Respectful Insolence

The long, strange case of Abraham Cherrix continues

Discussing Stanislaw Burzynski’s abuse of science while contemplating how even his success stories really aren’t yesterday reminded me of a topic that I discussed rather extensively not long after I moved my blog over to ScienceBlogs and have covered sporadically since then. I’m referring to the case of Abraham Cherrix. Cherrix, for those who haven’t been regular readers long enough to have encounter him before, was a 15 year old boy who was unfortunate enough to develop Hodgkin’s lymphoma. Unfortunately for him, rather than undergoing curative therapy, he decided that he wanted “natural” therapy for his lymphoma, specifically a quackery known as Hoxsey therapy. Even more unfortunately his mother was willing to go along with him to the point that she supported his decision and even went to court, which produced an agreement in which Cherrix would undergo therapy under the supervision of a radiation oncologist named Dr. R. Arnold Smith, who combines low dose radiation with a highly dubious unproven “immunotherapy” involving what he calls “belly plaques.” Worse, from a general standpoint, thanks to woo-friendly legislators in Virginia who conflated Cherrix’s bad decision with “health freedom” and passed a horrible, horrible law that became known as “Abraham’s Law.” This law basically decreased the age at which a teenager with a “life-threatening” condition can refuse conventional treatment and choose “alternatives” to as young as 14 years of age. As I said at the time, in essence, if you’re a child between the ages of 14-18, the State of Virginia no longer protects you from quackery or religious idiocy. In essence, parental stupidity, something state laws normally try to protect children against as much as possible in medical matters, is now legal.

Over the years, because Cherrix refused to undergo chemotherapy to treat his entire body, his Hodgkin’s disease would keep recurring. Dr. Smith would zap it with radiation, and then it would pop up again somewhere else like a game of Whac-A-Mole that ultimately can never be won. Fortunately for him, Cherrix apparently has a rather indolent form of Hodgkin’s, because over the years he did better than one would expect, even though what he was doing was falling prey to the fallacy of moderation. Still, over the last six and a half years, Cherrix has puttered along, having remissions, recurring, being treated, and then going into remission again. A few years ago he turned eighteen, and more recently he’s been going around to medical schools promoting quackery. The last time I mentioned him, he had had another recurrence but fortunately for him Dr. Smith was able to zap it into apparent remission one more time. However, the problem with what is sometimes called the “spot welding” technique of zapping lymphomatous tumors as they appear is that sooner or later, the tumor will recur in a previously radiated area, which can’t be radiated again.

In any case, all this talk of Burzynski of late reminded me of Abraham Cherrix, and I wondered what had become of him. Unfortunately, I found out. A blog post on a law firm’s blog led me to Abraham Cherrix’s GoFundMe page , where I learned in a post from January 8:

Despite keeping positive and fighting for my life, I find myself in the same position yet again. I learned today that the cancer has returned to my left lung, explaining a long series of events leading up to it (coughing up blood, shortness of breath, difficulty sleeping, chest pains etc). Now that it’s more aggressive than before, I don’t feel like I have much time. I need to act fast and I’m limited with what I can do.

I have some treatment options that I could pursue and things I could do to improve my condition or even help cure me, but they’re expensive and not covered by my medical insurance (Medicaid/Medicare). I need supplements to boost my immune system, while seeking out doctors country-wide for different treatments and opinions. I need better food that I can’t afford, and I want to move out of my trailer and into a clean house. Most of these costs thousands of dollars alone… and I’m barely able to afford a ride into town for grocery supplies.

There are actually a few specific treatments I’d love to start with. Heated needle therapy is a good start, and something I’ve been curious about. Studies now are also showing the validity of Hemp Oil as a cure for cancer, so I’m trying to get into one of the research groups. However if I can’t get into these groups, the expense will be monumental and certainly not covered by my insurance.

Note the attitude, so common in “alternative medicine” that a positive attitude will keep one healthy. Would that it were true, but it’s not! So poor Abraham is all puzzled that his cancer is back again. Another thing that’s interesting is that he seems to be saying that he underwent chemotherapy again, even though originally he had absolutely refused a second round of chemotherapy after another round of chemotherapy was recommended because he still had residual disease after the first round. So perhaps Cherrix is finally realizing that the woo he has pursued since 2006 is not working. On the other hand, “heated needle therapy” could refer to radiofrequency thermal ablation of tumors, which would be reasonable as a palliative therapy, but it could also refer to a form of quackery similar to acupuncture, known as “heated needle” or “red hot needle” therapy, which is part of traditional Chinese medicine and sometimes combined with blood letting and cupping. As for hemp oil being the cure for cancer, at least Cherrix appears to be looking to get into a clinical trial, which is far more reasonable than what he’s been doing before.

So far, Cherrix’s fundraising campaign has gone reasonable well, as shown in this post from a month ago:

So it looks like I’ll be able to get the first half of my treatment (which is what I’m shooting for first with these donations). The other $1,500 probably isn’t too far away, so by the time I’m done with the first half I’ll be able to get the second 😀

I’ve been talking to some doctors and they’ve all said I’m young and they have hope for a recovery. I’m gathering some different treatment information from them so I can cover all the bases. I may even get to visit the University of Virginia to get opinions!

All of which sounds very good. The question, though, is this: Why does Cherrix need money to pursue treatment? He’s got Medicare and Medicaid, which should cover any standard-of-care treatment. Moreover, if he were taking part in a clinical trial, Medicare and Medicaid should cover the conventional therapy he might need while the study’s sponsor should cover the cost of trial-related treatment. The obvious inference is that whatever treatment he is undergoing is not standard-of-care. So what treatment Cherrix is undergoing is not clear, although three days ago he posted this:

Good news! I’ll begin my treatments after the first week of march, having raised just short of 3,500 dollars!

So, after having followed the saga of Abraham Cherrix, I am surprised that he’s still around, particularly given that he’s still having recurrences. One thing is for sure, and that’s that he blew his single best chance of a long term cure nearly seven years ago, when he decided to refuse further chemotherapy and undergo Hoxsey therapy instead. He only relented to get partially effective radiation therapy because that was the price for the cessation of further legal actions on his behalf by Virginia Child Protective Services. As a result, he underwent a combination of half-assed, Whac-A-Mole radiation therapy combined with dubious immunotherapy interspersed with Hoxsey therapy. As a result, he finds himself in this predicament, alive only because he’s been fortunate enough that his tumor is clearly biologically not particularly aggressive. However, even tumors that are not highly aggressive can, if not adequately treated, kill you sooner or later.

I can only hope that Cherrix is undergoing science-based medical treatment. In a recent post, he says that his doctors say he still has a chance, and I have to believe it. However, he has to seize that chance by embracing science-based medicine rather than the quackery he’s been using.