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Having cancer means being a myth buster

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 1: At age 33, I’m dealing with breast cancer

Part 2: Cancer treatment complicates dreams of pregnancy

Part 3: Hanging in when chemotherapy gets rough

Part 4: Tough surgery choices: Mastectomy vs. Lumpectomy

Part 5: Silicone implans are not the only way to go in breast reconstruction

Part 6: Rebuilding the breast from body tissue

Part 7: Body fat can be used to build breast

Part 8: Facing my fears after mastectomy

Part 9: Taking control of the fear that comes with breast cancer

Part 10: Doctor knows about being a breast cancer survivor

Part 11: Radiation therapy gives her hope

Part 12: Finding strength from others

Part 13: Facebook, medication help breast cancer patient deal with depression

Part 14: A new outlook on 2012

Part 15: Breast cancer patient faces genetic mystery

Part 16: Using diversion to cope with harsh reality

Part 17: After radiation therapy ends

Part 18: Friend’s breast cancer journey is not as fortunate

Part 19: Anti-tumor meds come with scary story

Part 20: Reentry into the world after breast cancer treatment

Part 21: Too much fear, too little trust

Part 22: Chemo brain complicates return to work

Part 23: The Cancerous tumor is gone, not the fear

Part 24: Drawing strength from a singer’s defiant spirit

Part 25: A breast cancer message at Ultra Music Festival

Part 26: High hope for new drug

Part 27: Religion is an unavoidable topic

Part 28: Treatment changes social life

Part 29: Fatigue is frequent post-treatment companion

Part 30: Men look at breasts more than anything else

From the Editor: Journalist confronts cancer, takes readers along

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