White Coat Underground

The Dark Side is Powerful

Hope, of all ills that men endure,
The only cheap and universal cure.
Abraham Cowley, The Mistress. For Hope. c. 1647

I was visiting my friend in the hospital the other day. She had a port put in under the skin of her chest for chemotherapy. The whole story is unfair. She’s a terrific person, with a great husband and an adorable son. She’s also doing remarkably well. But that’s not today’s story.

Another friend wondered if maybe she should recommend a macrobiotic diet or something, anything, to help stop this stupid disease. Now, you can substitute anything for “macrobiotic diet”—reiki, acupuncture, homeopathy—it doesn’t matter really, because all of it rests on misunderstanding, fear, and compassion. Fear and compassion are very powerful, and in the face of helplessness, any lifeline seems like a godsend, even one attached to an anchor.

Here’s the basic problem. We understand cancer very well (and the same goes for many diseases). When a patient or other caring layperson is looking for hope in the face of overwhelming circumstances, it’s tempting to go with common sense. Common sense says that a “healthy” diet should help fight cancer. But, while it’s important to maintain a good nutritional status (keeping up strength and avoiding weight loss), cancer is not a disease of abnormal nutrition. Cancer is basically a disease at the genetic level. Cells lose their normal regulatory mechanisms, and reproduce abnormally and forget to die when they are supposed to, and while cells certainly count on nutrients to survive, cancer cells can’t be killed off by proper nutrition. Nutritional changes also won’t help your immune system to hunt down and kill cancer cells more effectively. Once your cells have become cancerous, it’s too late.

Still, this stuff couldn’t hurt, right?

Cancer is a full time job. Between diagnostic studies, treatments, and emotional support, cancer patients are very, very busy. Keeping track of everything that needs to get done, especially at a time when you are emotionally vulnerable and perhaps just a little bit distracted, is tough. If a friend has a bone scan in the morning, a blood draw at lunch time, an appointment with a surgeon and an oncologist in the afternoon, and dinner with her family in the evening, adding in a bunch of “alternative” (read “non-science-based”) therapies is a burden without benefit.

Certainly, if someone finds a way to build massage, meditation, or other relaxing activities into their schedule, this is probably a good thing. But when you have a serious disease, all of your friends become experts. Out of love, fear, sadness, and a desire to regain control, they pepper you with suggestions about doctors, therapies, gurus, diet, and anything else they think will help you stick around.

Remember, though, that your friend with cancer is fighting like hell, and there are no miracle cures “they” don’t want you to know about. There is no cabal of researchers sitting on some treatment reluctant to share their success. Cancer is hard work, and since it’s a full time job, patients are often looking for islands of normalcy in their day.

But of course you have to take cues from your friends. If they seem like they want advice, then they probably do. But please remember that their doctors are pretty damned knowledgeable. If there were a miracle diet, a magic pill, or any other way to help their patients, they’d already be using it.

Hope is palliative. It is a treatment in and of itself, but it is not without serious side-effects. Truth is also palliative, in small doses. Sometimes, when a friend is ill, the best bet is to be the best friend you can. If you truly think that they are getting sub-par medical care, you have to speak up. But chances are, if you come up with a great new idea, it’s not as new as you think, or it’s not as great as you think. This happens to doctors all the time, which is why we temper our hope with a dose of cold, hard science. We get attached to our patients and would do anything to help them—but then we make ourselves remember that “everything” isn’t always the best thing.

Doctors have a lot to learn from patients and their loved ones. We learn that everyone wants to help, and we need to actively acknowledge that. There are many things cancer patients need every day, from rides, to child care, to hugs. As an internist, I can direct family and friends to give these tangible gifts. The love of family and friends is hope—no voodoo required.

Comments

  1. #1 Dana Ullman, MPH
    January 15, 2009

    In due respect, it seems that you are not keeping up on the scientific literature (it is challenging!). Oxford University Press just published INTEGRATIVE ONCOLOGY that reviews the evidence-based medicine side of “alternative” medicine.

    There is even some evidence that some alternative treatment can reduce side effects of chemo and radiation. Does THAT interest you or your friend?

    The fear about which you talk above is also the fear of the unknown, including doctors’ fear of alternative medicines (read: ignorance of).

