IN PHILADELPHIA WAS A MAJOR CATHOLIC DOCTOR AND HOSPITAL CEO WHO FOUGHT CANCER NATURALLY
Can a diet of natural foods, along with prayer, suppress cancer?
It was the idea of a Catholic medical doctor who headed a major hospital in downtown Philadelphia and himself had "terminal" prostate cancer (having spread to his ribs, skull, and other bones) that indeed it can be.
Note the word "suppress." Dr. Anthony J. Sattilaro eventually died. But he did so a good number of years after his expected departure from this world, and his story, first told in the 1980s (in a book entitled Recalled By Life), points up a number of issues, both dietary and spiritual.
Note also the word "terminal": Aren't we all?
Isn't it time to end medical use of this phrase?
We should concern ourselves more with "terminal hope" (and avoiding that) than "terminal cancer."
Only God knows when we'll die.
Having received a "death sentence," Dr. Sattilaro, CEO of of Methodist Hospital, happened upon two hitchhikers one day, young men who began discussing nutrition with him.
They were real people, but they remind us of all those reports of mysterious hitchhiking angels.
"Both of them had just graduated from a natural foods cooking school given by the Seventh Inn Restaurant in Boston," wrote the doctor. "I asked them a few perfunctory questions and [one of them] responded enthusiastically. He went on with some joy about the kinds of foods he was taught to prepare and the importance of cooking for good health. It all sounded very foreign to me and I paid little attention.
"Still, he was good company. Eventually, the conversation got around to me. I told him that I was a doctor and that I had just buried my father, who had died of cancer. 'I'm dying of cancer, too,' I said. I told him some of the details of my disease and the therapy I had received. He didn't say a word while I spoke. Then, in an almost cavalier fashion, he said to me, 'You know, you don't have to die, doc. Cancer isn't all that hard to cure.'"
Naturally, Dr. Sattilaro -- whose training involved virtually nothing about nutrition -- thought these were the words of a "silly kid." But this young man insisted:
"Listen, cancer is the natural result of a bad diet. When you eat lots of red meat, lots of dairy, eggs, refined foods, like sugar and white flour, and foods high in chemical preservatives, then you get cancer. That's if you don't die of a heart attack first. Diet causes cancer. But you can reverse the disease by changing your diet to one of whole grains and vegetables. People have already done it. And you can do it, too."
There are more factors -- including spiritual ones -- than diet. And in the right balance, there's nothing wrong with eggs and some red meat, occasional dairy. But let's stay on point.
Food plays a mighty role -- obviously.
Dr. Sattilaro ended up at an old-fashioned general store that day, amid the large barrels of bulk grains and beans with wooden crates displaying fruits and vegetables. (Doesn't it seem a bit more authentic than the fluorescent supermarkets we have now?).
Anyway, the chance encounter with the hitch-hikers also led Dr. Sattilaro, whose training included Harvard, to head into macrobiotics -- a radical, Oriental-based diet of brown rice, azuki beans, sliced carrots in hiziki seaweed, and leafy green vegetables topped with a dressing made of umeboshi plums, water, and scallions.
It's all Japanese to us.
But in the Orient, cancers of the prostate and breast are all but unknown (at least by comparison).
Strictly adhering to this regimen of food (which took major effort), Dr. Sattilaro -- who had been given about a year to live -- went at least six years beyond that dire prognosis.
Does that mean we should embrace "macrobiotics"? No. There are less drastic ways to incorporate good food into our diets. At today's supermarkets are more and more organic and whole-grain products.
Macrobiotics also carries with it the Oriental mysticism of ki energy and yin and yang, which tend to the occult and in the end may have even negated some positive effects (if not worse) of the diet (where a return to a quiet cathedral in downtown Philadelphia -- one with those flickering candles "suggesting hidden corners" -- would have been more beneficial the whole of the time).
But as Scripture advises, we take what is good and leave the rest and there is much good in various Eastern disciplines, at least when it comes to diet. The point: natural simplicity, as in the time of Christ, is a key to longevity (can you see Jesus eating a Big Mac, or the Blessed Mother stirring up instant macaroni and cheese?).
"My condition had improved dramatically!" says the doctor after recounting his strict adherence to a severe diet, granting us all the medical details. "The disease had been temporarily arrested. My positive attitude, coupled with a healthier diet, helped me to better fight the cancer. In other words, macrobiotics was offering the age-old axiom that a healthy body makes a healthy mind, and vice-versa."
Despite dispensing with regular hormonal treatment, Dr. Sattilaro reached a point where the cancer that once had been so readily in evidence -- so pervasive -- was no longer medically detectable. He was warned, however, that it took seven years for the human body (supposedly, according to macrobiotics) to completely renew itself, replacing every cell, and thus discharging all potential cancer.
For our discernment.
"I had more energy that I had had," he wrote, "in twenty years."
Those tumors in his skull, left sixth rib, right shoulder, sternum, and spine had vanished.
Was it just that surgery and estrogens had triggered his autoimmune system? Spontaneous remission? Or was it the diet?
Dr. Sattilaro had no doubt -- as a patient as well as a doctor -- that it was the diet.
His doctors described his recovery as "rare." His oncologist had never seen it before. Word spread throughout the hospital. "I could hardly go near a bowl of [brown] rice or vegetables without feeling an immense gratitude to God," wrote Dr. Sattilaro, adding that every time he ate, he thanked the Lord for healing through the food he was about to eat. "As with most physicians, my medical training did not include the study of nutrition." So he too was astounded. And as he said, the surprise was because "prevention flies in the face of a tradition as old as medicine itself, that doctors work with the sick, not the healthy."
This is remarkable indeed, and a bit frightening, considering -- as Dr. Sattilaro pointed out -- "that our diets have changed radically within the last fifty years, with great and often harmful effects on our health. In all, six of the ten leading causes of death in the United States have been linked to our diet."
"I lived the perfect formula for cancer, a high-fat diet, plenty of refined flour products, an insatiable sweet tooth, and a generally sedentary lifestyle," remarked the doctor. "I viewed my lot as capricious and my cancer as outside of me. I had nothing to do with it -- other than the fact that it had struck me down. It was all bad luck. My new awareness shattered my ignorance like a sledgehammer thrown through a window."
Incorporating diet into his treatments "was instrumental in extending my life and radically altering the quality of my remaining years," he said. There was "no doubt" in his mind, he said, that "had I relied on just the [a surgical] orchietomy and the [hormonal] estrogens, I would have been dead a long time ago."
He also saw that there were those critical spiritual-psychological factors.
Returning to Catholicism (after uneasiness with all the yang and yin), he went to Confession and told the priest of "my many years of selfishness, my overpowering drive for self-gratification, and my unwillingness to see others as anything but competitors. These were some of the fundamental reasons why I finally got cancer. My cancer was the result of my taking and taking until I had to ask for my very life. Selfishness is its own terminal illness.
By June of 1980, he was pronounced as in "complete remission." Alas, seven years later, he did succumb. But by then he was ready and went the right way: attending Mass, which he said "became a source of strength and a comfort to me that I could not find in any other setting."
Perhaps it would have been awesome, the macrobiotic diet, with Catholicism, instead of the Eastern mysticism. The spiritual component is critical.
So is prevention, which is really the best and sometimes only "cure" for cancer and other serious illnesses afflicting an out-of-control culture that in arrogant synthesis has strayed from the Plan of God.
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