Radical Remission: Surviving Cancer Against All Odds

reviewed by Mary C. Maloy

Radical Remission CoverFirst published in the CRAAB! Newsletter, Vol 17. No. 1 (Fall 2014/Winter 2015), this review has been revised for the Breast Cancer Consortium and published with permission.

The New York Times bestselling book Radical Remission offers an enlightened perspective on the radical concept of cancer remission by Kelly Turner PhD, a researcher and psychotherapist specializing in integrative oncology. Turner defines “radical remission” as any cancer remission (the disappearance of signs and symptoms) that is statistically unexpected, noting that such anomalies vary depending on cancer type, stage, and treatments received. Turner argues that radical remission is observed either when cancer goes away spontaneously without the use of any conventional medical treatment or when a patient tries conventional treatments that do not result in remission and then switches to alternative healing methods that do, and that for every one published case of radical remission, there are an estimated 100 more that go unpublished. Of the thousand or so cases of radical remission published in medical journals, none discuss the perspectives of patients themselves or ask them why they think they healed.

Turner points out that although the medical community is beginning to recognize the potential of varied healing traditions and integrative approaches there is little systematic investigation of such practices or acceptance within the biomedical community at large. This is where Radical Remission fills a gap. The book is a compilation of information and clinical observations developed from Turner’s decades of research and patient interviews. None of the material she presents appears to be based on speculation, yet many of the patients’ stories cannot be explained within a typical biomedical framework.

The book is divided conceptually into nine chapters, each focused on one of the major factors Turner found to be present in cases of radical remission. (She studied 75 factors overall.) Each chapter begins with what is known scientifically about each one and then shares a detailed account from someone who experienced radical remission using that particular factor as a healing tool. Some of the factors are to be expected, such as taking control of your health, radically changing your diet, using herbs and supplements, or embracing social support. Others like following your intuition, releasing suppressed emotions, and deepening your spiritual connection may be less obvious. The book also addresses the role of positive emotions and having strong reasons for living. Turner emphasizes that remissions are rare deviations from the norm and that most are multifaceted, requiring multiple steps and modifications.

Since radical remissions do not have clear scientific / biomedical explanations, the medical community too often fails to document or report them. In some cases, physicians tell their patients to keep their remissions to themselves. “Just because we cannot immediately explain why something happened,” Turner argues, “that does not mean we should ignore it or worse, tell others to keep quiet about it.” Turner suggests instead that if using non-allopathic methods with conventional treatments may enhance the probability of remission that (a) patients have a right to learn about them and (b) science needs to learn everything it can about how people and their immune systems respond to cancer — those who heal spontaneously and those who do not — so that new studies can begin testing common threads across as many cases of radical remission as possible.

Radical Remission is accessible and the stories are fascinating. The book is intended for people in the midst of cancer treatment who are looking for other options, or for whom no further treatments are available. It would also be of interest to those who prefer alternatives to conventional treatments for ethical or religious reasons. Highly recommended.

Radical Remission: Surviving Cancer Against All Odds by Kelly Turner. HarperOne, 2014. 320pp. ISBN: 978-006-2268-754, $19.70 (hardback), $12.33 (paper).

Mary Head Shot CROP BWMary C. Maloy is a healthcare management consultant with 35 years experience in hospitals and health care. She has a Master’s degree in public health and teaches clinical classes to health care professionals. After she was diagnosed with breast cancer, she practiced alternative methods such as healing touch, and has continued doing so for nearly 15 years. Mary joined the board of directors in 2014 of Capital Region Action Against Breast Cancer (CRAAB!), a non-profit, community-based organization in Albany, New York dedicated to making the eradication of breast cancer a priority through education and advocacy. CRAAB! members’ personal experiences as survivors, caregivers, and informed health consumers, combined with a commitment to evidence-based medicine and informed decision-making, give the organization a unique perspective. The goals include supporting those affected by breast cancer on an individual and personal level; improving healthcare policy for all women; promoting innovative research on diagnosis and treatment; and focusing attention on the causes of breast cancer.

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