One in two people will develop cancer at one point in their lifetime. That sounds pretty terrifying, doesn’t it? Before I begin then, let’s get some perspective; not everyone who gets cancer dies of cancer. Cancer treatments have come a long way in recent years, especially if they are identified early. It is now possible to identify a cancer in its very early stages and remove it completely, therefore curing it. Today you are likely to live nearly 6 times longer after a cancer diagnosis than you were 40 years ago. You are 95% more likely to survive bowel cancer than you were only 15 years ago.
Is Cancer becoming more common?
The simple answer is yes, cancer is more common today. This is mainly because we are living longer, but also because we live in a very different world now. Traditionally we lived as part of the land, in harmony, taking what we needed and not destroying it. Now we are far removed from the lands where are foods are grown. Being separate from the world is like separating Yin from Yang; one cannot exist without the other. However, is seems that the more advanced we become, the further we seem to move away from nature.
Ill health of the planet can only result in ill health of its inhabitants, which ultimately means disease and extinction. What happens in the macrocosm is also happening in the microcosm, including the human body.
No longer simply a disease of aging.
Breast cancer is now much more common in younger women, even in their 20s. Childhood leukemias are occurring more frequently. Testicular cancer, a disease of younger men, wasn’t even mentioned in the 1960s because it was so rare.
Our environment is now awash with carcinogenic chemicals. Solvents, plasticizers, cosmetics, fire retardants, fertilizers, medicines, herbicides, and pesticides, are in our food, what we wear and what we sit on. It’s everywhere. Today there are over 100,000 new chemicals on the earth, never before seen by living beings. Approximately 33,000 of them are in daily use and, of those, only about 1500 have been studied for human health effects. No time at all for the complicated human immune system to evolve and adapt to cope.
Even if a chemical is banned it doesn’t make much of a difference, as once in the earth, their effects can persist for thousands of years. DDT, (Dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane) for instance, was banned in many countries in the early 1970s, but it is still found in the environment and in the breast tissue of women who have been diagnosed with breast cancer. And even today, it isn’t banned in all countries. In fact, it is being actively promoted by the World Health Organisation to fight malaria in Africa. (It’s complicated, of course; killing the mosquitos that spread malaria saves the lifes of millions, but at a cost. It’s a toss-up between which one kills the least).
Cancer and Chinese Medicine
Chinese Medical theory is holistic, whereas the modern western world is predominantly reductionist. Reductionism breaks everything down to explain it in the simplest terms, separating the many from the whole. This is all well and good, but when it comes to explaining very complicated things like nature or the human body, it is woefully inadequate. Holism, on the other hand, takes into consideration how one thing (or many things) affects everything else.
Reductionism is a way of thinking that separates us from our world. The Heart and the Mind are no longer connected, that is why we can so easily allow damaging industrial practices to continue. We no longer live in our bodies except from the head up. What gets our attention is usually some sort of dysfunction, and the resulting symptoms are usually an indication that a long-term process has been in place.
In Chinese Medicine we believe that the root of all illness is from an external factor or an internal factor, or both. External factors include the weather, the environment and pollution, what we eat and put into our bodies, and trauma. Internal factors are our emotions, such as anger, fear and worry. And of course, external factors will also cause or aggravate internal factors; ever felt angry on a windy day?
The Causes of Disease
Climatic: Wind, Cold, Summer-Heat, Dampness, Dryness, Fire
Other: Weak Constitution, Over-Exertion, Excessive Sexual Activity, Bad Diet, Trauma, Parasites and Poisons, Wrong Treatment.
Emotional: Anger, Joy, Worry, Pensiveness, Sadness, Fear, Shock.
You will recall from my earlier blogs that each organ has an associated emotion. For example, grieving and sadness not expressed and resolved will affect the Lung. This may lead to shallow breathing and the suppression of breathing, which can lead to a lower level of oxygenation and can contribute to the oppression and stasis of Qi in the chest and then in the body overall.
A healthy Liver allows for the free-flow of Qi and blood, and so is affected by suppressed emotions, such as anger. Liver energy can be stifled or frustrated by life itself, for instance unlived dreams and unfulfillment.
A healthy Spleen enables us to nourish and parent ourselves adequately, so a Spleen out of balance can lead to choosing improper relationships, eating the wrong foods, and not knowing how to love oneselve without feeling selfish. The central isles in the supermarket are full of the expression of this imbalance.
Bearing all this in mind then, I don’t think it is implausible to suggest that suppressed emotions, unhappiness, and lack of fulfilment are the true underlying causes of ‘Western diseases’. We call it ‘stress’ and ‘depression’.