Cancer: It’s the elephant and the six blind men

I started schooling some seven decades ago. It was a Malay school next to our home. At school our classes were often held under the shade of a large tree. Our teacher told us stories and sometimes made us act it out. One of the stories that got imprinted in my mind up to this day is about some blind men trying to figure out what an elephant is like. I am sure many of you reading this article also have heard this same story at some point in your life.

Dr. M. Laura Nasi, an integrative oncologist in private practice in Buenos Aires, Argentina. Besides advocating surgery, chemo and radiation as the necessary protocol for cancer, she also embraces certain principles of alternative healing. In her book,Cancer as a wake-up call, Dr. Nasi explains her healing protocol.

In trying to explain “what is cancer?” she has this illustration.

For the first time, I learned that this parable was attributed to The Buddha.

The Buddha told a story about six blind men who were asked to describe an elephant. Each man touched a different part of the elephant’s body. They came up with different “perceptions” – one saying it is a pillar, another a rope while another said it is a fan! They argued and defended their “truth” based on what they had “discovered.” Who can blame them — that was what they figured out by feeling for themselves.

Today, don’t be surprised that cancer is just that elephant in The Buddha’s parable.

  • The surgeons see cancer as a tumour or mass that must be surgically removed — the sooner the better!
  • The oncologists see cancer as a “disease” that can spread or metastatize to other parts of the body. Therefore itmust be “killed” by radiation and/or toxic, chemo-drugs.
  • From the study of genes, cancer is about mutated genes that we inherit from our parents or are damaged by certain factors. Doctors are now using targeted therapies to kill off these mutated cells.
  • Some researchers see cancer as a metabolic disease caused by bad nutrition, toxic chemicals and environment. Therefore they try to use nutrition and supplements to treat cancer.
  • The psychologists see cancer as an out of balance emotional distress. To heal cancer we need to take care of our stress, emotions, relationship with others, etc. etc.
  • Some religious practitioners see cancer as an attack by evil forces that need to be exorcised. This resulted in various forms of faith healings.

Let me quote what Dr. Laura Nasi said:

  • Like the blind men and the elephant, each perspective probably offers a part of the truth.

Take note, it is just a part of the truth not the whole truth!

So what is cancer?

Dr. Laura said again:

  • To answer this (question)we need to look beyond what we call cancer and focus on the person.
  • Cancer is a multifactorial disease, more than a genetic, metabolic disorder, more than a psychological, emotional or spiritual imbalance.
  • It is more than just finding a tumour in our body.Autopsies of people who have died in accidents or “from old age” show a high percentage of undiagnosed tumours. And some disappear with no observable treatment at all.
  • The truth is, we produce small tumours all the time that our immune system destroys or keeps under control, and they remain unnoticed throughout our lives.

The word cancer embraces hundreds of different diseases … We call them all cancer, but actually they’re a lot of different diseases.

  • Breast cancer is different from skin cancer, and not all breast cancers behave in the same way.
  • Different cancer types and subtypes develop in unique ways and have entirely different prognoses. Some subtypes of lung cancer grow slowly, while others spread quickly. Some respond well to therapy, while others are difficult to treat.
  • Each case is unique, just as each individual is unique. Two people may develop cancer in the same part of the body, but the disease’s progression might vary depending on the response to therapy and the way each person lives the experience.

What now?

  • By taking into account different points of view, like the blind people in the story, we can understand the elephant in its wholeness and seek combined strategies that consider the human as a multidimensional being with a body, mind, emotions, spirit and social context.
  • These strategies will include healthy habits – nutrition, exercise and sleep, restoring emotional balance and spiritual reconnection to positively affect the PNIE (psycho-neuro-immuno-endocrine) intelligence network that for so many decades knew how to maintain our health and allow it to play the main role again.
  • That is why cancer, though located in only one organ, is an illness that affects the whole person and not just the affected organ. Hence, the treatment should, from the very beginning, focus on the whole person.
  • The system view paradigm invites us to abandon linear thinking – a single cause for a single effect … It isn’t a mathematical equation where A + B = C. The causes of cancer are usually multifactorial and different for each person. In some people, a combination of unhealthy diet, divorce and losing a job might develop a cancer, while in others it doesn’t.

