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  • Curing the Incurable

    Exactly how the human body heals in every instance is still a great mystery. Figuring out why some people are cured of terminal illnesses and others are not inspires scientists across the globe. This is especially true for cancer and viral infections.  

    Viruses are smart and have learned how to evade our immune system. Some hypothesize that viruses have been on the earth millions of years longer than humans and have had millennia to evolve and adapt. When humans came along, some viruses developed a symbiotic relationship with us while others sought to simply use us as a vector in their life cycle. Viruses do need a living host cell to replicate and thus maintain their existence.

    Viruses are incredibly diverse, differing so much that scientists have a hard time categorizing all of them. The human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) lives in multiple areas of the body. Other viruses like Hepatitis B and C set up house in the liver. Some we can cure like Hepatitis C. Others we can't yet cure like chronic Hepatitis B. And until 2008, scientists and doctors thought it was impossible to cure HIV.

    Only one person in the world has been cured of HIV. He’s known as the Berlin patient because he was living in Berlin at the time of his cure.  He received two stem cell transplants from a donor who has a rare genetic mutation that makes the donor genetically resistant to the virus.

    It’s dangerous to receive a stem cell transplant because it requires conditioning of the body by knocking out the entire immune system with chemotherapy and whole-body irradiation. For the Berlin patient, two separate stem cell transplants were used to treat his leukemia; otherwise, he was going to die, not from HIV, but from leukemia. 

    There have been approximately fifteen other stem cell transplants performed in HIV-positive individuals since then in an attempt to replicate the HIV cure. Most of the transplant recipients died. The remaining survivors still have detectable HIV in the tissues of their bodies. Despite this, scientists and doctors continue their research to decipher all of the variables that led to the lone cure. Their hope is that ultimately their research will translate into a cure for all people with HIV.  

    So let's look at how someone may be miraculously cured of a condition that by scientific terms should be incurable. Miracles do occur and are well documented in the medical literature. There are several well-documented cures of terminal metastatic cancers, even in individuals who opted for no chemotherapy or radiation. Scientists call this spontaneous remission or spontaneous regression.

    I’ve told patients about the existence of spontaneous remission of end-stage cancers, which suggests there is a potential to be cured of any disease. After all, it’s been scientifically proven that terminal cancers undergo spontaneous remission and that someone has been cured of an incurable virus. Are these cases rare? Yes, but that’s not the point. The point is that it happens, and that gives people hope. Hope is a component of expectation, and we know from research that expectation is a big player in the placebo effect.

    Spontaneous remission of end-stage cancers is one of the great mysteries of medicine as it is unexplained by science. Even the single documented cure of HIV hasn’t been fully explained by science because doctors haven’t been able to replicate this cure. The reason we don't know why these cures happen is because there are so many variables that come into play. There are obvious physical variables, and I would argue there are also emotional and spiritual variables.

    The physical variables include genetic variations, stressors, toxins, nutritional status, lifestyle, and especially the status of the immune system. The emotional variables include beliefs (which trigger emotions), unresolved emotional conflicts (often buried in the subconscious mind), and the will to live. 

    The spiritual variable is by far the most controversial. This part of the discussion is philosophical, but still an important discussion to have for those who believe in a spiritual component of the human experience.

    What if our higher selves, or souls, make a decision to have certain earthly experiences before we incarnate? This concept makes sense if you believe in reincarnation. The University of Virginia has been studying reincarnation for over 50 years, initiated by Dr. Ian Stevenson, and now being led by Dr. Jim Tucker since the death of Dr. Stevenson in 1997. As psychiatry professors at UVA’s medical school, they have documented many cases of reincarnation so thoroughly that some would say the evidence is irrefutable.

    What if before someone incarnates, his or her soul chooses to have an earthly experience of a terminal illness in that lifetime? The reasons vary from soul to soul but may simply be because he or she wants to have that experience. After all, as a soul, you know that the experience won’t last forever and that it may result in a powerful learning experience. This goes along with a philosophical concept that our souls come to earth to experience growth and transformation through learning. That even through our own earthly experiences, we can influence the growth and transformation of others. 

    Why might someone's soul-self choose to experience a terminal illness at a relatively early age? Maybe it was so their loved ones could have the experience of learning to heal from heart-wrenching grief. Or maybe it was so that a loved one they left behind would be inspired to choose a career of finding the cure for a certain type of terminal cancer. Or so that his or her doctor would be inspired to find a cure for an incurable virus, i.e. the doctor in Berlin who thought of the way to cure HIV by using a stem cell donor resistant to HIV. 

