Posted from the US
The last year has brought with it the intensity of close relatives, associates, and friends all facing severe forms of cancer - the type where the oncologists have not much to offer other than poor statistics.
A few things learned:
- Oncology, and cancer research in general, is not where it should be.
- Chemotherapy may work sometimes - but the general philosophy of it will probably be looked at one day (maybe 10 years from now, who knows) as poorly as we look at carpet bombing from WW2. Targeting is poor, so blow up everything.
- The worst thing an oncologist can say to anyone is "you only have __ days/weeks/months" to live. I do not believe that this is good for the mind - and it can become a self-fulfilling statement. What they are really saying is "I have nothing more that I know what to do with you - as my primary tool is chemotherapy, surgery, and radiation - if I can't cut it, poison you, or bombard your body with radiation, I'm at a loss". What they should say is "there are many alterantives beyond conventional medicine - and some of these have proven to be anecdotally even more effective than chemotherapy - perhaps now is a good time to try these other systems out".
It may sound like I'm coming down hard on oncology - which is not completely fair. There are good oncologists and many people have been helped by surgery, chemo, and radiation. But the overall toolbox for fighting cancer has been pretty primitive and not as effective as one would wish.
I did find new threads of interest and hope:
- Cyberknife - The is a cool robot developed by John Adler at Stanford, and now commercialized by a company called Accuray. I remember being in Silicon Valley in late 1999, at an angel investor night, where my company was invited to present. There was a discussion among the investors about the Cyberknife, and how this was a poor business model and a bad idea - but any kooky internet idea was worth throwing $5million at without even a thought. Today, in 2007, the Cyberknife is one of the only, if not best ways, to basically zap tumors anywhere in the body, and there seems to be no limit to how often it could be used on the same patient. It kills the tumor and leaves the healthy tissue alone. It is an amazing machine - and I'm glad someone believed in them and kept the company going. This summer I took the close relative out to Stanford where they used the Cyberknife to kill some nasty tumors near critical structures - and it really did the job. The sad part was that I had to push the local doctors into admitting that this was needed - they barely even knew about the Cyberknife and what it could do.
- Wheatgrass - I've stumbled upon an interesting newtwork of raw vegan/sprout/macrobiotic types who have basically been the last hope for people who have been told that there is no more hope and the end is near. There is a massive amount of anecdotal data, and some peer-reviewed level scientfic data, that wheatgrass, combined with a mostly raw, vegan, living sprout based diet can be a major boost to the body and help people fight and recover from the most severe of diseases. I even went to visit one of the motherships of the movement, a place called the Hippocrates Health Institute. They are the Meccas, Medina, and Jerusalem of wheatgrass and being a vegan for health. The vast majority of the people who go there have no other roads - and they appear to have helped thousands. The movie CrazySexyCancer is an irreverant path into this whole world.
Why does any of this matter? I do think that the very high-tech (Cyberknife) can go hand in hand with the seemingly low-tech, even anti-tech, concepts of wheatgrass and being a vegan. One uses technology in a smart way - kill only the cancer, leave the body alone. The other puts a massive filter on your food intake - all bad foods are gone, and massive doses of the most healthy types of foods and juices are what you eat forever more.
So in a short time I learned that the many local doctors have a limit to their vision and understanding - practically everyone in my area was ignorant of the Cyberknife, or only discussed it when I pushed it hard. No one raised the issue of moving off the chemo highway and trying something else. Somehow bombarding the body with massive doses of the most healthy foods has nothing to do with today's medicine. When I visited the people I knew in the hospital, the food they were served was old, grayish, and reminiscent of my high school days (fries and ketchup were considered to be veggies). There is even a McDonalds(!) in the lobby of the hospital - which is essentially insane and hypocritical on all levels. The hospital philosophy is "we'll ram you full of drugs, morphine, and allow/encourage all kinds of junk food - and then we'll tell you there is no hope". I have a hard time understanding the disconnect between a radically healthy diet and utilizing that to fight disease alongside smart, targeted therapies (like Cyberknife). In an onclogy world where some of the best chemo drug trial only extend life statistically by a few months, why is no one seriously looking at the alterantive routes, which have an abundance of anecdotal success?
I did speak to some people on the alterantive side, and the answer was basically that the drug companies can not effectively bottle and market the essence of the radicaly vegan/wheatgrass programs that help people. They fear that something simple and cheap may blow out their costly biotechs. It's not a reductionist concept - it's a whole systemic concept, where the entirety of the plant, in it's live form plays a role. I still think think that it is worth hard core research. From what I have seen to date, I would rather take 500 late stage cancer patients and put them through a raw vegan/wheatgrass program than force more chemo upon them. It would be very interesting to see a double blind study done this way - and to see the outcomes of each group. If a major study was done by reputable groups (say Johns Hopkins, Harvard, Stanford) and the outcome was in strong favor of the vegan/wheatgrass programs, what would that do to modern oncology?
There are a lot of alterantive therapies that are very snake oil in their mumbo jumbo and magnetic healing powers. One of the problems with any alternative medicine system is all of the unncessary and sometimes defeating crap that wraps around it. The good things are sometimes lost in a sea of crystals and quacks. However, even "real" mainstream medicine has many flaws: chemotherapy with poor/sketchy results, no good answers for many cancers and disease, and hospitals that promote a diet that could turn a healthy person sick. I think carefully filtering out what matters and could be relevant from both sides is key.
It has been hard for me to shoot down the concept of a filtered, hard-core, expertly designed raw vegan/wheatgrass programs. There is some primal logic there that makes sense on a fundamental level. It also shows up in many parts of the world, with many different types of people discussing complete returns from the brink. It's worth looking into more deeply. I don't know how or when a serious study could be funded, but it would be quite interesting. Scientists need to learn how to study these things on a major scale, how to get the research funded, and how to co-exist with ideas that may be wild and out there today, but possibly the real deal. After all, penicillin came from mold, and aspirin from tree bark of willow trees. Why can't the cure for cancer be in a blade of grass?