    Although Amazon has announced availability of this book in March, I happen to have many copies of it (due to the fact that I am a coauthor of the chapter on homeopathy. Check out the table of contents at my website: http://www.homeopathic.com Consider getting a copy to deal with that fear issue…

    My best to you and your friend in ANY case…

  2. #2 daedalus2u
    January 15, 2009

    First comment!

    A diet that fosters good health for the rest of the body might foster good health for tumor cells too. All of the different types of tumors in different tissue compartments are different and so would be expected to require different treatments for resolution.

    A one size fits all dietary approach that fosters the good health of the hundreds of different cell types in the human body and impairs the function of the one type of cancer cell seems completely preposterous on its face.

  3. #3 Mike
    January 15, 2009

    Good advice.

    I am a 10 year survivor of testicular cancer. At the time I recall many bits of advice I mostly ignored. It was the caring and concern I remember. My wife (now ex) looked at lots of woo and eventually insisted we ‘go macrobiotic’. Now, I attribute my recovery and long term success 100% to finding the cancer early and removing the testicle while the cancer was fully encapsulated. But my wife received a lot of benefit from researching macrobiotics, getting cooking lessons, and preparing the meals. It took her mind off the immediate dangers and dread and it provided us some wonderful meals full of new tastes and textures although the kids hated it. I still eat tempeh often – just love it with almost everything.

    The lesson in all this was it helped my wife face, accept and get over MY disease. It made her feel useful and it gave her some positive things to do. That in turn the environment I was recovering in much less fearful, much more hopeful and relaxed. So macrobiotics turned out to be a great bit of advice for reasons totally unintended.

    BTW, Orac says to say hi.

  4. #4 AnnR
    January 15, 2009

    I think cancer and cancer treatments are torture enough without making someone feel like they should be on a macrobiotic diet!

    My loved one just went through a bone marrow transplant and our diet strategy was anything that he wants that doesn’t result in an upset tummy.

    On good days that included a steak and cheese philly or chicken from Popeye’s. Know what? My loved one sailed through with no complications.

    Someone who is sick wants nothing more than to be doing their usual thing – whatever that was. I think loving friends accept that.

  5. #5 Chad
    January 15, 2009

    Sorry, Dana, but you lost us at “I am a coauthor of the chapter on homeopathy.”

  6. #6 HCN
    January 16, 2009

    Dana Ullman said “There is even some evidence that some alternative treatment can reduce side effects of chemo and radiation. Does THAT interest you or your friend?”

    Except it would be your usual misunderstanding of the science and reality in general that makes us lose interest in anything you have to say.

    Some background:
    http://www.quackometer.net/blog/labels/dana%20ullman.html
    and
    http://forums.randi.org/showthread.php?t=82393 … where he started to participate himself on post #30 as a sockpuppet called “JamesGully”, which was guessed on post #40. He did out himself later though. The hilarity is there in the first few pages, the last few pages are keeping track of his foibles on other webpages, like Wikipedia.

  7. #7 James Pannozzi
    January 16, 2009

    “PalMd” wrote:
    “Remember, though, that your friend with cancer is fighting like hell, and there are no miracle cures “they” don’t want you to know about. There is no cabal of researchers sitting on some treatment reluctant to share their success. Cancer is hard work, and since it’s a full time job, patients are often looking for islands of normalcy in their day.”

    I agree but the problem is that much of the research appears to be misdirected efforts – sort of like the search for bin Laden and the starting of a war searching for nonexistent weapons in the wrong place at the wrong time for the wrong reasons.

    Your thoughts on the book “The Secret History Of the War on Cancer” are welcome, regarding this.

    To HCN: I see you’ve referenced something called the “quackometer” and the “Amazing” Randi’s website. Are you aware that a Greek Homeopath nameed George Vitoulkas spent MONTHS attempting to set up tests that would be agreeable to Mr… let’s call him “Maze Andi” for short? At a crucial point in the understandably elaborate “negotiations”, “Maze Andi” became “ill” for several MONTHS and only he could approve the “negotiations”. Meanhile, by an incredible coincidence, the entire government of Greece changed along with the hospital admistration which had approved the resources needed to attempt the test at the hospital. Don’t you see that NOBODY is ever going to “win” any money from “Andi” for anything for any reason because there will always be some new angle, such as the influence of cosmic rays on the experiment, the need to be ruled out? Please don’t insult our intelligence by referring to these types of things in any serious discussion of anything.

