If you knew someone had cancer and they were following a treatment procedure that was almost certainly wrong, but they were firmly committed to it, should you tell them they were making a big mistake? If they were a friend, but not a super close friend, would that make a difference? Would you be sticking your nose into something that wasn’t your business?
Recently a family friend was diagnosed with leukemia. I hadn’t seen this friend much since that diagnosis, but encountered him at a get together just this last weekend. I didn’t think he looked well and asked him how he was doing. He replied that the cancer seemed to have slowed and that his doctor had said things were going well. At first I took this to mean that his current appearance might reflect the effects of chemotherapy or radiation therapy and that he was now regaining some of his health. His hair wasn’t completely gone, but was short enough to make it seem he might just be regaining some of what chemotherapy destroyed. I noticed some sores on his scalp.
I had overheard him telling others that he needed to avoid eating sugar, particularly refined sugar and asked him why. Everyone there knew more about his condition than I did and I heard comments that they had gone out of their way to provide alternatives to refined sugar. His response was that he had been told that his cancer “fed” on sugar and avoiding sugar was at least a part of his treatment to control the spread of the disease. A small red flag went up.
Later I heard him refer to his involvement in homeopathy and the initial red flag was joined by a dozen more and all of them burst into flames! I tried to discern whether the homeopathy was his primary or only treatment, whether it was just a supplement to real oncology treatment, etc. and whether this was where the admonition to not eat refined sugar had originated. I never really got the chance to pursue this, so I made a note to ask my wife for more details on exactly what he was doing about his cancer and to check online for any information on his “starve the cancer treatment”.
It now appears that he isn’t getting any regular medical treatment and it may be the case that all that is happening besides the woo is a check on the progress of the disease which may be a slow version of adult leukemia. We don’t know if this assessment is actually coming from a physician with any expertise.
This morning it took about 5 minutes to turn up this article which outlined the “theories” of Dr. Mark Sircus. This seemed to be the heart of the argument for the treatment my friend was pursuing. I noted with some dismay that Dr. Sircus’s qualifications did not include an MD, but did include being an acupuncturist, and a doctor of oriental and pastoral medicine. I quickly asked my wife if pastoral medicine was medicine in the presence of cows or sheep in a pleasant field, but she quickly dismissed the joke. As I read through the article I encountered all the expected science jargon that you always find in pseudo-science articles and some references to things that looked like real sources. All my red flags were done burning, they were hanging there in shreds and the trumpets and canons were blaring instead. So I searched on.
Searching for other articles on the idea that “sugar feeds cancer”, I quickly found many sites that appeared to be reputable sources of information on cancer and its treatment that were responding to this “internet myth” and had lots of information about how it arose, why it has proved so persistent and, ultimately, how dangerous it could be. Yes, sugar can be associated with cancer because if you eat a hell of a lot of it, it will screw up your insulin production, may precipitate diabetes. lead to excessive weight gain and, if you don’t exercise, contribute to an unhealthy lifestyle that it would be good to change. The only contributing factor for developing cancer that I could identify for my friend was a possible family history with the disease. He has never been over weight and has led an active life working outdoors on construction of log cabins. He eats only healthy foods and probably hasn’t eaten a Twinkie in his life. The idea that he could cure his cancer by cutting out refined sugars is absurd. All he has managed so far is to lose a noticeable amount of weight and that might be a result of the cancer that he says is under control.
So, what do I do? In talking with my wife, she too was hesitant to raise concerns, but was thinking of gently raising the issue with our friend’s wife with whom she has a better relationship than I do. It feels like we should be barging through the doors and telling them both that he is not helping himself with this woo and, while his cancer might progress no matter what he does, getting some real oncology treatment and real information about what he can do with diet to help his case, is much more rational.
Then again, it is his life and his choices to make. This is the first time in a long time that I’ve had someone close give in to what appears to be magical thinking and foolishness that could be fatal. I’m reminded of Steve Jobs who seemed to lose all his brilliance when it came to dealing with his cancer and seemed surprised when the woo didn’t work. I’m going to wait and see if my wife can summon up the courage to raise the issue and try to get them to get at least some “real” treatment even if they want to dance around the woo fire and chant to the spirits. A really sad situation.