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When you or a loved one are diagnosed with late Stage IV cancer, a mixture of panic, fear and grief ensues. Many of us aren’t ready for death, and we reach out to anyone who throws us a lifeline. In 1986, my late husband was diagnosed with late Stage IV lung cancer. His initial treatment was a lungectomy as well as the removal of 21 lymph nodes from the mediastinum, 19 of which were grossly enlarged and positive for cancer.
While he was still in intensive care, our friend, David, and I were at the University of Texas Health Science Center’s library, researching state of the art lung cancer treatment. It wasn’t long before David and I paused in our separate searches and looked at one another knowingly. We then began to cry because at the time, there were no good answers. No cures except for apricot pit therapies in Mexico. <PREVIEWEND>
In 1980, actor Steve McQueen had gone to Mexico in search of a miraculous cure for his lung cancer. In a seedy Mexican clinic, McQueen received an alternative and controversial apricot pit therapy. McQueen received the treatment from an American dentist who developed it and who claimed it had cured his own pancreatic cancer; the same doctor who’d had his medical license suspended in Texas, and whom the American Cancer Society had also blacklisted.
Cancer organizations were horrified, warning that McQueen’s therapy was a hoax, administered by a “quack.” The world was shocked but, at the same time, intrigued. A Mexican doctor in the same clinic claimed 85 to 90 percent of his patients had improved on the same therapy of apricot pits, coffee enemas, and a preparation made from sheep and cattle fetuses. While Steve McQueen died in Mexico, the day after surgery to remove his tumors, his search for a cure underscored our desperate interest in alternative treatments. Who knows? Perhaps those sheep and cattle fetus preparations might now be referred to as stem cells. While the use of apricot pit therapies has continued, the FDA has not approved it as a treatment for cancer in the US, but it’s still used as a cancer treatment in Mexico.
While David, and I nixed the apricot pits, we did fly to Houston to meet with a doctor who said, “For $50,000, I can cure your husband.” His sprawling, modern building was void of employees and patients, a questionable red flag even for desperate people like us, plus he was too "slick" for my taste. Something about him made me want to flee the building. The same doctor, however, is still delivering remissions and miracle cures. I hope he’s refined his new patient pitch, but most of all, I pray he’s really delivering on his claims.
Desperate times call for desperate measures, but desperate people may grasp at empty straws. I know. I’ve been there with my late husband. There are, however, simple lifestyle changes that may have a big impact on breast cancer survival. According to a 2005, Harvard study, 92% of women who exercised 3.5 hours a week were alive 10 years after their breast cancer diagnosis, compared to 86% of women who exercised less than one hour a week. The 2007, WHEL Study (Women’s Healthy Eating and Living Study) showed a 50% reduction in mortality for breast cancer patients who exercised an average of 30 minutes a day and ate at least five servings of fruits and vegetables a day. In addition, other studies have shown patients with positive attitudes, and who are proactive, fare better than those with negative outlooks who lose the will to fight.
Like my friend, Susan Pollack, who lived with Stage IV breast cancer for 14 years, many people respond well to conventional treatments and are said to be “living with cancer” as opposed to “dying from cancer.” I also believe some alternative treatments have been shown to be effective in some patients. I also believe in miracles and the power of prayer and hope.
If you’re considering cancer treatments, weigh your decisions carefully and, by all means, get a second or third opinion. Oncologists have heard it all, and the vast majority are well-informed and are recommending what’s in your long-term best interest. Listen to them; listen to your little voice and think twice about doctors and websites that promise miracle cures.
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