    I see you have carefully ommitted reference to the now, in my opinion, discredited Quackwatch organization which has lost major lawsuits against alternative medicine to the tune of hundreds of thousands of dollars in losses and been publicly chastized in some court decisions regarding their apparent lack of objectivity, and lack of scientific evidence to support their negative opinion. Well done HCN!

  8. #8 PalMD
    January 16, 2009

    You, sir, are a certifiable idiot, if the actually issued certificates for irrelevancy and illogic. Bravo.

  9. #9 James Pannozzi
    January 17, 2009

    “Pal”, aw no need to resort to innuendo, here’s a nice excerpt from the review of the book from Amazon. We’ll just let the readers decide for themselves if it might be relevant AND logical, those of them, if any, that don’t need you to decide it for them, eh?

    I know it must be frightening for you when people start deciding to think for themselves or dare disagree with your assesments – with the coming of President Obama and the likely reforms to the “health” “care” system, I’d suggest you GET USED TO IT.

    The following excerpt from amazon review of
    “The Secret History of the War on Cancer” by D. Davis

    (Devra Davis is the Director for the Center of Environmental Oncology at the University of Pittsburgh)

    “Even before its official launch more than three decades ago, the War on Cancer was fighting many of the wrong battles, with the wrong weapons and the wrong leaders. Little has changed since. Conceived in explicitly military terms, the campaign against cancer has always been about defeating an existing enemy – detecting, treating and curing the disease. The campaign has hardly addressed the basic causes of the disease such as tobacco, the workplace of the general environment; proof that the world in which we live and work has a lot to do with whether we get cancer was either overlooked or suppressed, often by people who had a major economic interest in making this happen.This has been no accident. The War on Cancer has been directed, from the beginning, by leaders who came from industries that generated a host of cancer-causing materials and products, or who controlled firms that profited directly from cancer treatment. Their economic interests lay in making the disease less deadly, but never in preventing its occurrence.” The Secret History of the War on Cancer” shows, decade by decade, how this leadership acted to prevent research on prevention from ever being done – or, once done, from ever gaining widespread circulation or affecting either medical practice or government policy.”

    Along with this book, the “Integrative Oncology” book is high up on my list of books to read, I hope you do so too.

    PS, I look forward to my certificate, the collection is a growing one, but do not at all envy those who with their firm “evidence”
    base (hah!) need only see things one way, from one direction and work mightly to make sure NOBODY else dares do otherwise.

  10. #10 Ramel
    January 17, 2009

    Hmmmmm, James Pannozzi… There’s a name I’ve seen before… If I remember correctly he was quoting Rustrom Roy, while telling me Ben Goldacre wasn’t a very good source. I laughed. Long and Hard. Oh and james, the Quackometer challenge does not offer a cash prize, it’s called the $100 Challenge because the test can be done that cheaply.

  11. #11 Ramel
    January 17, 2009
  12. #12 CanadianChick
    January 17, 2009

    excellent advice – not just for cancer patients, but for those of us who suffer from other chronic diseases (in my case, arthritis). I do get so tired of unsolicited advice about how honey/gin-soaked raisins/liver cleanses/glucosamine/macrobiotics/ would make SUCH a difference…so-and-so said that they knew of a person who did just that and was CURED!!!11!

    here’s a thought to the advice profferers. Shut the hell up unless someone says “gee, what should I do”. Or if you must speak, say “is there anything I can do that would help?”

  13. #13 James Pannozzi
    January 17, 2009

    @Ramel

    I did some laughing myself once I learned that Ben Goldacre had gotten a LARGE cash prize for, I think it was for “scientific” journalism, a while back, for an article defending the MMR vaccine against critics. The award’s source was…(SURPRISE!!) SmithGlaxoKline, parent company of (SURPRISE!!) MMR Vaccine manufacturers.

