Here’s a vignette from Anne Harrington’s book, The Cure Within: A History of Mind-Body Medicine, that sums the attraction of CAM for many people with cancer.

I’ve taken it from a review by Jerome Groopman in The New York Times.

The author states, “Sometimes, of course, standard treatments don’t work or simply don’t exist. And sometimes tests fail to uncover any physical cause for a patient’s suffering at all. But such failures, Harrington argues, explain only part of the widespread dissatisfaction with mainstream medicine. Of equal or greater import, she writes, is medicine?s failure to address the ‘existential’ aspect of illness, to answer the questions ‘Why me? Why now? What next?'”

“Bernie Siegel [was] a surgeon at Yale, who in his best-selling Love, Medicine, and Miracles (1986) claimed [but never proved] that emotional turmoil was a cause of breast cancer and that dramatic remissions could occur if patients simply gave up their emotional repression, without chemotherapy or radiation.”

“In one of the most poignant moments in her book, Harrington visits a group of women in a follow-up study.”

“During her visit, Harrington asks the women whether they thought Spiegel’s group therapy was helping them live longer. ‘A silent snort went around the table,’ she writes. ‘No, they said, they did not believe the premise of the study — not really. Why not? I asked. Their answer was clear: the evidence was not there for them; they had seen too many people in their group die.'”

“But then one woman surprises Harrington by saying she doesn’t care about Spiegel’s hypothesis. ‘I don’t think it matters to me at all,’ she says. ‘That’s not why I joined the group.’ ‘Why, then, did she stick with it? To learn ‘how to live better with cancer and how to die better from cancer, something that they could learn nowhere else in their culture.'”

The bottom line?

Writing in Slate, reviewer Amanda Schaffer writes of Anne Harrington. “A Harvard historian, she has expertly mapped the transmission of mind-body ideas in The Cure Within, showing us where they come from and why exactly they seem to have nine lives.”

1/26/08 12:37 JR

Hi, I’m JR

John Russo, Jr., PharmD, is president of The MedCom Resource, Inc. Previously, he was senior vice president of medical communications at, a complementary and alternative medicine website.