Presented at the meeting of the Israeli chapter of Cancer-Yogis in Tel Aviv

Illness as Metaphor

My story begins about twenty five years ago when Ms. Susan Sontag found a lump in her breast. Susan Sontag is a famous writer who lives in New York. After recovering from the treatment  she started contemplating  about her disease and its unusual name: Cancer, (crab in Latin). Her thoughts were published as a  book "Illness as Metaphor" (1978)(1) Cancer is regarded as an evil disease, and has  become the predominant disease metaphor in our culture. Cancer is the only disease that we wage war on.      
On the other hand, arteriosclerosis, which is more dangerous than cancer, does not carry a similar metaphor. It causes more suffering, and kills more patients than cancer, and yet no one is waging a war on it.  Arteriosclerosis is not conceived so evil as cancer .

Death sentence

Consider a young female who discovered a small lump in her breast. Suddenly she realizes that she carries an evil disease, and the lump is her death sentence. Actually she is healthy. The lump does not pose an immediate threat to her, and she has many years of good life in store. Nevertheless she is wretched. It is not cancer that causes her misery, but the society that promotes the crab metaphor.
Consider also a young male suffering form a heart attack, caused by arteriosclerosis. He is really in great danger, and struggles for his life. While recovering, the cardiologist approaches him with a smile: "Your pump is damaged,  yet don’t despair, we shall fix it in no time. Soon  you will resume your daily schedule. You might consider improving  your fitness, and if you persist,  you may be able to participate in one of the Cardiac Marathons." The patient knows that his illness is not over. Arteriosclerosis is on the rise, and he may face additional attacks. Yet he is hopeful.  Believes in his capability to control his disease, and that his prospects are bright.

Two dangerous diseases. One is accompanied by hopefulness, while the other is accepted as a death sentence. Why can't the oncologist encourage his patient in the same way as the cardiologist did? Saying:" You got this malignant lump in your breast, yet Don't despair, we shall fix it in no time. Soon  you will resume your daily schedule. You might consider improving  your. . ." Here he stops, and loses his speech, since he is unable to suggest what to improve?

While the heart can be  strengthened, the cancer patient is helpless. Medicine  simply ignores the fact that also in cancer resistance can be  boosted. After reading Sontag's book I undertook to change this state of affairs, but how?  Now, twenty  years later, I found how this may be accomplished.

Cancer Yogi

I decided also to complete the unfinished sentence of the oncologist: "You got this malignant lump in your breast . We shall fix it in no time. Soon  you will resume your daily schedule. But this is not enough. From now on you ought to become responsible for your cancer, and learn how to control it. Your mission is to become a Cancer Yogi."  Cancer Yogi is a metaphor for your capability to live with cancer in peace and harmony. It alludes to the spiritual powers of the Hindu yogi, who controls involuntary functions of his body. Otherwise this metaphor is unrelated with Yoga. It was created to replace the crab metaphor. The best would be to eliminate the crab metaphor all together, as Susan Sontag suggested. Yet this is not realistic. I decided therefore to tame the crab metaphor by linking it up with the yogi.

Many cancer yogis live among us,although we may not be aware of it. I first encountered this phenomenon when studying cancer survival of American women with breast cancer (2). 3369 white women were first diagnosed in the fifties of the previous century. In all of them the tumor spread to  axillary lymph nodes. The breast was removed, and some women were irradiated. None received chemotherapy since at that time it was not available. 24% of these women lived at least 20 years! Other lived longer. All that time they felt healthy and then the disease flared up and they died.

I met one of them. At the age of 50 years she got breast cancer. Following mastectomy she appeared as if cured. For two decades she looked after  her family and felt healthy. Then at a relatively advanced age, cancer flared up and she died. Watching her, I realized that for two decades she succeeded to live with her disease in peace and harmony. She was the first Cancer-Yogi that I met. Had she succeeded to control her disease for another decade, she would have died in old age carrying her hidden disease into the grave. What was her secret, and how might one apply it to other patients as well?


