Examples of spontaneous remission, in which a supposedly incurable condition recovers without treatment, can be found across the whole diagnostic spectrum. Having seen a number of cases over the years, both among my patients and clients when I was in practice and in my personal circle, I often wonder why occasional patients recover while most others with similar prognostic features do not. In orthodox medical systems, concerned more with illness than with health, these cases are often lost to follow-up and do not attract the interest they seem to merit. They may even be dismissed on the grounds that the original diagnosis was wrong.
Some reports do get published in medical journals, and mostly relate to cases of advanced cancer which were expected to be fatal. These accounts usually focus on biological factors rather than psychological ones. Books for general readers based on a more holistic study of individual patients include Remarkable Recovery by Caryle Hirshberg and Marc Ian Barasch, and Radical Remission by Kelly Turner, and there are many online descriptions.
Sometimes the unexpected recovery takes place for no apparent reason, but sometimes the patients in question firmly believe it is due to specific factors such as a change in diet, a more fulfilling lifestyle, a spiritual awakening, the power of prayer, or cultivation of the “higher” qualities of forgiveness, gratitude and love. Perhaps what these share in common is a sense of taking control of one’s own health, the firm intention to heal, and a firm belief that healing can happen. Such things are largely beyond the scope of the statistical analysis and controlled studies required in “evidence-based medicine”.
Episodic conditions such as asthma, migraine, epilepsy and autoimmune disorders can wax and wane for no apparent reason. Again, more mainstream research is focused on what triggers a flare-up than on why many sufferers have periods of good health in between, or even recover completely. On a personal note, since I reached my mid-60s my migraines have become much less frequent and severe. One explanation is the biological one that I am finally growing out of them. The prevalence of migraine is known to be lower in older people than younger ones and some sufferers, though sadly not all, experience fewer and less severe attacks in later life. This may be because the brain becomes less sensitive with age, or a result of hormonal changes.
Another explanation is psychological. Going back to cancer, ever since reading Laurence LeShan’s inspiring book Cancer as a turning point I have been interested in the idea that self-healing from this or any other disease can occur through what he called “singing your own song” – finding a purpose and joy in life, what is sometimes called being in a higher vibrational state. This makes intuitive sense to me and looking back over the years, during periods when I have been absorbed in some truly fulfilling project – most recently, a return to my childhood passion for writing fiction (see my Amazon page) – my migraines have been less of a problem. Since LeShan’s book was written, many researchers have studied the mechanisms which might underlie mind-body connections such as this. The complex science is well explained in several recent popular books, for example You are the placebo by Joe Dispenza.
Beliefs and expectations have been shown to play a role in predicting the prognosis of coronary heart disease and the same is probably true for any other condition, so although I realise that my severe migraines could come back at any time, I prefer not to think in those terms. The negative messages so often delivered by well-meaning clinicians, such as “there is no cure for x” and “it’s bound to get worse at some stage”, can destroy hope and are not helpful. Recovery may be unlikely, and can never be promised, but as one of my teachers in the holistic approach used to say “Anything can be healed”.