On March 22nd, Elizabeth Edwards announced that she was facing a recurrence of cancer. First diagnosed with breast cancer in the final weeks of the 2004 presidential campaign, she underwent several months of radiation and chemotherapy. This time it has spread to her bone and is termed ‘incurable’. Five days later, the White House announced that press secretary Tony Snow had a recurrence of cancer. Snow had his colon removed in 2005 and underwent six months of chemotherapy. Now the cancer has spread to his liver and he will begin chemotherapy again.
These weren’t the most cheery reminders that cancer is an equal opportunity epidemic, just as likely to manifest in the well connected with access to the best conventional medical care as it is in the poor and disenfranchised. They also underscored the fact that treatment to destroy or remove cancerous tissues in itself, even if it is deemed ‘successful’, is often only a temporary reprieve from the symptoms of the disease; that the underlying conditions and mechanisms that bring it about are not addressed.
“Courage” is a word that is often linked to those who are facing cancer because we have a cultural consciousness of the struggle with this disease as being a long, drawn out battle, where, depending on the form of cancer amongst other factors, the odds of survival are greater or lesser. It is a fight, a battle, and we have deemed our efforts to find a cure for the disease, ‘the war on cancer’. This is paralleled by the destructive nature of the treatment. To be sure, efforts are made to make it a selective destruction, to use ‘smart bombs’ to reduce collateral damage, but it is destruction nonetheless.
Both Edwards and Snow have manifested the aforementioned quality of courage in facing their situation. They are not allowing the disease to dictate how they live their lives. But there is an aura of inevitability that surrounds their choices. The implied message is that they will not allow the disease to dictate how they live the rest of their lives.
A person freshly diagnosed with cancer is presented with an enormous challenge with many dimensions. It is a challenge to their will, a challenge to absorb all the information about their disease, a challenge to make choices about how to face their disease, a challenge to find the human, medical and financial resources to support them.
While it is inappropriate to pass judgment on the choices made by a person in such situations makes – the old adage about walking a mile in someone else’s moccasins comes to mind, I always harbor a hope that people diagnosed with cancer will find it within themselves to display another facet of courage. It is a hope that when presented with a different perspective on handling their cancer, they might have the insight and strength to pursue a different path toward cure.
My hope is all the more inflamed when it comes to prominent persons because if they have the courage to embrace a different perspective on treating cancer then it can open the door for so many others. At the same time, it is a hope tempered with the recognition that given the authority our culture has invested in conventional medical institutions and the treatments they proffer, it is unlikely to happen.
There is enormous, and for most people insurmountable, pressure that bears down upon a person to follow standard forms of care. It comes not only from medical institutions but from loved ones as well. It comes in the form of insurance policies, where support is only offered for a limited range of treatments. And, even more importantly, it comes in the form of fear. Fear, perhaps more than anything else, makes it so difficult to stray from the beaten path – even if it is apparent that the path will lead nowhere. Stricken with trepidation because this disease is too often a life and death situation, one struggles with it like an insidious enemy - a terrorist cell playing by its own rules, developing unseen within which hijacks tissues and organs.
Sadly, the dread is amplified because the choices for treatment appear so limited and often so horrifying in and of themselves. Without an awareness of the abundance of other options that are available, one is only left the possibility to muster the courage to march forward.
It reminds me a bit of old Alfred Lord Tennyson: "Forward, the Light Brigade!" Was there a man dismay'd? Not tho' the soldier knew, Someone had blunder'd: Their's not to make reply, Their's not to reason why, Their's but to do and die: Into the valley of Death Rode the six hundred.
In that parallel universe of alternative care where I reside, there exist numerous other paths for treating cancer. Some I have only read about, some I have studied, others I have facilitated for others to use. While none of them have helped everyone, all of them have helped some people and have even saved lives. Just as importantly, while they most certainly will not be amongst the choices offered by conventional oncologists, they are accessible to anyone.
Amongst the articles on this site, you will find a number that introduce alternative ways to approach cancer therapy. Hopefully, these will be of interest.
See: - Homeopathy and Cancer - Alpha-lipoic acid Palladium Complex