Editor's note: CNN contributor Amanda Enayati ponders the theme of seeking serenity: the quest for well-being and life balance in stressful times.
I'd be lying if I said I didn't wish for a miracle when I was staring down a catastrophic illness almost five years ago.
Of course I did.
Though I was being treated by brilliant physicians, my survival odds were still frightening.
In search of my miracle, I participated in my fair share of odd, nutty and mind-bogglingly irrational activities -- some of which I continue to swear by, but most of which I'm more than a bit embarrassed to admit.
I was routinely stuck with needles from head to toe.
For a period of time I swallowed up to 100 capsules a day.
I was once alternately frozen, baked and then massaged while half-naked by an elderly Middle Eastern man who, to my horror, reminded me of my father.
I hugged trees for energy.
I also "vibed," which was basically sitting in a cold basement with a space heater, in front of a starship engine-looking machine with its lights flashing on and off, alongside a few sick people, a couple of depressed people and a cat who apparently wasn't feeling well, either.
Like Alice I went down the rabbit hole. And I did it gladly, happily, and mostly with a good sense of humor -- because (a) I was going to leave no stone unturned in my quest to live; and (b) I came to realize that much of what I thought I knew about medicine, food and healing was either wrong or grossly incomplete.
Do I believe in these phenomena, far outside the realms of science -- energy and vibrational medicine, spiritual healing, the mind-body connection -- that may be, as my beloved old editor used to say, "just too woo-woo"?
Let's say I am simultaneously hopeful, but uncertain; curious, but skeptical. In short, I'm optimistic.
I am joined in my optimism by almost 40% of adult Americans who, according to the National Institutes of Health's Center for Complementary and Alternative Health , have used a broad range of unconventional therapies, from energy medicine to herbal supplements.
Walking an unusual path to wellness is fraught with doubt, even more so because the resistance often comes from doctors and families, and late-night visits to websites crying "fraud" and "quack" about anything and everything even vaguely outside their strict definition of medicine.
Large, randomized, controlled clinical trials have long been held up as the gold standard in medical research. But clinical trials are wildly expensive and notoriously reductionist in their approach. Not to mention that things that cannot be patented -- beets, meditation, exercise and deep breathing, to name a few -- and therefore, produced profitably, are unlikely to be the subject of any such trial. (Hence the rallying cry, "Patients over patents!")
Just this week, the American Cancer Society released nutrition and physical activity guidelines for cancer patients , stating that "New scientific evidence has emerged since 2006 on the relationship between nutrition, physical activity, and issues of quality of life, comorbid conditions, cancer recurrence, the development of second primary cancers, and overall survival."
Recognizing the need for a holistic approach, more and more researchers -- like MD Anderson's Dr. Lorenzo Cohen -- are undertaking novel, standardized and integrative studies.
Cohen and his colleagues, for example, have designed and are raising funds for a randomized, integrative oncology intervention program for women with stage 3 breast cancer that will include dietary recommendations, physical activity, stress management, social support and control of environmental contaminants.
Many major medical centers have also come around to the importance of an integrative approach to healing by adding complementary specialists and services to their offerings. That most of these integrative units remain essentially toothless when it comes to developing treatment protocols is a shame.
At some point we will recognize that our wonderful and already-overwhelmed doctors can't be all things to all people, and we will seek and incorporate the advice of certified nutritionists, naturopaths, energy medicine practitioners and others into regimens for the treatment of disease. (And while we're at it, maybe we can even dream that our health insurance will cover part of it, and that alternative and complementary medicine won't just be the privilege of those who can pay for it out of pocket.)
But even without the hard evidence, people believe.
The Mayo Clinic's website states : "[I]t isn't always possible to find good studies about alternative medicine practices. Keep in mind that a lack of evidence doesn't necessarily mean a treatment doesn't work -- but it does mean it hasn't been proved."
Ultimately, though, the proof is in the pudding.
Like for the young Texas state representative who recently told me that his physician wanted to put him on medication for a painful and debilitating colitis he had suffered from