Embrace, Release, Heal by Leigh Fortson — Book Review

Embrace, Release, Heal
Embrace, Release Heal by Leigh Fortson

Leigh Fortson’s new book from publishing company Sounds True, Embrace, Release, Heal: An Empowering Guide to Talking About, Thinking About, and Treating Cancer, delivers exactly what the cover promises: an empowering guide to talking about, thinking about, and treating cancer for anyone who has to take that journey. Fortson’s mission in writing this book is not to tell her story for its own sake, but to inspire and give hope to others on their own quest to recover from cancer.

Offering Hope to People Told There is No Hope

In an interview with Val Tobin, Fortson talked about her goal to provide people with choices that the existing medical system usually overlooks: “There is a lot that our medical system, our allopathic medical system, has to offer us in certain ways. The knowledge that they have goes very deep, but it doesn’t go very wide. There are three protocols: radiation, surgery, and chemo, and it’s unfortunate, because there are other options for people, and that’s one of the things I’m hoping that people will get out of the book.”

Many people do know there are alternatives to conventional treatments out there but don’t know where to look. Others prefer conventional treatments but have no idea what happens when they move forward with conventional therapies or don’t realize that there are complementary therapies that will work well with the standard triad of surgery, radiation, and chemotherapy. What Fortson does is provide an arsenal of options to anyone faced with the prospect of battling cancer, regardless of the prognosis.

Embracing the Themes in Embrace, Release, Heal

The book is more than a memoir of one woman’s journey through, and out the other side of, cancer. Though Fortson certainly tells us her story and we vicariously live through the horror, agony, fear, and triumph with her. It is more than a bunch of success stories, though she includes those as well. Finally, it is more than a menu of alternative healing techniques. Alternative treatments are presented, but she does not exclude mainstream medical doctors and oncologists.

It is a comprehensive reference for anyone seeking to understand what he or she can do when faced with a diagnosis of cancer. Each chapter in the book has a theme, with an overriding theme of the influence of the mind on illness and on healing. Fortson assembles a variety of real stories, interviews, and treatment methodologies to help the reader gain clarity on his or her current situation. Even those who do not have cancer can learn from it proactively.

The Prognosis for the Medical Industry

At times it makes for a discouraging read. Following Fortson through chemotherapy, radiation, and surgery that doesn’t want to heal heart-wrenchingly shocks you into the reality of what dealing with cancer really means. Learning that many doctors believe diet doesn’t matter; that many doctors don’t want to know the details about what patients did outside of the conventional treatments in order to heal themselves (they often dismiss it as “spontaneous remission”); or that many doctors who dare to explore alternatives are penalized by a system that favors the pharmaceutical companies and the business of disease casts a distinct pall.

But the prognosis for the medical system, according to Fortson, isn’t all bad. In her book, she expresses how much she learned from the allopathic doctors and that they are some of America’s greatest leaders and researchers in the cancer field. (Fortson, xxxviii) The foreword to the book was written by Dr. Mark Hyman, a medical doctor, who talks insightfully about the future of cancer care and how it “must use medicine’s understanding of mechanisms of disease, physiologic and metabolic balance to design treatments that support normal physiology” so that the way can be found to “personalize treatment according to the individual imbalances in each person.” (Fortson, xiv).

Options for Cancer Treatment from Around the World

Fortson provides an excellent selection of treatments from around the world, many of which can be used in addition to, or in conjunction with, conventional treatments. In the chapter called “Trust,” Dr. Jeremy Geffen, MD, FACP talks about the difference between complementary and alternative therapies, and it’s an important distinction. It also underscores the objectivity with which Fortson approached her topic.

Geffen explains that alternative therapies are defined as therapies that are “scientifically unproven, have unknown or potentially adverse interactions with conventional treatments, and which are sometimes used instead of conventional treatment.” He goes on to explain that, while complementary therapies may sometimes also not have been proven scientifically, they won’t hinder conventional treatments and can even enhance them. (Fortson, 400)

Success Stories from Real People Provide Inspiration

The stories from cancer patients that Fortson relays here are all the more inspiring because, as Fortson tells us in her introduction, “Nearly everyone I interviewed was expected to die.” (Fortson, xxvii) That they didn’t is a testament not only to the human spirit but the treatments out there that actually work and the doctors who discovered them.

Even so, it is up to each person to do the due diligence required to verify whatever option was chosen. Fortson has done the preliminary research, but readers must decide for themselves which treatment might work for them, and then thoroughly investigate it.

There are no guarantees, even with conventional treatments, and many alternative, integrative, or complementary therapies are expensive. Fortson includes the approximate costs involved in the various options and most don’t come cheap. There are some cancers that don’t respond to any treatment. As Fortson battled her own illness, her mother was diagnosed with an aggressive form of cancer that was not cured, though they tried their best to find something that would help her.

Layout of the Book Helps Readers Zero in on Pertinent Information

Embrace, Release, Heal helps readers through the confusing and conflicting world of cancer therapy. It truly is a guide for talking about, thinking about, and treating cancer. Whether you have cancer, know someone who does, or just want to be informed on the subject in the interests of prevention, then read this book. The layout allows readers to skip around to the information most pertinent to them but is worth reading straight through from cover to cover.

The book includes contact information for the various healing centres and the practitioners that she interviewed. In the appendix, Fortson provides a list of books by the authors that she interviewed, books on a variety of cancer-related topics, and links to a variety of valuable resources and people. She also includes a Readers Guide section, structured as a Q & A session for the reader, to deal with questions that newly diagnosed cancer patients may have.

About Leigh Fortson

Prior to her cancer diagnosis, author Leigh Fortson coauthored and edited a variety of books on health-related subjects. She immersed herself in learning and writing about health, nutrition, and alternative medicine. An avid exerciser, she described her reaction to the diagnosis of anal cancer in 2006 as one of shock. This was followed by another diagnosis, this time rectal cancer, in 2007. Her third diagnosis was in 2008 when doctors discovered a tumour near her sciatic nerve. Since the first two bouts of cancer ensured that further conventional treatments were out of the question (though she did receive a new radiation treatment called CyberKnife), Fortson started her quest for alternatives.

When we spoke, Fortson described to me the liberation and empowerment that comes with deciding to take charge of one’s own health: “I think one of the messages of several messages that I’m trying to promote in this book, is that it will serve you if you take charge of your health, if you make your own decisions, if you do your own research, and if you realize that if you get proactively involved in your own health that you’ll be healing on all kinds of levels. It won’t just be physical, it’ll extend into the emotional and spiritual and suddenly you take charge of your life, literally.” And so she did.


Image: Cover for Embrace, Release, HealCourtesy of Sounds True

Fortson, Leigh. Embrace Release Heal: An Empowering Guide to Talking About, Thinking About, and Treating Cancer. Boulder: Sounds True, 2011.

Embrace Healing Cancer (Accessed April 14, 2011).

Press Kit from Sounds True (Accessed April 14, 2011).

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