    I see you have wisely avoided any mention of the “Amazing” Randi’s challenge and instead referenced some other one, offered from a web site striving to “fill the gap” left by the unfortunate negative publicity and court loses of quackwatch. Here is MY challenge to you – see if you can discuss alternative medicine research, particularly research done by legitmate MD’s, PhD’s, Chemists and other bona fide professionals, most certainly including Rustum Roy, without accusing the researchers of being quacks or charlatans. Particularly in Homeopathy, many of the researchers are probably risking their careers investigating the crazy thing (or is it nothing, am not quite sure about that). Next time you want to laugh at Roy, do yourself a favor and publish an internationally acclaimed textbook on a subject in chemistry and become a professor of emeritus in materials science first and then maybe you’ll be in a position to do some laughing. Maybe not.

    In case mention of researching crazy things inspires you with outrage and bigotry irrespective of the possibility of scientific validation, forget about Homeopathy and investigate the “many worlds” theory of Quantum Mechanics. I promise you will have a field day with that one.

  14. #14 Ramel
    January 17, 2009

    Oops, you mentioned quackometer and started talking about Ani, quackometer is run by Andy Lewis, thats why I posted the link to his challenge. Dosen’t change a damned thing though, and I’m not going to waste my time arguing the evedence with you, been there, seen it done it, whats the point? You have your belief, I already know you’re not care how much evidce is stacked up against you, so I’m just going to laugh at you. I especialy like the conspiracy bits, because we all know alt-med practioners and reaserches take a vow of poverty and work purely for the good of others, right?

  15. #15 HCN
    January 18, 2009

    Mr Pannozzi is a crazy homeopath who is best ignored. He does present not any real scientific evidence when he posts to the blogs. And if he does it is the sub par ramblings of Rustom Roy and the other deluded ilk.

    Note how he tries to create some conspiracy with a vaccine that has been around for almost four decades (the MMR). So far no one has noticed that its approval in the USA caused a teeny tiny issue in 1971. If one can present evidence that the so-called autism epidemic started thirty years ago before the presently used DSM-IV, that would be interesting evidence. Otherwise, you are just creating a bunch of uneducated noise.

    Mr. Pannozzi, if you wished to be seriously considered as a valid commenter here, try posting some real evidence. Do not post guesses and speculations based on your rather warped view of reality (which seems to be that the more one dilutes a remedy the stronger it gets!).

    That means posting links to real research! (and no, links to any journal with any form of the words “homeopath”, “complementary”, “veritas, “hypothesis”, and “alternative” do not count.

    Sorry, only real research will be considered.

  16. #16 James Pannozzi
    January 18, 2009

    @HCN

    Bad news for you HCN, I most certainly am NOT
    a Homeopath (that takes several years of study), nor is it my job, duty nor inclination
    to provide “evidence” for you on any subject whatsoever.
    You think I’m a “defender” of Homeopathy but my goals are somewhat more general.

    All I do is point out the unreasoning near hysteria
    and illogical innuendo such as you have demonstrated in your response requesting the exclusion of ALL Homeopathic and Alternative medicine scientific journals from consideration by your “godlike” self appointed status as sole arbiter of exactly what “real” research constitutes.

    Were I to mention the Journal of Inflammation’s recent several articles by scientists confirming M. Ennis’ experiment demonstrating biological activity stimulated by high dilutions (you know, the famous one which the 2001 BBC Horizon documentary did NOT repeat, contrary to the wikipedia nonsense about her), or a recent Journal of Clinical Epidemiology article which trashed the 2005 meta analysis of Homeopathy as not better than placebo, published in Lancet, as essentially worthless, I’m sure you’d find a way to exclude those publications too. GO find the links yourself, it’s easy enough.

    Feel free to stop reading and considering all the Physics and Quantum Mechanics journals too, they are filled with ideas far “crazier” than any in Homeopathy, if that is your standard, but please don’t assign me any roles whatsoever to prove anything to you. NOT my problem. It is, however, your problem to decide if you want to stick your head in the sand and leave it there. I know it can be discomforting when people show up who challenge your innuendo, studied misinformation, absurd exclusions and self righteous protestations. Try to get used to it, it happens a lot in a free society with freedom of choice and the free flow of ideas unfettered by a single dominant system of medicine’s point of view.

  17. #17 PalMD
    January 19, 2009

    I most certainly am NOT
    a Homeopath (that takes several years of study)

    HAHAHAHAHAHA!!! (wiping tears)

    HAHAHAHAHAHAHA!!!!

    nor is it my job, duty nor inclination
    to provide “evidence” for you on any subject whatsoever

    HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!!!!

