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Cure vs. Healing

Cure vs. Healing

Born to Heal Podcast with Dr. Katie Deming

Dr. Katie Deming believes in making the Born to Heal Podcast accessible to all. If you aren't able to tune in, we've included the transcript from Episode #3: Cure vs. Healing here. 

Episode #3: Cure vs. Healing

Today, we're talking about the difference between curing illness and healing ourselves. I think sometimes we confuse these two words, but to me, and in my practice, they mean very different things. We focus a lot on the word 'cure' in western medicine, and the interesting part is that you can be cured of an illness, but not truly healed. So today, I want to talk about that with you and why it's so important that we focus on curing illness, but that we also focus on healing your body.

I want to start with talking about the word cure because actually, it's quite a controversial topic in the cancer community. Even if you're not dealing with cancer, I think this conversation is a good one and I think that it's relevant to every kind of illness and all types of healing. But in the world of cancer, 'cure' can be controversial, because cure is thought to be eradication of all disease, meaning that every last cell has been eradicated. If you know anything about cancer treatment, there's always the potential that there's even one to 100 cells that are not killed by the treatment, and can recur at some point. This causes some people to get really upset when you use the word cure, so I try not to use it a ton, but you'll see it everywhere.

There's a big difference between curing illness and eradicating disease, and truly healing your body. I believe that you can be cured without being healed. I also believe that if you heal, you're actually more likely to be cured. So that's why in this podcast, and where I'm headed with my career, I'm talking more about healing and less about curing illness.

Defining 'Cure' & 'Heal'

What's the difference? When I say 'heal' versus 'cure', what is the difference between those two? I'll start with definitions.

The definition for 'heal', if you were to look that up, is to become healthy again, or to restore a state of well being.

'Cure', on the other hand, the definition is to relieve a person of symptoms of a disease or condition.

You can see, those are two really different things. The cure is focused on eradicating something, ridding your body, where healing is really this idea of restoring well being, or restoring health.

In western medicine, we're taught to cure illness. We're not taught how to heal. We spend all of our time with our patients focused on eradicating disease, ridding our patients of their symptoms. I do believe that is important, don't get me wrong. But I think it's even more important to learn how to truly heal your body.

The Paradigm of Curing vs. Healing

There's a parable that describes this paradigm of curing versus healing. The story is the parable of the river and it goes something like this:

Once there was a river that ran through a village, and one day one of the villagers noticed a body floating in the river. Someone was drowning in the river. So he swiftly swam out and saved the drowning person, pulling them onto the shore and to safety. The next day, there were two bodies floating in the river. So the villager got a friend and they swim out into the swift waters and save the two people and brought them onto the dry land. And the next day, there were four. And then the next day eight, and the next day 16. Every day, the numbers doubled.

The villagers were smart and organized in their efforts to save all the people who were drowning in the river. They created systems where they could get life rafts to quickly move out and catch the bodies that were flowing through the river. They had an elaborate system of getting the people off the river and patched back up and onto dry land. This went on, and the village leaders praised the villagers for their great work on the river.

The first time I heard this parable, I was at a mindfulness-based stress reduction retreat with a fellow colleague. She and I both sat there after we heard the story and we said, this is western medicine. We are like the rescuers on the river, and our patients are the victims who are drowning in the river. All we're doing is picking them up and putting them back on the riverbanks. But we're not figuring out why are they falling in the river in the first place. How do we keep them out of the river?

She and I both felt so deeply impacted by the idea that was created by this parable in us. I remember thinking, wow, this really is what we do. We don't really heal people, we just patch them up and save them. But why are they falling in the river in the first place? How do we give them the tools so that they don't fall in the river again?

I was reminded of this parable again about six months ago. I was seeing one of my patients back who had just finished radiation for breast cancer. During her treatment, she and I had spent a lot of time talking about how to take better care of herself and how to make some life changes that would prioritize her health and wellbeing. We really focused on the healing aspects, the emotional and physical things that she could do to restore health in her body in her life. She had been so excited about the work and we had a little regimen that she was working through.

When I saw her back for her follow up, we went through the regular visit of discussing how her symptoms were and if she was recovering appropriately from the treatment. At the end of the visit, I asked her how she was doing on the other things that we were working on, the healing aspect of her journey. She said to me, 'gosh, Dr. Deming, I just don't have time. It's like I had put everything on hold, to get through this treatment, and my kids need me and life is so busy and work at that I just can't find time to walk,' which was one of the things that we were doing is incorporating some exercise into a routine. We had also worked on some self love exercises. And she's like, 'I just don't have time. I just need to get on with my life.' I understood what she meant, but after I finished the visit and walked out, I was so sad because I felt as though there's another person that I just picked up out of the river and I set on the banks. I know that she hasn't healed. Illness is an opportunity for deep healing and transformation, and by her jumping straight back into her life and not doing the deeper work, not prioritizing her own health and wellbeing, she's likely to fall in the river again.

I'm not saying that her cancer per say would come back, but that she is susceptible to other types of illness and that this is the cycle that we're in with modern society. Our lives are so fast and hectic that we really don't know how to take care of ourselves, we don't know how to do the deeper healing. And that's why I'm doing this podcast. That's why I'm focusing more on healing in my career, because I believe that life threatening illness, especially something like cancer, but so many other types of illnesses, are an opportunity for us to reflect. These illnesses are an opportunity for us to look at our lives and make changes to prioritize our wellbeing, both physical and emotional.

The Rental Car Analogy 

One of the things that I like to think about is that we are given this one body for this lifetime. One of my mentors uses this analogy of a rental car. We've been dropped off, we just arrived at an airport called Earth, and we were given this rental car. Your body is your rental car for this lifetime. You're going to drive it around for this lifetime, and then when this life is over, you're going to check the rental car back in and you'll be on your way. I think of our bodies that way, we have this one body that is to drive us around through this whole life and give us so many experiences, and provides so much for us. So we need to learn how to take care of it. We need to change the oil, we need to rotate the tires, we need to not drive it into the ground. I really encourage my patients to think that if this is your only body that you're getting for this whole lifetime, and that could be 80, 90 years, how do you want to treat it? So many of us abuse our bodies, we take it for granted and we just expect it to perform. But our bodies will show us if we're not taking care of them that they need attention, they need care. And sometimes they need repairing.

So in terms of illness, I think yes, it's important to do treatment so that you can cure the illness or eradicate the disease. But it's also really important to learn how to take care of your body and your mind, your emotional and physical wellbeing. Both are so important. I wanted to touch on this point in this podcast to explain that I see it differently.

I see curing illness as one thing that is important. It's actually been my whole career up until this point, I've been a radiation oncologist for 20 years and focused my career on curing illness. But I think that healing is where the true restoration of health occurs and where the magic occurs. Where we're able to not only heal our bodies and transcend illness, but also transform our lives.

I look forward to sharing more. My goal is to share more about deep healing. We'll be going into so many different topics, so tune into the Born to Heal Podcast with Dr. Katie Deming. 

Be Well,
Katie Deming

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