When nine doctors tell you you are going to die, most people would say you are in denial if you refuse to believe them. But the case of Stamatis Moraidis is proof that terminal cancer need not be fatal. When he was diagnosed in 1976 he was living in the US where he had originally gone on the Queen Elizabeth to treat the arm injury sustained during combat in WW2. He ended up staying, moving from New York to Florida and marrying a Greek-American woman. They had three children, owned a three-bedroomed home and a 1951 Chevrolet. Then in his mid-60s he began having trouble climbing the stairs, and was diagnosed with lung cancer. When he was told he only had nine months to live, instead of undergoing the aggressive chemotherapy that would have given him a few more months before dying anyway, he decided it would be nicer to die under the olive trees of Ikaria, the Greek island where he grew up.
“At the time it was very expensive to have a funeral in the US,” he remembered. “So I said to my wife ‘I’m going home to Ikaria to be buried with my parents.'”
His parents were, however, still alive, and his father lived until he was reportedly 117. Once back in Ikaria, Stamatis spent most of his day in bed and his old friends started coming to see him, chatting and drinking wine together. After a while he felt a bit better. He started going to his old church, planted vegetables and worked in the vineyards and olive groves, played backgammon and dominos in the evenings and savoured the good life of the countryside, preparing to live his last months with his beloved wife Alice.
Ikaria is one of the world’s blue zones. Its inhabitants live on average 10 years longer than other Westerners. 2.5 times as many people reach the age of 90 as in the US. Six out of 10 of people aged over 90 are still physically active including, they claim, sexually active compared with about 20% elsewhere. Science is trying to work out why. The island has fresh air, a slow pace of life, fresh food, goat’s milk, mountainous terrain to keep you fit and natural radiation in the rock, all of which have been suggested as the island’s own elixirs. The islanders eat fish and vegetables and not much meat.
“It’s the wine,” Stamatis would say over a mid-morning glass at his kitchen table. “It’s pure, nothing added. The wine they make commercially has preservatives. That’s no good. But this wine we make ourselves is pure. I found my friends in the village where I was born, and we started drinking. I thought, at least I’ll die happy. Every day we got together, we drank wine, and I waited. Time passed by and I felt stronger. Nine months came – I felt good. Eleven months came – I felt better. And now, 45 years later, I’m still here! A few years ago I went back to the US and tried to find my doctors. But I couldn’t find them. They were all dead.”
Many older people make a daily brew of mountain tea from dried herbs such as sage, thyme, mint and chamomile, and sweeten it with honey from local bees. “It cures everything,” claimed Stamatis. Many of the wild herbs are used by people all over the world as traditional remedies. They are rich in antioxidants and also contain diuretics which can lower blood pressure.
So what did Stamatis do to cure himself of a fatal disease?
1. He stayed positive. Instead of giving up, he decided to do something he really wanted – go back to Ikaria, away from the people who were telling him he was doomed.
2. He met up with old friends and spent much of his day socialising. He said this made him happy. On Ikaria, levels of depression and dementia are low and older people have a role in society.
3. He took mid-day naps. For the workers among us this means making sure we relax at regular intervals. Driving ourselves constantly will wear out our bodies and minds. Meditation as often as we can do it is best, but also massage, walks, gentle exercise, swimming etc.
4. He ate fresh food.
5. He gave up heavy smoking.
6. He worked on the farm, making himself useful. In fact, studies have linked early retirement to reduced life expectancy. In Okinawa, another community where many people live to be older than 100, people embrace the notion of ikigai — “the reason for which you wake up in the morning.”
7. He believed that the wine and the local herbal tea were doing him good – belief is a strong factor in life extension and good health. Spiritually minded people think this is because the mind affects the body; practical people believe the placebo effect induces the all-important stress-relieving relaxation response.
8. He attended church again. Spirituality and a belief in the transcendent have been linked to long life.
9. He exercised regularly – working in the fields and walking up and down the steep paths of the island.
10. He felt he had come home and fitted in. Research has proved that being part of a nurturing community, especially one with a healthy lifestyle, is more important to good health than quitting smoking or starting to exercise.
Stamatis finally died on 3 Feb 2013 officially aged 98. His documents put his date of birth as 1 January 1915; however, even relatively recently in Greece rural births were not registered until well afterwards. It depended when the parents could get to the town hall. The fact his birthday is recorded as 1 January is strong evidence he was right in claiming this was not his real birth date and that he was older, especially in a culture where name days rather than birthdays have significance. Even today countless third world immigrants to the developed world give their birthday as 1 January, since they do not know their real one.
It is our conviction that there are hundreds of stories like this one around the world. The body has an incredible capacity to heal itself. Ageing can be reversed, and so can terminal disease.
(see also The other’ C’ word)