  18. #18 epsilon
    January 19, 2009

    Oh, what we would do without the extremely knowledgeable, enlightened to come here and dispense his wisdom from on high? And then he has the nerve to claim that HCN considers himself “godlike”. Well James, are you being godlike or simply messiah-like, here to save his from a lifetime of having our head stuck in the mountains of evidence?

  19. #19 epsilon
    January 19, 2009

    Oops, should save “save us” and not “save his”.

  20. #20 Chad
    January 19, 2009

    Oh my god, did he really say homeopahty takes several years of study? Jesus fucking Christ he’s a lost cause.

  21. #21 Tulse
    January 19, 2009

    I do get so tired of unsolicited advice about how honey/gin-soaked raisins/liver cleanses/glucosamine/macrobiotics/ would make SUCH a difference.

    Gin-soaked raisins sound tasty. I’m just sayin’.

    (Of course, it’s a bit of a waste of good gin, which, because it has alcohol, might actually have some analgesic effects, so perhaps a better treatment would be several martinis…)

  22. #22 HCN
    January 19, 2009

    Well I see Mr. Pannozzi has given us some real evidence that is he not just a half wit but is a complete idiot.

  23. #23 Dr Benway
    January 19, 2009

    Particularly in Homeopathy, many of the researchers are probably risking their careers investigating the crazy thing (or is it nothing, am not quite sure about that).

    So… u liek homeopathy? Iz alternatifs? Wot maeks a ting an alternatifs?

  24. #24 For you...
    January 19, 2009

    … how diluted homeopathic remedies are, follow the zeros!

    Recipe for Nat Mur or Natrum Mur or Natrium Mur or Natrum muriaticum:

