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The Difference Between Sick, Well, & Whole

Lissa Rankin's picture

As I described here, I don’t think it’s enough for us, as doctors and other health care providers, to aim for helping our patients get well. Yes, it’s critical to help people move from sick to well, but then what? So many of my patients go to their doctors, complaining from symptoms of this mojo-sapping epidemic that seems to be infecting the developed world. We feel fatigued, depressed, listless, unfulfilled. We suffer from decreased libido, lack of spiritual connection, insomnia, anxiety, and other vague symptoms.

So we go to the doctor, feeling like something must be “off.” And the doctor runs tests but pronounces us “well.” Only we don’t feel well. We’re not technically sick, but we’re definitely not vital.

Beyond Wellness

When I think of my definition of health, it extends way beyond wellness. Vitality, life force, verve, and joie de vivre come to mind, but we mustn’t discount the body itself. We need a word that encompasses all that it means to be globally healthy. Personally, I prefer the word “mojo,” which someone in the Owning Pink community defined as “MOre JOy.”

Many people don’t really understand when I use the word “mojo.” They think I’m talking about what Austin Powers lost - and that’s certainly part of it. So I’ve started using the term interchangeably with the word “whole” instead of “healthy.” Try it out. See how it feels for you. Do you want to be whole?

Being whole means that you are enough - just as you are. Dictionary.com defines “whole” as “pertaining to all aspects of human nature, especially one's physical, intellectual, and spiritual development.” And that’s a good start.

A synonym for “whole” is “complete,” and yet, “complete” doesn’t do it for me. “Complete” implies a beginning and an end. “Complete” suggests that you can arrive and be done, that you can achieve completeness and then rest on your complete laurels.

“Whole” knows better. “Whole” understands that it’s all about the journey, not the destination. “Whole” is an ongoing process, something you continually strive for and never give up seeking.

But to me, “whole” means much more. It encompasses everything we think of when we think of “vitality,” “life force,” “verve,” and “joie de vivre,” but it also contains within it many other facets of who we are - not just the physical body and our mental health, but our spirituality, work/ life purpose, creativity, sexuality, environment, financial issues, and much more.

To me, when all those things are in balance, we feel whole.

Introducing “Whole Health”

But for the sake of explaining my definition to the rest of the world, I’m going to call it “whole health,” an expanded definition of what it means to be healthy and vital, which I’ll use interchangeably with “mojo.”

The way I see it, there’s a spectrum of health that looks something like this:



SICK                                       WELL                                                       WHOLE

But it’s not quite linear like this. After many years of working as a physician, witnessing how people who are ill live their lives, I’ve realized that the relationship between SICK and WHOLE is complex. I used to think the body was the foundation upon which everything else builds. After all, it’s hard to focus on doing work that serves your life purpose or expressing yourself creatively or getting it on sexually if your body is sick. And certainly, a physically healthy body is key in the quest for wholeness.

But a linear model implies that you have to be one or the other, either SICK or WELL or WHOLE, and that there’s no overlap.  But that’s not the case at all.  Yes, it’s true that you can’t be both SICK and WELL. It’s an either/or sort of thing. But I believe you can be simultaneously SICK and WHOLE or WELL and WHOLE.

My father was a great example of someone who was both sick and whole. Dad was diagnosed with a gigantic goomba of a brain tumor when I was seven months pregnant, when he was only 59 years old. A body scan revealed that there was cancer everywhere, and a biopsy confirmed metastatic melanoma, which comes with a near certain death sentence. My highly analytical, very scientific, hippie-allergic physician father, who did his senior thesis on melanoma, knew the facts about his prognosis and understood the statistics that gave him only about three months to live.

So Dad knew how grim his diagnosis was, and like the rest of us, he believed he would die. One day, when he forgot for just a moment, he ordered a six month supply of his expensive glaucoma medication and then broke down in tears, thinking he had probably wasted his money because chances were good that he would die before he used up all his medicine.

Those of us who loved Dad hoped he would progress quickly though the stages of grief to get past the anger and bargaining, so he could land in the peaceful acceptance phase. So when he called me one morning at 4am to say that he had a vision and that God had come to him to tell him he had been healed, I groaned.

At the time, I was deep in my midst of suffering from my soul-sickness, and I had not studied all the ground-breaking research I will be sharing with you in my next book.  As a practical, level-headed doctor, I did not believe my father would survive his late-stage cancer.

So when Dad said he was healed, I thought, “Oh no. The brain tumor is growing. He’s having side effects from the radiation. He’s delusional. And now he’s in denial to boot. That’s just great.”

After rolling my eyes, I told Dad I was thrilled that he was healed, and he went on to tell me how this great peace had come over him when he heard this Divine voice. I listened to Dad’s story and tried to play along, but I dreaded the repeat body scan that would prove the truth. When the body scan showed that the tumors were growing, Dad got quiet. He cried.  And he didn’t speak of his vision ever again. My heart ached. Dad quickly transitioned from what I then considered denial into the theoretically healthier grief stage of acceptance.  At this point, Dad, his doctors, and all his loved ones believed his premature death was inevitable. We called Hospice. We figured it would only be a matter of weeks, months at the most.

