Double Vision: An East-West Collaboration for Coping with Cancer

The purpose of life threatening disease is very difficult for any of us to fathom. It is hard for us to see how pain and suffering can lead to anything that is worthwhile, let alone educational. However, our master teachers keep exorting us to look upon pain and suffering as the greatest of the teachers. In this month's book review we look at Double Vision, written by Alexandra Dundas Todd. Although it was not necessarily the author's intent, this book clearly shows us how one young man, Drew Todd, struggling with a rare form of cancer, through his courage and honesty, was able to teach so much to so many. His mother, a medical sociologist, chronicles and guides this odyssey, and along the way shows us the triumphs and foibles of the allopathic medicine system; the usefulness and rigidities of the complementary system; the ignorance of both systems about information unavailable because it was written in another language; and the problems of modifying our preferred diet when allopathic medicine almost totally ignores the relevance of food as medicine.

This relativley short, tightly written book, is a no-nonsense look at the enormous energy and time that goes into resolving any life-threatening illness. It very self-consciously recognizes that this successful effort would probably be available only to those with the means and educational background to implement such an ambitious confrontation with this dis-ease. Yet it also reaffirms the power of human support, love and prayer, those elements that we sometime call the intangibles.

It is difficult to isolate the single necessary and sufficient variable that turned this potential tragedy into a fairy tale with a happy ending. It is clearly the synergy of a number of powerful factors at work. The author's education, familiarity with the territory and previous experiences with her own illness and consequent knowledge of complementary medicine were the sine qua non of this odyssey. It was the map through the wild country. Her fierce mothering instinct to protect and save her son is clearly a factor that cannot be dismissed. Loving friends, lovers and relatives, faced with the problem, never turned totally away from the specter of death as so many times happens with the potentially terminally ill. The best of allopathic surgical and radiation techniques gave them the time to have the complementary methods and intangibles do their work from within.

This book includes a balanced description of the allopathic/complementary interface and the sociological implications of the rising complementary tide. It points out the difficulties in changing the paradigm to be more inclusive. It reminds us of the difficulties historical attempts at such change faced. Hopefully, this book is the harbinger of the possible synergy of what is best in both the allopathic and the complementary worlds. It is thoughtfully expressed, carefully researched and unlike some of these attempts to bring east and west together, is personally moving.

An interesting issue is raised in this book about the need to be sensitive around the mind-body interface and not leave patients with the implications of some moral weakness or insufficiency of will. This attitude of implying that somehow, if the patient would only just think or will it to be so, the patient would get well, is unfortunately an incredibly simplistic notion regarding the mind/body interface. Very few people consciously decide to get sick. In fact, the small mind, the ego, most often doesn't have a clue as to the underlying dynamics of most illnesses. The simplistic, cognitively based notions of what makes us ill, do us all a disfavor. Cognitive pyschology, New Thought religions and the new age philosophy tends to support this simplicity. Needless to say, this is one of my pet peeves and I was happy to see that the author was sensitive to this issue.

There is so much out there to read. Much of it is a waste of time and energy. I can heartily recommend this book which can be read in a few hours as worthwhile. It will leave you with a number of "I didn't know thats" and some questions for further considerations. What more can you ask of a book?

If you have a friend who is struggling with cancer, send them this book and let them make up their own minds as to what is best for them. If you know a doctor who is wavering, give them a present. This book is not that long as to be daunting in the never ending search for precious time in this age of infomation overload.


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