    1) Take ½ teaspoon of sea salt and dissolve into 1 cup of distilled water in a bottle.
    2) Shake well.
    3) This is a 1C solution (ratio 1/100).
    4) Take ½ teaspoon of the 1C solution and put it a bottle with 1 cup of distilled water, throw out the 1C solution.
    5) Shake well.
    6) This is a 2C solution (ratio 1/10000).
    7) Take ½ teaspoon of the 2C solution and put it a bottle with 1 cup of distilled water, throw out the 2C solution.
    8) Shake well.
    9) This is a 3C solution (1/1000000).
    10) Take ½ teaspoon of the 3C solution and put it a bottle with 1 cup of distilled water, throw out the 3C solution.
    11) Shake well.
    12) This is a 4C solution (1/100000000).
    13) Take ½ teaspoon of the 4C solution and put it a bottle with 1 cup of distilled water, throw out the 4C solution.
    14) Shake well.
    15) This is a 5C solution (1/10000000000).
    16) Take ½ teaspoon of the 5C solution and put it a bottle with 1 cup of distilled water, throw out the 5C solution.
    17) Shake well.
    18) This is a 6C solution (1/1000000000000).
    19) Take ½ teaspoon of the 6C solution and put it a bottle with 1 cup of distilled water, throw out the 6C solution.
    20) Shake well.
    21) This is a 7C solution (1/100000000000000).
    22) Take ½ teaspoon of the 7C solution and put it a bottle with 1 cup of distilled water, throw out the 7C solution.
    23) Shake well.
    24) This is an 8C solution (1/10000000000000000).
    25) Take ½ teaspoon of the 8C solution and put it a bottle with 1 cup of distilled water, throw out the 8C solution.
    26) Shake well.
    27) This is a 9C solution (1/1000000000000000000).
    28) Take ½ teaspoon of the 9C solution and put it a bottle with 1 cup of distilled water, throw out the 9C solution.
    29) Shake well.
    30) This is a 10C solution (1/100000000000000000000).
    31) Take ½ teaspoon of the 10C solution and put it a bottle with 1 cup of distilled water, throw out the 10C solution.
    32) Shake well.
    33) This is a 11C solution (1/10000000000000000000000).
    34) Take ½ teaspoon of the 11C solution and put it a bottle with 1 cup of distilled water, throw out the 11C solution.
    35) Shake well.
    36) This is a 12C solution (ratio 1/1000000000000000000000000).
    37) Take ½ teaspoon of the 12C solution and put it a bottle with 1 cup of distilled water, throw out the 12C solution.
    38) Shake well.
    39) This is a 13C solution (1/100000000000000000000000000).
    40) Take ½ teaspoon of the 13C solution and put it a bottle with 1 cup of distilled water, throw out the 13C solution.
    41) Shake well.
    42) This is a 14C solution (1/10000000000000000000000000000).
    43) Take ½ teaspoon of the 14C solution and put it a bottle with 1 cup of distilled water, throw out the 14C solution.
    44) Shake well.
    45) This is a 15C solution (1/1000000000000000000000000000000).
    46) Take ½ teaspoon of the 15C solution and put it a bottle with 1 cup of distilled water, throw out the 15C solution.
    47) Shake well.
    48) This is a 16C solution (1/100000000000000000000000000000000).
    49) Take ½ teaspoon of the 16C solution and put it a bottle with 1 cup of distilled water, throw out the 16C solution.
    50) Shake well.
    51) This is a 17C solution (1/10000000000000000000000000000000000).
    52) Take ½ teaspoon of the 17C solution and put it a bottle with 1 cup of distilled water, throw out the 17C solution.
    53) Shake well.
    54) This is an 18C solution (1/1000000000000000000000000000000000000).
    55) Take ½ teaspoon of the 18C solution and put it a bottle with 1 cup of distilled water, throw out the 18C solution.
    56) Shake well.
    57) This is a 19C solution (1/100000000000000000000000000000000000000).
    58) Take ½ teaspoon of the 19C solution and put it a bottle with 1 cup of distilled water, throw out the 19C solution.
    59) Shake well.
    60) This is a 20C solution (1/10000000000000000000000000000000000000000).
    61) Take ½ teaspoon of the 20C solution and put it a bottle with 1 cup of distilled water, throw out the 20C solution.
    62) Shake well.
    63) This is a 21C solution (1/1000000000000000000000000000000000000000000).
    64) Take ½ teaspoon of the 21C solution and put it a bottle with 1 cup of distilled water, throw out the 21C solution.
    65) Shake well.
    66) This is a 22C solution (ratio 1/100000000000000000000000000000000000000000000).
    67) Take ½ teaspoon of the 22C solution and put it a bottle with 1 cup of distilled water, throw out the 22C solution.
    68) Shake well.
    69) This is a 23C solution (1/10000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000).
    70) Take ½ teaspoon of the 23C solution and put it a bottle with 1 cup of distilled water, throw out the 23C solution.
    71) Shake well.
    72) This is a 24C solution (1/1000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000).
    73) Take ½ teaspoon of the 24C solution and put it a bottle with 1 cup of distilled water, throw out the 24C solution.
    74) Shake well.
    75) This is a 25C solution (1/100000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000).
    76) Take ½ teaspoon of the 25C solution and put it a bottle with 1 cup of distilled water, throw out the 25C solution.
    77) Shake well.
    78) This is a 26C solution (1/10000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000).
    79) Take ½ teaspoon of the 26C solution and put it a bottle with 1 cup of distilled water, throw out the 26C solution.
    80) Shake well.
    81) This is a 27C solution (1/1000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000).
    82) Take ½ teaspoon of the 27C solution and put it a bottle with 1 cup of distilled water, throw out the 27C solution.
    83) Shake well.
    84) This is a 28C solution (1/100000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000).
    85) Take ½ teaspoon of the 28C solution and put it a bottle with 1 cup of distilled water, throw out the 28C solution.
    86) Shake well.
    87) This is a 29C solution (1/10000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000).
    88) Take ½ teaspoon of the 29C solution and put it a bottle with 1 cup of distilled water, throw out the 29C solution.
    89) Shake well.
    90) This is a 30C solution (1/1000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000).

    And then you are done! You can make up other remedies by knowing what the mother tincture is… For instance “Nux Vomica” (or Nux Vom) is from the Nux Vomica plant which contains the poison strychnine, Nux Sulph uses sulpher, and the stuff advertised on the radio for colds, Oscillococcinum is from duck liver.

  25. #25 Aquaria
    January 20, 2009

    Thank you for this column.

