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Qi vs. Cancer

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Across two millennia, Chinese sages and physicians have described the function of qi (“chee”), or vital energy, that courses through the body and the spirit, and have pointed to blockages in the body's hidden qi channels as the source of physical ailments and disease. Qi skeptics counter that the energy channels described in ancient Chinese texts and drawings do not correspond to any real structures in the body, and that the concept of qi is both elusive and impossible to verify scientifically. Lost in these abstract debates are the questions that real people facing health crises might ask.

This article appeared in our April 2003 issue. In early 1996, my friend John Bianco and I both began intensive qigong practices in the face of cancer. John, a 33-year-old patent attorney, had non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. Twice before, his doctors at the Massachusetts General Hospital had helped him drive the diseases away, once with chemotherapy and once with a bone marrow transplant. But each time it had come back. Now there was no more medical treatment to be done. He was in great pain and had no stamina. But his daughter, Maeve, was six-weeks old, and maybe it was the drive to see her grow up that pushed John to reach beyond the medical establishment for help. My situation was different. I was 31, beginning a stint as a history lecturer at Harvard, when a random lab test revealed multiple myeloma, a rare bone marrow cancer considered incurable. I had no symptoms. The specialist I consulted at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston said there was nothing to be done until symptoms appeared. I would have perhaps six months of watchful waiting before I began to suffer from such things as anemia and bo …

Cathy Kerr practices qigong in Watertown, Massachusetts. She is also an instructor at Harvard Medical School, where she investigates somatosensory responses to therapies such as acupuncture and qigong.


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