Unintentional Cruelties

Jody Schoger is a breast cancer survivor, an activist, and a blogger I admire. She blogs at Women With Cancer. This week she wrote about what she termed, “the grey line that connects newly emerging cancer celebrities to the Oprah and Dr. Oz powerhouse, and people accepting their utterings as gospel.” Amen.

Her post is about the troubling fame trajectory of newly minted ‘cancerlebrity’ Kris Carr, whose documentary and book recommend dietary and other interventions for people with cancer, and credits healthy living for helping her beat her own disease. Carr’s work was featured this past weekend in the New York Times Magazine. Jody Schoger says what the Times wouldn’t: “She beat cancer not because of who she is but because of the kind of cancer she had.” Indeed, as the Times did point out, Carr suffered from a rare form of cancer that treatments cannot cure, so her doctors wisely told her to live her life.

Jody is rightly offended at the notion that many cancer patients, desperate for anything that might work, would end up trying things that at a minimum are worthless, and might even cause them further harm. Not to mention that some people are getting rich by selling these ineffective ideas. The comments on her blog post are clearly in her corner. 

Since my dad died last year, I’ve been nagged by the feeling that I could have done more. Bear in mind, I was told by more than one nationally prominent oncologist that my dad had tried every single approved therapy for the kind of cancer he had. They threw the kitchen sink at the cancer, and indeed it worked for a while. Even knowing all this, I sometimes feel like maybe we should have tried to get to this university or into that clinical trial sooner. He liked his regular oncologist and trusted him, and even as things started breaking down, my dad said he preferred to be at home than to travel to seek treatment. For all I know any of those roads not taken might have ended up hastening his death, or they might have cured him entirely. There is no knowing.

Cancer is endlessly complex, and there are many variables in each individual case. Certain best practices are indicated by the circumstances, and/or are favored by physicians, and sometimes patients face an array of options and need guidance. Nutrition, psychological and emotional support, and other therapies all have their place in the effort to make the patient feel well. Some people swear by their choices, and others may simply feel like swearing because of the choices they are left with. I urge patients and caregivers to see what is available, because while there are no miracle cures, there are some proven ways to comfort cancer patients during and after treatment. But as in every other marketplace (and medical care certainly is one), cancer patients must be savvy consumers. 

What is a person who feels the kind of doubt I feel supposed to make of this profile in The New York Times Sunday Magazine, “Kris Carr: Crazy Sexy Entrepreneur“? I followed my dad’s care very closely. He was up against non-small cell lung cancer, and was already stage IV (the worst one) when he was diagnosed. It was already in his bones, spine, and pelvis before any of us knew there was cancer at all. Only one percent of people survive five years after that diagnosis. My dad lived nearly four and a half years, which is to say much longer than most people who have what he had. And now I am being told that maybe goji berries and enemas were the missing puzzle piece?

Jody’s reaction to the piece is quite good. Read it here.

About asbecker

is Director of Media Relations. He is the New York-based member of the national media relations team. His work includes all patient and fami
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7 Responses to Unintentional Cruelties

  1. Andrew,
    Thanks so much for all the kind things you had to say about my post, the nature of cancer, the complexity of our culture and “cures.”

    Like you my father died of lung cancer, but this was quite some time ago when options were limited. He wanted nothing to do with chemo. We honored that. My mother died of cancer as well, and as of now two out of three of my siblings have had cancer. All this to say I come to cancer well informed. I chose aggressive treatment when I was diagnosed with breast cancer at 43, and science may one tell tell me that the chemo may/may not have been necessary. I’m cool with that because I’m still here.

    What grinds on me and keeps me up at night is pseudo-information. I said this in one comment and I’ll say it again, in no way do I want to imply that diet and lifestyle changes aren’t big. They are. Huge. Nor would I ever want to burst someone’s balloon of hope. But what I’ll never do is glom on like a groupie when there’s an elephant in the room. Thanks for seeing that.


  2. I’m also a fan of Jody’s and am so glad you picked up on her excellent post. (Yours wasn’t bad either!) It’s beyond sad that people are listening to the likes of Kris Carr and Suzanne Somers instead of their doctors, and that cancer has turned into marketing and wish fulfillment. If I buy this lipstick I’ll look just like Halle Berry in that magazine ad! If I follow this diet I’ll beat my cancer like Kris Carr! Never mind my very specific, individual circumstances. People who become famous from this stuff have an obligation to remind all those hopeful people that they are NOT medical experts. “Unintentional cruelties” sums it up perfectly.

  3. Another Jody Groupie here.

    I enjoyed Carr’s book when I was going through the mess of diagnosis, but what I am seeing way too often is that a person’s “coping mechanism” is often turned (intentionally or not) into a sort of pseudo-religion. There’s a dark side to all of that which is rarely discussed.

    I’m sorry about your father.

  4. Cool comments, you two! I forgot all about Suzanne Sommers…and it’s important to echo, Katie, what you and others have said about what Kris did well: write about grappling with the cancer diagnosis. That has value. We’ve all been there.

  5. Excellent post — thank you for your insight. The other thing that underlies the Kris Carr/Dr. Oz mentality is the blaming of the victim: if he/she had only lived better, the cancer would not have happened. Jody has written about this in her 3/29/11 post at womenwcancer.blogspot.com. Cancer is not a lifestyle choice. It’s important to remember this and support the survivors and their families.

  6. katherinembc says:


    I have metastatic breast cancer which currently lacks a celebrity voice. I can think of two semi-famous women with MBC: Maggie Daley, wife of our former Mayor and the actress who played Mrs. Kotter’s wife.

    Do famous people not live with MBC?

    Come October, Sheryl, Melissa, Christina, Olivia and friends will be hard to miss. One of our Chicago radio stations even had Dr. Oz on during a breast cancer special. Dr. Oz??? He is a cardiologist so he sees a lot of chests, but come on.

  7. thewhiterabbitt says:

    I’m so sorry for the loss of your father. I think the real issue here are your regrets and the fears that you could have done something more when you did all that you could. The point your all missing is that nutrition can help, information can help. And we never know what will work for us. Kris Carr is an inspiration b/c she tried, and kept trying, and never gave up hope! Hope, as you all know is so important with any illness, but so is nutrition. The idea of helping your body be in the best condition it can be to help a doctors treatments is often overlooked today when it’s so very important. Please don’t begrudge these people for their choices and for trying to help other’s learn they can help themselves too! Live in your now. I hope things have become more positive for you with time. Be healthy

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