    My brother had cancer about 13 years ago. You’d think that my mother, the CRNA, would have known exactly what to do at such a time, but she was the hair-on-fire, hysterical mess. When he’d gotten his chemotherapy and was in that, “Okay, now let’s wait and see” mode, he finally called me and begged me to convince her to let me come up for a while and “give her a break–” code for give me a break. She was driving him crazy! So the arrangements were made, and I went, having no idea what I needed to do. But I just went with whatever he felt like doing, or eating, or whatever. It was all cool with me. I was just glad he was still alive! And if he wanted biscuits and sausage gravy for breakfast every morning, by damn he got it!

    When it was time for me to leave, I got the biggest hug I’d ever gotten from him, and he thanked me for being the first person who “got it.” He’d just needed someone calm and understanding near, but not smothering him, or freaking on him.

    BTW, he gained a few pounds while I stayed with him, because he a) didn’t forego eating from not having enough strength to make or get a meal and b) didn’t have his nerves over the edge from a worry-wort mother hovering over him.

  26. #26 Chris
    January 20, 2009

    Aquaria said “When it was time for me to leave, I got the biggest hug I’d ever gotten from him, and he thanked me for being the first person who “got it.””

    You sound like a wonderful sister and person. It was good you got the big hug.

    Though as a mom, I wonder if I could be anything but a “worry-wart” if any of my children were in the same situation as your brother. I would just hope that there be sanity near by to be a life line.

  27. #27 KillerChihuahua
    January 20, 2009

    @ Mike, 10 year survivor:

    Thank you for taking the time out to post a view from the “other side”. It is hard sometimes to remember that giving family members something which makes them feel like they are helping can be much needed therapy for them.

    @Althea: Oh my. I remember being in the hospital with a very bad staph infection, the doctors were concerned it might have gotten into my brain and were talking brain surgery etc, and one friend came by and was just visiting – I was laughing and having a wonderful time. Then a couple came in and damped the whole mood to complete misery. I got my hand patted, talks about prayers, worried looks, and generally a funereal atmosphere. I didn’t toss them out because I didn’t want to be rude, but they drove my cheerful friend off, and I have never quite forgiven them for that.

  28. #28 James Pannozzi
    January 20, 2009

    @PalMD

    Go ahead laugh it up. Would you pardon me for getting
    some laughter in myself at THIS statement you made:

    “But of course you have to take cues from your friends. If they seem like they want advice, then they probably do. But please remember that their doctors are pretty damned knowledgeable. If there were a miracle diet, a magic pill, or any other way to help their patients, they’d already be using it.”

    Now Pal, I know you chaps would like to continue this laughable delusion such as you have stated here – and if you want to believe it, that’s fine with me, just don’t expect me and a great many other people to believe your self congratulatory condescending nonsense.

    You want to really convince us of that you go crack open a Homeopathy journal or go to your computer and look up them research, for example, on the utilization of Homeopathic Ruta for brain cancer. Maybe its crap research, maybe not – other researchers attempted repetitions and other journal articles will decide that. But you want to laugh while people are suffering from illness you go ahead – me, I’m going to search and keep searching and never quit.

    Now go get some sleep, you probably have rounds to make.

    @For You…
    Wow lotta zeroes there just like in your head – how about you look up M. Ennis’ experiments clearly showing biological activity stimulated by highly dilute solutions with lots of zeros in them just like you’ve shown there. Then go find Sainte-Laude’s recent confirmations in 2007 and 2008 in the journal Inflammtion Research, confirming her results.
    Ennis, originally a skeptic of this experiment, still published her results admitting that there was no known science to explain it.
    But in your head, “For You…” there is apparently no room for the unknown because you’ve filled your head with zeros – unfortunately a situation that appears to be endemic among some of the blog responders here.

    How Ullman ever puts up with you nitwits I don’t know but I’m tempted to nominate him for sainthood.

  29. #29 Joe
    January 20, 2009

    @Jim Pan,

    I have not only looked at your pathetic magazine (Homeopathy), I have published in it when Nostrum Roy’s article was unsupportable, even by their lax standards. Trust me, there is no there, there.

    I have, recently, gained access to many OnLine journals; so, maybe I should look up Ennis. However, what is important is clinical evidence; and that is entirely lacking. Homeopaths make thousands of clinical claims, there should be thousands of high-quality clinical reports for homeopathy. They don’t exist.

