Blog Posts | Cancer-- Non-Hodgkin's Lymphoma

Misconceptions About Cancer Part 2

May 22, 2018

 Alternative treatment methods are cheaper than chemo.

Yes and no. Costs for treatment in a clinic in Mexico often start at $20,000 and go up from there, depending on which clinic, what treatments the patient does, and how long he stays. The costs continue even after the patient returns home as he continues taking supplements and other treatments. Even doing a nutrition therapy at home, such as the Gerson therapy, is expensive: juicers, pounds and pounds of organic vegetables and fruits, and lots of supplements. One cancer patient who tried the Gerson therapy estimated that they spent $100,000 in a year’s time on the therapy alone.

Yes, many conventional treatments cost 5 times or 10 times that amount, but insurance covers those expenses, especially since the Obamacare regulations. In addition, most drug companies have a program in which they donate drugs at no cost to low-income patients. I received all my immunotherapy treatments at no cost because of those programs. Insurance does not cover alternative methods, and no clinics in Mexico that I know of have a donation program. Most people can’t afford $20,000, let alone $100,000. Their only options then are to try GoFundMe or ask family, friends, and church to pitch in.

 Alternative treatment methods are easier than chemo.

Not really. Have you ever taken the time to read exactly what alternative treatments require a patient to do? Most of the alternative methods focus on nutrition and require an extreme diet, cleanses, enemas, juicing, etc. For some of them, the treatment is years long, even the rest of their lives. The diets are so extreme and require so much food prep that a full-time caregiver is required just to cook/juice full-time, help with procedures, etc.

And yes, I do have experience with some of this. I did try the nutrition route. I tried a low-carb, no-sugar, high protein diet while simultaneously taking 20 or more supplements per meal, along with other special mixes to dissolve in liquids. I was working full time and trying to do all my cooking and juicing and everything else. I’m single, and most of my family is 800 miles away. It was exhausting. It was actually harder than the chemo I had done previously.

In addition, the “nutritionist” I was seeing wasn’t medically licensed, as she is a chiropractor. I experienced some side effects with a few of the supplements she prescribed me. She kept telling me that none of her patients ever had the problems I did and wasn’t interested in helping me figure out what was wrong. I googled my symptoms, and the explanation was all right there. The “nutritionist” drifted into quackery, possibly even slightly New Age methods. I couldn’t lay my finger on it, but it made me very uncomfortable. And, in the end, my cancer kept growing anyway, so there wasn’t much point in continuing.

I’m all for a healthy diet with a minimum of processed foods and sugar. That’s only common sense. Our bodies need nutritious food to stay healthy and heal well. However, many of the alternative therapies are promoted by people without medical degrees and supported mainly by “testimonials.” If they really are healing so many people, where are the proof and facts to back it up? A slick website that touts testimonials and doesn’t explain what treatments the clinic does and why screams “Scam!” to me.

Sifting through what is actually helpful and what is simply quackery is very difficult. I do believe that some diseases and some types of cancers, especially slow-growing ones, can be controlled and/or healed by diet. In addition, some alternative treatments can be good supportive therapies when used alongside conventional cancer treatments. However, it can take trial and error to find what works, as each person and cancer is unique. Many alternative treatments are simply outright quackery, such as Hulda Clark’s theories about parasites or the Rife machine. Not all patients have the time or the research ability to sort the truly helpful from the quackery.

Chemo saved my life. By the time of diagnosis, I was dying. I needed chemo and I needed it fast. Less than 24 hours after my first chemo treatment, I slept solid for ten hours on a hospital bed that was lying almost flat. For weeks, I had been barely able to sleep due to extreme, explosive coughing and had been sleeping on the recliner because I couldn’t bear to sleep flat. I woke up the morning after my first chemo feeling the best I had felt in months. Within weeks, I was feeling the best I had felt in years. Chemo worked fast enough to save my life. An alternative therapy would have killed me because it would have taken too long.

Chemo is poison, and alternative treatments aren’t. They are “natural” and therefore better for you.

This misconception amuses me. Yes, chemo is dangerous; it’s a poison because it’s meant to kill cells. Depending which type of chemo I was getting, the nurses would “suit up” in large aprons and two pairs of gloves to protect themselves in case they accidentally got any of the chemo on them. It always amused me. They have to be so careful, but then they inject all that into my veins via IV?!

If the meaning of “natural” is “existing in or caused by nature; not made or caused by humankind,” then some chemotherapies are natural too. They are basically toxins extracted from plants. Ever heard of laetrile or taking hydrogen peroxide as alternative cancer treatments? Laetrile is a poison derived from apricot (and other fruit and nut) seeds and hydrogen peroxide is caustic when ingested. In addition, many of the clinics in Mexico use low-dose chemotherapy in conjunction with other supposedly “natural” treatments. Many alternative therapies have side effects of their own and aren’t exactly a walk in the park.

 Cancer patients must always be positive and never talk or think about death.

No and no! Please, if a loved one has cancer, don’t heap an extra burden on them by constantly requiring them to be positive. Can I be honest? Cancer sucks. Cancer can be hard, really hard. Sometimes, cancer patients can only focus on getting through the next hour, the next day, or the next week. They get exhausted. Often, they are afraid. They will think about death. They will sometimes despair of ever feeling well again. They will cry. They will collapse and tell you, “I can’t go on.” They might curl into a ball and cry for a while, but then get to their feet and keep plodding wearily on.

