A few weeks ago, I got a private message on my blog. It was a letter from a reader who wanted me to know that she had used a special herbal remedy to cure her sister’s cancer, and it had worked. She implored me to spread the word about this herbal remedy since my own husband had died of cancer.
Well, DAMN, I thought. Why didn’t I think of that? Herbs! I even have my own garden. And I actually grow herbs! Why didn’t I get Shawn to eat more of them?
I posted this to Twitter and got a lot of responses. Oh, yes, there are many things other people have heard about: specific fruits and vegetables that cure cancer (asparagus being the favorite), drugs like marijuana that cure incurable diseases like ALS, prayer that brings a patient back from total heart failure. Who needs science? We have HOME REMEDIES!
I decided to see what would come up if I Googled “things that cure cancer.” Yes, articles from the National Cancer Institute and Memorial Sloan Kettering come up. But the first few articles are from bogus websites promoting non-scientific research and many others from the first page of Google are ones that recommend things like “juicing” as the best way to cure cancer.
I’m not saying that eating well can’t help someone going through cancer. I know that healthier people are less likely to get cancer. But let me tell you this – Shawn had the best diet of anyone I knew. He still got cancer. I made him smoothie after smoothie with lots and lots of kale.
He still died.
So this shit just makes me crazy.
But you know what’s worse? The idea that Shawn didn’t try hard enough, and that’s why he died. As someone commented on my Twitter feed that day, “This is akin to my issue with using the verb ‘fought’ when it involves cancer. Yes, I think a fighting spirit helps. But what does it say about a loved one who dies — they didn’t ‘fight’ hard enough? That’s insulting.”
Amen. Shawn tried everything to beat his cancer. We even met with an oncologist to go on a clinical trial (though he didn’t live long enough to start it.) He never gave up.
But we also accepted his death when the doctors said that there was nothing left they could do. It allowed him to say goodbye to his friends, his family and to me. He didn’t die because he gave up or didn’t fight hard enough. He died because he had incurable cancer.
If I’m being charitable, I think that people promote these ideas (that cancer can be cured by veggies, God or a fighting spirit) because they provide comfort that if cancer was to hit his/her family, it would all be okay because asparagus/will/God is easily accessible. The difficult process of navigating the medical system, figuring out what 5-FU means and watching a loved one suffer could all go away through herbs, prayer and a will-full spirit.
But life isn’t that easy, of course. Asparagus doesn’t cure cancer. Prayer doesn’t make someone on the edge of death come back to life. A fighting spirit is no match for a cancer that’s spiraling out of control.
These things don’t hurt (and in some instances can help ease side-effects), and Shawn and I tried them all. But let’s give the medical profession some credit here – if they did cure cancer, I’m pretty sure we’d be implementing them instead of pumping poison into the bodies of people like Shawn.