands apart from the rest, as in the physical recovery from disease or injury that is effected through unexpected or unexplainable means – are at once good news and bad news for people who study these kinds of things. Good news because it’s always nice to see someone get better, regardless of how it happens. Bad news because they force us, often reluctantly, to give up the old for the new as it relates to our perception of how the body heals, which may explain why such data are often ignored.

Unfortunately, this tendency to deny the potential significance of even the smallest bit of evidence could very well be what’s keeping us from making greater headway in the treatment of disease. When asked how cancer research is progressing, for instance, Agus, author of The End of Illness and co-founder of Navigenics, a personalized medicine company, didn’t mince words: “Not well enough!”

One aspect of health care that often slips off the research radar screen is the extent to which an individual’s thought might be helping or hindering the recovery process. “People with a positive attitude or a belief system do better across the board,” said Agus. “There is a lot of data backing this up.”

Despite the data, however, there is still considerable resistance to the idea that better minds lead to better bodies, even the avoidance of illness altogether.

Fundamental to the consideration, if not acceptance, of any approach to health care that strays outside the norm is a willingness to pay greater attention to outliers – anything that indicates we might be missing something in terms of the cure and prevention of disease. Where mental aspects are concerned, this includes a willingness to give up a largely matter-based view of existence for one that is perhaps more spiritually inspired.

This was the case for a woman from Northern California.

After years of deteriorating health, endless medical tests and countless prescription drugs, her doctors told her she had untreatable stomach cancer and that there was nothing they could do for her. There was something, however, that she could do.

Drawing on her deep but (at that time) distant spiritual upbringing, she decided to give up on drugs altogether and set out on a quest to reacquaint herself with God. She had help along the way from a good friend who often reminded her of God’s unconditional and unfailing love. After about five months of this encouragement, she knew she was cured. This was more than 20 years ago. Since then she hasn’t experienced a single symptom of cancer.

While some might look at this as a classic outlier – merely anecdotal, a simple case of getting lucky – others see it as part of a larger pattern dating back thousands of years, indicating that such a recovery isn’t so unexplainable after all.

Why then aren’t we seeing more stories like this published in mainstream media, even medical journals? Maybe if such cases weren’t so often ignored their value might not be so readily dismissed, and the extraordinary might well become the ordinary in health care.

Eric Nelson’s columns on the link between consciousness and health appear regularly in a number of local and national online publications. He also serves as the media and legislative spokesperson for Christian Science in Northern California. Follow him on Twitter @norcalcs.

By Eric Nelson | | Twitter

Eric Nelson

Eric Nelson’s column “Consciousness and Health” has appeared on a number of national media websites including The Washington Times, The Washington Post, KevinMD, The Houston Chronicle and American Public Media's "On Being” blog. Eric also serves as the Christian Science Committee on Publication for Northern California, enjoys road biking, and is more than happy to chat with anyone, anytime, about baseball.