Cancer patients have to be myth busters. The moment we go public with our diagnosis, we get bombarded with rumors about magic cures, remedies kept secret because of evil conspiracies and misinformation about cancer-causing agents.
One of the first lessons I learned from a fellow cancer patient was to trust the experts.
“Scientists and doctors have studied cancer for years. Stop listening to the wrong people,” Michael Maryanoff told me. “It’s not in your best interest to allow your skeptical nature to turn you into a difficult patient.”
Recently, a well-meaning friend forwarded me an email titled “Cancer Update from John Hopkins.” I immediately noticed that Johns Hopkins University’s name was misspelled and soon learned that the National Cancer Institute and the American Cancer Society had issued warnings about this bogus “update.”
The hoax email said cancer was a disease of the mind and spirit.
Johns Hopkins’ Kimmel Comprehensive Cancer Center released a statement reiterating the current scientific understanding: Cancer is a genetic disease resulting from a variety of mutations that are either inherited or acquired over time due to environmental exposures and unhealthy lifestyles.
“These alterations occur through our own behaviors — cigarette smoking, a poor and unbalanced diet, virus exposures and sunburns,” Johns Hopkins researcher John Groopman said.
When you’ve had cancer, it’s hard to watch others risking their health. At a Cinco de Mayo celebration on Saturday, South Miami Avenue was filled with young revelers who had a drink in one hand and a cigarette in the other.
Refraining from smoking prevents cancer. Experts say eating a nutritious diet, getting regular physical activity and limiting alcoholic consumption may prevent as many as one-third of all cancers. But curing the disease is a different story.
There is more evidence to support the effectiveness of chemotherapy and radiation than there is to support alternative therapies such as intravenous vitamin infusions and oxygen therapy.
In fact, the American Cancer Society reports that deaths have been linked to oxygen therapy. “Available scientific evidence does not support claims that putting oxygen-releasing chemicals into a person’s body is effective in treating cancer,” the statement reads.
Perhaps the possibility I fear the most is that cancer cells can spread to other tissues and organs through the bloodstream. A friend with breast cancer was getting vitamin C infusions for a while in the belief that it would strengthen her immune system to fight cancer cells, but scientists say that’s not the case.
“The immune system simply does not recognize cancer,” explains Elizabeth Jaffee, co-director of cancer immunology at Johns Hopkins’ Kimmel Comprehensive Cancer Center. “In its complexity, the cancer cell has learned to disguise itself to the immune system as a normal, healthy cell.”
And so it comes back to trusting the experts, ignoring bogus claims and hitting the delete button on those hoax emails.
Part 8: Facing my fears after mastectomy
Part 11: Radiation therapy gives her hope
Part 12: Finding strength from others
Part 14: A new outlook on 2012
Part 17: After radiation therapy ends
Part 21: Too much fear, too little trust
Part 26: High hope for new drug
Part 27: Religion is an unavoidable topic
Part 28: Treatment changes social life
From the Editor: Journalist confronts cancer, takes readers along