Please, let them cry. Let them struggle. Let them feel their feelings and talk about their feelings rather than shutting them down. They are human. Yes, they need encouragement and positivity, but it’s not possible or even healthy to be positive and upbeat all the time. Sometimes, they need to hurt and grieve their losses. Sometimes, they need compassion and empathy. If you require them to stuff their emotions and questions and fears away inside themselves and always present a positive front, they will crash once treatment is over, if not before. They can only “stuff” emotions away for a while. Eventually, it will catch up to them.

In addition, don’t be afraid to talk about death, especially if the cancer becomes terminal. While cancer is not an automatic death sentence, it’s also unrealistic to not acknowledge that cancer can kill. Talk about what they want their life to look like. Do they want to try every treatment possible to live as long as they possibly can? Would they rather focus on quality of life rather than quantity? Do they have their affairs in order? Together, face the possibility of death and make the practical decisions needed in case that happens. Then, together, focus on being positive, expecting the best, finding the best treatments possible, and living the best life possible, whether that’s one year or five years or twenty years or fifty years.

The hardest part of having cancer is during treatment, such as chemotherapy or radiation.

Honestly? No, not usually. Physically, yes, perhaps. But emotionally, mentally, and spiritually, the hardest time for cancer patients can be after treatment is finished and they are in remission. During treatment a cancer patient is usually in survival mode: doing what they have to do to beat the cancer. They don’t have any extra time or energy to sort through the plethora of conflicting emotions a cancer diagnosis causes. Once treatment is over, everything can hit them at once. And, like it or not, cancer is life-changing. A cancer patient doesn’t come out of treatment the same person she was before cancer.

Cancer survivors are suddenly very aware of the fragility of life and experience an urgency they never felt before. They suddenly realize that all the dreams they shelved in a corner called “someday” might never happen and may even be out of reach completely due to long-term side effects from treatment. Sometimes, those long-term side effects interfere with daily life and make simply getting up in the morning an accomplishment. Sometimes, they have to find a new job or go back to school.

They have to wrestle with and grieve their losses: the loss of the person they used to be, the losses of physical abilities, crashed dreams, infertility, a good job, a savings account, a house, or a marriage. They may be more easily irked afterwards by people who make big deals out of nothing. They live with the fear of relapse, and every scan causes anxiety. Some struggle with PTSD, a result of the trauma from treatment.

They are different, and life is different, but the rest of the world goes on. Now that they are in remission, people around them are relieved and think it’s over. They think the cancer survivor is okay, and everything is back to normal. He’s not okay, and his old “normal” is gone forever. His biggest battle may yet be ahead of him. This is especially true if a cancer survivor has had trauma in the past, especially abuse. Cancer survivors have to find a new normal, and that takes time and is often misunderstood.

If a cancer patient dies, he has “lost the battle.”

No and no and no!! Sometimes, the war terminology used to describe cancer bugs me. We fight battles. We use the “big guns.” We kill the cancer cells. We are warriors. However, some people do die from cancer. So now, if they die, are they losers? Did they not fight well enough or hard enough? Did they not have enough faith? The war terminology can make cancer patients feel guilty when they are exhausted and really don’t want to try one more treatment. However, they don’t want to be seen as “giving up” so they keep trying every treatment that offers even a little thread of hope when they may have been better off choosing to leave this life with peace and joy.

For us as Christians, we don’t lose the war. We don’t give up. If we die, we win because Jesus won already! If my cancer kills me, don’t say “She lost the fight.” Say, “She won!” For the Christian, death is a joyful thing! I have to think of one of my favorite songs about death, sung by Jeff and Sheri Easter. Below are the lyrics.

Goin’ Away Party

Born in 1900, she had her share of hard times,
And at the age of 15 she met the love of her life,
And how she adored Him and loved Him to her dying day,
So we celebrated when we put her in the grave.

Chorus:
We threw a goin’ away party,
The event of the year.
The day that she lived for
Is finally here.
The one that she loved
He wants her by His side,
So strike up the band,
It’s party time.

For many a year she served her community well,
And on occasion she’d stumble, but it’s a saying that God never fails.
She was in love with Jesus; He always stayed on her mind,
And now they’re together having one heavenly time.

P.S. I do realize that I am writing this from the standpoint of the cancer survivor, not from the standpoint of his or her family. Family members go through their own personal crucible when a loved one has cancer, and I don’t mean to minimize that. Cancer doesn’t just change the life of the cancer survivor; it changes the lives of those who love them too. And, while death is a joyful thing for the Christian, those left behind still grieve the loss, even in their hope of the joy that will someday come to stay.

 

Related Posts
Misconceptions About Cancer Part 1

 

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  1. Thanks for sharing this, Ellen! These are such valuable insights for anyone wishing to care for and support someone with cancer.

  2. Thanks so much for sharing this post. I agree with every one of your points. You’ve been on this journey longer than us, but we have found the same things to be true. Thanks putting this into words.
    Gina

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