The widow of paralyzed "Superman" actor Christopher Reeve was battling lung cancer diagnosed last summer, but was upbeat that late November day of the taping.
"She was very hopeful at that point that she would survive," director Muffie Meyer recalled. "She was buying Christmas presents for her son that day, and really had a tremendous amount of energy. She seemed wonderful, and very, very grounded and strong."
In her introduction to the first segment of "The New Medicine," Reeve tells viewers: "Your emotional state has a tremendous amount to do with sickness, health and well-being. For years, my husband and I lived on — and because of — hope. Hope continues to give me the mental strength to carry on."
The project was the last she is known to have completed before her March 6 death, and it was a fitting one: "The New Medicine," which debuts Wednesday (check local listings) looks at how mainstream doctors are embracing treatment of the whole patient — not just symptoms of a disease.
Reeve's appearance after her death unintentionally underscores one of the central points of the documentary: Holistic medicine is a tool for fighting illness — not a cure-all.
"Part of the challenge is we get patients all the time that are really looking for a magic cure," said Dr. Tracy Gaudet, an obstetrician-gynecologist who heads the Duke Center for Integrative Medicine in Durham. "We're not in the business of magic cures; we're in the business of good medicine."
The Duke center uses any available technique — from alternative to mainstream — that might improve a patient's experience and outcome, Gaudet said. Accepted practices include herbal supplements, acupuncture, massage and meditation.
"The Science of Emotion," the first hour of the documentary, follows Gaudet as she treats Tammy Patton, whose was hospitalized in her 25th week of pregnancy after her water broke prematurely.
Gaudet led Patton through a series of relaxation exercises, because stress is known to raise the risk of infection and to spur early labor.
"We can help your mind take a little vacation," Gaudet told the patient, who carried her baby boy another four weeks. Though born premature, the baby has a good chance of a healthy life.
In an off-camera interview with the film's producers on the day she taped her introductions, Reeve said she was doing "creative image work" — evoking images and sensations as a cue to the body to relax.
With her doctors' blessing, she said, she was taking botanical supplements along with prescribed medicines.
The film almost consciously avoids a New Age tone. There are a few shots of yoga classes and one segment in which scientists study the brain waves of a Buddhist monk as he meditates.
There are no magic crystals, no "cancer diets" or trips to Mexico for treatments outlawed in the United States. Just a sincere effort to find something — anything — that will lead to a better quality of life for patients.