Letter to an Incipient Cancer Survivor

This is a letter I wrote to a dear friend from the 1970s who has been diagnosed recently with colon cancer.  She had surgery last summer to remove the primary tumor, and is in the midst of a 12-week course of chemotherapy.  She has, in my opinion, a well-balanced view of the relative merits of traditional vs alternative treatments. One unusual thing about her situation is that she has an extraordinary social support system, having led a community of peer counselors within the disability community for many years, and now benefiting personally from the community of people she has helped.

Dear M—-,

  We would like to be able to derive from the research on controlled clinical trials a “best bet” treatment option, but the data to support this inference don’t exist.  One reason is that only chemotherapy has been tested with controlled clinical trials, and for your particular brand of cancer, the odds that chemo offers don’t look attractive.  For alternative treatment modalities, we have only anecdotes and not controlled trials. Another reason is that cancer is an individual disease, more so than heart disease or infectious diseases.  Different people respond very differently, and the medical community has not yet figured out how to tell in advance which treatments will work for which patients.

   Western medicine profoundly misunderstands the nature of cancer.  The classical understanding is that cancer results from a series of random mutations as the body’s stem cells divide, culminating in some combination of genetic abnormalities that enable a single cell to evade apoptosis and all the body’s defenses against cancer.  In this paradigm, the root of the problem is in the DNA of the cell nucleus. But we know from experiment this is not true. When the DNA-nucleus of a cancer cell is transplanted into a normal cell, the normal cell remains normal, and when the DNA-nucleus of a normal cell is transplanted into a cancer cell, the cell remains cancerous [ref, ref].  I don’t pretend to understand the true cause of cancer, but I suspect it is related to the mitochondria at the cellular level, and to immune and other deficiencies at the system level that make the metabolism as a whole hospitable to cancer.

   When our bodies are healthy, cancer is nipped in the bud, probably as a frequent and routine occurrence.  Cancerous cells are induced to commit suicide (apoptosis) or they are marked out by the immune system and destroyed by white blood cells.  Cancer arises as a clinical reality only when the body fails to do this. Western medicine makes the mistake of focusing exclusively on killing the cancer, without attention to re-balancing the body or strengthening the immune system so cancer cannot recur.  In fact, chemo and radiation both damage the immune system, which you depend on to guard against a recurrence.

   I’ve heard some doctors say, and I believe it’s true, that all cancer treatment modalities rely in the end on your immune system to kill the last few cancer cells and to prevent recurrence.  When cancer recurs, is it because just one cancer cell managed to survive the onslaught of chemo, or is it because the immune system is so weak that the body is highly vulnerable to new instances?  It is an academic question, because in any case we need a healthy immune system to survive.

    At some point, our plan will be to switch over from killing the cancer to healing your body and restoring your immune system.  Maybe we’re already at that point, after surgery + four chemo infusions. Maybe you’re ready now to make the transition. Cancer-killing treatments make you feel bad, accelerate aging, and damage your body.  In contrast, healing and immune support will feel good in the present and will have beneficial side-effects for other aspects of your health.

   There are many credible alternative cancer treatments out there.  None of them is a universal cure, but all of them have worked for some significant percentage of people who tried them.  The plan will be to choose an alternative clinic or a medication or a diet plan and try it for about 6 weeks. The proposal depends critically on having a sensitive and non-harmful test that you can do every 6 weeks for feedback on whether the treatment is working.

       My proposal will take time.  I believe you have time. You’re not going to die this year or next year, and we have time to try at least a dozen treatments.  We don’t expect the first one or the second to work, but there’s a good chance one of them will. There are many, many stories of people who have banished cancer from their bodies.  You’re the next success story, waiting to be told.

   I propose that you tell your oncologist that you want to find out if the 4 doses of chemo have killed the great majority of the cancer, so that you can now strengthen your own system to handle the last few (chemo-resistant) cells.  Tell her that you are open to returning to chemo in the future should it be necessary, but that for the next phase, you want to try a series of alternative treatments that are non-toxic and have only beneficial side-effects. Each of these has worked for some fraction of patients, and your expectation is that one of them will work for you.  Tell her that you would like to ask her to work with you as an expert diagnostician, using blood tests and subjective state of health to tell when a treatment is not working, so you can move to the next option, and to tell you when a treatment is working, so you can stick with it.

    (I believe PET scans are the most informative test for cancer, but your oncologist will know much more than I.  PET scans are expensive, and I imagine that insurers discourage their overuse. More concerning is that the radiation dose is about 100 times a chest x-ray [ref], so we’ll be counting on your oncologist to come up with a less damaging battery of tests that you can do, perhaps as often as every 6 weeks.)

    We have lots of candidate treatments to try, from the Moss Report, from the Polizzi video or a long list of herbal medicines, from your sources and mine.  There are approaches that involve killing cancer cells with medicines that are much less toxic to your non-cancerous cells, for example, intravenous vitamin C, curcumin, cannabis, dichloracetate, and many others.  A complementary approach strengthens the body’s resistance to cancer, especially the immune system. In the end, it must be your own healthy immune system that protects you from cancer. Reishi and other mushroom extracts, Cimetidine=Tagamet, Nigella sativa (kalonji seed), spirulina, and green tea extract are among many nutracuticals that strengthen the body’s resistance to cancer.  I want to remind you especially of the research of Valter Longo, a USC professor who has worked with fasting and diets that discourage cancer.  There are alternative cancer clinics in Canada and Mexico and around the world that have cured some fraction of the people who have sought their help.  

    Almost all of these interventions have been attacked or dismissed as frauds.  Sometimes this is because they really are frauds, and sometimes it is the medical community circling its wagons to avoid infiltration by researchers outside the mainstream.  Until we look in detail at the accusations and the results, it is difficult to tell the difference, and even then we’re often left guessing. Much of the debunking is based on theory–“there is no credible biochemical mechanism by which xyz can cure cancer.”  I take these pronouncements with a grain of salt, and look only at the empirical results. We don’t understand cancer well enough to dismiss anything on theoretical grounds

    Any one of these options has a low probability of providing deliverance from your cancer, but you have time to try 10 or 20 of them, and there is a very good chance that you will respond to one of them.  You are destined to become the next “miracle cure” cancer anecdote — we just don’t know yet which one you will be.

    I’ve mentioned to you a fallback option, in the unlikely event we should find ourselves two or three years from now with a persistent, active threat of cancer.  The last resort would be to replace your immune system with a bone marrow transplant from your niece (or another related donor, preferably younger).  The upside is that the transplanted immune system absolutely will not tolerate your cancer, and will eliminate it promptly.  The downside is that you expose yourself to “graft-vs-host disease”, in which your immune system also treats healthy cells as “foreign” and attacks them.  This is a potentially fatal complication, and would probably consign you to immune suppressants for the rest of your life.

Im in this with you for as long as it takes.  So are your dear friends and family and the deep community of people who are full of gratitude for the years of love and attention you have offered them.

— Josh