Being a cancer specialist, I have seen life and death very closely in the last fifteen years. There have been great medical science advancements I have seen in this period. The advent of targeted therapies and immunotherapies has led to improvements in the survival of cancer patients. But as oncologists, we know that a vast majority of our patients are suffering immensely, be it physical and mental agony, loss of body parts and the handicaps associated with it, financial burden, social and emotional burnout. Most of the advanced stage cancers are not curable and palliative care is the most important treatment for these patients. As medical doctors and oncologists, we end up looking after only the physical sufferings of the patients and very little time and resources are allocated to emotional and spiritual support for the patient and family.
I have asked this question to many medical practitioners about whether we are treating the patient or healing the patient. The answer we got was that most of the time we are treating and not healing. We should remember that we cannot cure all the time, we can treat most of our patients but we can comfort the patients all the time. Medical schools don’t teach us compassion and the art of getting close to the patient’s heart. Some of us are fortunate enough to learn from great teachers in our career, who impart knowledge of sympathy, empathy, and compassion along with medical teachings. A compassionate doctor is a good listener also. He gives the patients a couple of moments to pour out their hearts and listening to the patients helps in making a strong bond and winning the patient’s confidence.
In oncology, it is necessary to prognosticate and also tell poor prognosis a lot of time, but all the grave prognosis information should be enveloped in kind words and a ray of hope for a comfortable, pain-free life. Sometimes, due to medicolegal reasons, doctors are forced to say unkind words, but some patients defy all statistics and even doctors are amazed at the outcome of these patients who live much longer than what is predicted.
As allopathic practitioners, we are trained to focus on the physical aspects of the disease, but traditional wisdom and holistic healing methods tell us to focus on the mind and soul of the patient also. Forgiveness and gratitude, healing of past hurts and deep emotional scars in relationships are equally important for the health of the mind and soul and intern physical health also.
As healers, we need to encourage our patients to adopt a deeply holistic way of living that encompasses not only the right medicine but also looks after one’s emotional and spiritual health. We need to interview our patients about their feelings and emotions. Whether they feel angry, agitated, frustrated, dejected, jealous, hurt, sad, bored, low, fearful, etc. Feelings have a great impact on the physical body through the neurohormonal-immune system. Recognizing and clearing negative thoughts and emotions and feelings is necessary for a better state of health. With affirmations, we can modify our thoughts and feelings and manifest great changes in our life. Sometimes, forgiving the relations for whom the patient has accumulated deep hurt and grievances may lead to remarkable healing and in turn improvement in physical health as well. Adopting yoga, deep breathing, meditation, and pranayam techniques also helps in improving physical and mental health status. Cancer hospitals should develop a team of alternative healers like reiki healers, pranic healers, hypnotherapists, and psychologists, who can work closely with oncologists and help all patients in a holistic way.
I dream of a world where modern medicine and holistic medicine combine their best and help uplift humans from all sufferings. I would like to encourage all doctors to start healing instead of just treating.