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.