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Brave New Medicine: A Doctor’s Unconventional Path to Healing Her Autoimmune Illness

By Cynthia Li, MD

DOCTOR-AS-PATIENT MEMOIR REIMAGINES THE ART AND SCIENCE OF HEALING

“In Cynthia Li’s spellbinding book, we encounter the moving story of a physician struggling with her own autoimmune illness. Li’s writing is so intimate — and so exacting — that it cuts like a knife. She raises fundamental questions about the future of medicine, her own future, and about being a doctor and a patient at the same time. The result is a beautiful book that will be read and remembered for years to come.”—Siddhartha Mukherjee, Pulitzer Prize–winning author of The Emperor of All Maladies

Millions of people worldwide are affected by autoimmune diseases. Some are common, like Hashimoto’s thyroid disease, and others are mysterious conditions like chronic fatigue syndrome (ME/CFS) and dysautonomia. While the latter are gaining attention, patients struggling with these ailments are often dismissed by their doctors, families, and friends. The medical community often refers to them as “difficult patients” because they don’t follow the traditional checkboxes of illness and their symptoms can elude standard testing. When one doctor develops a disabling autoimmune illness and becomes that “difficult patient” herself, the beliefs and methods she once swore by collapse.

Brave New Medicine: A Doctor’s Unconventional Path to Healing Her Autoimmune Illness  takes us on an intimate whirlwind of a journey with Cynthia Li—a doctor who seemingly had it all until her health took an unexpected turn, leading her to question her medical training. Dr. Li’s story is raw, honest, and vulnerable as she describes her descent first into an autoimmune thyroid condition, then mysterious symptoms that leave her housebound with no end in sight. Test after test came back “within normal limits,” baffling her doctors—and herself. Housebound with two young daughters, Dr. Li began a solo odyssey from her living room couch to discover a way to heal.

Dr. Li is forced to dive into the root causes of her illness, and to learn to unlock her body’s innate intelligence and wholeness. Dr. Li relates her story with the insight of a scientist, and the humility and candor of a patient, exploring the emotional and spiritual shifts beyond the physical body. What’s more, she chronicles 15 practical steps on “how to get off the couch,” and expands this list in Part III, so fellow sufferers can find the wisdom and inspiration to begin their personal healing journeys.

“I entered my health challenges as a doctor, and came out a healer,” says Dr. Li.  “I hadn’t known the difference before. I first had to unlearn the idea that chronic diseases are determined by a fixed number or a positive test result, or fulfilling specific criteria. So the body, I realized, isn’t a three-dimensional puzzle to be solved. It’s a living, dynamic ecosystem to be nurtured. At the heart of my healing was learning to embrace my sensitive nature.”

Drawing on cutting-edge science, ancient healing arts, and the power of intuition, Brave New Medicine offers support, validation, and a new perspective for doctors and patients alike. This is the first memoir by a doctor evaluating her own complex illness through the lens of an integrative and root-cause paradigm. While many books are written by laypeople on mysterious illnesses, having a doctor go through this journey, explaining it from the inside-out, embracing the art of intuition—and pairing it with the analytical mind—offers a whole new dimension. Dr. Li explores epigenetics, neuroplasticity, the microbiome, environmental health, and functional medicine along with acupuncture, ancestral cooking, qigong, and grief rituals to get down to the root causes of her illness. In healing herself, she learns she is healing her family, too.

“The simplest step in healing is also the hardest: believing it is possible,” adds Dr. Li.  “An insidious process often happens with chronic disease, when the illness becomes your identity, especially when it’s an all-encompassing, debilitating condition like autoimmunity, chronic fatigue syndrome, or advanced cancer. The key to shifting our beliefs is to step outside of the prognoses and diagnoses long enough to tap into the innate intelligence within our cells. Because the body is where the subconscious lives, and where symptoms are trying to tell us the imbalances that are brewing. This isn’t positive thinking. It’s physiology at its best. By addressing root causes, reducing inflammation, restoring imbalances, and connecting to something greater beyond us, healing happens as a side-effect.

About the Author:

CYNTHIA LI, MD graduated from The University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center, and has practiced internal medicine in settings as diverse as Kaiser Permanente Medical Center, San Francisco General Hospital, St. Anthony Medical Clinic for the homeless, and Doctors Without Borders in rural China. Her own health challenges led her to functional medicine, a paradigm that addresses the root causes of chronic conditions. She currently serves on the faculty of the Healer’s Art Program at the University of California San Francisco School of Medicine, and has a private practice. She lives in Berkeley, CA with her husband and their two daughters.

Connect with Cynthia Li, MD on Facebook @dr.cynthia.li and visit www.cynthialimd.com.

 

Brave New Medicine: A Doctor’s Unconventional Path to Healing Her Autoimmune Illness is available September 1, 2019 in paperback at Amazon and other retailers.