As long-time readers know, I take issue with a number of high-profile “wellness warriors” and anti-science advocates who claim to offer “natural,” “holistic,” or simply “alternative” treatments that can cure cancer or prevent it entirely. Chief among these are Chris Wark and Ty Bollinger, two people with absolutely no scientific or medical training and tons of bad advice. They are part of a large network of disreputable and largely discredited hucksters, many of whom get by on their claims by offering just the tiniest shred of truth mixed in with their hyperbole and insidious messages. They thrive in our increasingly anti-intellectual culture, where headlines and sound bytes sway their customers and their “fan base” into believing that there is substance to their messages. This is why, more than ever, it is essential to take a critical approach to all the medical headlines that are presented, and especially those making extraordinary claims.
The well-established and professionally vetted website, Healthline, has a very good primer on the subject of spotting fake medical news. It could hardly be more topical. There is nary a day that goes by when some website or other isn’t making absurd claims about the latest health craze or danger. Whether it is bloating the risks of GMO foods or misrepresenting the cancer risk from eating red or processed meat, there are more sources out there in the ether intent upon cherry picking data or simply removing it from context in order to sell their point than there are serious outlets for the reporting of science news. Part of the problem with this is that science news isn’t usually considered very sexy or commercial, but a bigger problem is that it is generally difficult for most people to fully understand.
And capitalizing on that, we have opportunists like Chris Wark, a self-proclaimed guru on defeating cancer without chemotherapy. Duly note, of course, that Mr. Wark was cured through surgical intervention and, while chemotherapy was recommended as an adjunctive treatment to lower the risk of future metastasis, there was no indication that he had any actual, existing metastases that needed treatment. To put it bluntly, he was one of the lucky colon cancer patients who had it all taken out without any recurrence. This had nothing to do with whether or not he received chemotherapy, and there is no way of knowing how he would have responded to such treatment or whether his “lifestyle” choices have had any bearing whatsoever on his post-surgical health. Continue reading Common Sense, Clarity and Wellness Warrior Lies→
Here’s a thought that needs to be considered. Since the United States is not doing its part to fight global climate change, nature will not be able to keep up. This REQUIRES us to be open-minded about the advantages science offers to help our species adapt. Science-denial is one of the biggest reasons we are in this mess, but science can help mitigate the damage if it is embraced and supported in a reasonable, methodical and pro-active manner. One of the areas that must be re-evaluated by many is the use of GMO crops.
There is overwhelming evidence from unbiased sources that show the safety of these crops, many of which are modified explicitly to be able to grow under hotter and drier conditions, or in soil that would not otherwise support proper plant development. Already, without the use of GMO crops, it would be difficult to keep up with the food production needs of the planet. Within the next decade, there is little doubt left that human food will be largely reliant upon GMO crops for minimum sustainability. I propose that it is time to look at the science objectively and stop reacting to fear-based marketing that mostly just serves alternative health websites and their advertisers or overpriced processed food manufacturers.
One of the great wedges used by the anti-medical and anti-science proponents of these alternative treatments is the suggestion that the mainstream medical community cannot be trusted because they are all about the profits and not about actually curing disease. The suggestion is that Big Pharma is something of a shadow organization, bribing doctors and hospitals in order to maximize their corporate wealth — and there is just enough truth to thatfor it to be believable. The conspiracy generally lumps in a wide range of health practitioners, insinuating that MDs are systemically part of the problem and that anyone who speaks out against potentially deadly alternatives is automatically a shill for pharmaceutical companies. I get that one leveled at me from time to time, in spite of the fact that I advocate for a well-rounded and well-researched approach to personal care.
