A Bitter Kind of Medicine

As readers know, I was diagnosed with stage III squamous cell carcinoma, head and neck, early 2013.  It hadn’t been bothering me and from photos must have been there a decade but I wanted to know what it was.

According to the medical experts, my delaying chemo, radiation and surgery even a month would prove fatal – each of which I found, according to published research, does significant damage, with only about half the patients surviving five years, but all with permanent disability to some or all parts of their head and neck.  If you want a blow by blow account of how corporate medicine deals with cancer of the oral cavity, try this book by one with ultimate faith in it, and none at all in alternative medicine, the late lamented John Diamond:

Snake Oil

Diamond lost his voicebox and part of his tnogue to surgery; the book details his withering views on alternative medicine

People who survived chemo and radiation told me it was the most awful experience of their life.  “I lived for the last [radiation] session,” one said. “It was pure agony.  I willed myself to survive until that day came and went.”  A Nottingham seller of the Big Issue who’d had tongue cancer shared his chemo experience, urging me to accept it too.  “I won’t lie to you, mate; it’s like fire going through your veins.  I wanted to die.  But I have a kid – so you get through it – because you have to.”

Being someone who puts off tackling a splinter, I knew like 25% of such patients, I wouldn’t survive the first year.  But that turned out to be a blessing, because for the next two and a half years I travelled the Earth looking for another way, and in the process met more than a hundred wonderful souls I otherwise would never have known.  Earnest professors, bow-tied surgeons,  immunologists, ex-oncologists, no-nonsense nurses, therapists, surgeons, MDs and maverick inventors from Italy, California, Texas, Mexico, Lausanne, Germany and rural South East England.

I met a KCL lecturer, specialists at London’s homeopathic hospital, and an oncology professor who, alarmed by the Conservative Party’s treatment of the NHS, turned his hand to politics.  I was under the care of the son of immunotherapy pioneer Josef Issels, who’d stood up to Nazi Germany and was punished by a stint on the front lines followed by years in a Soviet gulag.  A doctor in his twilight years who worked at MSK, and survived pancreatic cancer who told hair-raising stories of one treatment – if you can even call it that – involving complete removal of the jaw.  I winced.  My God, how long did they survive? A sad smile. “Not long, thankfully.”  There were vivacious, warm hearted female surgeons and specialists at one of the world’s best hospitals, the Angeles in Tijuana, one showing me pictures of her hometown, which was paradise apart from the lack of jobs.  One renowned oncologist turned inventor cured a close friend of Vladimir Putin and was thus invited to sit beside the Russian President at a Moscow parade.  I conferred with alternative therapists in Germany, Switzerland, America and England, many of whom had backgrounds in oncology and surgery, some to the tune of thirty years.


Pacific coast of Mexico

Then there were the patients – dozens from every conceivable strata of life: all friendly, eager to share their knowledge without any thought of personal gain.  A gorgeous actress from Seinfeld, now in the Californian Hills.  A wild-eyed London musician with pancreatic cancer who’d spent all his money on one last record and tour simply because he’d been told he had a year to live.  He then found alternative therapy and recovered completely.  How did he feel now, I ventured one day as he drove me to the station.  Puffing on a cigarette: “I feel f***ing broke, mate!”  I’ll never forget the large, jolly Kuwaiti who had almost undergone a very risky surgical procedure for kidney cancer.  But when he’d asked why they would attempt something so radical with such a low chance of success and the reply was “well, you’re going to die anyway,” he walked out, never to return – and walked into the alternative therapy world where I’m glad to say he was doing well last time I saw him.



That I know of, only four patients I encountered while in alternative clinics had been through chemo, radiation and surgery before our paths crossed.  All younger than me, one a little more than half my age.  A bright eyed, frightened American lady in the final stages of breast cancer, her controlling and highly disapproving family (who’d insisted she undergo chemo and surgery “to cure her” 18 months earlier) hovering nearby.  Terrified they might overhear our conversation, she slipped me her email address so I could report on my next stop in Santa Barbara.  A dear, frail Canadian soul, brain withered by chemo, with his devoted wife, searching for his last hope.  They inched their way into the clinic, sat down carefully, introduced themselves and detailed to us fellow patients, laid back with our IVs, how they’d travelled from Canada to Europe, then all throughout America, before arriving here.  There followed an awkward pause – my specialty:  “So… were you searching for cures, or fleeing the law?” Thankfully they laughed.