    I once helped a mentally retarded boy with his high school science project- he was more sophisticated than authors I have seen in, or citing, the magazine (Homeopathy). When he got his result, he asked me “How can we know this is right?” He was 14 years old, and asking an important question that adult quacks (including homeopaths) never consider.

  30. #30 Becca
    January 20, 2009

    “Nutritional changes also won’t help your immune system to hunt down and kill cancer cells more effectively.” Most likely. Still, I’m reminded of a lot of macrophage function and vitamin D in terms of fighting off infectious disease. Though, if you aren’t deficient to start, I will admit to skepticism as to how much supplementing will help.

    Of course, there’s a fair amount of plausible research on a lot of chemopreventive dietary measures. They tend to use ridiculous quantities, or involve very modest gains, but many of them are proving to be reproducible.

    If rigorous dietary rules/restrictions cause a lot of stress, I tend to see that as pretty useless for helping people. On the other hand, if a loved one I know loves dairy products, or oranges, or tomatos, I have no trouble assuring them that vitamin D or C or lycopene is probably quite good for them.

  31. #31 khan
    January 20, 2009

    Then a couple came in and damped the whole mood to complete misery. I got my hand patted, talks about prayers, worried looks, and generally a funereal atmosphere. I didn’t toss them out because I didn’t want to be rude, but they drove my cheerful friend off, and I have never quite forgiven them for that.

    Sometimes being rude is the only appropriate response.

  32. #32 yogi-one
    January 21, 2009

    OK, OK, reality check, people!

    My mother beat cancer TWICE. Not once, but twice. Breast cancer, then skin cancer later in life. Full recovery in both instances. How did she do it?

    1. She got diagnosed before it metastasized.
    2. She had the surgeries necessary
    3. She stayed on the program of physical therapy and other post-op recommendations of the doctors until they were complete

    And

    She became vegetarian, began to get regular exercise, and had a good sense of humor and a strong belief in her ability to heal.

    No one is saying that healthy food, a strong belief in yourself, and exercise aren’t good things that enhance life: they certainly are.

    But it was the first three that cured the cancer. My mother was under no illusion about this.

    So, I am in the somewhat curious position of having to report that my anecdotal experience supports the idea that if you are seriously ill, you should pay attention to the science that has been done regarding your illness, and find truly qualified people who know what the hell they are doing to treat your specific illness.

    Too much depends on getting it right. You can’t mess around.

  33. #33 Pat
    January 21, 2009

    Useful advice for cancer patients, in the few cases I’ve been around, mostly centered on what your rights are as a patient with health insurance. Health insurance, for instance, is required to cover reconstruction after mastectomy: it’s no longer considered an ‘elective’ surgery, and it’s important that people know that. Part of the diagnosis is the feeling of loss of control, so it can be helpful to know you aren’t completely cut out of the decision making process. Trust the experts, but know your rights, educate yourself.

  34. #34 D. C. Sessions
    January 21, 2009

    You, sir, are a certifiable idiot, if the actually issued certificates for irrelevancy and illogic. Bravo.

    Ah, Doctor, you need to be more specific. Your comment quoted above followed both Dana Ullman and Citizen Jimserac. I will concede that CJ/Pannozzi is the more, ummm, colorful of the two.

    Do be nice to him, though — he’s on his best behavior here. On Usenet (MHA) he’s fond of doing “strike all” replies and pasting in the same boilerplate list of homeopathic references to dozens of posts. The dude racks up some impressive Briedbart Indices while primarily acting as the newsgroup clown.

  35. #35 D. C. Sessions
    January 21, 2009

    Oh my god, did he really say homeopahty takes several years of study? Jesus fucking Christ he’s a lost cause.

    Truly, you have no idea.

  36. #36 D. C. Sessions
    January 21, 2009

    Distractions from the wingnut incursion aside, I will point out that the “wellwishers” are primarily comforting themselves. They’re not there to help the patient: they’re there to reassure themselves that can’t happen to them because they (are Good People|are Chosen by God|eat right|take the right vitamins|etc.)

    Broken Record: read Kushner’s When Bad Things Happen To Good People for an excellent explanation of the psychology involved.

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