By Louis Heyse-Moore, MD
A physician referred her to me, and it all seemed quite straightforward: It was the doctor’s request for home support for a woman with advanced, metastatic cancer. I noted from the previous doctor’s information that she had a huge tumor filling perhaps a third of her abdomen, along with widespread secondary tumors. From previous experience with patients with a similar story, I thought she would be very ill and might need admission to the hospice soon.
I rang the doorbell of her maisonette. A slim, fit-looking woman in her early fifties answered the door. I explained who I was and asked if I might see the patient. “Oh, that’s me,” she said. I was nonplussed—I had expected someone much sicker. However, we sat down and went through the history of her illness and the hospital investigations she’d had, including a biopsy, which proved the diagnosis. It was when I examined her that I began to think something strange was going on. Where there had been a massive tumor, there was now almost nothing to feel.
When I explained to her what I had found—or rather not found, I was in a strange position. I had to tell someone whose doctors had informed her she was dying that this was not the case. I had to choose my words carefully. You don’t want to build up hopes too much before further tests had clarified what was happening. So, I ended by saying that she didn’t need palliative care and that I would speak to her general practitioner. She remained very calm throughout our meeting, almost as though she knew what I would say. When I spoke to her general practitioner later that day, I suggested rerunning her tests. He referred her back to the hospital, and there further investigations showed that her metastases had disappeared and that her abdominal tumor had shrunk right down. They followed her with serial scans, which showed a continuing reduction in the size of the mass. Eventually, they did a further biopsy, which showed only scar tissue.
When I went back to see her to talk over these results, she didn’t have any explanation for what had happened. In fact, she was politely reluctant to talk about it. I knew that her spirituality was very important to her, and I wondered if she had experienced something that she preferred to keep private. She did say, however, that one day during her illness she knew she was going to be all right. A year later, I went back to see her. She remained well and, when I examined her, there was no sign of any recurrence. Her hospital medical team wrote her case up in a medical journal as an example of spontaneous regression of cancer.
Such a story, I thought to myself after seeing her. Cancer just doesn’t do that. But, in this case, it did. I found myself shaking my head and smiling, as I felt awed. I was reminded of those lines from Hamlet: “There are more things in Heaven and Earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy.” (Shakespeare: Hamlet. 1:5:166–7.) Those who called it a spontaneous remission didn’t help much. All that meant in plain English was that she had got better of her own accord, which we knew already; it wasn’t a diagnosis. When I talked to other doctors about it, they would listen politely and then change the subject.
This always surprised me. If a doctor gave a patient a drug that had caused an advanced cancer to shrink away permanently with no side effects over a matter of weeks and with no recurrence on follow-up, it would have been headline news around the world, equivalent, perhaps, to the discovery of penicillin. So, why was there so little interest here? There are, after all, many other similar cases reported in the medical literature. Surely, they are important.
The thing is, these reports don’t fit with our present clinical understanding of how advanced cancer behaves. We imagine it as inexorable, malign, like a host of black crabs that keep coming back. Yet, in rare cases, it just melts away. So here is a phenomenon that in medical terms has not been explained, cannot be predicted, and cannot be controlled. It is well documented clinically and yet has the feel of being on the fringe of medicine. Perhaps it is not so surprising that doctors are cautious of exploring it.
A Message for the Future
I see such stories as signposts. Understanding the mechanism of such occasional spontaneous remissions is still speculative, and, of course, many people continue to die from advanced cancer. But these strange cancer regressions have a message for the future. Maybe there will be a way of healing cancer, which will not involve the often-grueling surgery, chemotherapy, and radiotherapy of the moment, an approach that may be as radically different as antibiotics are from the old practice of bloodletting for the treatment of infections.
What must it be like, though, to find you aren’t dying after all? Perhaps it would be like coming up for air, as if from a deep dive underwater. Or it could feel like climbing out of a dank cave with its sharp, cold stone smells into blue sky, sunlight, and soft air accompanied by a sense of elation, freedom, of being able to breathe, of lightness, of being alive. Or perhaps it might feel overwhelming at first, even disorienting; perhaps you’d be in a state of shock for days or weeks and only gradually would the sweetness of what has happened filter in. Perhaps you’d feel sorrow because you’ve recovered and so many haven’t. You’d realize that you will not be taken from your spouse or your children and then, why, you could not get enough of being with them; they are so precious to you.
Suddenly, you have to think of living again, being able to go out shopping, go for a walk, go on holiday; get a job even. Perhaps you’d be so elated as to want to tell the world about it; or maybe stay quiet, say as little as possible for fear of being thought a freak. Maybe you’d want to do something—work for a cancer charity, set one up, go skydiving, or write a book to raise funds, whatever moves you—as a sign of your gratitude. Likely your whole view of life would be altered.
Such remarkable healings are rare. More often, healing comes in more subtle ways: over days or years; in part or in whole; or remitting, with healing and illness alternating in a slow dance. It may be not only of our body but also of our mind, our relationships, or our soul. Or maybe our body continues in its illness while our psyche is transformed. 
This article is reprinted by permission from The Case of the Disappearing Cancer, by Louis Heyse-Moore, M.D., published by Ayni Books, Winchester, UK, www.ayni-books.com; Washington, USA, John Hunt Publishing Ltd., www.johnhuntpublishing.com.
Louis Heyse-Moore, MD, is a retired consultant physician in palliative medicine, who believes body, mind, and spirit all play a role in healing. He currently works as a psychosynthesis counselor, and lives in London, UK. The Case of the Disappearing Cancer focuses on the many aspects of healing based on Heyse-Moore’s forty years experience as a physician, counselor, and trauma therapist. See more at www.heyse-moorecounselling.co.uk.
This article was originally published in Well Being Journal Vol. 23, No. 6, November/December 2014. All feature articles about healing cancer naturally and remarkably that we have published since 2005 are in a collection (each available in print or digital format), and you may select any or all of those issues and view annotated tables of contents here.