Self-Healing Vs. Conventional Medicine

I was working at the Owning Pink Center, the integrative medicine practice I founded in Mill Valley, California, when I met Sandrine, who had been diagnosed with endometrial cancer, an often-curable type of cancer of the lining of the uterus. Her doctors moved quickly to get her scheduled for a hysterectomy, which is standard treatment for someone with endometrial cancer. But Sandrine didnít want treatment. Itís not that she had a death wish. In fact, she had never been happier in her life, and she was doing everything within her power to cure her cancer, including radically changing her diet, meditating, and engaging in guided visualization. Cancer, she said, was the best thing that ever happened to her.

But her decision to opt out of treatment didnít go over well with her doctor, who promptly dismissed her and insisted she find a more ďopen-mindedĒ doctor who would be willing to support her self-healing journey, which is how Sandrine wound up in my office.

She had read some articles I had written in magazines and on the internet and felt intuitively-guided to me as the doctor who could help her navigate her self-healing journey.

Conventional Medicine For Cancer Vs. Self-Healing

I felt torn. On one hand, I totally believe we hold within us the power to heal ourselves. On the other, I believed that her cancer would likely be easily cured with surgery and worried about facilitating any delay in treatment that might cause her cancer to spread. I also worried, in this medical-legal climate, that her family might blame me if she died as a result of declining treatment after I supported her autonomy.

So I straddled the fence. I told her I believe conventional medicine has much to offer and that cutting out her cancer could hasten the process while she activated the self-healing mechanisms she would need to make sure the cancer disappeared for good. For medical-legal reasons, I made it very clear that my advice would be to proceed with the surgery while also engaging in self-healing behaviors that would facilitate a full recovery. I recommended a surgeon friend and told her I would even come to the visit with her if it would make her more likely to seek treatment.

She Believed She Could Heal Herself

But Sandrine was adamant about refusing treatment. So I agreed to support her, offer her tools, and monitor her progress with endometrial biopsies so she could follow whether her self-healing methods were reversing the disease.

At least once a week, I received an email from Sandrine, chronicling her mystical self-healing journey, ripe with intuitive dreams and signs from the Universe that she was on the right path. She fully, 100 percent believed full recovery would ensue. She tingled with excitement.

But each time I read her emails, I felt a pang in my chest. The skeptic in me was kicking and screaming ďStop the madness! Make this delusional woman get a hysterectomy! Save her life, doctor! Remember, first, do no harm.Ē

But another part of me thought, ďWho am I to say she canít cure her own cancer?Ē

For a few weeks, I hedged my bets, responding to her emails with support and affirmations of belief.

Medical Intuition

Then I went out to dinner with a friend of mine, who is a famous physician, a medical intuitive, and the bestselling author of many books. Seeking guidance from my open-minded colleague, I told her Sandrineís story, and she closed her eyes, sat in silence for a moment, and then shook her head across the dinner table.

ďLissa,Ē she said, ďItís just magical thinking on Sandrineís part. The cancer is getting worse.† Do what you can to help her get treatment.Ē

I panicked.

The next day, I saw Sandrine at the office and I got all flustered. She nearly danced into my office, full of faith and hope from another dream she had that told her the cancer was getting better. I had trouble making eye contact with her. I couldnít exactly tell her what my friend had said. My research shows that such a proclamation can serve as a sort of medical hexing.

But I also couldnít pretend I was happy she was still refusing treatment. Iím sure I acted squirrely, and I could tell she knew something was amiss.

Covering My Ass

Right after she left the office, I called the lawyers in risk management that work for my malpractice insurance carrier and coughed up the story of what was going on with Sandrine. As I suspected, they freaked out and insisted I send Sandrine a certified letter informing her of the dangers of refusing treatment, even though we had already covered this verbally and I had written my recommendations in the chart.

The lawyer drafted up a letter he wanted me to send, but when I read it, I refused. There was no way I could send such a hopeless, fearful letter. I tried modifying it to make it more optimistic, until the lawyer and I came to a compromise, but I still hated it. At their insistence, I sent off the letter, feeling positively nauseous.

Lawsuits Suck

A few days later, I received a heartbreaking letter from Sandrine. She said she understood why I needed to send such an awful letter. She knew it wasnít my fault. But she just couldnít keep seeing me if I didnít believe wholeheartedly in her capacity to heal herself.

I wept when I read the letter. A lengthy appeal aimed at convincing her that I wasnít abandoning her went unanswered. I learned a painful and valuable lesson in the process of losing Sandrine as a patient.† I realized what a fine balancing act it is to support a patientís desire to self-heal when, as a physician, I am trained to optimize all that conventional medicine has to offer before giving up hope.

I also learned that itís no easy feat to be a physician who aims to support people in a self-healing journey given the state of our medical-legal system.

What The Doctor Believes Matters

It wasnít until much later, when I started researching my next book†Mind Over Medicine, that I began to wonder whether, by doubting her ability to cure her own cancer and making attempts to cover my ass from a lawsuit, I may have done Sandrine a profound disservice. As it turns out, the clinical data suggests that the right healing practitioner makes all the difference, and what a clinician believes about a patient may actually affect the patientís outcome.