    The reasons are endless, but as long as you view it from the soul’s perspective, it makes sense. Since you get to experience multiple lifetimes, you’ll just choose an easier path the next lifetime. Or not, if you are adventurous.:-)

    When a practitioner of the healing arts comes across a patient who has an incurable illness, they have the option of choosing cutting-edge and innovative ways to attempt a cure. But the limiting factor always lies with the patient. Patients may make lifestyle changes and take the innovative therapies, but if some don't take steps to heal the emotional conflict that keeps their immune system suppressed through stress, or if they ultimately don't have "the fight" in them or will to live, then no matter how innovative or inspired the practitioner, the patient may not get better.

    Other patients may decide not to take any treatment and just heal themselves as in spontaneous remission of end-stage cancer. So how do they heal themselves? We're not sure, but we do know it requires that they activate their inner physician. Research on the placebo effect provides many clues on how we activate our inner physicians through the power of belief.

    Some patients may follow the innovative therapies of a health care practitioner, clean up their emotional body, and have the will to live, resulting in a cure. Variables abound when it comes to healing in every individual.

    What if a patient’s limiting factor for a cure lies at the soul level? Did their soul choose to experience an incurable illness that they would ultimately conquer? Or did their soul choose to stay chronically ill until they died? Why would they choose the second one? So they could learn to heal without being cured in that lifetime. Meaning they wanted to learn how to experience surrendering to "what is" no matter how terrible, but being happy despite that. That is a very powerful experience, but it goes against everything we are taught such as "never give up," and don't give up the fight." But I ask, "Is that always the right thing?" We don't know for sure. 

    So given all of these variables, how might you choose to treat someone with a terminal or incurable illness? You could let them know that they may have an option of being cured, and that the cure comes from within them; that no one is immune to miracles. You could also let them know they may have may have an option of being healed without being cured as explained above.

    Patients should acknowledge what they are willing to do to fight the incurable illness if they so choose. Part of the fight may entail major lifestyle changes, but many people do not have the will or desire to make major lifestyle changes. 

    If they choose to fight and are willing to make lifestyle changes such as maintaining a healthy diet and exercising (if possible), then you could move forward with such things as nutritional supplementation (if indicated), meditation/mindfulness, healing unresolved emotional conflicts (I have yet to meet someone without at least one), detoxification (if indicated), healing the gut, and treating pathogens.

    Probably the most difficult part for the health care practitioner is striking a balance between conveying hope and setting unrealistic expectations. This is a balance that intuitive and insightful practitioners find fairly easy to do. Honing intuition and insight through meditation can help practitioners know if and how they should initiate a therapeutic partnership.

    An optimal practitioner is an excellent detective who takes a very comprehensive health history while looking for triggers and mediators of disease. He or she performs a very thorough physical examination, knows which standard and innovative tests to order, and has adequate training in nutrition. This well-rounded practitioner is usually what results from appropriate training in Functional Medicine and is why academic medical centers like the Cleveland Clinic are embracing Functional Medicine. To find a Functional Medicine practitioner in your area, go to:  

    Functional Medicine Practitioner Search

    Proactive patients must do a personal inventory of their lives, which includes an honest assessment of what is and what is not working for them. They must look for and eliminate personal stressors. That may entail eliminating people from their lives or even quitting jobs that are stressing them out. Some people can't do that out of fear, but if one piece is left out of the puzzle, the chances of beating an incurable illness may lessen.

    Patients should be encouraged to establish a mindfulness and meditation practice. Mindfulness and meditation help eliminate the perception of stress and meditation also helps you to see the truth about the steps that must be taken. Meditation may also help patients uncover and remove unresolved emotional conflicts or limiting beliefs lodged in his or her subconscious mind. 

    Curing the incurable is a very complex topic. Variables in the puzzle vary from individual to individual and may involve physical, emotional, and spiritual issues. There is no "one cure fits all" and there is no panacea that works for everyone. Functional medicine teaches personalized medicine as a way to help tease out more of these variables. An optimal personalized medicine approach requires a thorough assessment of physical, emotional, and spiritual issues. 

    Tackling all of the potential variables in incurable illnesses is not for the faint of heart. This is especially true for emotional and spiritual variables, which requires consideration of what is outside the realm of proven in the traditional medical model. It is by investigating the unknown and what is deemed impossible where man’s great discoveries are made. A place to start is by acknowledging that a review of the scientific literature shows us that the word “incurable” can sometimes be a misnomer.

    Keith R. Holden, M.D.

    For more information about the miraculous cure of HIV:



    For more information on spontaneous remission:




    For more information about reincarnation research: