While writing this book I interviewed dozens of cancer survivors and only two of them had ever heard of anyone using alternative treatments. These were all literate and computer savvy, cosmopolitan folk, but their social antennae were not picking up on the vast array of therapies and natural substances that might be used in lieu of chemo or radiation. One interviewee had rejected chemo and had healed his cancer with a particular therapeutic diet, and another had third-hand knowledge of a cancer patient who had used an alternative treatment and he thought that person had not survived. That was the extent of the awareness, in my admittedly small and unprofessional sample. I knew that alternative cancer treatment existed in a conceptual ghetto in the American mind, but I didn't know it was quite that bad.
The expensive PR of the cancer industry is bound to be effective, because PR and cancer have been working on their beautiful relationship since the 1950s, and they really understand each other. Our lack of familiarity with such an important subject as life-saving, non-toxic alternative treatments, here in the middle of a deadly epidemic, with conventional medicine's lousy track record on cancer hardly a secret, says more about the social science of persuasion than it does about the viability of alternatives. This reality chasm between the image of professional conventional cancer care, and the actual experience of being case-handled through it, looks particularly problematic when studied for several months from the needle end of a chemo drip with one's life shattering all around. That was the gestation medium for this book.
But this is not 'my story'. We have become a nation of over-sharers, and that goes double for anyone who's survived anything rough. I originally intended to put together a pamphlet, something handy for cancer patients who wanted to investigate alternatives to chemo and radiation without spending a year doing research, because none of us has that much time to sit on the fence in cancerland. I imagined the small practical book that I wished someone had handed me when I was being given the hard sell about chemo, too banged up physically and mentally to figure out a better plan for my cancer at the time. Eventually the pamphlet became the sprawling thing before you now, because I came to believe that the most practical first action we can take in our epidemic situation is to really understand the terrain, no matter which strategies we ultimately choose for trying to cross it alive, and doing that takes some serious attention. The contours of cancerland don't fit into a pamphlet, the maps the cancer hospital people give us are sketchy and unreliable, and the signage that directs us always towards conventional treatment, and always away from anything else, was erected to facilitate patient through-put and profit channeling, more than it was put there for your healing or mine.
This book exists so that a statement like that doesn't ring radical or alarmist, but just sums up a bad situation that we're each in a position to improve upon for ourselves. That's the good news. With some understanding of how cancer care came to be what it is today, and an uncensored view of where conventional treatment gets you, and a look at the many alternative and non-toxic cancer fighting treatments that are legal and available right now, a person can make a volitional shift from deer-in-the-headlights, or treatment drudge, to proactive patient on a tactical mission to heal. That's a sea change, from a surviving focus to a healing focus, a profound personal experience that is within our reach.
But there's usually little hint of that when we're thrown abruptly into the deep end. Starting from the life-changing juncture of diagnosis, everyone does cancer differently. You and I probably do not have the same type and stage of cancer, or remotely similar medical histories, or the same doctor, or the same money/insurance situation, or the same family/friend support, or the same belief system, or the same age and state of health prior to diagnosis, or the same diet and lifestyle habits, or the same feelings about the medical establishment, or the same statistical odds for survival, or the same reasons for fighting for our lives. The one thing we most likely do share is a need for information about healing cancer which is difficult or impossible to get from our oncologists.
Some patients have full confidence in their doctor and treatment plan, and they head off into cancerland armed with this mentality. Some of them make it and some of them don't. But their time and energy isn't spent searching for alternatives to what their oncologist advises, or for more detailed information, or better science, or anything in addition to what the standard of care protocols offer for their particular diagnosis. Insurance aside, from the cancer industry's perspective, this is the ideal patient.
Others of us are not so ideal. This book is about cancer for the rest of us, for whom the experience and the perception are altogether different. Whatever we have already witnessed and learned about how cancer is handled in this world does not give us confidence in the system or the science or the doctor who is charged with the management of our little band on the wide cancer spectrum. We have all the unwanted feelings that go with experiencing one's life replaced in an instant by a terrifying freefall into the cancer diagnosis abyss, a dark place filled with fear and new types of suffering, and also quite possibly an agonizing death. Those of us who express reluctance to sign right up for radiation and/or chemo are usually met with impatiently relayed statistics about the fates of those who do not go the standard of care route. We are warned not to pay attention to all the chatter out there on the internet and elsewhere about alternative treatments, or about how horrible conventional treatments are, or about the debilitating effects they can have on our health in the short and long term. We're told that while cancer treatment is no picnic, it's often not as bad as people fear, and there are many things (i.e. drugs) available to mitigate unpleasant treatment effects, so we shouldn't worry about that now. And if we can't behave like we're getting a handle on our fears, we'll be lectured about attitude.
Pretty much we're expected to sound positive and suck it up and then vacate the space for the next patient. There's usually pressure to decide quickly, and without sufficient information to make the choice feel solid enough. This is one of the first bad tastes of cancer, a sickly brew of mortality and uncertainty that you have to down in a hurry. It's true that there's a great deal of uncertainty in the cancer life, true if you use alternative treatments too. We don't know how long we're going to last or how much of our life cancer is going to consume. But one thing we don't have to guess about is the body's astounding capacity to repair itself, and we can get a lot better at facilitating those natural healing processes, and we can make a choice up front about how we're going to take this problem on. We're out to get cancer-free, in all its beautiful manifestations, but healing is a word you rarely hear in the cancer experience once treatment is under way. It doesn't fit with the popular warfare metaphors and it's only an oblique concept in relation to chemo and radiation. It's almost as if actual healing is incidental to the job.
There's a world of difference between surviving, and being healed and healthy. Do we see our problem as a matter of destroying an enemy that has to be violently obliterated no matter what the costs, or do we see it as ceasing to create favorable conditions for our cells to grow out of control, while also building a healthy whole body state that functions well enough to prevent recurrence? How do we screw our heads on so we can get rid of something really bad within us, without going to war against ourselves? It's an unusual question, but cancer asks it. There are many ways to express the fundamental difference between treating cancer and healing from it, but each patient bets on one philosophical side or the other, even if by default. The uncertainty has a more tolerable taste going down when we make this choice consciously, and that's also why this book exists.
It remains to be seen whether or not it was wise to spend two years of my precious post-cancer time writing about a subject that I would prefer to get as far away from as possible, and I don't know that I'm especially qualified for this job. I am a painter of animals, and a writer of fiction, not a muckraker or a crusader. It's not my goal to inspire a legion of cancer activists and invite you in. I don't feel myself as part of some alternative cancer community; on the contrary, I'm an outsider type with no affiliations with medical anything. I'm a curious autodidact with one CPR class under my belt, and that's the extent of my medical training. I imagine I'm writing this to a single individual who's stuck in a cancer mess that's about as unwelcome a life detour as mine was, and who just wants sufficient truth to go on, and some quality map/compass gear. I'm interested in the freedom that patient might exercise in choosing treatment that makes the most sense for them, and because I've studied the strong-arm tactics of oncology that scare us away from anything that's not under their tent, I know that's not an easy or automatic exercise. I am perhaps a little like you, a reasonably intelligent person who wants to get it right when it comes to the big stuff of life, and who is willing to tackle a complex subject without being just a lazy skeptic, when what the job calls for is critical thinking, discernment and action.
In Part I, The Big Picture, From A Questioning Perspective, I ask you first to look at your current beliefs and assumptions about what alternative cancer medicine is. Whether or not you've noticed, there is a long-standing antagonism between conventional medicine, and all other medicine, and it's on its worst behavior in cancerland. In its nasty cliché form it boils down to 'oncologists versus quacks', and we all know who wins that match. The reduction of important differences in healing philosophies down to the level of a food fight is useful if you're a cartoonist, or if you write FDA press releases about unproven cancer treatments. But if you're dealing with cancer head on then you need to become informed, and the cliché works in the opposite intellectual direction.
The more subtle forms of this antagonism are many and everywhere, and most often manifest as a self-congratulating message in support of conventional cancer treatment with the tacit declaration that there's no other kind. An excellent way to take the stuffing out of an opponent is to act like he's not there, and this has been one of the cancer industry's main methods of molding the public's attitude towards alternatives. The morning yak show with the network MD who reinforces the message that if you have cancer then of course you only deal with an oncologist; the big tv fundraiser that opens with nicely produced pieces about advancements in research that keep the givers feeling they're doing good; the news snippet about an exciting cancer breakthrough that strings the hopeful along even though it always ends by saying the average patient won't see that new treatment for several years to come – the picture of our epidemic is painted in only the colors the cancer industry wants us to see. You need to know you're being massaged by pros when it comes to the cancer message, and if you want to make your own decisions, whatever they may be, you need to know those are your thoughts in your head, and not Big Cancer's, not Dr. Nancy Snyderman's, and not even Dr. Oz's.
At which point it's time to look at the cancer industry in its many parts and guises, and through its century of growth from a handful of awed medics trying to determine whether newly discovered radiation cured cancer, to the present day oncology business which offers patients an array of brutal treatments that most rational beings wouldn't inflict on any living creature, and still somehow manages to call it the best medicine there is with a straight, compassionate face. We look at how the industry came to be as powerful as it is, and how conventional treatment came to be so stunted in development yet so professionally full of itself. We look at its history, its flawed core philosophy, its trainers, its product line, its competitor roadkill, its enforcers, its front men, its subcontractors, its mumbling statistics and its mythos.
This is not a familiar view. Cancerland professionals don't level with us about the treatment system that is their paycheck and is purportedly our sole salvation. Very few of them would be qualified to paint a very detailed picture, even if they had the time or the interest. Like folks in general they aren't particularly analytical about social and historic forces that shaped their profession or workplace. That's just the nature of work, and not unique to cancer work. If an oncologist reads a history of radiology written by a history graduate employed by equipment manufacturers, that's good enough, and he's not likely to examine the piece for bias, or look for problematic dots to connect to the radiation he prescribes for us. But we patients are better equipped to choose our actions if we understand that oncology didn't just fall beneficently from the sky to meet a need.
Once through the diagnosis gate, many of us sense immediately that we're up against something much bigger than just 'our cancer', but it's clear this gut sense has no place in the doctor's appointment. While we're treated as adults, expected to accept each piece of bad news or treatment difficulty with maturity, we're simultaneously handled like children who must just trust and have faith and above all stop whining about our fear and dread. In conversation with veterans who've consumed oncology's treatment products before us, we may get some acknowledgment that it's not just the fear talking, when we sense there's a systemic problem. There is a consensus about how insultingly expensive treatment is, and the nightmare of insurance, and the brutal effects treatment can have on mind and body. Too often in the cancer place you find the look of a person who's caught up in something barbaric, and if you're really unlucky your own eyes start to reflect that too. This look is unmistakable, but you rarely see it on the outside. Cancer is so ugly a reality that it sometimes reduces whole lives to dirty, invisible secrets. There's a resignation to all this, because, after all – where else are you going to go if you have to beat cancer to keep living? It's reductionist: there's nothing better out there, so why squawk at length about it? This truism about cancer care is one of the things that helps keep good alternative treatment options in the dark, seeming not to exist at all.
Fairly fresh from my own treatment hell, I was talking one day with a doctor in a social setting and I must have expressed some excessive dissatisfaction with my cancer experience. He asked me – Well, what did I think my oncologist should have done differently? His tone implied the common assumptions about oncology, that it's trying as hard as it can, it just is what it is, warts and all, and it couldn't be otherwise, and therefore complaints are unrealistic – especially if you're surviving. There was a hint of challenge in his question, similar to when you complain about a political situation and someone demands – Well, then, what's your solution? This can stop a conversation in its tracks because we tend to think that if we don't know how to fix something we haven't the right to say it needs fixing, or the right to attempt to converse about it. But I took the man's question seriously, I thought it was a good one, and I came up with this: I think my oncologist should have known more.
That might have sounded presumptuous, but it strikes at the essence of the oncology problem, from the patient end of things. Charged with saving lives, millions of them, oncology doesn't know enough, and what it does know is too limited by commercial interests that would put themselves out of business if they really treated cancer strictly in terms of finding and delivering the treatments that work best. If they suddenly made this their honest priority, in the light of the education, research and commercial structures in place now, this would make them the worst businessmen in the world.
Hard essential truths about the cancer business determine the nature and outcome of so much of a patient's experience, but once you're in there fighting for your life, whatever's seriously wrong with it doesn't matter. You just knuckle down and do what needs doing, enduring the minutes and months. When you're sitting for hours with poison dripping into your veins, worrying about your family, your obligations, your finances, your survival, et al, you are not going to sound off about the industry big picture. It's not the time. You're just hoping you can tough it out and walk away from the nightmare eventually.
The cancer fight is weakening and isolating and draining and it shuts us patients up pretty good. In this diminished state, for atmosphere, we are often treated to an insipid cheerleader routine. We're warriors, our fight is noble. We are softly, expertly coerced into bucking up, smiling bravely, assuring well-meaning bystanders that yes indeedy we're thinking positive like there's no tomorrow. Privacy and dignity erode, although with sometimes Orwellian style the rules of cancerland always emphasize the opposite, as though just declaring that it's policy to respect the patient somehow keeps these precious intangibles intact and honored. A cancer victim already feels called upon to perform a Herculean task, and shouldn't also be expected to play the performing seal, but it happens all the time in there. This book won't add that kind of sociological and behavioral pressure to your already gigantic cancer load. And it won't quibble about the politically correct restyling of words like 'victim'. My intent is to write for realistic adults. You know you can get the pc version, the feel-good stuff and the cancer pep talks in a million other places.
And then in Part II, Cancer Treatment, Boots On The Ground, in case you had questions about the political correctness of my position, I'll endeavor to dispense with the underlayers of the emperor's new clothes and get down to the experiential, sociological and psychological parts of the big cancer picture which too often are left unaddressed in the bulk of current cancer lore, or else are lied about, padded around gingerly, and otherwise strung along in a little epidemic sideshow of acceptability. Our population is choking on cancer, we all know it sucks, and still we spend a great deal of energy acting like it's not as bad as it is. Unless we're all trying to avoid our doctors' wrath or condescension, I can't think of any reason to be so collectively unrealistic about the biggest freaking elephant in the room ever. I don't understand why we pussyfoot around the abject awfulness of having cancer and of being stuck with an inadequate and misguided professional response to it, why there's no clear label on the absurdity of dealing with people who can't help us heal the conditions in which our cancer grew and will want to grow again, and why we tolerate the exhausting social pressure to 'be positive'.
If I were convinced that cancer care conditions have to be this bad because they can't be better, maybe I'd be acquiescent too. But I know things can be made better for cancer patients, tomorrow, so I don't support keeping up the social charade that serves a cancer industry that's happiest when we're being good little pink-ribboned soldiers, but doesn't deal in a practical way with the actual restoration and strengthening of our health. The patient who is being herded into chemo or radiation and wants to stop and ask their oncologist - how can you help my body heal so cancer doesn't grow in it? – will probably be looked at like they're an idiot child. That's not how they frame the cancer problem, not even remotely close. Do we really not see a problem with that?
The epidemic culture of cancer clouds our vision with so many images and stories about valiant struggles, the inspiring victories, the sad defeats that funnel more fortune into pink charities, the promising new research developments five years away, the hairless people smiling and touching our hearts at the same time they touch our fears about being next. Everyone understands how they're supposed to respond. The panoramic presentation of cancer as a tough but manageable problem is the one people now think they know, out there beyond the pale of cancerland. It's understandable that hopeful messages are preferable to the awful truth about cancer treatment and outcomes. And it's obvious why the cancer industry itself doesn't want us to dwell on those things, for who would sign up for treatment if they were well informed about the risks and the flaws in the system, and if they had a clear sense of the misery that may await them and might well not 'just' be temporary. Imagine if it were much more widely known that good cancer alternatives actually exist and are available now, and that there is no scientific reason, only a commercial/financial one, for treatment to be so harsh, limited and legally restricted. At the very least, stocks would fall. Right after that, the practice and marketing of various alternatives would be more systematically targeted and illegalized by the FDA than is already the case. For our own good, of course.
I don't think we should keep shoring up the sanitized image of cancer treatment. It's an illusion that disinforms a patient's decision-making, and it helps keep the systemic problems with conventional cancer science firmly in place. And ultimately, it's the science that matters. Whether you make it out of cancerland or not, whether you do conventional treatment or not, the truth is that things actually are quite out of control in here. A great deal of unnecessary harm is being done to people's bodies. People sometimes die of treatment effects, while they're technically in remission. Certain statistic sets point to improved survival rates, or diagnostic tools, or treatment modes, but there is much more to the big important picture that can't be positively spun, even by the pros. The cancer industry is powerful enough to keep a lot on the lowdown: information about the serious damage treatment does, or about how research paths are restricted to only the selected treatment and testing mode possibilities which serve its economic discretion, or the dirt on various underhanded moves made by the FDA, the American Cancer Society, and corporations to see that their stranglehold on the science is maintained. We can understand the often unsavory driving forces of profit maximization, that's just business. But when promising, and superior, cancer fighting science is suppressed by business done in this way, that's another thing. That's my mortality and yours they're messing with.
Unacceptable conditions and practices need proper lighting so that the garden variety of cancer fear which is so pervasive can begin to be replaced by a more functional knowledge of the risks and consequences of treatment, and an awareness that alternative approaches are being successfully taken and that they too are part of our choices. Whether or not this translates into an eventual improvement in the way cancer business is conducted remains to be seen, but for now this clearer view can help individuals, perhaps yourself, to more intelligently plan what to do about those out-of-control cancer cells. At 200 to 300 billion dollars a year (these sprawling estimates speak volumes in and of themselves), the cancer industry has qualified itself for a long hard look. These days, regardless of political alignment, everyone knows we're in big trouble. Some of the veils have been lifted on the nefarious practices of banks and housing lenders, for example, only to expose how the government's response in such situations is to show its allegiance to the big guy. This injustice shortens everyone's fuse, and we should acknowledge that there are unflattering parallels in cancerland. It's not that pharmaceutical companies churning out chemo drugs need bailouts, but they do need friends in government. We know from Part I that they have them.
The economic interests overseeing cancerland have consolidated rather godlike powers over the past several decades, and the poor quality and the limitations of our cancer care painfully reflect the flaws in their stewardship capabilities. While there are also many brave and committed people working hard to expand the territory of alternative cancer treatment and research, there really isn't a David for that Goliath. As individuals hoping to beat cancer, we can chisel creatively around the edges of the standard of care fare that feels so wrong, and forge another way. In epidemic times, we are a population of cancer health care consumers, and we do have some room to move.
There's another position we could take on the whole business of cancer, different from the carefully husbanded one which frames it as 'awful but manageable'. We're within our rights to ask why the fight for survival is such hell for so many. We can read the work of doctors who have a very different take on cancer and its treatment, people who work with cancer patients every day and have success with solid approaches other than radiation and chemo. As cancer health care consumers (cold terminology for living souls, but therein may lay our power) we might challenge research facilities and pharmaceutical companies and teaching hospitals, et al, on their FDA-armored right to function as the sole gatekeepers to our treatment. We might have the moxy to declare that the treatments which they tell us are the very best and only, just plain aren't good enough for our bodies, and that we know better ones do exist. We might add that, even though our lives are on the line, we can still see straight and it strikes us as rather obscene that they profit so much off their pitifully inadequate and health-gutting treatments. We might get conversational about it, and have something intelligent to say when a friend asserts there is only one sensible way to deal with cancer and of course we're going to take it. We might be more prepared for that conversation, if we expand our epidemic thinking further.
After looking at surgery, chemo and radiation, and at several practical measures that will help protect us if we do embark on any of these paths, we stand back from the hospital, lab and balance sheet, and look at some of the social workings of our epidemic. Political correctness, plus the fact that so few people earn their living as sociologists, must have something to do with the lack of discussion about the sociology of cancer. But I think we ought to start recognizing what the epidemic is doing to us as a people, and how we are dealing with it as a constant presence in our world. In contrast, psychology is a very big business and there's no shortage of discussion about those aspects of the individual cancer experience. They are often addressed rather routinely, in ways we've all become so used to that the message is sounding pretty formulaic and uninspired at this point. Suggestions to seek social support, remain upbeat, take time to relax, and avoid hopelessness at all costs, remain the conventional wisdom and professional prescription of the psychologist for her cancer patient client. I think of these two major aspects of cancer quite differently than the epidemiologists who own the sociology of cancer and the therapists who own the psychology of it. Somewhere in my observations and in the dots I attempt to connect, you might find other things that help you navigate the bigger world in which you have your cancer. The day-to-day grind of doing the work of getting well can make the long view of observing our epidemic society seem like a waste of time, or a trivial luxury thinking exercise that can be put off indefinitely. Depending on what's on your plate today it might seem like both, practically speaking. I remember days that filtered the world that way, but in the long run these things matter. Thoughtful examination of the culture we evolve and of the mentality we morph is eminently practical, and the fact we humans are doing less and less of this kind of thinking just proves my point in the consequences.
There was a golden, fleeting age after our awakening from suffocating 1950s social conventions, in which we briefly seemed headed into saner territory. We blew it with too much too fast, and froze our precious intellectual freedoms in a third-rate, unnatural glass fused from new professionalisms, polarizing doctrinaire righteousnesses, and a marketplace tsunami of dumbing-down equipment run on electrons. Other people are writing books about all that, but for our purposes here it's the lead-up to how we came to be rather oblivious to the world in which we have cancer, and that's just one more bad way to bury important things. We're trained to think shallow, to believe we're embracing big concepts when we're only gumming bite-size pieces of pop-psychology, and to regard 'negativity' like it's mental Ebola. I think that we can do better as individuals, and I think that the society we collectively form deserves better raw material for its substance.
There is a lot of good news in the world of alternative cancer treatment; some of it isn't new at all, and a lot of it is found in Part III, Cancer-Fighting Actions You Can Take Now. Opposition to alternative cancer medicine was formatted long ago and continues today in the courts and the media. One doctor in Texas has saved thousands of lives with his groundbreaking treatments and has been hauled into court repeatedly to defend his right to practice. Parents are being prosecuted for challenging doctors' orders for their children's chemo. There are many brave individuals caught up in their respective cancer battles, collectively forging and defending a wider, better-lit path to the alternative choices you and I might make tomorrow, or next year. You can benefit from this, and you might be a part of it.
And on quieter, more private stages, there are many people treating their cancer now with alternative natural substances in their daily routines, legally and safely. These people have made the best reasoned evaluations of their options possible, and admittedly there are serious limitations with that process because the big research money doesn't grace those parts of the treatments spectrum and so data are undersupplied. This is a complication, not a dead end. There is a growing interest in what all that is about, but I don't expect many doctors would care to read this book, unless perhaps to quarrel with specifics about the actions we individual patients might take to help ourselves out of this cancer mess. If any do, I expect they'd say, Well there's nothing in the medical literature proving the effectiveness of alternative substance A so I can't recommend it to my cancer patients. Or they might say, Well the National Cancer Institute did a study on alternative substance B and found it ineffective in treating cancer so I can't recommend it to my patients. Okay, and let's look deeper at the limitations of those statements and conclusions.
Let's look at all the information any of us would really have to have before accurately determining the effectiveness of an alternative cancer treatment, because lack of sufficient study evidence, or no studies done to date, do not suffice to prove that a substance isn't effective against cancer. They almost always suffice to shut down discussion, but they may only be an indication that money has not been put into rigorous evaluation, especially if that substance is not going to be sufficiently profitable. Or lack of data supporting efficacy could reflect a study design that was flawed and/or deliberately set to skew results, or an editing job done on results to favor the interests of the study funders, or a patient population that was unsuitable for the testing, all of which have been documented in the cancer research mill's record. There's also the likelihood that favorable foreign studies exist on a particular alternative cancer fighting substance, but they aren't contained in the scientific databases your doctor uses. She's probably thinking 'everything' valid is in the National Library of Medicine's data base, unaware of industry-driven biases in their research selection methods that leave some important cancer science out of the evidence-based medicine loop. These and many other factors influence the impression your doctor has of any alternative treatment you bring to her attention, but they won't be on her mind because she's probably never questioned the sufficiency of the cancer research mill product, let alone thought about the inherent and well-camouflaged biases in medical science.
What conditions of good evidence would satisfy both doctor and patient? How about a situation where alternative cancer treatment X is tested on humans using good study design and funded by financially disinterested parties, and it's proven effective. And effectiveness is established with a meaningful standard, not the jerry-rigged definitions of the FDA approval process that we'll discuss later. Let's say we evaluate tumor shrinkage, toxicity, side effects, quality of life, survival time, rate of recurrence, and we include monitoring for treatment-induced micrometastasis. Then treatment X is tested on humans in a split study against a known chemo drug, and these results are made available to patients so they can make a truly informed choice. That all happens when money grows on trees and pigs fly, and the cancer industry finds a way to provide what patients really need and still remain commercially viable.
But in the real world, the oncologist's evaluation of potential alternative cancer treatments is the only vision that's deemed authoritative for sensible folk. We're used to this in general practice, and it's certainly not always a bad thing because there are many excellent and capable doctors in the world and we need more. But it's not good enough for cancer work, meaning your survival and mine. We had better understand going in that the discouragement we'll hear from our oncologists is informed by something much greater than just the benefit of their training and their experience with certain conventional treatments. We're limited because we don't have formal training in disease processes and healing. They're limited because they don't see whole bodies, and their education was put together by the top corporations which produce the drug and equipment products they are to make use of when they go into practice, after completing the ridiculously expensive education that in most cases is partly or heavily financed by those same corporations to which they'll remain indebted for decades. In some jurisdictions they're actually prohibited from discussing alternatives with us. It's a very closed professional circle, and we shouldn't expect it to have an open mind. Of course we have to ask our doctors about our alternative ideas and options, and we should make our questions as intelligent and pointed as possible, and we should listen – with an awareness of the problematic medical system context that contains us both.
Everything in Part III, each practical bit of information about nutrition and supplementation and alternative treatments, suffers in translation when filtered through that context. It is by definition hostile to alternative measures, or in its more benign state it is simply condescendingly suspect of them. There are very few exceptions to this – turmeric and Avemar, for example. We eye each other across a divide as wide as millions of whole lives, in which each cancer case demands better, from somewhere. Conventional cancer logic is not good enough for us to just keep unquestioningly swallowing it whole, and that's what this book aims to show. In making the hard choices about treatments, we should not be made to feel like renegade patients when we go outside our doctor's version of the story for additional, and quite possibly conflicting, information. Read the useful information in Part III and consult the links and recommended resources, and frame your investigation within the bigger picture of the cancer business that's mapped out in Parts I and II. Be cognizant of your real place in it, as more than merely one more pre-programmed cancer health care consuming unit. Figure out what you require for justifying the use of substances and actions you may take to reverse your cancer and heal your body. You might find it easy enough to recognize some flaws in oncology's official vetting system, but the individual responsibility you bear for your cancer decisions involves steps in reasoning and judgment far beyond that.
The cancer industry recognizes that more and more of us are using complementary medicine while we take our oncology lumps, and they know we're very very dissatisfied with what goes on inside all those hospitals and day clinics. That's why we're hearing more about complementary and integrative measures, and why the AMA is willing to make radical moves like throwing us bones in the form of yoga or meditation or even acupuncture. But that policy shift doesn't significantly expand awareness of our true range of anticancer strategy choices, which is what we need. This isn't a book about complementary or integrative cancer medicine. This book says – such calculated and minimal gestures from the cancer industry are not a good enough response to patients' requirements for effective, non-toxic cancer treatments. It also says those treatments exist, and they are alternatives to chemo and radiation, not adjuncts. Sometimes the terminology gets blurry, but we should be clear that we're concerned with other ways to fight cancer. We're seriously considering the possibility that it can be done, and done well, by people who decline standard of care protocols.
We're so used to people dying of cancers that didn't respond to oncology's best efforts, and so used to people dying from the effects of treatment, that we've come to equate that professional failure with the idea that cancer is mostly still just unbeatable at this point. As long as we buy that, we'll keep believing there's nothing else we could be doing that would make more sense. We'll keep reasoning that there's no way an individual without a med school education could possibly hit upon an answer to their cancer problem that is superior to what their oncologist wants them to do, and we might even feel sheepish about questioning. But once we do know that there are other, better treatments, that cat will not go back inside the bag. Once we expand our framework of the totality of cancer treatments beyond the usual trio we can all recite in our nightmares, that freedom of choice I alluded to above starts to really take shape in a cancer patient's mind.
At that point, the cancer industry's little gestures of offering us a yoga class or telling us to drink green tea seem almost insulting, or at least laughable, because they miss the mark so far, and the scale is so off. Yes, do those things, but don't stop there. We're professionally studied for our patient dissatisfactions and then we're handled in such calculating, palliative ways. The management of profits from chemo, radiation, diagnostic equipment and all the business they keep spinning dictates the terms that trickle down to shape our individual care. Following the money only adds to the bummer, but to understand what we're caught up in in cancerland, it's necessary to admit that our personal cancer hell is just their commercial venture. This is true no matter how nice some of the people who help us may be.
And that is another major point of this book: you can't expect the cancer industry to wake up and start getting it right tomorrow, because their primary business models require them to continue developing extremely toxic treatment products and they're not set up to address health, but only survival, and only that as it's weirdly defined by the FDA. In its early years the industry committed to these types of investments, and the same design that's made them hugely successful financially is exactly what keeps them so ineffective at stopping cancer and preventing its recurrence. Even when the industry tries to use the immune system to stop cancer, it manages to do it in a way that toxifies and debilitates the patient's health. It's not going to change its philosophical or corporate stripes after a century of following this approach, and so knowing that provides another incentive to think outside their box.
The emergence of more complementary care centers in cancer hospitals recently certainly has value for patients, but it doesn't rock the boat of chemo and radiation and surgery, and that's what should be happening for change within conventional oncology to be truly meaningful. It's not really a great leap forward to find a new tier of smiling professionals telling us it would help if we relaxed and ate more salads. We need to know if there is a way to shut down the metabolism of a cancer cell without toxifying the rest of our body (there is), and we need to know if there is a way to determine ahead of time if the chemo they want us to take really has a shot at killing our particular cancer or not (there is), and we need to know if there is a way to administer that chemo in a more targeted fashion that uses a much lower dose and greatly reduces side effects (there is). Enough with the yoga already. We've got cancer, not shoulder tension.
The parade of calculatingly inept responses to cancer, which masquerade through the decades as state-of-the-art medical miracles of science, is at the heart of what this book attempts to address. Its central premise is that it is virtually impossible to choose the wisest course of action if the only voice you hear is that of your average by-the-book oncologist (and there are very very few other types). I don't write this to pick on doctors, or to turn you away from them, but there's a serious problem with a cancer industry which educates them and turns them out to treat us constrained to its rigid and myopic range of poorly performing options. That system is flawed to the point of being rotten. The blinders it wore a century ago that prevented it from connecting the dots when all the medical workers who handled radiation soon died hideous cancer deaths, are still worn today by specialists who cannot converse with their patients about reversing their cancer by treating the whole body and addressing fundamental underlying causes, but instead offer only radiation and chemo, and more of the same for our next cancer too. Why do we accept this? The answer to that is not 'because there's nothing else and nothing better'.
It's important to remember that just because Big Cancer has gotten it wrong in many important ways, it doesn't then follow that it's easy to get it right. Brilliant professionals are still debating about what causes cancer and what's the best way to fight it. Criticisms of the industry don't imply that cancer is anything less than the terrible monster it truly is, one that often wins no matter what's aimed at it. I don't propose that a cancer patient might just switch off conventional and find some easy alternative treatment that guarantees them a smooth passage to cure. It may be human to want a silver bullet fix, but you won't find that wish fulfilled in these pages. What you will find, hopefully, is a more useful map than the standard-issue from the clinic literature rack. Compared to the neutered language and the inexplicably happy and attractive cancer patients that always appear in those pamphlets, the tone of this book will sometimes seem pretty un-pc and blunt. But it's always focused on lifting up a veil that all cancer patients need to look behind, and it's always trying to shine light on an attainable objective defined with less desperation than 'survival', that thing the FDA thinks it defines.
The richness of the alternative options outlined in Part III do have the important advantage of being based in health-building, rather than health-compromising, strategies. I know how hard it can be to loosen the mind's death grip around the notion of surviving, and gradually move into experiencing survival as a healing program over time. That's a beautiful change to live to see, but just because I have, I don't assume naively that it's for everyone. There are many people who have had good experiences in cancerland with conventional treatment, and would return to that route if the need arose. They do not feel their health was damaged, many of them love their doctor or technicians as life savers, and they're not particularly inclined to investigate the underside of the cancer industry. More power to them. And no judgment of them.
