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Hitch Your Wagon

Hitch Your Wagon

As the weather begins to cool, daylight gets shorter, leaves begin to fall from the trees, October sends a strong signal that Fall has arrived. Several days will emerge that all of us will think of as the best weather Memphis has to offer. Those days will go by quickly.

October brings another Made-In-American statement: Breast Cancer Awareness Month. It seems as everything everywhere transforms to some shade of pink to show support for women who have had breast cancer and in the end promote the idea that citizens should donate anywhere from a few pennies to thousands of dollars to breast cancer. I am not in support of the Pink movement even though I believe that breast cancer as well as all cancers for that matter are dreadful diseases and a cure should be found, or at the very least prevent breast cancer if possible.

Before you judge me harshly for my stance against Pink, let me share a personal story with you related to breast cancer. Over seven years ago, I was married to Lisa. She was the apple of my eye. After four months of marriage, I discovered she was dying of breast cancer. By the time we recognized she was suffering from breast cancer, the tumor had metastasized to her bone marrow, not her bones. She did not make enough red blood cells or platelets to sustain her life so she received eighty units of packed red blood cells over six months. She was always a compliant patient, taking all of the traditionally promoted steps to discover cancer early: yearly mammograms, self breast exams and routine yearly visits to her gynecologist. She was diagnosed when the results of her bone marrow biopsy was revealed after I discovered she was severely anemic. She had no masses in her breast, no evidence of tumor anywhere in her body other than in her bone marrow. She was living a medical mystery in the first order.

She required transfusions to stay alive. She received platelet infusions too. I watched a vibrant, happy forty nine year-old woman slowly but surely slide into the underworld. No traditional or alternative oncologist world-wide would even consider even trying to treat her cancer because she routinely needed blood transfusions. When her oncologist told her that maybe she could tolerate a quarter of a full dose of chemotherapy, she asked if any studies had been done to show that a quarter of a dose of chemotherapy would help reduce the cancer activity in her bone marrow. He replied "No." She asked him if the chemotherapy would suppress her remaining good bone marrow. His reply was simple, "More than likely yes." She smiled and refused politely knowing that her life's end was inevitable, and speeding herself along to her death was absolutely ridiculous.

She went into a six month remission after receiving four one hundred gram infusions of vitamin C during a four day stretch of time. I had read a few case reports on the National Cancer Institute's (NCI) website of vitamin C infusions curing three or four patients of cancer. The NCI has a section in their website where physicians can post miraculous recovers and treatment successes not otherwise recognized by traditional allopathic oncologists. Despite my efforts, she ultimately succumbed to the disease peacefully.

Since her death, I have followed cancer research and the therapies proposed to cure it.

I visited the CEO of Baptist woman's hospital to discuss my thoughts about how to find cancer early or possibly prevent the disease from occurring in the first place. She was dismissive of anything I had to say. She proudly announced that their program for breast cancer was the most advanced in the region. If a woman had a mammogram and later had a biopsy-proven cancer of her breast, that patient was assigned a nurse practitioner to walk her through the process of treatment. The CEO remarked that if a woman was given the diagnosis of breast cancer, at that exact moment, her grief following the diagnosis always overwhelmed her, rendering her incapable of making any proper decision concerning her treatment. The Baptist employed nurse practitioner assigned to the patient was there to guide her to the proper decisions. The CEO's goal was to have each woman with breast cancer go through mastectomy, chemotherapy and radiation as quickly as possible because once the diagnosis was determined, time mattered.  She was proud that most of the woman who had the aid of their nurse practitioner had breast removal and their first dose of chemotherapy within 2 weeks of diagnosing the cancer.

I asked her if I could be a part of a study to determine the necessity of such aggressive care, perhaps looking at alternates to traditional standard therapy and look at adjunctive therapies that might reduce the need for breast removal or multi-dose chemotherapy. She told me she had assembled a comprehensive cancer treatment board that met and reviewed each case. It was a board comprised of the nurse practitioners, patient advocate, plastic surgeons, general surgeons, oncologists, and radiation oncologists. The board discussed each case, giving their input into the proper care and steps of treatment needed to assure the best outcome for the patient. "Frankly," she said, "What could you possibly add to our excellent cancer care system. After all. You're just a generalist practicing in the trenches." She smiled a smile I'll never forget. She reached into one of her desk drawers and pull out a magnetized pink ribbon bow with the name of Baptist Memorial Woman's Hospital Cancer Treatment Center on it and handed it to me. "If you need to refer any patients to us our number is on the ribbon."

I accepted the marketing material, stood up and shook her hand. I said, "Thank you for meeting with me." As I walked out of the office, I realized that every single woman diagnosed with breast cancer in her hospital was doomed to the CEO's desires. She had schemed to find a way to railroad every woman she could in their most vulnerable time: at the onset of the diagnosis of cancer. I had envisioned vultures circling in the sky of a body afflicted with cancer, each vulture arguing with each other about who would take the first piece of flesh from the patient and who would take the last.

I believe it takes a minimum of two weeks to at least get a handle on one's emotions when the diagnosis of cancer is rendered. Hand holding, crying, assessing the extent of the cancer and coming to grips with one's own mortality is paramount to making an informed decision about what to do and when. I have seen countless cases of women who have gone through the most aggressive and extensive breast cancer treatment possible, after which being told by their oncologist that they had a three percent risk of the cancer coming back in their lifetime, only to find that the cancer return within six months and is was in almost every organ in their body and in their bones. It does no good to paint a desperate picture of survival to a patient who is afraid of death. Desperate decisions are always fraught with bad outcomes, especially in the practice of medicine as well as in the acts of war.

The two most important questions to resolve when a patient is told they have cancer are: Are you afraid of death? and Are you afraid of dying? After those two questions are resolved, one can answer all other questions related to cancer care in accord with one's personal worldview. Cancer treatment is rarely an emergency, ever.

Now what about Pink? I have had numerous conversations with owners of companies who proudly advertise the Pink Ribbon on their packages. Their only concern is to attract sympathetic women (who believe that the pink ribbon symbolizes that a company is somehow supportive of breast cancer research in some way) to buy their products. It is a pitiful marketing ploy that preys on desperation.

Early detection of cancer is not prevention, and there are several large European studies that show that early detection does not alter the outcomes of breast cancer treatments in general. Although our American cancer machine will have you believe that early detection means better cure rates, that position is not shared worldwide.

I can say that if you are found to have cancer at the Woman's Hospital at Baptist Memphis, according to my conversation with the CEO several years ago, you will be promptly ensnared in their industrial cancer therapeutic machine and every possible treatment will be exhausted before they release the patient to their own decision making process. Many times, women lose their breasts, their ovaries and uterus, receive harsh chemotherapy which kills many more normal cells than it does cancer cells, and their female hormones are obliterated with medications that reduce the production of estrogen or block it at receptor sites or both. They walked into cancer treatment a woman, they leave their therapeutic adventure as some mutation of a woman who has no energy, little cognitive function and no hope of returning to any kind of normal life with their spouse, children, friends, family and coworkers.

Hijacking a breast cancer patient should be considered a crime, not something for CEO to be proud of in a country that prides itself on freedom of choice and creative solutions, especially in the healthcare industry that by every hospital administrator's opinion, we have the best healthcare in the world.

So the next time you buy something with a Pink ribbon on it, call the company that is showing the label and ask someone what they actually do for breast cancer victims or research. I bet you'll be surprised. I bet they'll say "I don't know."

And I bet you won't hitch your wagon up to that horse again. Pink or otherwise.

Doc

Posted by Amanda Sanders at 9:22 AM
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