Kelly Turner, PhD, founder of the Radical Remission Project, is the author of a remarkable book called Radical Remission: Surviving Cancer Against All Odds. She first learned about complementary medicine, yoga and meditation as an undergraduate at Harvard. It was during those years that she decided, after volunteering on a pediatric cancer ward, that she wanted a career working with cancer patients. She obtained a masters in oncology social work with a focus on counseling cancer patients from UC Berkeley. By then, she was immersed in yoga even completing an intensive yoga teacher’s training course.
The book that changed her life
And then, she read a book by Andrew Weil, the well-known author and founder of the Arizona Center for Integrative Medicine. In that book, Weil described a case of “spontaneous healing.” Her curiosity aroused, she started investigating and found mention of thousands of other cases of unexpected remissions, but none of them had been investigated in depth.
Her interest in the topic led her to go back to UC Berkeley to study the phenomenon and pursue a PhD. She ended up spending a year traveling around the world to meet and learn from alternative cancer healers. She also interviewed over a thousand people who had experienced “spontaneous” remissions from their advanced cancers.
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The definition of Radical Remission
Kelly defines Radical Remission as any cancer remission that is statistically unexpected…and occurs whenever:
- a person’s cancer goes away without using any conventional medicine; or
- a cancer patient tries conventional medicine, but the cancer does not go into remission, so he or she switches to alternative methods of healing, which do lead to a remission; or
- a cancer patient uses conventional medicine and alternative healing methods at the same time in order to outlive a statistically dire prognosis (i.e., an cancer with less than 20 percent chance of five-year survival).
During the course of the study, Kelly identified more than seventy-five factors that cancer survivors said they used as a part of their healing journey. Nine of these factors were used by almost every one of them. They are as follows:
- Radically changing your diet
- Taking control of your health [My personal favorite as I have heard it described as an important element by so many empowered patients]
- Following your intuition
- Using herbs and supplements [Kelly is careful to state that this should be done under a doctor’s supervision]
- Increasing positive emotions
- Embracing social support
- Deepening your spiritual connection
- Having strong reasons for living
What helps bring the idea of Radical Remission to life in the book is the use of case stories that illustrate how people employed each of the nine key factors identified as key to healing by the survivors. For example, in the Intuition chapter, Susan, was diagnosed with late stage pancreatic cancer with metastases to the lungs. She was told that she probably only had a year or two to live. As her doctors were explaining that she needed immediate surgery, followed by chemotherapy and radiation, she heard a voice telling her this was not what she needed to do.
In her words:
“At that diagnosis, I was sitting on the [examination] table and I–are you ready for this one? I heard a little voice in my head! I had never heard voices before. But I heard a voice that said. Not that way, not this time. [My doctor] told me that the diagnosis was very serious and that I needed to follow his exact rules and guidelines in order to get myself better. If not, I did not have a good prognosis. I smiled then, because a yoga teacher had once told me that if you smile, you can sense danger fifty feet away. The smile incensed the doctor, at which point he became verbose and authoritarian. That’s when I knew that the danger was there–in that diagnosis, in that office. I never told him that I was not going to do what he recommended. I simply slipped from the table and left the office.
Susan set about changing her habits and applying the other factors listed above to various degrees. She is symptom free five years after her diagnosis, but she has not confirmed the disappearance of her cancer with medical imaging, such as MRI or CT.
Shin’s powerful dream
One other story that captivated me was that of Shin, a hardworking President of a busy consulting firm. He was diagnosed with advanced renal cell cancer. He had surgery, chemotherapy and radiation therapy. Despite that, his cancer spread and his wife was told that he only had a few months to live. After a “powerful dream,” he began to change his approach to treatment, exploring on his own what was to become his healing journey.
He did something that was the complete opposite of how we usually think about cancer cells. He decided to send them love.
“When I returned to my home, I tried to find the reason why I [was] suffering from cancer, and I [realized] I created this cancer myself. I created it because I worked so hard and I didn’t sleep. I created it! So, I though that cancer was my child. And I sent love to my cancer, and pain decreased and I could sleep fine. [The] next morning when I got up, my mind, my head, [my] brain was so clear that I didn’t use any painkillers. So I stopped [using painkillers and instead of that, when I had pain, I [said]. “Oh, thank you very much for saying you are hurting. I love you, my child.” I touched [points to his kidney] and said to my cancer, “I love you. I love you. I love you.” And pain decreased. That’s why I sent love to my cancer always, from morning till night…Unconditional love, that’s unconditional love. I said [to it]. “Thank you very much for existing.”
Shin is 25 years out from the time he was sent home to die.
Studying Mind-Body medicine
Kelly tells the stories of nine different survivors—not snippets like I have here, but detailed retellings of the how the individuals told their stories to her.
Kelly is careful to say this is early work, an observational study that uses the patients own words to try to understand what they believe saved their lives. There is no attempt to dissect exactly which factor was “responsible” for the remission, nor does she suggest that these approaches have been proven definitively to result in remission. Rather, she opens the door on a world that is unfamiliar to many, if not most, people who deal with cancer—whether they be patients or doctors or other care givers.
Because she studied the exception, instead of the norm, Kelly was able to shine a light on healing tactics that can and probably should be employed by anyone facing a serious illness. In fact, most of these tactics are ones that healthy people should use too.
We have a lot to learn about mind-body medicine as we, in Western Medicine, are just beginning to put the mind back in the body (where it should have been all along). Whether you are a person whose life is touched by cancer or not, I think you will find Kelly Turner’s book, Radical Remission, a fascinating read.
I interviewed Kelly on my radio show in 2014. CLICK HERE to listen to her describe her work.
Originally posted June 4, 2014. Updated Jan 27, 2016.