Home > Blog, Medical > Chemotherapy and its Controversy

Chemotherapy and its Controversy

This is a different style post than some of my recent ones, but it addresses questions and issues that any one with cancer needs to address during their treatment.

There is a lot of information and skepticism floating around with regards to chemotherapy. You only need to use google for a few seconds before you find many theories as to why chemotherapy is bad, pharmaceutical companies are evil, and why asparagus only diets are the cure for cancer. There is much conjecture, a lot of scaremongering, some evidence based ideas, and personal opinions.

The question is, how do you separate out fact from fiction? This is not an easy question to answer for the average lay person. When you are bombarded with so much information, what inevitably happens is people pick and choose what they believe based on their own preconceived perceptions, and what is most ‘comfortable’ to believe. When you are dealing with cancer, and its somewhat high mortality rate, people will grasp to what hope they can find, be it in false remedies, evidence based ideology, faith based theories, or in the reality in which they exist.

But the harsh reality is that almost all of those things do not offer magic bullet type cures for cancer. The claim that pharmaceutical companies are out for every dollar they can be more accurately applied to those that peddle herbal cures and cures based on diet alone. If eating asparagus could cure cancer, then it is highly unlikely that such information could possible be kept secret in the interest of pharmaceutical gain. Lets not forget the Doctors who dish out treatment, they genuinely have the patients best interest at heart, and to say that they are persuaded by pharmaceutical interests is basically hyperbole at best and out right scaremongering at worst.

Here are two interesting articles that are worth the read when you have the time. The first is by Malcolm Gladwell, and gives a pretty good synopsis of the state of play of pharmaceutical companies and the development of agents for chemotherapy. The second is from a website/blog that attempts the counter the myths about various aspects of medicine with evidence based research to back up what is considered the current consensus on any given issue. The article on chemotherapy is interesting, although somewhat loaded with agenda.

The Treatment, By Malcolm Gladwell

Chemotherapy vs. Death from Cancer, By David Gorski

I have written this post in response to the fairly regular commentary from people who hear my story and want to reccommend a diet or a lifestyle or a herbal remedy that will cure or improve the odds of my survival. One particularly lady claimed that I needed to eat an alkali based diet in order to reduce the acidity of my blood cos ‘cancer thrives in an acidic environment’. Usually, I respectfully ignore suggestions like these, but for whatever reason, I felt I needed to point out the flaw in her reasoning. Firstly cancer does not ‘thrive in and acidic environment’, by its very nature, it has a high cellular turnover, and therefore a much higher metabolic consumption than normal cells in the body (something that current researcher are trying to target with therapy). This high metabolic rate means that as a byproduct, extra hydrogen ions (H+) are produced, H+ ions are responsible for acidity. I.e. cancer does not thrive in an acidic environment, it PRODUCES an acidic environment. Secondly, the idea that you might be able to alter the pH of your blood via diet is fairly wrong. The pH of our blood is finely regulated by the body, and a few decimal point changes in either direction has fairly significant metabolic implications for the body, resulting in physical illness.

After pointing these things out to this lady, she paused, looked reflective, and responded with “well, sometimes you have to forget about all your medical knowledge“…. enough said.

Cancer is scourge that brings out many positive intentions, and a lot of people mean well. However, misinformed good intentions are not very helpful, particularly when the stakes are life or death. A misinformed decision can easily lead to the worse of the two outcomes.

This is not usually the kind of post that I put up on my blog, but I have posted it for interests sake of the two articles, and to explain where my perspective with regards to chemotherapy treatment. I hope it helps.

Thanks for listening.

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Categories: Blog, Medical
  1. kristiananderson
    May 28, 2010 at 6:11 pm

    Not your usual post but sorely needed.

    If I get one more person coming up to me telling me chemotherapy is all wrong and I should use ‘xyz’ natural therapies I swear I’m gonna bust someone’s face.

    I’d love to see them take my cancer into their body and “go natural”. I plan on living… if they want to die then fine by me, just don’t tell me “God told me to tell you”.

    Seriously makes my blood boil. Misinformed good intention cause serious heartache for those of us with cancer. They bring distress and anxiety to an already bad situation. Think people! It’s not you who are facing possible death… it’s me, us, cancer patients. Don’t make it harder for us than it already is.

    Feel free to delete this Jared, if you feel it may offend some people, but then again, maybe that’s what they need.

  2. Jared
    May 28, 2010 at 6:39 pm

    I wouldn’t delete it, I’m all for free speech. And your comment serves to illustrate my point. Thanks for sharing. :-)

    For those who don’t know, Kristian has a similar diagnoses as myself and is currently on chemo as well. You can visit his blog at: http://howthelightgetsin.net

  3. May 29, 2010 at 1:17 pm

    I loved this blog post!! Having had to choose whether to undergo chemotherapy and then having to defend my position – of which I wasn’t even 100% sure – I can completely relate to this one. Glad you’ve chosen to tackle your cancer with ALL the available information and chemistry.

  4. May 29, 2010 at 8:32 pm

    Hi there,

    I was introduced to your blog recently by a mutual friend – Anna Seccombe :-) I appreciate reading what you have to say, and seeing what you are learning through your situation.

