Heal versus Cure – Is there a Difference?

By Barbara Cunnings-Versaevel

In the media, much attention is given to finding a ‘cure’ for cancer. It’s the mainstay of many fundraisers to raise money for research to find a cure. It strikes me that this is a battle cry to find a way to fix something that we know is broken. I hear it also as a cry to fix something, our cancer, so we can carry on as before without having to substantially change anything. It will be done for us. We can get back on the horse as it were and carry on – cured. I also see it as a hope that just maybe there will be a cure – a magic bullet – but I’m not counting on it. There is more than treatment or a cure to reach health, at least that’s my thought from my experience with cancer.

What do you think?

Here are the dictionary definitions of ‘heal’ and ‘cure’. They are different.

Heal means ‘the process of making or becoming sound or healthy again ‘or ‘cause (a wound, injury or person) to become sound or healthy again’. The old English definition is ‘restore to sound health’.

Cure on the other hand means ‘relieve (a person or animal) of the symptoms of a disease or condition’ or ‘eliminate (a disease, condition, or injury) with medical treatment.

As you can see, they are two different yet similar words used to describe a process to health when a person is diagnosed with cancer.

How do they apply?

Relating my own experience with cancer, I had the hope that the surgery, radiation, and chemotherapy would ‘cure’ my cancer. Once I had recovered from the treatment, most people – not me – expected that I was now ‘cured’ and would return to life as I knew it before cancer. Much like the time I had my appendix out or recovered from a vehicular accident whereby over time, I was back to my normal activities.

This didn’t happen with my cancer diagnosis. I didn’t just bounce back after the surgery, radiation and chemo. There were several reasons but at the root of it all was me, I had changed.

Why Did I Change?

  1. Cancer is equated to death. This is the huge fear – that one will die of cancer – and many do. Therefore, facing one’s mortality is life-changing. I realized that cancer was unlike getting the flu. This was definitely serious and could take me out of the game of life. It caused me to have a good look at what my life was in that moment. I recall thinking ‘Wow, is this all I get?’ I was 47, way too early. I wasn’t ready to throw in the towel just yet. There was more I wanted to do with my life.
  2. Treatment for cancer is aggressive. It changes your body. For some, it changes their physicality. For breast cancer, it’s often a mastectomy and body image. For prostate cancer, it’s loss of function. For head and neck cancers, it causes change in eating habits. I could go on. There are so many changes, not to mention the side effects of treatment. Adapting to these changes takes some getting used to and creates stumbling blocks in relationships.
  3. Emotional trauma is part of the cancer journey – often unseen and unacknowledged by others. There is the expectation that once you are through treatment and ‘recovered’ that you can bounce back into life renewed. That doesn’t happen. A diagnosis of cancer brings out many emotional issues that have been buried. When these issues surface, they require attention. Cancer can often be that old ‘sore/wound/unspoken anger, etc’ that has been shoved down so far inside that is has festered into something visible – like a tumour. Sad, but true. It sure was that way for me. There was much I needed to examine, sort out, and find a way to move through. It was a very rough and tough part of my healing journey.

In all of these instances, the fix was not the cure or treatment. The fix was a process of going within. It was a process of learning the various ways to access the information I needed to even start finding a way through the maze. There was no ‘cure’ or ‘magic bullet’ that was going to take this nightmare away and restore me to my former self. The treatment was the start, but not the finish. There was more work to be done.

Where Healing Enters

This is when ‘healing’ comes into play. Healing is the ongoing process of making whole. The body is not just a collection of physical parts that operate separately. All our parts (body, mind, and spirit) work together to create a complete picture of our true self. For a broken bone, yes, treatment can cure a broken bone. For cancer, treatment is only one part of the equation and not a cure. There are the other parts of our being that need to be addressed and healed in order to return to a place of wellness.

Cure also intimates that all is fixed and done. No more worries about cancer returning. We all know that that isn’t the case. Cancer can return even after treatment. I know this as I hear it all the time in my work. Does this have to be the case? I don’t believe so, especially since I have managed through consistent awareness to return myself to wellness and stay there from a dire diagnosis. It doesn’t come easily as it requires constant attention to how I live my life. I walk to a different drummer and don’t necessarily follow the conventional lifestyle that we see being led in our North American culture. For me, it is not healthy and I know I would return to that scary place of ‘sick’ or worse, ‘cancer’.

What is Healing?

This place of wellness is not always achievable for everyone. This brings up the issue of what is healing. Since death is a given for all of us, regardless of whether we have cancer or not, healing becomes the work of being in a place of body/mind/spirit health. This place of wholeness where we’ve healed the parts of us that needed to be healed so we can enjoy a high quality of life. It is not about being cured, but of being healed – hence the difference in the definition and approach. Therefore, a person can be healed of their cancer even if cancer is how they die. There is still great value in the healing.

Will we see a day when there is a ‘cure’ for cancer? I don’t know. Frankly, I’m not holding my breath. Research has been at it for a long time with minimal results. There have been some breakthroughs but not many. As a person who likes to take responsibility for myself, I would rather have control of the healing myself than entrust that to someone else. This is not for everyone. I respect that. But it is for me and always will be.

I’m sure there are many opinions among the millions of people diagnosed with cancer along with all those who work in the cancer industry. They will be varied. In the end, cancer is personal. It affects each of us who have been diagnosed at the root of our being. It shakes the foundation of what we knew and trusted. Cancer means new rules, new ways of thinking, and new ways of being in this world. They become important and essential to navigate the journey ahead.

How are you navigating? How do you view ‘cure’ and ‘heal’? What has been your experience of your cancer diagnosis – even if it was years ago?
As always, I challenge you to think and empower yourself, to not just rely on what you’ve been told, but to dig deeper to what lies below. The well is deep and the journey is so worth it. It’s your life.

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