Should cancer patients and doctors be able to use whatever treatments they like in treating cancer? Why?
My father has battled cancer three times in his life. Once before he and my mother met, once when they’d been married one year, and the last time when I was one year old. That was over seventeen years ago and even though he can’t run around the block and I never played sports with him, he’s here. And he can still bust me for staying out too late. In some ways, I feel like his fight is my fight. His struggle to stay healthy is a part of this family and that hasn’t always included conventional medicine.
The first time he was sick he was a single man living the good life in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico in the 1980’s, the second time he was a newlywed in 1992, and he credits his final recovery in 1997 to the addition of my mother and I to his life. According to studies, men who have a family have a greater chance of survival than single men who haven’t the driven need to survive for children. Why is that? Attitude. If a good attitude is a primary factor in the survival rate of a cancer victim, then what else is out there besides chemotherapy, radiation and surgery?
James, “Rhio” O’Connor was a man diagnosed with mesothelioma and beat the odds of surviving past one year through alternative treatments. Mesothelioma is often caused by fiberglass exposure and attacks the mesothelial, a lining in the abdomen and chest wall. Treatment involves the big three—Surgery, Chemotherapy, and Radiation. Once cancer takes hold in the chest wall, mesothelioma is very aggressive but that’s not to say that time cannot be bought to prolong life. In the case of Rhio O’Connor, he bought himself six more years beyond his prognosis by following a special diet that included amino acids, combinations of fruits and vegetables, fatty acids, vitamins and by keeping positive. That’s six times the amount of time they gave him as a victim! If that isn’t proof enough that diet, herbal ‘drugs’ and attitude is a governing factor in a cancer survival rate, I don’t know what is. Mesothelioma victims do not get six years once diagnosed. They are lucky to get one year before death.
Personally, I am not so presumptuous to assume that only drugs can cure cancer. Or only radiation therapy. Or a combination of both. Only. If you look at the world in the late fourteenth century when the world was thought to be flat, is it possible that only seven hundred years later, there are still things in the universe we don’t know? I believe so. If attitude is important, why not include the basics of health and include nutrition as factors that can help treat cancer? The experts already know that eating certain foods are carcinogenic and some foods are antioxidants, so why not eat healthfully to increase your odds in the fight to get rid of cancer?
We have a family friend who changed her eating habits drastically for two years and used this lifestyle change along with surgery, chemo and radiation to beat breast cancer. She’s still going strong years after her diagnosis. She coupled an exercise regime and drastic change in diet with conventional medicine to enhance/expedite her recovery.
I can’t say that my father used any alternative therapies for his recovery (now going on seventeen years) besides living the good life with a good attitude. But in the years since his last treatment, we have encountered cancer many more times in our circle of family friends and various alternatives have accompanied their treatments that haven’t been FDA certified. It takes years and apparently many millions of dollars to get a drug certified to use for any type of disease and while waiting for testing and certification for these drugs, people die of cancer. Who’s to say that something not approved might have helped?
Ten years ago this month, our family had another member join us. Not a baby, but a fifty-four year old woman who was my mother’s closest friend when they both lived on Maui together. She came to live with us when the Mayo Clinic sent her home to get her affairs in order after a diagnosis of both lung cancer and breast cancer. My mother took charge of her recovery in Seattle, driving her to appointments, keeping her laughing, and not letting her give up. The odds were not good but she got through surgery, chemo, and radiation and lived within our family fold for five months, instead of going home to Maui where she lived alone. We cooked healthy meals, kept things light, took her camping with us and our family dogs when she felt like giving up and didn’t allow her to think about not pulling through this bump in the road. She took vitamins, watched funny movies, got foot massages and took some herbs that were recommended for her type of cancer. It’s been ten years since then and our friend is back to being a cocktail waitress in Hawaii, loving life, hiking, and dancing the hula. To this day, she attributes her successful recovery to not only conventional medicine, but also to not identifying herself as a cancer survivor, not giving the experience credit.
We have another very close family friend who was diagnosed with Leukemia fifteen years ago who had a bone marrow transplant that didn’t successfully take and was sent home to die. Not only did she insist on having her own bone marrow put back in but she qualified for a clinical trial drug within a year and continues to credit the drug and her healthy life style on her recovery. We thank God that the drug came available for this trial exactly when she needed it. Without it, she’d be gone by now.
One of my friend’s fathers is battling brain cancer as I write this. Last summer he was still able to work between chemo treatments, surgeries and digging in for the biggest fight of his life. This summer, his tumor is back and after finishing all the treatments available for conventional medicine, he is spending the next few months taking a tar-like substance derived from Marijuana, called Rick Simpson Oil. After exhausting every other conventional possibility, he is making a last stab attempt to shrink his tumor with an unconventional method. A method that has not been FDA approved, a “drug” that is illegal in some states but has been proven to help in many different forms of cancer by shrinking tumors. My father took Marinol for nausea long ago when it wasn’t quite considered conventional therapy. If we didn’t live in a state that allowed for medical Marijuana this would not be a possibility and it may be a long time before the full beneficial effects are known, tested and legal. But for many willing to try a last-ditch attempt, it has worked.
If there is a sign posted at a beach to say that swimming is not recommended because of a jellyfish invasion and a person decides to swim anyways, they take responsibility if something happens. The same should be true with untested drugs and herbal remedies. If someone is willing to try an alternative medicine or treatment, they should be allowed to use it at their own risk. Not blocked to try a drug that might save their life just because it hasn’t been approved over several years or had the benefit of millions of dollars of testing and certification.
If the FDA can’t patent natural remedies (and that makes it difficult to regulate and study them,) the American Medical Association can’t recommend them. It stands to reason that pharmaceutical companies aren’t happy about herbal remedies or studies to show the benefits of taking vitamins for cancer victims. They can’t manufacture and monopolize the production of vitamins or herbs. The word propaganda comes to mind.
I see the tides turning now where conventional doctors are encompassing alternate ideas when patients have tried everything else. Medical doctors seem more willing to recommend preventative medicine like healthy eating, sleeping and exercise and it’s only a matter of time before alternative medicine merges with the medical community and the AMA breaks their stand on treatments that are showing great results with cancer.
It’s my belief that soon these same doctors will be telling patients about nutrition, vitamins, exercise, and herbal remedies such as Rick Simpson Oil to accompany the standard big three treatments for cancer. Medical doctors are under an obligation and oath to use medicinal treatments that are safe and have the best results but with the legalization of marijuana in some states, I see a change coming. It is my opinion that patients should choose their doctor carefully and take charge of their recovery the way Rhio O’Connor did. After all, it’s your life.
This essay was written by Jack Hornsby as part of a scholarship essay.