October 1st, 2006Cancer Revisited
(NOTE: This is an article from the old School of Natural Healing newsletter)
by Lindsay B. Wolsey, MH
Recently I’ve had quite a few students ask when we’re going to get the Winning the War on Cancer newsletter finished. This was a newsletter that one of our former student advisors, Nathan Jaynes intended to write, as a follow-up to the War on Cancer. He never got around to writing the second part, and I managed to let it slip past as well. But before we can discuss how to Win the War on Cancer, I wanted to revisit cancer.
About six months ago my father-in-law was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s Disease. If you’ve dealt with cancer, you probably are aware of the various stages. There are four stages of cancer - depending on the type of cancer, it will be either numbered or lettered: Stage I is the beginning stage of cancer - prognosis is usually good, but it is often hard to diagnose cancer in this stage, as there are generally few symptoms. In Stage II, the cancer has usually gotten bigger, and can be detected - you still have good chance of beating the cancer. In Stage III cancer, the cancer is getting more advanced, more symptoms are showing up, the cancer may be spreading to other areas of the body - the prognosis is starting to get to the 50% range. With Stage IV cancer, you are lucky if you are given 50%. The cancer has spread, often systemically, and there are a lot of symptoms.
Cancer begins when cells cluster together and start multiplying in an out-of-control manner. Usually, cells get destroyed and replenished. At first, the body’s immune system fights the growth, but eventually the cancer spreads into surrounding tissues. This can take years, which is why some cancers take longer to diagnose than others, and some people have no symptoms for years.
My father-in-law’s cancer wasn’t diagnosed until he had Stage IV B-the B means that symptoms were present. Apparently Hodgkin’s Disease can often go undetected for quite some time, unless symptoms show up. In his case, he was having symptoms 4 years ago - but they were dismissed as not being important. Hmmm…chronic high fevers, to the point that his sleep was disrupted and he stopped making sense not important? For the record, he was alternately diagnosed with having liver failure, chronic fatigue, Candida, leukemia, and neuropathy. When he started going to various doctors, it was because of a tremendous pain that was working its way through his body, finally settling in his feet. When he saw a naturopathic physician and was diagnosed with Candida, he went on a dramatic dietary change. He was also the healthiest he has been in years, and if I remember right, the majority of the pain went away. However, we all know what happens when you go on a dramatic diet - eventually you go back to your old habits, and your old diseases come right back.
I was watching the Cancer Concerns video from our Nutritional Herbologist course the other day, and was struck again at the cancer statistics. And I am appalled at the amount of money we throw at cancer research, and the lack of new treatments. How long have we been doing chemotherapy and radiation and surgeries? And has our rates of cancer gone down? No. Has our length of recovery lengthened? No. It seems like the only thing that has changed is we are diagnosing cancer earlier. Except in cases like my father-in-law. Wouldn’t it be nice if we had a machine, like on Star Trek that would scan you and diagnose anything that ailed you? And then there would be some magical cure that the doctor could give you. Unfortunately, that is still science fiction.
My father-in-law opted to go the medical route. I will be honest with you - I didn’t try too hard to get him to change his mind. To quote David Christopher, which I am fond of doing, “I don’t run before I’m called.” My father-in-law squawks about taking Centrum Silver. He would rather suffer than take a laxative. He thinks all chiropractors are quacks. In a lot of respects, he is an incurable person. I suggested eating as many fresh fruits and vegetables as possible, and the best diet possible. The hospital sent home a booklet with suggestions like “add powdered milk to a milk shake” and “avoid fresh fruits because of bacteria.” After reading their cookbook, I was surprised that anyone survives cancer. It’s quite different from the foods we would recommend. But I’ll cover that in the next newsletter.
“CONVENTIONAL” Cancer Treatments
So, there are three main treatments for cancer. Let’s start with Chemotherapy. Chemotherapy is the use of drugs to kill or slow the growth of rapidly multiplying cells. Generally, chemo consists of two or more drugs, as that is more effective than using only one drug. There are two ways chemo is administered - intravenously, or orally. Chemo treatment is given in cycles, from several months to a year. In my father-in-law’s case, he has had six months of chemo. His last treatment was yesterday. About two months ago, the person who was injecting the chemo made a mistake and the drugs started leaking out of the tube in his body. This can be very dangerous, as the chemo drugs are very powerful and this could have killed him! They were worried that the tube had failed, and were debating putting another one in. As a Master Herbalist, I find the whole scenario scary. First they break the body’s hermetical seal by putting a foreign object into the body, and then they inject toxic chemicals into the body, and then they miss the mark? Another problem with chemotherapy is that it destroys the bodies immune system. My father-in-law goes to the hospital daily to receive a shot to boost his white cell count. Not only is this terribly painful, it is terribly expensive.
I received an e-mail yesterday about a study showing that chemotherapy might not be needed for breast cancer. Dr. Michael Hassett of Boston’s Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, who led the study, estimated that the serious side effects from chemotherapy could cost health plans up to $45 million a year. At over $1000 for a white cell shot, I believe it.
Next on the list is radiation. Basically, radiation damages the DNA in a cell. Radiation therapy is given for the radiation to destroy cancer cells and also allow the normal cells around them to repair themselves. The reason given for the length of time radiation therapy is given is to allow the normal tissue to repair itself and minimized permanent injury. This is generally given in conjunction with chemotherapy, which makes it more complicated, as chemo also harms normal tissues.
We are waiting to find out if my father-in-law will need radiation therapy. So far, it looks like the cancer is gone - with any luck he won’t need radiation. I’m actually amazed that he’s made it this far. His prognosis was so very bad - in fact, the radiologist they have consulted said the people with his stage of cancer never make it to radiation. So I suppose there is still hope.
The third form of conventional therapy is surgery. Sometimes they just remove a few lymph nodes, other times a whole body part. In the case of my aunt, that meant removing one of her breasts. The thought is that if they cut the cancer out, it will be gone. But cancer comes from somewhere.