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I Hate The Word "Remission"

October 23rd, 2014 |

by DrZembroski | Survivor: Non-Hodgkin's Lymphoma    Connect

Dr. Zembroski is a Doctor Who Became a Patient and a Fellow Cancer Victor, who hates the word "remission." Read more to find out why.

A diagnosis of cancer can be traumatic, to say the least. For most, going through cancer care can be physically devastating, from cancer itself, and the side effects of toxic and disabling chemotherapy, to invasive and often disfiguring surgery. Let's not forget radiation therapy, hormone modifiers, immunotherapy and, sometimes, stem-cell and bone-marrow transplants that can lead to graph-vs-host disease (someone else's white blood cells attacking your body).

Along with the physical effects of cancer care, there is the emotional anguish of dealing with the diagnosis, treatment, and language of cancer. Terms that we often hear are "survivor", "survival rate", "metastasis", "cancer staging", "angiogenesis", and the word I really hate-"remission".

Remission is defined as a decrease or disappearance of signs or symptoms of cancer. It is further broken down into 'partial' and 'complete.' Partial remission means some of the signs and symptoms have disappeared, while complete remission means all indications of cancer have disappeared, although it may still be in the body and at some future time may come back.

A question for thought: if someone is in complete remission, how does that differ from someone who has not been diagnosed with cancer, who also has no signs or symptoms of a detectable disease? If someone has a recurrence (comes out of remission) could it be because the original cause of the cancer was never discovered and resolved? The cancer wasn't hiding behind the liver; it wasn't on an intermission, nor was it on probation. If your internal terrain favors the development of cancer, it will develop again.

Perhaps you worry that rogue cancer cells may be floating around in the body after treatment. However, according to The New England Journal of Medicine, and Cell, a tiny minority (.01%) of cancer cells that get away (metastasize) from a primary tumor have the ability to survive in the body. A healthy immune system, a normal internal pH, nutrients from whole foods, and healthy tissues make the body very hostile to invading cancer cells. If cancer recurs, look to the internal environment, which has allowed the survival of cancer cells.

So, here's my issue with the word 'remission' and the psyche around it. When you hear you are in remission, you really hear that you're not cured; the cancer may come back. Maybe soon, maybe never, but it may come back. This "emotional black cloud" hovers over you, causing you to expect your disease to come back. Worry and fear release a mixture of stress hormones, thus disabling an aspect of the immune system and opening you up for cancer's return.

If your internal terrain is unhealthy due to processed and nutrient-absent foods, unresolved stressors, voluntary ingestion or inhalation of toxins, hormone therapies, lack of exercise, and other unfavorable behaviors, the stage is set for the development of cancer. If we realize that our actions can lead us down a path to disease, then it's obvious that taking the right actions will reduce the emotional anguish associated with the potential return of cancer after a hiatus, aka 'remission.'

How do you feel about the word "Remission"?

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DrZembroski's picture
Dr. Zembroski rebuilt his body after harrowing cancer treatments. Now a "Cancer Victor," he is educating his patients and the public about the benefits of a therapeutic lifestyle. He is a physician, board-certified chiropractic neurologist, clinical nutritionist, specialist in functional medicine, and author of "Rebuild." Visit Dr. Z's website to read more about his story, blogs and other books at, and connect with him on IHC under the username DrZembroski.