But, remember, this book here is about cancer for the rest of us. Not one of us knows, going in with our fresh diagnosis, whether we'll be lucky and survive in eventual good shape, or not. It takes courage to do conventional, and it takes courage to seek and follow some alternative path. For many people cancer is the single most difficult thing they do in an entire life. To inform our decision-making about treatment we are usually given some statistics about survival odds, but they tell so little of the story. Heading into chemo or radiation, our sense of what we're in for amounts to little more than a cartoon sketch. It's a hell of a time to be on your own, but in the most raw and humbling sense, there each of us finds ourselves. Cancer For The Rest Of Us has its point of view about how to proceed from there, and for some it might sound like preaching to the choir, for some it may be new and thought-provoking and hopeful, and for some it may be hogwash. What I do expect to be a point of agreement is the idea that what matters most is finding what works best on your cancer. Wherever else we disagree, let's agree to meet up back at that point, because cancer isn't going away, and the discussion is going to get louder. My original little pamphlet project made a big muscle, because there is a need.
A population in which one in two men and one in three women gets cancer needs to take a closer look at what's going to be there for them in conventional medicine if their number comes up and it's their turn to hear those horrible words, You've got cancer. It would be better to understand the cancer industry and the truth about treatment choice before ever hearing those words, because you might well be able to prevent it happening to you. But if you're already there, you can learn that your position and your choices are quite different than oncology leads you to believe. At the very least, you can learn that there are a number of things you can do to protect yourself from some of conventional treatments' notorious damage if that's your chosen path.
Our cancer is usually revealed to us like a fire that needed to be put out yesterday: it's a medical emergency with death at the end if we don't jump on it now, and hard. If our guts and/or our intellects are telling us not to accept the usual treatment offerings, and if we understand why the profession is in such a developmental rut, there actually is something we can do besides panic and freeze. It's irrational to just wait for things to get better in oncology, but there does seem to be one bright spot where the profession is beginning to allow something radically better into its practice, and that is insulin potentiation therapy, IPT. This technique is well established, legal, and available now, and every year more doctors are being trained to administer it. IPT is discussed in Chapter Sixteen, Alternative Cancer Treatments, and it's the only treatment I know of that's truly integrative American cancer medicine. IPT is a good thing, but otherwise, the good things are of our own making, beyond oncology.
In Chapters Thirteen through Sixteen there are long descriptive lists of botanicals, supplements, nutritional information and alternative treatments that we can use to treat cancer, prevent cancer, lessen and repair conventional treatment damage, and guard against recurrence. (Some of these substances are known to enhance the effectiveness of conventional treatments, and this is the area where most of the clinical study of alternatives has concentrated, in their adjunctive application.) It's a lot of material, and lists such as the thinking steps in Chapter Sixteen, Alternative Cancer Treatments, and the cancerland roadmap sketch in Chapter Five, What's It Like Having Cancer?, might help guide the way. Where an MD would likely find fault with such a presentation, you might just find some constructive pointers towards safe, natural substances that help you save your life, extend it, and enhance its quality. If you understand the real reasons why the information in Cancer For The Rest Of Us can't come neatly wrapped with the imprimatur of the FDA, AMA or the Journal of Oncology, and if you are willing to do some intelligent gleaning for information about treating cancer and building whole body health, then you'll find a lot of value to work with. Of course discuss everything with your doctor. And view their expertise in the context of the industry in which they train and function, and don't hear their evaluations as though they're being read off a stone tablet from god. They are not; it's only the FDA playing god before a nation of captive health care consumers, which isn't the same thing.
Cancer forces our hand and we must be at our best to choose wisely, when we are also at our most scared and overwhelmed. Nothing in this book's critique of the cancer industry, or in its advocacy for seeking a better way, is meant to imply that it's a simple, clearly defined path. This book may be of use to you, that's why it exists, but it cannot be your only resource. After five years of trying to find my own way through cancerland, one of the few things I know for certain is that there is no single repository for answers to this freefall of a problem. The answers are spread all over the place and they keep moving, from the grocery cart to the internet to the health care professional to the blood test to the frequencies in the brain to the pill schedule to the book to the health food store to the treadmill to the scheduled down time to the struggle for seven hours of quality sleep to the blender to the self-exam to the wise survivor, and on and on, and always back to ourselves many times throughout the day. Most of us have to get very far down the road from the place where we 'did treatment', to be able to stop thinking about cancer way too much. And we don't get there down a straight path, because surviving cancer is a sloppy process even when well accomplished.
Just as in life before cancer, the self also keeps on the move and it is still capable of surprising us no matter how many hits it takes. I don't know what's going to happen to you, or to me, but I wonder if you think you have a reasonable shot at healing - truly healing, and not just surviving with crossed fingers - if you do the work differently, now? How might your answer to that question be influenced during the course of reading this book? What would be the soundest philosophy of healing to guide you onwards?
With respect, stranger, I wish you well with all of it.