I've tried to cut down on the cancer posts a bit. Cancer tends to dominate your life once you have it and one way of not letting it not dominate your life is to talk about other things so I've been back on some of the other stuff lately. But I came across a post from David Darlington over at In The Agora today that I needed to share.
David is also dealing with cancer and, like most everyone with cancer I suppose, is also dealing with a steady stream of friends offering miracle cures. It would have taken me thousands of words to say what he said here succinctly. He has given me permission to reprint this post so please read this and carefully consider his words if you know someone who has cancer or some other serious illness.
Greetings! I hope this letter finds you well. I’m dropping you a quick note today to express my appreciation for all you’ve done for me during my cancer trial this past year. Your love and support means more than I can express in words, and your actions have lifted me up in my time of need.
But if I may be so bold, there is has been one area where your assistance has been more of a distraction than an aid. I am speaking of your passing along of miracle cures and alternative therapies you’ve heard about or read on the internet. While I appreciate the intent behind you sending me these things, they have generally been of little constructive use. Cancer patients are bombarded daily with helpful suggestions about beating their disease, and separating the wheat from the chaff is so often an overwhelming task, especially as most alternative cures have no scientific evidence that they contribute to one’s well being.
Since President Nixon declared War on Cancer in 1971, the government has spent hundreds of millions of dollars fighting this disease, with about the same level of success that it has had in its other “War on…” efforts, like Poverty, Drugs, or Terrorism. That is to say, marginal. Yes of course, there have been some significant breakthroughs in chemotheraputic drugs and, more recently, biologic agents like Avastin. But there is still a ways to go. As my friend, you know my general skepticism towards government spending and of the government’s ability to bring about massive advances in science and technology. But, if cancer could really be cured by that asparagus diet email that was sent around, or that cottage cheese and flaxseed diet Dr. Google recommended, do you really think the government would have spent all this money fighting cancer? Don’t you think that if these common foods could really cure cancer magically, we’d know this already?
And another thing—supplements. I read your most recent issue of Life Forever magazine (or whatever it was called). I’ve kept an open mind about these things, but if an article about the benefits of a certain supplement is accompanied by a full page ad for that supplement brought to you by Life Forever Inc., doesn’t that get your skeptic sense tingling just a little? Aren’t you the least bit concerned that they’ve cherry-picked the scientific studies that showed their supplements in the most favorable light?
Now please don’t call me a hypocrite on this issue. You’ve been to my apartment and seen the vitamin bottles on top of my refrigerator. The first is your standard supermarket multivitamin. Doctors’ opinions on these things range from positive to “meh.” Most will tell you that you don’t need them if you have a good diet, but most Americans’ diets are so poor that taking a vitamin supplement as an adult is not a bad idea. The next bottle, fish oil supplements loaded with Omega-3s, are hot and trendy right now I know, but there is some evidence that this “good fat” helps with inflammation and other heart issues. And since most Americans don’t eat a lot of fish—I can’t blame them, as our fish stocks have enough mercury that Soviet Russia would be proud—having fish oil supplements doesn’t seem like a bad idea. The next bottle contains Vitamin D3, which has been proven to help cancer patients, as tumors tend to suck the vitamin away from other parts of the body.
So my friend, before you forward me something, please think first. Don’t just send it along because it might be “helpful.” Consider whether or not there would be any logical or scientific reason for your suggestion to work. You know how sore I was when, the very day I was diagnosed, my primary internist tried pushing the Mediterranean Diet, and how relieved I was when my oncologist said basically, “dude, you already have cancer. Eat whatever you want as long as it doesn’t make you sick” (BTW, still love Dr. Marshall).
Despite my comments above, I appreciate the support you have given me the past year. I appreciate the free dinners, the prayers, the nights in together, and the rides to Georgetown for treatment (and yeah, I’m aware that parking at GUH costs more than parking at an NHL playoff game. They should make it health insurance deductible). I’m starting a clinical trial in a couple weeks, so your continued prayers would be appreciated. Thank you for all you’ve done.
Much love and warmest regards,