In the preface of her book, Dr. Laura Nasi wrote:

  • Disappointment was a milestone in my professional life … I was spending time on a project that was dependent on economic factors, people were dying of cancer. I found that deeply unsettling.
  • The paradigm I was immersed in viewed cancer very narrowly and was probably leading us the wrong way.Attempting to discover a cure for cancer only by looking through a microscope at the cells that are part of a tumour seemed myopic.
  • We know there’s a permanent dialogue between cancer cells and the immune system, so how could we suggest a treatment that doesn’t take the person into account, the life challenges they’re facing, and how their emotions might be affecting their well-being?
  • I realized that conventional medicine can play only a limited role in what we call health.
  • I found that to begin to understand why a person got sick, I needed at least a two-hour first consultation. I realized that if I gave enough time to listening, I could help the person see that they already knew what was making them sick.
  • I firmly believe that healing requires looking at people as a whole, helping them become aware of the life they are living and addressing and modifying the things that are making them sick.
  • We encountered a great deal of resistance from other medical sectors in Argentina … it’s not always easy to forge one’s way against convention, but I can’t see any other way to practice medicine effectively.

Some advices from Dr. Laura Nasi:

  • Disease is a message from the soul. Attempting to restore health by attending only to its physical aspects is too limiting. Becoming aware of what’s happening is the first step in bringing about change.
  • Allopathic medicine sees the body as a machine …. the part that isn’t working is removed through surgery and replaced by another one, or the body is given medicine to repair the broken part or at minimum to suppress the symptoms.
  • But we are more than machine.
  • The way we live affects our health. If we eat processed, nutrient-deficient foods, don’t exercise, suffer from sleep disorder, accumulate stress, don’t process emotions, use harmful substances like nicotine or don’t find meaning in our lives, our health is affected.
  • Chronic stress challenges the immune system and makes us vulnerable to diseases. A combination of internal (e.g. anxiety) and external (e.g. divorce, death of loved one, a hostile workplace) is responsible to making us more vulnerable to sickness.
  • Up to 60 percent of cancer cases could be avoided with a healthy diet, regular exercise, stress management and refraining from smoking. We can live a healthier and more balanced life, taking more responsibility for our own well-being.
  • Forty percent of new cancer diagnoses cannot be attributed to unhealthy diets, smoking or sedentariness. Other possible factors include internal conflict, self-criticism and negative self-judgement, emotional instability and existential dissatisfaction. We can’t explain all cases in one way.

One important lesson we can learn from what Dr. Laura Nasi:

Two cancer patients went to consult their oncologists.

Patient A, with pancreatic cancer, is a Singaporean. She consulted the best oncologist in town.

Oncologist: Oh, you stay in Sea View. What are you working as?

Patient: I am a forex trader in a bank.

Onco: Do you buy health insurance?

P: Yes, I did.

Oncologist asked patient to lie down. Checked here and checked there. He saw the scans. He put on his computer and showed four patients. One was a miracle case – he survived 6 years with no sign of cancer coming back. He said there are three types of people that he treated. One type is completely cured. The second type is in remission. The third type is just wasting his time. He is suggesting that I am the type who is wasting his time.

Onco: I can’t cure you.

Patient: But he asked me to go back and think and decide.

Onco: I can start you on chemo. Chemo is every week, for eight times.

Husband: What are the side effects.

Onco: Nothing. If you go for chemo, you must eat a lot of meat. And we will be generous with the painkiller.

Result: Shocked, upset and totally lost. P: He talked to me as if I am just wasting his time.

Duration of consultation: Not more than 15 minutes.

Cost of consultation: SGD 700 (RM2,100)

Patient B is a Malaysian who has breast cancer. After her surgery, she consulted an oncologist in Penang.

Husband: The oncologist talked about money first. Chemotherapy costs RM30,000. Twenty-five times of radiation costs RM7,000. After that my wife has to take hormonal drug (Femara or Tamoxifen) for five years. This costs about RM700 per month. Since she has a health insurance, they will made sure that all these expenses will be paid for by the Insurance Company.

Patient:  I have to go for six cycles of chemo with FEC. The only time left for discussion is, “What happen if I do all these treatments.”

The oncologist looked at the medical report, keyed in some data and read these numbers from his computer.

Oncologist: With chemo, the chance of cancer NOT coming back is 75 percent. Without treatment the chance of cancer NOT coming back is 30 percent.

Result:  Patient not impressed or happy.

Duration of consultation: About 10 minutes.

Cost of consultation: RM 106.


Based on what Dr. Nasi had said, do you think these two patients received the best possible advice for their cancer?

Dr. Nasi said for the first visit, she needed a whole two hours to be able to understand her patients’ problems!

These oncologists spent 10 –15 minutes “advising” Patient A and Patient B. Do you think their advice really make sense?

Whether you go to the best or worst for advice, eventually the most important consideration is the outcome.

So what had happened to Patient A? She underwent all the recommended treatments – suffered and died in the hospital even before her chemo was completed.

Patient B refused to undergo chemotherapy and radiotherapy. She came to CA Care for help. We spent hours advising her on what to do. She took herbs, changed her diet, lifestyle and perception about her life. Almost seven years now, as of this writing, Patient B is still alive and well.