PictureStill walking strong! You can survive cancer.
Here is a response to a friend who sent me links to watch some videos called "The Truth About Cancer" by Ty Bollinger. In this letter I share some principles that guide my thinking about alternative therapies.

Hi [name],
Thanks for the links. I watched the first & second videos, but find them to be a mixed bag. I certainly empathize with Mr. Bollinger's motivation to question things after the loss of his parents to cancer, but I don't think that qualifies him to be an objective spokesperson for "the truth" about cancer. I agree with the need for nutrition and exercise, but many of his statements and those of his expert witnesses don't provide a complete or accurate portrayal of the situation with cancer care, according to my experience.  (Hiram's Law: If you consult enough experts, you can confirm any opinion.)

A lot has changed in cancer therapy over the last 5-10 years. It's not all systemic chemo and radiation now. There are targeted therapies and immunotherapies that are almost miraculous, with more discoveries every week. Any time I hear about "the cancer industry," I cringe. It's so unfair. We may as well talk about the "cavity industry" as if there is a conspiracy between dentists and toothpaste manufacturers, who are determined to keep us in dental chairs to make money for themselves. The doctors I know would be thrilled to see a cure for cancer. My surgeons are ecstatic that I am doing so well. Any researcher who found a cure for cancer would get a Nobel Prize. The conspiracy idea is unfair to many thousands of doctors and researchers who have devoted their lives to the elimination of this scourge. If cancer were cured, the cancer centers and hospitals would have plenty of other ailments to work on. City of Hope, for instance, used to be primarily a tuberculosis treatment center.

One problem is that cancer is complex. You can't put all cancers in one category; they're all different, and patients are all different.  The causes, too, are different: everything from genes to carcinogen exposure to radon gas. That's what makes it so hard to understand and treat. It's simplistic to think that one treatment modality will work for everyone. Every week I read about new insights into cancer from research labs all over the world. Amazing discoveries are coming from understanding the immune system. Science Magazine called immunotherapy the "breakthrough of the year" at the end of 2013, and more discoveries are coming apace. Some patients with advanced melanoma went into complete remission with immunotherapy--but others in the same trial did not. Figuring out the reasons for the difference is a hot area of research right now. It may require personalized medicine to help people. One size does not fit all.

As for the insinuation that the "cancer industry" is opposed to nutrition or alternative medicine, look at what City of Hope is doing:
City of Hope and other cancer centers have specialists in nutrition who advise patients on what to eat. That was true in my case. They didn't want me back! They wanted me to stay healthy and successful.

I'm sure there are cases where drug companies are blameworthy; after all, they are businesses, and have to watch their bottom line for their shareholders. But they are also highly regulated by the FDA (perhaps over-regulated); it's a huge debate about how much regulation is appropriate. New therapies in Europe often become available years before the US catches up; I know people who have flown to Sweden or Germany to get treatments still unapproved in America. Clinical trials are often dreadfully slow.  I would be more critical of government regulators than drug companies. If a company could extract a compound from a plant and market it as a cancer cure or preventative, they could make a fortune. In fact, that is what they do; many top drugs are plant derivatives. The injection I get each month is made to mimic a natural hormone inhibitor; it works with no side effects, going right to the tumors. It's like a miracle drug. There's a new compound that was just FDA-approved that does even better.  No side effects! I keep my hair. No nausea. This is terrific.

"Chemotherapy" is way too broad a term. Each drug has its benefits and side effects. Most are targeted now; except in extreme cases, systemic chemo that damages healthy cells is on the downward trend. Radiation therapy has also come a long way. There are many different types and methods now. For my kind of cancer, there are microspheres that can go direct to the tumors and blast them with short-range radiation, leaving healthy liver tissue untouched. Proton beam therapy is coming into prominence now.  It's misleading to lump these treatments into general terms like "chemo and radiation" to scare people.

I agree strongly about the importance of nutrition. That's why I eat a lot of fruits and vegetables that have known cancer-fighting properties. It's also why I exercise every day. It's definitely helping, but it's not a cure; each MRI, those liver tumors are still there. I know people who did everything right and still got cancer, and others who live into old age with bad habits. It's inaccurate to suggest that tumors are just symptoms of bad diet, or that lifestyle changes will attack the root of the cause. Good lifestyle habits are important, but are no guarantee.

I also cringe at the suggestion that people should avoid standard-of-care treatments and go for alternatives only. I know of cases where people died doing that. Steve Jobs, in fact, had my kind of cancer, and died years before his time by going after empty promises about herbal remedies. There are quacks making a living off phony cures (talk about a conspiracy!). An MD in Texas, for instance, has evaded FDA shutdown for many years through legal loopholes, offering a phony cure based on a phony theory that no other  doctor or scientist accepts. I've had well-meaning and intelligent people come to me and offer me books or pamphlets about this-or-that herbal remedy or product, but when you look at the evidence, it's often woefully inadequate... usually based on testimonials. Isolated success stories do not prove effectiveness. Spontaneous remission can occur. It takes controlled trials with large numbers of people to obtain reliable evidence--evidence that overcomes the biases to which we humans are prone. 

My red flags about cancer claims: 1. The" cancer industry" doesn't want you to know this. 2. So-and-so took this and was miraculously cured. 3. Buy my product.

Carcinoid patients who follow the standard of care are often living for decades now, and the numbers continue to improve. It doesn't have to be either-or. I follow the standard of care, but I also eat right and exercise. I urge you to look beyond these videos and follow reputable sources that provide evidence-based information. We each have the responsibility to weigh everything carefully, and hold fast to what is good. In the final analysis, our days are in God's hands. I am convinced that prayer was the main thing that got me through my ordeal.

Thanks again, and blessings to you and [your husband]. Stay healthy!