July 9, 2018
When my father developed cancer in 1980, I started looking for ways to help him. I was already interested in integrative medicine. I spent several years exploring integrative cancer therapies. At that time they were considered quack medicine. My mentors warned me that I could destroy my reputation.
Staring in 1983, I traveled extensively in the US, Europe, Mexico and Japan exploring integrative cancer therapies. At the same time, I became a student of yoga. My friend Dean Ornish had recently shown that a yoga-based program could reverse coronary artery disease. We began to hold yoga-based retreats at Commonweal, first for people with systemic lupus disease and then for the elderly. Then I met Rachel Naomi Remen, MD. Together we envisioned offering retreats for people with cancer. The first Commonweal Cancer Help Program took place in October 1985. Over the past 33 years we have held over 200 week-long Cancer Help Programs.
In 1993, Bill Moyers and film-maker David Grubin released a PBS series, "Healing and the Mind." The last segment of the five-part series was a film of the Cancer Help Program called "Wounded Healers." Moyers also interviewed Rachel Remen and me for his book by the same name. The series won awards and was shown repeatedly on PBS stations across the country.
In 2008, David Servan Schreiber's book Anti-Cancer was released in the US. He also spoke of his experience in the Cancer Help Program. His book was widely read. Rachel Remen's books Kitchen Table Wisdom and My Grandfather's Blessings were also widely read, as was my book Choices in Healing: Integrating the Best of Conventional and Complementary Cancer Therapies.
We hold only six week-long retreats each year, each for eight participants. By word of mouth and because of these books and other articles and talks and conversations, word spread. We never advertised the Cancer Help Program.
Shortly after Moyers released "Healing and the Mind," a number of other centers emerged in the US, Canada and France based on the Cancer Help Program. While some of these programs ultimately came to an end, a few continued. Callanish in Vancouver, British Columbia, was founded by Janie Brown. Harmony Hill in Union, Washington, was founded by Gretchen Schodde. Smith Center for Healing and the Arts was founded by Barbara Smith Coleman and me.
At Commonweal, a whole cluster of programs have developed inspired by or aligned with the Cancer Help Program:
- Healing Circles Langley
- Healing Circles Houston
- Cancer Help Program Alumni Circle
- Bay Area Young Survivors and the Mets in the City retreats
- Healing Kitchens Institute
- Healing Yoga Foundation
- The New School at Commonweal (which contains dozens of podcasts and videos related to cancer and healing)
- The Natura Institute
- The Foundation for Embodied Medicine.
You can learn more about each at www.commonweal.org.
And now Beyond Conventional Cancer Therapies joins this cluster.