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Cancer Cures Too Good to Be True

Sunday, October 31, 2010

©Brenda Coffee. All rights reserved.

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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Previous Comments
Anonymous commented on 01-Nov-2010 05:22 AM
Brenda, since my late husband's cancer diagnosis in 1978, either he or I have lived with cancer for all but 2 years. I have experienced it all. Or so it seems at times. There is possibly truth in the statement that 'desperate people do desperate things.' I personally have done them fortunately with no ill effects - that I know of anyway.
I am currently at a different place in my journey; learning to live is my priority.
Love coming to visit you here Brenda.
Anonymous commented on 01-Nov-2010 02:20 PM
I knew Steve McQueen had lung cancer, but I didn't know about the apricot pit treatment. It's sad when people feel forced to turn to desperate measures when their backs are against the wall. Your late husband's diagnosis must have been heart wrenching. I certainly plan to get my 3.5 hours/week of exercise in. I like the increased odds.
Anonymous commented on 01-Nov-2010 06:27 PM
Thank you so much for this informative post. This summer at a wedding I was approached about the apricot seeds. I understand the desperation...but now seek the education. Thanks for the reminders about exercise.
Anonymous commented on 01-Nov-2010 11:29 PM
Yes, my late husband's cancer was devastating. I was only 37 when he died. You don't expect to be widowed so young.

About the diet and exercise, I heard those statistics from a very well-respected oncologist at a breast health summit recently. Wish we lived closer, I'd love to come walking with you on Nancy's Point.

Anonymous commented on 02-Nov-2010 03:38 PM
Great post, Brenda. Yes, I've heard my share of miracle cures. In fact, I was overwhelmed by them at a recent alternative/complimentary conference I attended. There is so much we can do in body, mind and spirit to overcome the odds. A combination of many things, not just one magic cure, is key to healing.
Anonymous commented on 06-Nov-2010 04:10 PM
When you want to see your children grow up and be part of your grandchildren's lives it's hard not to grasp at straws. My wife and I are there.
Anonymous commented on 08-Nov-2010 09:40 PM
Dear Randall,
I've been where you and your wife are. It's a terrifying and panicky feeling. If I could suggest anything, it's diet, exercise. I know... I know... You think I'm crazy, right? We hear so much about diet and exercise that we become tone deaf, but the science indicates some of our most powerful cancer fighting weapons are in the grocery store.

For your consideration: The book, "Anti Cancer, A New Way of Life," by Dr. David Servan-Schreiber. He is by no means the first to espouse this way of living, but he clearly outlines, with good evidence, the reasoning behind it. Many well-respected oncologists agree inflammation is the root cause of many diseases. I'm grossly simplified this, but by reducing the causes of inflammation--red meat, dairy products and foods that turn to sugar--it helps reduce inflammation and brings the body into a more balanced pH, a more alkaline environment. Exercise, like an alkaline environment, increases the oxygen & disease does not thrive in oxygen.

While we may not be able to cure our cancer, many are "living with cancer" and these are effective tools that enable us to do that. The other component is mental and emotional, and as you already know, that is the really hard part. Healing happens when we address our spirit. Healing is not the same as curing. Healing is letting go of all the physical and emotional toxins, anger, grief, unexpressed apologies. All the things that drain us emotionally and contribute to weakening our immune system. If you're people of faith, I would suggest you surrender your concerns to God. Tell Him what you want, then ask that His will be done.

God bless,
Anonymous commented on 09-Nov-2010 04:22 AM
Thanks Brenda for highlighting this - I think it is very important that we raise this issue.

Crude as it can seem at times, surgery, chemotherapy, radiation, and hormonal treatments are saving lives. These treatments aren’t pleasant, and many of us would much rather opt for an alternative option if we knew it could save us. Unfortunately, there is not as much evidence to support the use of any alternative cancer therapy. The truth is there is no magic cure for cancer.

Anonymous commented on 09-Nov-2010 02:41 PM
Thank you so much for your comment. As much as well all wish we've progressed beyond the cut, burn & poison approach to cancer treatment, in many regards, we haven't. Diet, exercise and the mind/body connections are our best complementary weapons. It breaks my heart to know there are people who peddle miracle cures to vulnerable cancer patients and their families. That is downright cruel. One family I know is now beating themselves up about falling for a quack cure to the point it's taking more of a toll on them than before they began.
Anonymous commented on 22-Nov-2010 04:09 PM
Last night I met a woman at the checkout register in the grocery store. She saw my Komen shirt and said her mother had gone to Mexico for coffee enemas and some other treatment that made her terribly sick. I was sad for her because it didn't work. Sounds like those doctors are still quacking in Mexico. Please people, there are lots of good doctors here. So sad.

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