One of my favorite people in the world is a woman with cancer who despite an extremely serious metastatic disease can light up the room with her smile. She knows how to graciously accept the love, caring and support of her friends, as well as her acupuncturist, but it’s never a one-way street. She asks after my family, and passes on fresh Florida grapefruits and other delights. What is more, she consistently passes on random acts of kindness: paying for a young girl’s membership at the YMCA, shoveling the driveway of her neighbor after a storm (this, on chemo!), and certainly in other ways I’ll never know.

Despite chemotherapy, she actually gained weight, which was necessary after her surgery. She lost some hair on chemo–but mostly only the gray ones fell out! She’s still on chemo, and will be for some time. But her multiple inoperable tumors are either disappearing or, at the very least, shrinking. A few months ago she asked her oncologist if she would be alive next summer. He shook his head in wonder and told her to look around at the other people receiving chemo in his large treatment room. He said,

Of course you’ll be alive.

She looked around and didn’t see anyone who looked like her. Everyone looked far, far sicker than she, even though many of them were probably at the tail end of their treatments, their cancers completely (or nearly completely) gone or in remission. 8 months ago she was told she could be dead in 6 t0 24 months. She fired “Doctor Doom,” as she called him, and found this new guy, someone who was willing to be amazed by her recovery, to shake his head, and say, look around. But now, just a few short months after this interlude with the new doc, she is no longer satisfied with his head-shaking wonderment at her progress.

I gave her a treatment a few days ago. Recently she had been given antibiotics for a throat infection, but the throat was not getting better. She wondered if the infection was viral–thus unable to respond to antibiotics–but she was also wondering “what it is I’m not saying,” as the throat corresponds in many traditions to the ability to voice our deepest truths.

As I did some tui na and acupuncture to clear the energy from her head, sinuses, and throat, and boost her immune system, she talked. It turns out that many feelings were emerging for her about her Doctor and his office. She felt her doctor doesn’t really believe, as she does, that she will live much beyond the original prognosis–the outer edge of which is a just about 16 months away. Passively acknowledging that she looks better than most no longer feels adequate. Plus, being in his office frequently interrupts her cool because one very jovial, very clueless, dark-haired nurse repeatedly tells “dumb blonde” jokes to anyone within earshot, even my blonde (not stupid) client. Feeling disrespected while intentionally taking in massive quantities of poison makes it just that much harder to focus on the healing that this crazy chemical intoxication is supposed to achieve.

And that is where acupuncture comes in. Unlike the three jewels of oncology–chemotherapy, surgery and radiation, acupuncture needles are not concerned with tumors. Acupuncture needles are concerned with, they in fact seek, like little metal detectors, the electrical energy of the body’s innate drive for homeostasis. I’m looking for each client’s spectacular humanness in the specific moment in which she sits with me. That is the moment we aim to heal. Not the tumor. If we achieve a healing in the moment, then the larger healing follows. The body, mind, and spirit is far more intelligent than oncology conceives. And if we can learn anything from my beautiful blonde friend, we can learn this: We, as a society, need our oncologists to conceive of healing in broader and deeper terms than the chemical and surgical techniques of modern western oncology. While many oncologists do have this perspective (as integrative oncology centers can be found in many American cities) we need more, now, in this corner of the world. Even though this particular oncologist has this perspective on some level (He told my client to continue doing everything she is doing–including acupuncture, because she’s getting better–envision his head-shaking wonderment here) he can come even further, further, further into belief. Maybe that huge brand new building under construction where he and his associates will be moving into soon is big enough if not for an integrated center, what about a wing or a hall or a few rooms for integration?

I have been allowed to give my client acupuncture during her chemotherapy. But every time I’ve been there, someone else getting chemo has caught my eye, someone in the start of a panic attack, or merely with fearful and sad eyes, or by the ashen color of skin, or the redness of complexion. All the people who come through the doors of every oncologists office everywhere have dynamic inner lives, vibrating with energy that could be aligned for healing, given the support they need from an integrated approach. It’s a wonder my own throat hasn’t begun to hurt. It’s not only my client who needs to talk to her doctor, I think I do as well. I’ve been thinking about it for months. I think it’s time I did it. I envision a future for the cancer patients in Mid-Coast Maine in which they all have the option of receiving acupuncture in conjunction with chemotherapy. And why not? If it’s good enough for the big cities, why not here, where the state motto is “the way life should be?”