I love taking my dog, Stella, to our local dog park. Sometimes I think I enjoy the experience even more than she does. Nothing makes me laugh more than seeing her zipping around the park at top speed, ears flat against her head, eyes wide, tongue hanging out of her mouth in that expression of pure joy that dogs master so well. Whatever trials and tribulations my day has wrought go right out the window when I watch her play.
Dogs are “man’s best friend,” a name earned not just for their loyalty but also for their unconditional love for us—and we love them back. People in the U.S. spend an increasing amount of money each year on their animals. And it’s not just dogs; we’re spending more and more money on all of our pets, from fish, rodents, and reptiles, to cats, and even horses. In 2012 Americans spent $53.3 billion, and that number is expected to hit $55.5 billion this year. If the cost of owning an animal is so high, how exactly does this relationship benefit us?
David Leonhardt’s “prostate cancer test” (The New York Times, July 8, 2009) is a good but incomplete one for healthcare reform.
In addition to removing financial incentives for high tech intervention, we need to educate clinicians in the impartial, critical analysis of all therapeutic options, and in supporting their patients as they act on the choices they make. For 10 years, The Center for Mind-Body Medicine has trained health professionals and patient advocates to do precisely this, as “CancerGuides®.”
We need as well to realize that expensive, Draconian treatment and “watchful waiting” are not our only choices. There is, as Dean Ornish is showing with peer-reviewed studies on prostate cancer - and a number of us are doing with heart disease, diabetes, chronic pain, depression and post traumatic stress disorder – a far more promising third way. It is grounded in techniques of self-care – dietary modification, physical exercise, and mind-body approaches like meditation and yoga – and in group education and support.
This approach holds great promise for treating and preventing chronic illness of all kinds and for saving large sums of money. It should be central to healthcare reform.
A shortened version of this was published in the New York Times online Letters section on July 21, 2009.