I’ve always pulled for the underdog. I love a story where the unexpected happens; where David slays Goliath; the near-defeated rises up and seizes a victory; the little guy that “couldn’t” or “can’t”… DOES. Many of us take great interest in these stories..films are made, books are written about individuals who beat the odds. They are a source of great inspiration. But as health providers, when it comes to “patients” who beat the odds, do we study these cases enough?
I take great interest in medical success stories. And pay attention to outliers (no, I have not yet read Malcolm Gladwell’s book). In research, outliers are data points that are so far out from the cluster that including them in the results is likely to skew the numbers. They are thus often ignored, deemed to be occurring “by chance”. I argue they should be studied further.
A child that recovers from autism; an ALS patient that lives 20 plus years; people that live a long, full life despite a cancer diagnosis and a refusal of standard therapy; individuals throughout history that survive an epidemic unscathed; into the future, a woman with the BRCA gene, which carries a significantly higher risk of breast and ovarian cancer, defies the numbers and survives without prophylactic surgery. Who are they? What are their habits? What did they do? What didn’t they do? How did they defy the odds? There are nuggets of information in these cases that would benefit a deeper understanding of health, not just disease.
To look at it a different way, what of those with minimal mercury exposures who seem to retain much more than one would expect? An individual who walks through the perfume section at Sears and is down for the count for 3 days? The man that smokes 2 packs a day and lives to age 90? What are these cases telling us? Observations like these often lead to a better understanding, when investigated, of how human physiology copes with environmental exposure, and not as a uniform, “everyone-is-the-same” process. The analysis would in theory lead to therapeutic endeavors to support the more susceptible. In times like these, this is a very worthwhile cause I would say. As Bruce Lipton writes in “The Biology of Belief”, given the chemical and EMF scourge of the planet, human activity against the health of the environment has made it plausible that our species may one day find it has no place to fit in any longer.
In the meantime, the privilege I hold as an integrative medicine physician is in assisting the underdog. It involves guiding clients in the quest to recover from chronic, complex illnesses for which standard therapy often hasn’t any solutions. It is a thoughtful, collaborative effort – best pursued calmly, confidently and deliberately. Each case is an opportunity to not only change one life, but to learn and understand how to positively impact others further down the road.
Dr. John Gannage