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Spontaneous Remission: Fact or Fiction?

Can the mind heal an incurable, fatal medical illness?

My guest blogger is Dr. Jeffrey D. Rediger who is a licensed physician, board-certified psychiatrist and theologian serving on the faculty of Harvard Medical School. Coming from a scientific perspective, he shines light on cases of spontaneous remission calling for a medicine of hope and possibility.

Permission of Jeffrey D. Rediger
Source: Permission of Jeffrey D. Rediger

If the mind can help an incurable illness, the implications for both psychology and medicine are huge. It’s also true that the deeper roots of illness are unmapped by science. When the doctor says to get in shape, I can imagine that my friend and comedian Judy Carter would put to words what many of us feel: “Isn’t round a shape?!”

Since 2003, I have been listening to over 100 people from around the world who have medical evidence for remission from incurable illness. Can you believe that in the history of medicine we have not used the tools of a rigorous science to study these individuals?!

Take Claire, for example. She was diagnosed by biopsy in 2008 with the most fatal form of pancreatic cancer and told that she had months to live. In 2013, her abdominal CT was negative for cancer. How is this possible?

Dr. Kaine is a physician who was diagnosed, also by biopsy, with idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis. In this disease, your lungs turn to cardboard and you die. There is no effective treatment. She went on disability and set her affairs in order. But her chest CT is now clear and she is back to work as a physician. In fact, as a way of giving back, she now does home visits for people with such severe illnesses that they can’t leave their homes. How did she get better?

In med school, we were taught that these stories are flukes, or anecdotes. Are they? After seeing similar patterns over and over, I can say with certainty that these are not flukes or anecdotes. There’s nothing “spontaneous” about spontaneous remission. All of these individuals changed their perception of themselves and the world. Although many eliminated processed foods, changed their lifestyles, and dealt with repressed emotions or came to terms with difficult relationships, what they really want to talk about – what has caused them to eventually view the illness as a gift – is how the illness helped them change their relationship with themselves. Whether it took 10 minutes or 10 years, each individual I have spoken with has talked about how, at the core of their healing, they learned to let go of negative voices of criticism and self-criticism, and to see themselves in a more compassionate, unconditional light. Something in us appears to benefit from experiencing that which is perfect, whole and complete within us. Love heals.

Forty-five percent of Americans suffer from lifestyle illnesses. Speaking now as a theologian, does it help to ask whether illness is the outcry of an offended soul? Is the body a metaphor for something that a deeper part of us is trying to learn? Though we cannot think ourselves into health, we do benefit from asking deeper questions. What is missing at the deepest level? What would help you honor the dignity of your authentic life? We become what we focus on, so focus on creating a life of purpose and dignity, built on what is right and magnificent about you. Within you, within all of us, lives something unrepeatable and magnificent.

Jeffrey Rediger, MD, MDiv, is a licensed physician, board-certified psychiatrist and theologian. He is on the faculty of Harvard Medical School, the Medical Director of McLean SE at McLean Hospital, and the Chief of Psychiatry at Caritas Good Samaritan Hospital in Boston. He also has a Master of Divinity from Princeton Theological Seminary. His research with remarkable individuals who have recovered from incurable illnesses has been featured on the Oprah Winfrey and Dr. Oz Shows, among others.

Dr. Rediger would love to read your comments on this topic.

Watch his recent TEDx Talk

About the Author
Judy Carter

Judy Carter, is the author of The Message of You and The Comedy Bible. She speaks and writes on finding happiness when you're stressed and broke.

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