Monday, May 15, 2017

With one foot in mainstream medicine and one foot in holistic healthcare, Heather Jose describes how to be not just a "survivor" but a "thriver"

A big theme for me since last year has been combining my Buddhist practice with holistic health, to both heal myself and help others think beyond diagnostic labels and textbook clinical outcomes. Through this, I have developed a greater interest in the stories of other people treating themselves as whole human beings in their journey to better health, rather than as broken machines that need fixing.

I found one such story, Heather Jose’s Every Day We Are Killing Cancer, to be an excellent bridge between mainstream and holistic health. Jose used both mainstream and holistic methods to overcome a sudden stage IV breast cancer diagnosis, which her first doctors assumed would be fatal. Instead of accepting this, she became her own “hero” through maintaining certitude in her victory, enlisting the help of family and friends in unique ways, and by using her clinical misfortune as an opportunity to make life-long improvements to her health.

One of the most fascinating things Jose did early on was acknowledge the nasty slippery slope it can be for patients to do medical research themselves. Instead of making their experience that much harder by rigorously researching their conditions and falling prey to the power of suggestion regarding how they “should” be feeling, it would be far more empowering for patients to enlist family or friends as “information-managers” and focus their own thoughts and actions on the process of getting well.

Jose also decided, instead of living like a “leper” in medicalized isolation during the course of her mainstream treatments, to craft an entirely new health-promoting lifestyle with the help of her family and more holistic-minded health and nutrition specialists, to both counteract negative effects of the medical treatments and assure that she would be a “thriver” instead of just a “survivor.”

Jose beautifully sums up the results of her efforts in her reflections about the day she was discharged from the hospital. She described how she and her family “were learning so much, how every day has so much to offer, how we spend far too much time on things that don’t actually matter, and how we have a say in how things turn out. We were healthy, we were eating well, exercising and nurturing our spiritual lives. It was crazily ironic to think that my cancer made my life more abundant than we had ever known.” (86)

Jose’s book is as much about her journey to reinvent who she is as a person living on a different vibration than most people around her as it is about reinventing herself as a cancer survivor. While she does still heavily identify with the label of a person affected by cancer, her outlook doesn’t have the same kind of heavy, fatalistic feel of people who make that such an integral part of their identity that it seems to perpetuate the presence of cancer in their lives, as though they still have it. Jose makes it very clear her point in still identifying with her clinical diagnosis is to help people form a more empowered way of surviving the disease, rather than feeling like “victims” of it and living in fear of the possibility of its return.

It’s easy for those of us who have always preferred a health-promotion approach (instead of the more common disease-identification-and-treatment model) to expect people we know to get right on board with us if we say that their medical doctors are only giving them a fraction of their available options. Some people have been so conditioned for so long by fear-based medicine that they can’t just leap completely from that to holistic health without anything in between.

Such people often need a bridge, and I highly recommend Heather Jose’s blended approach of mainstream and holistic health as an excellent example for those who are vulnerable to being persuaded by fear of dying into signing up for treatments that can be just as damaging to their health as the disease itself, and discounting the value of any holistic approaches to supplement if not replace their medical treatments.

One of her friends stated in the book that Jose’s loved ones got to “piggyback off her survival” (129), and Jose did us a wonderful service by sharing that benefit with the rest of us by choosing to publish her narrative through Read the Spirit Books.

You can also read more about Heather Jose’s wellness tips and teachings for people learning to thrive during and after disease-recovery at

Flower illustration by Karla Joy Huber, 2011; Prismacolor marker and Sharpie marker

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