Poster’s preface: This is my story, told through my eyes, to the best of my recollection. It’s purely anecdotal in nature; I have no way of knowing if my father’s cancer would have gone a different route if he’d listened to the traditional doctor’s advice. I do know that the alternative practitioner described in this piece caused confusion, delays, and emotional trauma, not to mention costing money. I have not mentioned this alternative practitioner’s name in this post, but you can find him, along with a host of others, on Quackwatch.com.
About four years ago, my father was diagnosed with Leiomyosarcoma, a very rare cancer of the smooth muscles. His was possibly a recurrence; his first bout of the same type of cancer had been “successfully” removed about seven years prior. The cancer was in his small intestine, in a spot difficult to reach through surgery. And leiomyosarcoma doesn’t respond well to most chemotherapy. Without total surgical removal, survival rates are low.
My father, being a stoic guy, endured two surgeries within two months. Unbeknownst to me, he was taking massive amounts of opiates for months post surgery, while still working and traveling for his high-powered job. He was in a lot of pain and was on a lot of drugs.
In the quest for the best information, he first visited Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston, meeting with the top oncologist specializing in leiomyosarcoma. After looking through his charts, this physician (researchers are not often known for their bedside manner), bluntly told him the cancer was exploding inside my father, and that he should “run, not walk,” to start chemotherapy.
Obviously, no one wants to hear this, least of all the person with cancer. But my father, on those painkillers, decided that he would wait and not start the chemo. Instead, he made an appointment for six weeks in the future, with a “doctor” in New York who promoted an alternative treatment.
So treatment was delayed until he saw the natural doc, this guy who promoted juicing, alkaline water, tons of supplements, and lots of organic coffee for daily enemas. Apparently, this would “cure” the cancer.
I remember very clearly the moment Dad told us he was going with “hope” rather than chemo. He looked hard at me, daring me to question his judgment. But it was his illness, and his decision to make. He told us that this new doctor, based on his self-reported cure rate (not published anywhere), promised him an 80 percent chance of total cure.
“Well, what’s the cure rate if you do the chemo?” I asked, finally being the family’s squeaky wheel.
“Two,” Dad replied.
Two. As in 2 percent. The allopathic doctors gave him a 2 percent cure rate while the alternative doctor gave him an 80 percent cure rate. Which would you like to believe? Would you suspend your skepticism, your prior knowledge of how cancer treatment works (remember: my dad had had cancer before), and your money to go with the miracle cure rate?
My father did just that. Because the “hope” offered was irresistible.
Within weeks, there had been huge amounts of supplements and organic coffee purchased through the alternative doctor’s suppliers (I have no idea how much of a profit he makes, although I would bet the supplement sales provide most of his income.) There was massive juicing going on. There were, ahem, enemas.
And then the cancer roared up and stopped everything in its tracks. The pain overrode the opiates; it was clear it was growing rapidly. Dad finally started chemo. He only made it through about two rounds, I believe, before he was hospitalized with a tumor the size of a grapefruit inside his torso. He was on a morphine pump.
One day I was alone with him in his hospital room. He said, “I’ve been trying to reach Dr. Blank, but he won’t return my calls. Why?” I didn’t have the heart to tell him that the quack already had taken his money, and now that the promised 80 percent “cure rate” was off the table, he was done with him. It was heartbreaking.
But it got worse. My father went on to express regret about “not being able to complete the protocol.” Because, after all, the cancer he already had when he went to the alternative miracle worker was now the cancer he kept because he couldn’t follow the “miracle cure.”
This is the most insidious aspect to the alternative cancer cure industry. First, the quack in question gives questionable and often impossible cure rate percentages, and sells his particular detail-oriented and complicated “cure.” Then, when the cancer does not abate, it means it’s the patient’s fault for not following the “cure” correctly. It’s a vicious thing, to blame the patient for the lack of a cure, making them somehow responsible for the havoc inside them.
I researched my father’s alternative doc. He was, indeed, a quack. There had been one official study done using his so-called “protocol,” on pancreatic cancer patients. Half did his protocol, and half did the recommended chemotherapy. The results? The protocol patients felt so bad and did so poorly that the study was discontinued, because to continue would have been unethical. Imagine: the patients felt better and lived longer doing intense chemo. I don’t know where the quack’s 80 percent figure came from, although I suspect it was conjured out of organic coffee grounds and thin air.
I cannot blame the quack, however, for my father’s death. His death from a fast moving metastatic cancer was inevitable, although I will say that it involved some intense suffering. Traditional medicine, at least for him, didn’t have much to offer, either. The difference was that it didn’t promise to miraculously cure him, nor did it blame him when the treatment failed.
To promise a dying, desperate cancer patient an impossible cure, and then blame them for the cure’s ineffectiveness, is one of the most horrid and cynical things a person can do. To have that person actually be a doctor, who is supposed to take the Hippocratic Oath to do no harm, is beyond the pale. These alternative quacks (and yes, some are actual medical doctors with degrees; my father’s quack had an M.D.) prey on people at their most vulnerable, and often at their least lucid (remember: my father was on lots of meds.)
Cancer is a complicated disease, and there is no “silver bullet” as everyone’s cancer is different. Beware of anyone boasting miracle cures and impossibly excellent “cure” rates, because it’s more likely that they’re seeking cash, not the patient’s good health. No one, suffering from terminal disease, should have to think that somehow they didn’t “work hard enough” at a cure. That’s a soul-crushing waste.