    I am in a situation with some similarities, although in my case I’m living with a chronic severely debilitating illness (as in I’m out of bed for only about 3 hours per day, am very light- and sound-sensitive, have chronic pain and nausea and lots of mobility issues), rather than a terminal one. So I’m not facing my immanent death as you are, but I’m facing living a very different kind of life from the norm, quite possibly for the rest of my life – which brings similarities. It’s been 7 years now and I’m 33. I’m also a Jesus-follower, and by His grace live a rich life. And I also like facing things, rather than saying convenient untruths ;-)

    Anyway, I just wanted to affirm what you’ve said in this post. People love to suggest wierd and wacky cures to me, too, and are offended by my ‘close-mindedness’ when I refuse to even try them. I find the whole thing very taxing and deeply upsetting. I don’t want to be the one raining on their parade when they only want to help and I also don’t want to waste precious energy defending my position, but they usually won’t let me go until I do. My position is (1) that I will only try ‘cures’ that are actually specific for this condition (if the asparagus diet really did cure everyone from everything, don’t you think people would be shouting it from the rooftops?) and (2) that I will only try something for which there is reasonable evidence that it works. I don’t want to devote the little energy and active time that I have on trying random things on the off-chance that they’ll give me a good life: I want to use that energy to live a good life here and now!

    Making such suggestions to sick people is far from harmless!

    Before I became ill, I was doing a PhD in chemistry, and before that I worked at one of those “evil” multinational pharmaceuticals (in oncology research, no less), and those things have certainly shaped my perspective. But so has my understanding that the world *is* broken and fallen. We in the West expect health, wealth and happiness and see deviations from this as affronts. I see that brokeness (including illness etc.) is in the heart of the gospel story. And that one day Jesus will return and make a new heaven and a new Earth and I (and my polio-disabled mother) will have a new body that works properly and can also walk through walls – just like Jesus after the resurrection!

    –Heather :-)

    • Jas
      June 1, 2010 at 5:28 pm

      I can’t say much about chemo & cancer for I’ve not suffered in that way (although my dad did have cancer but did not need chemo) but to Heather, I can relate with what you’ve put across about the cures & taking offense when you don’t try them(as I read your post thinking, gosh, that sounds like me! – incredible disruptive but not as severe as you)So I’ve had a brief read of some of your writings). While “alternative therapy” (well I don’t think therapy is the write world but my brain is rather mushed right no) say taking vitamins may just help support normal function of your body (and sometimes not at all if you’re not deficient etc.), to suggest it as a cure alone is VERY dangerous – especially if it’s life-threatening. And often time it causes more unneeded stress for the person unwell for reasons that have already mentioned above so I think I’ll stop there as others have voiced what I wanted to say.

      Ps: Sorry Jared for taking this slight detour off the chemo topic

    • Jared
      June 8, 2010 at 2:50 pm

      Thanks for your comment Heather. People often mean well, and whilst it is only 1 – 2 minutes of their time spent advising us, what people don’t realise is that us, the recipients, get 1 – 2 minutes from everyone, and it adds up to many many many minutes!! It’s hard finding a balance between being polite, and slowly being ground down from comments made out of naivety.
      I hope and pray you are spending your time and energy on the best things you can, and please keep contributing to comments on this blog :-)

  5. Jane
    May 30, 2010 at 10:13 pm

    I guess all who have gone through or are going through a cancer journey have to face the bombarment of ‘well meaning’ people ‘suggesting’ this diet or that natural treatment and you are so right they can bring distress and anxiety to a already bad situation. I have been there too and chose chemotherapy – and like Kristin I felt like I had to defend that choice to some.
    Thanks for the opportunity to voice this – I didnt realise it was a raw point for me until I started typing my response. :-)- and my chemotherapy and radiotherapy was 7 years ago!!!

  6. kristiananderson
    May 31, 2010 at 7:48 pm

    Hey Jared, fyi… I wrote a blog in a similar tone a while back (only just remembered.. damn chemo drugs!)

    http://howthelightgetsin.net/2009/12/07/dress-code/

    It’s my ‘Dress Code’… you have to adhere to it if you want entry into my house.

  7. Simon
    June 6, 2010 at 12:08 pm

    “After pointing these things out to this lady, she paused, looked reflective, and responded with “well, sometimes you have to forget about all your medical knowledge“…. enough said.”

    Wow – this is an epic fail on her part. It makes you wonder whether the conversation you two had causes her to modify her suggestions in the future, or if she just blocks it out and continues to peddle misinformation. Good on you for introducing some sanity into proceedings.

    • Jared
      June 8, 2010 at 2:53 pm

      Yeah, I suspect it probably didn’t. People often choose a viewpoint, and stick to it pretty well, regardless of what new evidence presents. That’s why homeopathy prevails as such a huge industry in the light of overwhelming evidence to the contrary (about the only thing homeopathy has going for it is the placebo effect, which is well documented).

  8. natalie
    June 8, 2010 at 4:32 pm

    Thanks jared

    Now only a month ago has my mum been dignosed with mesothelioma… a rare form of cancer caused from abpestos and she is recieving all this information about diet etc, this makes alot more sense :)

  9. March 29, 2011 at 9:09 pm

    thanks!i will bookmark you!

  10. Amie
    April 25, 2011 at 11:07 pm

    Hello Jared,
    This blog is very informative, and I appreciate someone speaking up! My mom was diagnosed with Breast Cancer last December, and has only one more round of chemo out of 12 left. I, of course, didn’t want her to do chemo because of the immunity issues that come with it. It is fear really. I consider myself, somewhat of a naturalist, simply because I have managed two of my childrens ADHD with natural meds and diet. However, chemo works! My mom is cancer-free, and only has radiation left, just to make sure! As well as chemo, of course, there should be healthy diet choices, however, a good diet is NOT a cure! There are no foods that can CURE cancer! If you get a diagnosis, you should follow what your doctor says is the best for you. I know it’s hard, when others ‘think’ they know what is best for you. In other words, I agree with you and the others on here! And I appreciate what you are doing here!

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