As the alternative crowd is fond of saying, if you want to know who to trust, you should follow the money. See what any particular site has to gain for spreading its message and, when possible, look at personal motivations from the authors. I have been fairly transparent in this regard, but perhaps I could go farther with my history. I am no “True Believer” in the medical establishment, at least not insofar as I put blind faith in doctors to automatically do what is right and best for every patient. I do think that most doctors genuinely try and that they believe they offer the best solutions. But I have also witnessed patients being treated like cattle, given no real consideration, and pushed toward drugs or treatments they probably neither needed not benefited from. And I fervently believe that my own father was pushed toward an early death by being overly and improperly medicated by too many “specialists” who failed to communicate with one another or fully attempt an understanding of what was going on with his health. Continue reading The Truth About the Truth About Cancer – Myth of the Wellness Warrior Part 3→
As a cancer patient on regular rounds of chemotherapy, this is a question that I have often asked myself. When I look in the mirror and see a body that I don’t recognize and the effects of the drugs on my brain have me under a heavy fog of malaise, it is easy to drop into the trap of defeatism. I have stared into my own eyes, wondering what had become of their prior yearning or that sly glint I imagined they used to have, and asked the mirror if this is what it feels like to die. To waste away into a reflection of what I was. To effectively disappear from the world, slowly, margin by margin, breath by breath. Continue reading Is This What Dying Feels Like?→
I take the commitment of a Halloween costume seriously. When I was a kid playing with stage makeup, I made myself look like I had been beaten so badly one Halloween that people forgot I was in costume and wanted to take me to the hospital. This year, I contemplated going as my cancer diagnosis. It seemed appropriate, after all, because I had the serendipity of getting my infusion on Halloween day this year. Just seemed perfect. But then I was thinking about it and, quite frankly, cancer just isn’t as scary as it used to be.
So I went with the most frightening costume I could come up with: a candy fiend. After all, little is as horrifying as someone coming off of a sugar binge. And my paunch is perfectly highlighted by the tight-fitting shirt that I have now worn for somewhere in the range of 6 to 10 Halloweens. (What can I say, some things are simply classically insidious.)
While a few years ago the idea of a giant tumor might have been amusing to me, and the notion of cancer in general seemed like a properly frightful subject, the story around these has changed for me. Hollywood, of course, still relies on cancer as it’s go-to meme for unsettling disease requirements, but then Hollywood is creatively lazy and uses the most basic shorthand it has for easy emotional manipulation.
Since I began chemotherapy, I’ve been maintaining a casual log of my symptoms. It’s one of those things that I will generally spare my readers, not only because it is occasionally gross, but because it really isn’t relevant. There are so many potential little side-effects, ranging from the innocuous to the downright ludicrous and back to the mildly irritable that one person’s experience will never directly relate to another’s. Certainly, there are the big ugly days that speckle themselves in there, but my log focuses on the annoyances.
Here’s why: it is a reminder of how little these things actually matter in the big picture. It also gives me a touchstone for meetings with my oncologist. We need something to talk about, after all, and then I need some reason to feel like an idiot for bitching about the balls of my feet feeling puffy or my nose being dry. Because, at the end of the day, it’s actually worse to have the flu. And I mean that, in a very practical sense, because I often compare my symptoms to being on the verge of getting the stomach flu. It can be unpleasant, but it could be much more unpleasant. Now, I will say this was not always the case. The first three months arguably had weeks peppered in that were worse than the flu I suffered through as a kid. But after my first six rounds of hardcore chemo, the veil of doom was lifted and I entered Walk in the Park Land.
I was going to title this post “Why I Love Parabens.” I had been reading up on them lately for a number of reasons, mostly surrounding a largely unfounded controversy surrounding a type of lip balm my daughter had been using. In the case of the lip balm, the “paraben-free” product was being accused of harboring mold with the implication being that this was a manufacturing defect. Examination of the claims revealed, however, that the mold was most likely the result of misuse or poor storage of the product which, due to the lack of effective preservatives, would be expected to mold if it was exposed to moisture and kept in the dark. This does, however, beg the question as to why a lip balm, of all things, would be sold without effective preservatives to protect against mold.
