I was recently asked by someone who has a strong interest in alternative healing to give her some advice on her cancer treatments. Specifically if she should have chemotherapy for her breast cancer.
For me this is a decision that has to rest with the individual concerned. I can give insights and views but ultimately it has to be their decision. As a public health doctor, I have been trained to look at things from an evidence based approach. Treatments for conditions like breast cancer are well researched, although there are always new things being developed. From this evidence it is possible to give information in the way of odds. For example how many people would have to take drug X for 1 person to live an extra 5 years. From the medical perspective it is like throwing a dice, with various probabilities of the different outcomes.
So the next question is does a spiritual perspective like shamanism change the odds of the different outcomes? Not directly it doesn’t. What it does do is perhaps change the individuals perception or value of those different outcomes. A reduction in fear may lead the individual away from the more aggressive treatment based on extending life no matter what the personal cost.
What about alternative treatments often found on the internet? Firstly let me be clear on definitions. There are complimentary treatments and therapies that can run along side traditional medicine aimed at improving the mental and spiritual well being of the individual. These do not detract from the medical intervention and enhance positive outcomes as individuals feeling more positive have been shown to have a better outcome. There are some studies including remote prayer in improving outcomes.
I would define alternative treatments as those which encourage a move away from or variation to the advised medical treatment. Often these do not have robust studies so they are not able to inform the individual on the various probabilities of different outcomes. They tend to use individual case studies as the tool to give information – this person got better so it works. Without knowing how many people have tried the treatment / advice it is impossible to give advice on probable outcomes.
This leads me onto the values and beliefs of the individual. Do miracles happen? I believe they do, yes. I also believe that modern medicine is a form of miracle. The story of the person saying God will save me, whilst water levels on the river rise, turning down all help offered and ending up angry at the pearly gates seems to fit here.
The ins and outs of particular treatments, their benefits and side effects will vary from person to person. It is my firm belief that a good doctor will always spend the time with an individual talking through and giving their best estimate of the probabilities. You may need to ask them specific questions like the one above, so you can form your own judgements but most will have that information.
We all know that we don’t make decisions rationally, and my thoughts so far have been very much based rationality. So how do we deal with gut feelings and spiritual insights at such times. Most of the people I have met in situations like this are emotionally very raw. For me personally, when i’m even just a little bit like this, I find connecting spiritually very difficult. It is a time when asking for insights from others is a good idea. This comes with an immense warning though. Shamanic practitioners and others seeking insights for others in these situations need to be careful that they don’t make the decision for the individual. It is easy for the Shamanic practitioner to inadvertently guide the individual down the path that the practitioner would choose.
When faced with someone how is emotionally upset, our hearts go out to them, we want to help. As a shamanic practitioner I believe my role is to empathise with the individual and to be detached enough to ascertain what Spirit is saying for the individual. Easy to say, much more difficult to do. We have to allow the individual to find their own answer, and just facilitate that search as best we are able.
I am much more comfortable with shamanism and other healing methods when they are complimentary to what is being done. This may be biasing what I’ve said. The more I work in this field, the more I feel for the work is about letting others find their true self rather than me create a replica of me in them. Often spending the time, supporting the individual to be more empowered in the situation, is a great healing. I know that I have to let go of the outcome.
Advice on cancer treatments may be challenging but supporting those going through such challenging times is very rewarding.