This cancer-yogi taught me a new meaning of health. Health an disease are regarded as  opposed to each other. A sick person lost his health , and will regain it after getting rid of his illness. On the other hand, this cancer-yogi carried her hidden disease for two decades.  For all practical purposes she was healthy, and did not require any treatment. As physician I would like to cure her once and for all. Yet when this is not feasible we might accept also the kind of health she had.

Many cancer-yogis live among us

After analyzing survival statistics of breast cancer patients, I turned to study other cancers, e.g., bronchial, colon, prostate, etc. In all, cancer-yogis carry hidden metastases in good health. Yet medicine ignores this important phenomenon, and claims that these long survivors were lucky.

Dormant Cancer

In many patients the tumor stops growing for years, without any reason. This phenomenon is known as 'Dormant Cancer.'  Medicine  does not understand it and therefore ignores it. For me it is an indicator that a patient with a dormant cancer actually controls his disease. Why can't the oncologist encourage his patient saying:" You got this malignant lump in your breast . Yet Don't despair, we shall fix it in no time. Soon  you will resume your daily schedule. You might also learn how to put your cancer to sleep."  He regards this as nonsense.

The Yogi metaphor stands for man's ability to accomplish incredible tasks

From this point of view an athlete is also a yogi, Muscle-Yogi. An acrobat is a Circus-Yogi, whose feat is as incredible as that of the Cancer-Yogi.  There exists also a Cigarette-Yogi. An old timer who smokes four packs of cigarettes a day in excellent health. While medicine regards him as lucky, he actually proclaims an important message. He controls successfully cigarette poison . Might his secret help cancer patients to control poisonous carcinogens that caused their cancer? I would not advise to anybody to attempt to become a Cigarette-Yogi but we cannot ignore our capability to control poisons.

The Yogi attribute is a characteristic of all life forms.

Assisting animals in their survival. Take for instance microbes, that survive in the harshest conditions on earth.  Last century they had an unpleasant surprise. A new enemy, penicillin, threatened to eliminate them from earth. As time passed they learned to resist it, and transferred this knowledge to their kin. Soon they will become Antibiotic-Yogis, resisting all antibiotics.

In this confrontation medicine is definitely the  loser. Soon will the antibiotic era be over. Are we doomed? Not at all. We ought to train ourselves to become Microbe-Yogis and live in peace even with the most dangerous microbes. There are many ways to achieve this goal. Some are known to medicine.

Shin-Ichiro Terayama

Is a Japanese physicist who cured himself from cancer and now heads an institute for holistic treatment (3). What was his secret? Since the tumor was created by his body, his own organ you might say, he decided to love it as its own, and the tumor regressed. He applies also other holistic methods, yet he highlights love as most effective. It sounds odd, but it worked. Was he lucky, or he discovered a new way to put his cancer to sleep? Mr. Terayama was my second Cancer-Yogi. In the good old days doctors would gather around  him in order to find his secret. Today he is regarded as odd and dismissed.

Avner Shilo investigates cancer

One day I received a pamphlet by Avner Shilo describing  how he got rid of his cancer. I called him, told him about the Cancer-Yogi metaphor, and asked him whether he sees himself that way? He agreed. I told him also that his pamphlet convinced me that he might regard himself as a cancer researcher. He looked at me puzzled: "I don't have the slightest idea how cancer is studied. How do you publish results based on observations in one patient, that me?"

I answered:" Some great minds took the same route. Think of Sigmund Freud who studied his own neurosis. He was a neurotic, who learned to help himself. Freud was a Neurosis-Yogi, who succeeded to pass on his discoveries to other neurotics.  You might try the same with your cancer. Study yourself and I shall translate your findings into the language of medicine."
"Where shall we publish?" asked Avner.

I answered: "First let's win over to our cause all cancer patients in Israel, and then publish our findings in the Internet."

"Today we are honored to greet  among us  six cancer-yogis, particularly, Mr. Terayama who will now describe their experience."


Let's return to the young female who discovered a small lump in her breast. No more a death sentence, but an invitation to take up a new mission.  To become a Cancer-Yogi.


1. Sontag Susan
2. Zajicek G. Long survivors with metastases
3. Terayama Shin-Ichiro President, Terayama Consultants Holistic Management. E-mail
4. Shilo Avner E-mail

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Cancer Yogi - medical interpretation