The answer, of course, is the unwarranted vilification of parabens. The natural cosmetics industry, and perhaps more accurately the Environmental Working Group and other activist organizations have been disseminating information about parabens for over a decade now, describing how they are endocrine disruptors and probably cause cancer. And this is where we get to the point of where science is occluded by hype, to the detriment of the consumer, the patient, the regular person on the street…Continue reading Parabens, Fear and Junk Science→
The past two weeks wore on me; at times, I felt like I could drown in the pool of stress I had been slowly sweating out of me, a thick quagmire created of my own internal angst that seemed to engulf me from all sides. I’ve drained that pool in the last couple of days after trying a little exercise I like to call Clearing the Roof. Because I realized that stress is a top-down issue, it was going to have to be dealt with right up there, on the roof, where all that clutter and debris had been sitting, decomposing into mucky, thick, unmanageable gunk. Some of it was fresh, identifiable, easily swept away. Some of it had been there for years and was entirely unrecognizable. A whole lot of it, it turned out, was just settled pollution, junk particles that had come to rest because nothing had ever washed them away. It had been a much longer time than I thought since I had done this kind of personal maintenance.
Good thing I had a tall ladder.
But first, some backstory: For years I have talked about the importance of letting go of stress. I have let it eat at me in the past while I absorbed it from other people like an emotional sponge and the effect is that it triggers very strange migraine effects that mess with the speech center in my brain, causes a blind spot that travels across my field of vision and has, on one particular occasion, caused a trans ischemic event that, for those unfamiliar with the term, is kind of like a small stroke during which I lost control of my body, hallucinated that the table full of Happy Hour beer and appetizers was bouncing around, tossing things at me, and then I could not make sentences that anyone (else) could understand for about twenty minutes while my left hand tried repeatedly to climb up my chest. Continue reading Clearing the Roof→
I’ve heard a lot lately about fears that a conspiracy is being perpetrated by the pharmaceutical industry and the government to keep natural cancer cures (and natural or holistic care in general) away from patients. It makes for a dramatic story with lots of Hollywood appeal, but examining the accusations leads down a more insidious path. To get there and understand the full extent of the problem, we need to step back and look at a range of sub-industries within the healthcare umbrella, what they provide and how they intertwine. We also need to understand some basics about statistics and probability that will clarify what some of the facts surrounding this conspiracy really mean. [And when you are done reading this, please continue on with the next chapter in this ongoing series.]
Supplementing the Truth
To begin with, let’s examine the hugely profitable supplements industry (mentioned in Forbes’ SportsMoney column as one of the fastest growing industries in the world). “Natural health” advocates and self-proclaimed gurus often have their own supplement brands which they sell as part of treatment plans pushed on their web sites, or they have affiliate arrangements with a brand that they offer as being somehow superior to other brands. The supplement industry has grown from the notion that manufactured (or synthetic) vitamins could be used to supplement areas in the diet where a person was not able to consume adequate quantities to be healthy. In an indirect way, it can be traced back hundreds of years to the discovery that citrus fruit — particularly lemons — could prevent sailors from getting scurvy. It turned out that scurvy was a disease caused by a Vitamin C deficiency. By “supplementing” this vitamin, the disease could be avoided. Continue reading Myth of the Wellness Warrior, Part 2: Supplements, Denial and the Birthday Problem→
With chemotherapy, there is one thing that is certain from cycle to cycle: there is always a dance between the predictable and the unpredictable. Which is to say, much of what a patient goes through can be anticipated, but there is always the possibility of a subtle or surprising change. We plan out our schedule as best we can based on previous experience, but sometimes — perhaps every time — we need to roll with how our bodies react.
I had my infusion on Monday (as is my preference). For the past year, it has been safe to say that Thursday (today) would be my “worst” day. I should be feeling the effects in my head and my gut right now, full force; I should be tired, irritable, woozy, even slightly sick to my stomach. I should be curled up on the couch or wanting very much to be there. But I’m eating a bagel at my desk and typing this and ruminating on going out for a burger. And I’m doing the household laundry, a whole week’s worth, but that’s another story.
My last chemo cycle was pretty close to normal, but I started feeling crappy a day early and finished feeling crappy a day early, all more or less. It improved that weekend, because I was more active and felt better by Saturday. I like that as a trend and hope that this weekend is quickly cleared up — especially because the weekend after my next infusion has a camping trip clearly written on the calendar. This is a precedent I can get behind. Yesterday, however, rather than having me feeling crappy a day early, I barely felt crappy at all. It is certainly enough to give me pause. But there may be a very obvious reason for why I’m feeling better (or at least less ill) this time around. Continue reading The Chemo Diaries: The Worst Day→