A month later, as Dad’s brain tumor grew, he failed to experience any of the symptoms we expected he might have. He was gradually losing his eyesight and getting weaker, and he grew more lethargic and limped when he tried to get around the house.  But otherwise, he was plain ol’ Dad.

When I asked whether he was scared to die, Dad said, “I’m not scared. I’m joyful.”

Soon afterwards, he announced that he was ready to die. I thought he was joking. After all, he still looked so good. He wasn’t experiencing any of the horrifying symptoms the doctors had warned us might herald his death - headaches, seizures, vomiting, dementia. I thought the doctors were wrong and he had a good year left in him.

Plus, how exactly did he plan to die? We don’t actually get to choose when we go, right?

Or do we?

But Dad believed he would die - on his terms, on his timing. He was ready to go.  He chose to go. He asked our permission, and, reluctantly, we granted it. Resolved to let go of this life and move on to the life he believed awaited him in heaven, Dad kissed away our tears, said all his goodbyes, left no words of love unspoken, closed his eyes, went to sleep, and died peacefully 48 hours later, without struggle and with peace in his heart.

When he died, my mother threw her body across his and said, “David, I love the way you died.”

It was beautiful in its tragedy. Only in that moment did I realize that Dad had been right when he told me he had been healed. Only the healed are blessed to die the way Dad did.

Had Dad been cured of his brain cancer? No. But was he healed? You betcha.

From this experience, I learned a vital lesson that carried over into the way I practice my healing work in the world. I realized that there is critical difference between healing and curing (stay tuned for my upcoming post  to read about this key difference). You can be healed without being cured, and you can be cured without being healed. Until that moment, I mistakenly thought they were the same.

If you’ve ever been present at the deathbed of someone who lived a remarkable life, you know exactly what I’m talking about. Even as we draw our last breath, we can be whole. That is my goal in life, to be whole until the very end.

Every single one of us can be whole, even if we’re ill. But being whole - which means you’re healed - sets the stage for being cured.

This is what I will soon be teaching you - how to achieve wholeness in your life so you can live beyond well - so you can get your mojo rocking, so you can be healed, so you can optimize your chances for cure, so you can make the most of this one wild and precious life.

Have you known people who are both sick and whole? Have you met sick people who were cured by becoming whole? Tell us your stories…

Encouraging wholeness,

Lissa Rankin, MD

Lissa Rankin, MD: Founder of OwningPink.comPink Medicine Revolutionarymotivational speaker, and author of What’s Up Down There? Questions You’d Only Ask Your Gynecologist If She Was Your Best Friend and Encaustic Art: The Complete Guide To Creating Fine Art With Wax.



Lissa Rankin's picture

Bless you Valorie

I so appreciate your sweet words, and I'm delighted to hear that what I write resonates with you.
Hugs and love

Anonymous's picture


I just wanted to say that I really admire your writing style and also the subject matter that you tackle. Nearly everytime I visit your blog I end up in tears because it resonates with me so much. You go really deep in your subject matter which I love.

You know it's funny, because I always thought that doctors never got sick. I also thought that their families never got sick or never had anything bad happen to them.

You have written before about your Dad and I just wanted to say I am so sorry for your loss. He sounds like a remarkable man and a remarkable doctor and I can only imagine how proud he would be of you today. I'm sure he is very proud up in heaven.

Thank you for your blog, it has meant alot to me. I'm looking forward to your new book. Valorie

Lissa Rankin's picture

How to shift your thoughts

Dear MyPeaceOfFood,
How can we banish pointless worries that only sabotage us and cause fear and anxiety? What a great question!

The first step is awareness- which you're already doing. Notice those thoughts and recognize that they are sabotaging you.

Next, work to shift them. Affirmations can help. Post notes all over your house that say "The men in my family are healthy and vital" (or whatever you need to shift).

Meditation can help as well. Visualize how you want things to be. See it in your mind's eye like a movie (your father running on the beach catching a volleyball, not lying in a hospital bed.)

I go into more techniques in the book I'm writing, so stay tuned.
And good luck!
Sending love

MyPeaceOfFood's picture

Thank you for this touching story

For some reason, when I am up super early in the morning and the house is so dark and quiet, I'm often afraid that I'll get one of those too-early phone calls...and that it will be my mom, telling me something's happened to my dad. I don't know why; the men in my family are notoriously stubborn even as they fight through bypass surgeries and fluid in the lungs. I need to shift my thoughts to health, wellness and peace, but it's so easy to go the other way. Any suggestions on how to banish pointless worries like this? I know how toxic it is for me to think this way, which is why I also think there's a dimension of self-sabotage...to such a degree, however, I haven't been able to figure out why.

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