And yet, even still, I feel torn. As a physician dedicated to helping my patients in the best way I know how, I am also bound by my own ethics to do what I believe to be right. Had Sandrine wanted to try healing her migraines without medication, I would happily and easily have supported her. But I found it much more challenging to witness her withholding what I genuinely believed would be life-saving treatment.

Marrying Self-Healing With Conventional Medicine

Itís not that I donít believe miracles can happen and we can heal ourselves from cancer, heart disease, and other life-threatening illnesses. But when evidence-based medicine has been proven to be effective, why would we deny it?

In placebo-responsive, non-life threatening conditions where conventional medicine has little to offer – conditions like chronic fatigue syndrome, fibromyalgia, migraines, and irritable bowel syndrome – Iím all for ditching standard medical treatment and trying to heal yourself if thatís what your†Inner Pilot Light feels is best for you.

But Sandrine pushed my limits. When early stage cancer can be easily cured with a surgery, why push our luck? Why not cut out the cancer AND activate the self-healing mechanism that will ensure the cancer doesnít spread?

Must It Be All Or Nothing?

It seems that many in the self-healing camp think we should ditch doctors all together – get off your insulin, stop your heart pills, refuse surgery for cancer, deny antibiotics for pneumonia.

But must it be all or nothing? Canít we take the best of modern medicine and marry it with the mindís power to heal ourselves?

Letís not throw out the baby with the bathwater. Letís choose the best of both worlds.

You on board? You disagree? What do you think?

Rallying for middle ground,


20 Health Conditions Most Amenable to Self-Healing
Scientific Proof We Can Heal Ourselves
10 Tips to Help You Find the Right Doctor

Lissa Rankin, MD: Founder of†,†Pink Medicine Revolutionary,†motivational speaker, and author of†Whatís Up Down There? Questions Youíd Only Ask Your Gynecologist If She Was Your Best Friend and Encaustic Art: The Complete Guide To Creating Fine Art With Wax.

Learn more about†Lissa Rankin here.


Sheri P.
Sheri P5 years ago

i agree, let's not throw the baby out with the bathwater. i think there needs to be a balance between conventional medicine and homeopathic.

Cortney Brown
Cortney Brown5 years ago

Awesome. Also note that patients with chronic forms of cancer found relief in massage as well. I think a non invasive and loveable approach is always the better one.

Kiana S.
Kiana S5 years ago

I agree with you Lissa. If the cure isn't worse than the disease why avoid it? Why is a medical cure not considered a miracle? Of course you should work on yourself and your lifestyle choices as well to avoid the chance of the problem recurring, but why not learn your lesson and get on with improving your life? What about Sandrine's family (if she had any)? It seems selfish to needlessly worry people who care about you, and possibly rely on you, by gambling with your life like that. I hope she was okay and managed to heal herself, but I think you did the right thing.

Emily S.
Emily S5 years ago

Whatever happened to Sandrine?

Claire H.
Claire H5 years ago

This is to Ken who introduced me (at least) to HerbStat. Ken, I take your point. However, a significant % of people who are diagnosed with cancer or anything else for that matter probably do not even know what histology is. You sound like someone who is very conversant with all of these things - VEGF, ICAM, ER , etc. It would be extremely helpful if you could come back on this thread and explain to us how to use what seems basic to you (but not to us). I went to HerbStat but realized, after clicking a lot of places, that it was for iPad and iPhone apps and I couldn't access anything. Please be aware that there are many people who don't have these tools either, myself included. You seem to have a good grasp of how to use alternative healing in conjunction with allopathy. It would be a great good if you to share it with us.

Leslie Law
Leslie Law5 years ago

Totally agree with you. It's the middle way and not the extreme on either end which seems to make the most sense. I am a health professional and my doctor wanted me to take preventative antibiotics for frequent UTI's (urinary tract infection). Something about this just didn't seem right and "best practice" to me. I tried to tell her I could tell now (since I was getting them so frequently) when I was getting the first stages of a UTI and when I took 1000 mg of Vit. C on the hour for 3-4 hours I could get rid of the symptoms. She tried to tell me it wasn't a "pre- UTI" I was getting but just "irritation". Well, maybe, but when I didn't take the Vit. C it always went on to become a full blown UTI and then I had no choice but to go on antibiotics. I wonder how resistive to anitbiotics my body would be today if I had taken her advice instead of listening to my own body and intuition. But these are simple UTI's, not cancer. Modern medicine (removal of uterus) combined with self healing therapy to make sure it doesn't return rings true to me and very wise advice.

Margaret R.
Margaret R5 years ago

I wholeheartlly believe in what you said Lissa. I am a massage therapist and practice energy healing, and I try to support the client in their choices, but I also suggest conventional medical approaches and common sense when I feel it to be important for the client.
Sometimes, I feel that a person's ego sometimes gets so involved with how they approach their condition and fear also takes over. It is complex and I applaud you for taking a stand and listening to both sides as well. Marg

Jacquie S.
Jacquie Schmall5 years ago

Common sense middle ground, might provide the most user friendly formula for handling a diagnosis of cancer. Lifestyle changes will certainly be in order, and the presence of positive spiritual energy may be central to the success of any healing process.

Good article. Thank you.

Donna Hamilton
Donna Hamilton5 years ago

Thanks for posting.

Jennifer C.
Past Member 5 years ago

Interesting article.