Updated: Apr 15
One man's story of moving back to his homeland to die and instead finding the cure for his lung cancer.
As I begin the process of interviewing amazing people who want to share their Stories of Hope with others, I decided to kick things off by posting a cancer success story made famous by various media outlets in 2012. It’s the story of a Greek immigrant living in the United States who discovered the cure for his lung cancer was returning to his native island of Ikaria. He went there to die and instead discovered life.
In 1976, Stamatis Moraitis had been living in the United States for 30+ years. He had married and with his wife raised three children, who were then grown. He was in his mid-60s when he started feeling unhealthy. Shortly thereafter, he was diagnosed with lung cancer, which was confirmed by a total of nine doctors, and given 6-9 months to live. Rather than go through aggressive cancer treatment in the United States, Stamatis decided to return to his native homeland and live out his remaining few months there. He did this to leave more of his retirement savings for his wife, as funeral costs on Ikaria were significantly less than in the United States. Plus, this way he would be buried with his ancestors in a cemetery overlooking the Aegean Sea.
Upon returning to Ikaria, Stamatis was cared for by his wife and elderly mother. He spent much of his time in bed, reconnecting with childhood friends and visitors over wine and rediscovering spirituality by attending church services at the nearby Greek Orthodox chapel. While Stamatis expected to become weaker and sicker over time, he was surprised when the opposite happened. Over several months, he gradually regained his old strength, even planting a vegetable garden for his wife to enjoy after he had passed away. Nine months went by and Stamatis was not only still alive, but feeling healthier than he had in months. In addition to caring for his garden, he cleaned up his family’s vineyard and eventually put an addition onto his parents’ home. He survived until 2013 (37 years after being diagnosed with terminal lung cancer), when he passed away at the age of 99 without any sign of cancer in his body. As the New York Times Magazine article stated, “He never went through chemotherapy, took drugs or sought therapy of any sort. All he did was move home to Ikaria.”
While reading the stories about Stamatis Moraitis, I noted some interesting details about life on Ikaria. See how the lifestyle there differs from the lives so many others around the world are living:
A very low stress and carefree culture
On Ikaria, time is of little importance. In fact, according to one local physician, many of Ikaria’s inhabitants don’t even wear a watch. As a result of not paying attention to time, most Ikarians wake naturally in the mornings (rather than using alarm clocks) and take daily afternoon naps. The result is plenty of sleep with minimal sleep deprivation. Contrast this to many western cultures, where sleep deprivation is the norm for both adults and children.
In addition, Ikarians care very little, if at all, about money or luxuries, which also helps to minimize stress. Each family and household is self-sufficient with access to its own garden and livestock. This means they don’t need to depend on “employment” to be able to provide basic necessities, making life completely manageable and very relaxing even though Ikaria has what is considered a very high unemployment rate.
A life of meaning supported by a very strong sense of community
On Ikaria, everyone knows everyone else and their business. With extended family homes and almost daily in-person visits with friends and neighbors, there is very little privacy. In fact, there is no word for “privacy” in the local language. While many people would find that uncomfortable, Ikarians claim it provides them with a sense of connection and security. Everyone feels like they belong and has a place in the community.
In a society like this, life also has purpose. Even if you are technically “unemployed”, you still play an important role, whether it involves tending the garden, orchard, vineyard or being a companion and friend. This sense of purpose is their reason to live.
Healthy lifestyle and eating habits
Most Ikarians grow and raise their own food. This has multiple benefits. It provides a strong connection to nature and the food they eat, keeps them grounded, allows for natural & daily exercise and encourages extremely healthy eating habits. The typical Ikarian diet consists of local, pure and whole foods and largely excludes processed foods, white flour, refined sugars and the pesticides and preservatives that are in so much of today’s western diet. Instead, the local, Mediterranean diet is heavy on plants, olive oil, fish, some meat, local wine and coffee. Herbs are also used regularly and are revered for their medicinal qualities, as is honey. Mealtime is still considered a sacred time to be fully present with family and friends, enjoying their company and conversation while nourishing their bodies.
While most of us do not have the resources to pick up and move to Ikaria, there are some key components of the Ikarian lifestyle that we can adopt in our own lives, regardless of where we live:
Make consistent quality time with friends and family a priority and be fully present with them;
Live more simply to minimize the stress in your life;
Eliminate the need for an alarm clock by adjusting daily schedules to make sleep a priority;
Define a sense of purpose;
Eat whole, locally grown and seasonal foods whenever possible;
Spend quality time outdoors and in nature.
BBC Interview with Stamatis Moraitis:
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