There was a Raytheon employee, a smiling Vietnamese man with an advanced case of my disease; so warm-hearted he refused to accept any rare off-label medication from the clinic’s MD unless I too was offered the same; at the age of nine he’d walked three months through the jungle to escape the savage American bombing.


Machu Picchu, Colombia

A stunning Colombian woman cared for by her dutiful 16 year old son, had undergone radiation and sacrificed her layrnx to surgery but now, years later, struggled with a nine centimetre tumour in her throat which had started to break down – and therefore expand – under slow, natural therapy.  The case seemed hopeless.  After an emergency tracheotomy she was airlifted to New York where, once again, they began radiation.  After the first session she pleaded that she couldn’t face another.  I won’t ever forget her WhatsApp message:  “Iain, they say to me go home and die then, not waste their time.”

Sadly all these four seekers after health have now passed away.  The last, the man who’d insisted I share his medicine, only two weeks ago after a bruising experience of radiation in which he, too, sacrificed his voice.  I received a beautiful message from his wife, and I’m very honoured to hear he remembered me.

It might be called medicine, but some of it seems a very bitter kind.

About iain carstairs

I have a great interest in both scientific advances and the beauty of religion, and created www.scienceandreligion.com about 15 years ago with the aim of finding common ground between the scientist and the believer, and to encourage debate between the two sides.
This entry was posted in Cancer, Cancer: A Second Opinion, Cancer: The Problem and Solution, Chemotherapy and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to A Bitter Kind of Medicine

  1. Pingback: A Bitter Kind of Medicine | Alternative Cancer Treatments in Manila

  2. John Douglas says:

    Iain, the truth is that the medical profession hasn’t the faintest idea of how or why the body works. The doctors job is to tell us jokes and keep us in good humour while the body repairs itself. (I think that is a paraphrasing of Voltaire, I’m not sure)
    Aldous Huxley says more or less the same thing – “And anyhow the body seemed perfectly well able to look after itself. In reality, of course, it always does look after itself. All that the conscious ego can do is to formulate wishes, which are then carried out by forces which it controls very little and understands not at all. When it does anything more – when it tries too hard, for example, when it worries, when it becomes apprehensive about the future – it lowers the effectiveness of those forces and may even cause the devitalized body to fall ill.”
    That ties in with your thinking in quite a number of your posts on the positive effects of meditation and yoga etc, the things which materialists describe as ‘unscientific’

    I think I have mentioned this previously but modern science and particularly medicine, in their invincible ignorance, believes wholeheartedly in Mechanical Philosophy.

    We see it quite clearly in the new idea of ‘preventive medicine’ which is one of the reasons for all the time wasted in form filing and ticking boxes and patient surveys.
    I went recently for a routine blood pressure test: what should have taken five or ten minutes took more than half am hour! They weighed me, measured my height, quizzed me on smoking, drinking, fatty foods, five-a-day etc etc.

    I am not a machine!! We are not mechanical objects. Preventive medicine/maintenance works on cars or aeroplanes because the wear and tear on machine parts is measurable and predictable; parts can be routinely replaced before they break.
    It doesn’t work like that for real live organic creatures!

    The dismissive attitude of ‘you are going to die anyway’ is not untrue but a good death is just as important as a good life. Do we wish to die in medically induced agony or do we wish to die in yogic bliss? 🙂

    Glad you are well and still doing it your own way (as I am with my epilepsy)

  3. You’re going to enjoy my next post about fasting then – the whole thing about fasting is that the body doesn’t need a cure – the idea of a cure in most people’s minds is closer to some kind of a hangover from superstition and voodoo – as much as it needs time to heal itself.

    The vast number of cures which arrive and then are scrapped to be replaced with new cures has resulted in a society which is getting sicker and sicker; the death toll from cancer hasn’t changed significantly in decades, and researchers are simply researching things which intrigue them, or things which will earn a payday. The NHS is looking bankrupt at the moment and big headlines are trying to shame them.

    But what the MSM is careful not to tell us is that the amount the NHS expects to be billed next year for cancer drugs is going up from £360m to £430m! Nearly half a billion just on cancer drugs – never mind surgery or radiation – in a country of 68m people? And our cancer deaths stay the same? No wonder you never see this mentioned in the media. Natural News just interviewed a 17 year old who was kidnapped and held down for chemo she didn’t want! Now this is desperation. When I remember the people I knew who had this crap, I understand why nothing is changing.

    Also glad you’re doing well – I’ll try and polish up that essay and get it finished over the weekend. The stuff I learned recently is really useful!

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