Rachel Naomi Remen, MD: Let There Be Light - CancerChoices

In the process of recovering from kidney cancer, one of my newer patients underwent a transformation from a hard-driving CEO to a volunteer and supporter of many good causes. After a few sessions he told me about the experience which had changed his way of moving through the world. As a child of atheistic and intellectual parents, he had no religious upbringing or spiritual inclination and had immersed himself for many years in the world of competition and business with much success. While formerly his business had been the focus of his life; now his cancer and its treatment required him to be away from the multi-tasking demands and pressures of his work and instead to spend several months in the quiet of his living room.

At first this had been frightening and deeply disorienting but then as the fatigue of his chemotherapy took hold, he had simply surrendered to the silence and spent hours on his couch dozing in the company of his cat. One afternoon as he lay drifting in and out of sleep he found himself looking at a bookshelf on the opposite wall and it seemed to him that one of the books stood out from the others in an odd way. Getting up for a closer look he saw that it was the Bible that the clergy who had performed his marriage years ago had given to him and his wife. Taking it back to the couch he opened it for the first time and started to read the story of the beginning of the world. He was surprised to feel a deep response to the simple words, how real and familiar and terrifying the formlessness and darkness felt to him and how it seemed to be somehow connected to the terrible recent events in his life. And then he encountered for the first time the statement with which the world begins: “LET THERE BE LIGHT.” He lay there for a time feeling the great power in these four words wash over him.

As he ruminated about this, the words suddenly shifted their meaning and he realized that they were addressed to him personally, that he personally was able to choose to act in ways that increased the light in the world. He had never considered this possibility before but over the next days and weeks it became a more and more compelling thought, until he recognized it as a deep yearning to live in a certain way. That perhaps the purpose of life was not to become wealthy or succeed in business or even to leave a large financial inheritance to his children as he had thought. Perhaps his life had been given back to him so he might have the chance to fulfill its real purpose and bring more light into the world. Perhaps this was the inheritance he could leave to his children.

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About the Author

Rachel Naomi Remen, MD

Dr. Remen is clinical professor of Family and Community Medicine at UCSF School of Medicine and the founder and director of the Remen Institute for the Study of Health and Illness at Wright State University Boonshoft School of Medicine in Dayton, Ohio. She is one of the pioneers of relationship-centered care and integrative medicine. US News and World Report Best Graduate Schools has called The Healer’s Art, her groundbreaking curriculum for medical students, “A profoundly innovative curriculum on reintegrating the heart and soul into contemporary medicine and restoring medicine to its integrity as a calling and a work of healing.” The Healer’s Art is now taught yearly in more than half of American medical schools and in medical schools in seven countries abroad.

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Dr. Remen was one of the first to recognize and document the psychological and spiritual impact of cancer on people and their families. She is a co-founder and medical director of the Commonweal Cancer Help Program, one of the first support groups for cancer patients in America, featured in the groundbreaking 1993 Bill Moyer’s PBS series Healing and the Mind. Through her television appearances and lectures, she has reminded many thousands of people of their power to grow beyond their current challenges and heal themselves. Dr. Remen’s New York Times bestselling books, Kitchen Table Wisdom and My Grandfather’s Blessings have sold more than a million copies and been translated into 23 languages.

Dr. Remen has a 60-year personal history of Crohn’s disease, and her teaching and writing is a unique synthesis of the wisdom and courage of physician and patient.

Rachel Naomi Remen, MD Integrative physician, clinical professor, and CancerChoices advisor