It came as a surprise to people familiar with Debbie Ford when Ford announced, in a 2012 interview with Oprah Winfrey, that she had cancer. There was even more surprise, as well as profound sadness, when Ford died from her cancer roughly a year later.
The surprise may have had to do with Ford’s relative youth — she was 57 when she died — but it surely also had to do with Ford’s status. Ford was a well-known and well-regarded teacher and advocate for alternative healing. Alternative healing in this case can be referred to as putting emphasis on beliefs and actions outside of traditional western medicine; one might call it a “New Age” or enlightened approach, not only to healing but to life in general.
So if this approach didn’t work for Debbie Ford, who in addition to being an advocate could also be considered an expert in this practice, does this mean alternative healing doesn’t work at all? Let’s consider the circumstances of Ford’s illness and subsequent passing as fully as possible before answering.
In her interview with Oprah Winfrey, Ford said she’d had her cancer for more than ten years. Does this matter? Well, perhaps Ford became ill before taking on her alternative approach to healing and to life. It may be worth noting as well that Ford readily admitted to past struggles with substance abuse, as well as emotional struggles. Might these past traumas, and the accompanying stress, have played a role in Ford’s illness? Perhaps.
After her passing Ford’s sister revealed that Ford, at one point, was told by her physician that she needed to go to hospice. Ford refused, adamantly so according to her sister’s account, and went on to live another three years. Might Ford’s eleven years surviving cancer, including three years where she was apparently quite ill, have been the product of her enlightened approach to life and health? Again, perhaps.
What surprised me about Ford’s experience with cancer is the emotional turmoil she went through — according to her interview with Winfrey — during the illness. Given her years of experience in whatever practice she was using, I would have thought the emotional effect of her situation would be less than it apparently was. Of course it’s easy to say this from the outside looking in, as by all accounts Ford had much to live for, including an ongoing close relationship with her son. Emotional turmoil in the presence of illness and substantial loss is a quite understandable response.
Ford did go on to say however that she eventually found peace with her circumstances. I have to believe she leaned heavily upon her beliefs and practices to get to such a point.
What’s the final verdict about Debbie Ford’s death? Does it represent a failure of alternative healing? When all was said and done, why wasn’t Ford able to heal herself? It would be comforting to have death only come at advanced ages and not be accompanied by deteriorating diseases. But that’s not the way it works. When death comes it does so according to a schedule and means that no one is absolutely certain about.
We also don’t know that Ford’s beliefs and practices were not a genuine help in maintaining her health. How would she have fared without these beliefs and practices? We may never know.
At the very least Ford’s death gives us an opportunity to look at ourselves. If we see Debbie Ford’s transition from the life experience as something that disturbs us somehow, it can serve as a call to action in our lives. What does her transition tell us about our own spiritual practices, and where we need to focus them? How can we grow from what this event causes us to experience?
Even in death, Debbie Ford gives us a means to move forward…