So where is the connection with food here? Jenny and I recently reminisced about her illness and some very interesting things emerged. Firstly, about her consultations with the haematology team she said:
I didn’t want to take on any information beyond what I had to accept: that is what was seen down the microscope. I rejected medical dogma about curability – I viewed it as an unhelpful story – and I made up my own story and I’m sticking to it through thick and thin! … I just knew I had to build a protective ring around my immune system.
Jenny’s ‘own story’ was inspired by a visit to a Reiki practitioner before her chemo started. He said the body’s frontline defences are very important and ‘we call them “Mum”, and mum goes around sweeping up messes’. ‘Of course!’, Jenny thought, ‘mum has slipped up and I must help her, then she may be able to cope on her own. This became her empowering story, which ultimately expressed itself mainly in the planning and preparation of meals – surely a crucial role for a ‘mum’! She was (and still is) very excited about this. Healthy, nourishing food along with some other healthy lifestyle changes would become the ‘protective ring’ around her immune system. She began reading widely especially about diet and health. One particular recipe book, good good food by ex-medic Sarah Raven, focuses on food and health in a very practical way. This became Jenny’s key reference work. She showed it to me. I counted 43 bookmarks in it!
So what is going on here? It is certainly a striking story. The impact of a single dose of chemotherapy was truly remarkable and we are all immensely grateful for that. But the medical specialists’ preoccupation with the disease and its technical treatment at the expense of engagement with the wider human self-healing potential of the patient is surely a missed opportunity. For Jenny, it is not so much the details of her new diet that became so important in her recovery, but rather the inspiration and positive empowerment that has come with it. The creation of an inspiring story leading to positive action has been her route towards that empowerment and healing. She believes that the medical profession too often misunderstands what helps patients most: they focus on the disease at the expense of the patient.
Interestingly, Jenny told me that at one of her subsequent hospital check-ups the haematologist admitted, when pressed, that they had seen a few long-term ‘remissions’ of follicular lymphoma. But he was reluctant to speak of these ‘remissions’ as cures, as if it was inconceivable that the will and empowerment of the patient could possibly complete the job that the medical treatment left not quite finished.
Of course, we are in the territory of holistic medicine, or rather, the lack of it. We are looking for what David Reilly calls ‘creative consulting’ seeking to liberate ‘the healing response’ (Reilly, 2001, 2002). It is a great credit to Jenny’s imagination and strength of character, and also to the Reiki practitioner’s inspiring story, that they were able to enhance the haematologists’ remarkable medicine. Surely this should be a lesson for the future.
- Reilly D (2002) The Healing Shift Enquiry. Video. Available at: www.davidreilly.net/HealingShift/ About.html (accessed 3 September 2019).
- Reilly D (2001) Creative consulting: why aim for it? BMJ, 323. Available at: www.bmj.com/content/323/ Suppl_S4/0110364 (accessed 3 September 2019)