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The Anniversary

I received a surprising morning call several weeks ago

“Wally?”

“This is he.”

“This is Judy V…. I just wanted to call and thank you again for what you did for me. It’s the 35th anniversary of my cancer…“

Judy V. is a physician’s widow. Her husband, a surgical specialist died in his 40s, 20plus years ago.   She had a Stage II breast cancer; the surgeon had done a modified radical, and I was consulted for possible adjuvant chemotherapy.

Thirty-five years ago the standard was simpler. Same for our knowledge of staging and biological behavior. Genomics was not a word yet. Targeted therapy was not a concept. Tamoxifen was the ony estrogen agonist and had just been introduced.  The standard adjuvant therapy was single agent melphalan or its equivalent. But even then, patients had choices. The surgery had probably cured her, but then… Chemo or none.

We agreed to the standard six-month to one year duration of monthly four-day melphalan courses (as I recall from this distance, and three-drug combination was to come in soon. ) Judy’s choice was made easier because Happy Rockefeller (Nelson’s wife) and Betty Ford (President Gerald’s wife) both had been diagnosed and elected to receive the same program. They did well.

Negative comments about chemotherapy and cancer management were ubiquitous even then.  Laetrile advocates were braying, suing, and accusing us of conspiring to “cut, burn and poison.” My colleagues and I were unwitting participants in a conspiracy against the public to withhold cures in our own economic interests, along with the AMA, FDA, and pharmaceutical companies. Fortunately, most people did not believe it.

Judy had sent an occasional card over the years to each of her three docs, but the call was a surprise, especially after the previous day.  My wife and I took a 3 hour train ride to Sacramento, had lunch and a walk through the old town, then back, but the train struck and killed a male pedestrian on the track. It was 4 hours more before we could be released from the train, and get home to three hungry, watchful dogs. It was a depressing end to a gray rainy day. Judy’s AM call lifted spirits.

Then I came across a SF Chron movie review just opened in SF. It’s about Gerson and his diet method for cancer – again. The producer had made a pro-Gerson film before but said he wanted to do a more balanced one. He had interviewed Steve Barrett, Dean Edell, and me a few years ago, and we are shown in the film – in brief – very brief.

For the uninitiated, the late Max Gerson MD, a German refugee to the US in the 1930s developed a strict, tasteless vegetarian diet, and the famous coffe enemas, initially for tuberculosis, it is said, then used also for cancer. He “tranferred” to Tijuana, Mexico after the FDA and others harrassed him. Daughter Charlotte continues his anti-cancer, anti-science crusade from there.

Here is part of the film review in the SF Chronicle:

“ ‘The Beautiful Truth‘ tells the story of Max Gerson and his Gerson therapy, a treatment that requires around-the-clock intake of organic fruit-and-vegetable drinks. To detoxify the body, coffee-based enemas are also employed – a fact that director Steve Kroschel frames with mild amusement through drawings and interviews with small-town Alaskans who question Gerson’s ideas.

“We meet a woman who, five years earlier, had Stage IV ovarian cancer (the most lethal stage), and says she beat her illness with Gerson therapy. We meet a woman who was riddled with tumors but whose recovery is attributed to juicing and organic foods. And we meet (through historical photos) Albert Schweitzer, the Nobel Prize-winning philosopher who said his diabetes was cured by Gerson’s diet and that Gerson was ‘one of the most eminent geniuses in the history of medicine.’ [WS: This comment could go down with other Nobel goofs such as the one for ’cancer caused by a fluke.’]

“We also meet Gerson through archival video taken of him at his professional prime, but “The Beautiful Truth” is more about the present than the past, and [producer] Kroschel does an admirable job of weaving in related subjects, including obesity and food additives; the possible dangers of mercury tooth fillings; and the medical establishment’s reliance on corporate money.

[WS:  Mercury fillings? Food additives? Corporate money? At this point I was in near disbelief that a reviewer could still fall for this stuff, and not even call Edell, or me (also identified as a local) to check out what he had seen. But read on…]

“’The Beautiful Truth’ has its faults, most notably in its omissions. While the film gives time to critics of Gerson therapy (including Bay Area doctor and radio host Dean Edell), who say there’s no medical evidence of its success, “The Beautiful Truth” doesn’t adequately elucidate their opposition. For example, the Gerson Institute’s clinic is in Mexico because it uses drugs that the Food and Drug Administration bans for cancer treatment, but the documentary doesn’t stress that… [At this point, my near-sighs of near-relief became nearly audible...]

“ ‘Still, “The Beautiful Truth” succeeds because of its sympathetic provocation: Its engaging narrative and personal stories force us to question the U.S. medical establishment’s rejection of Gerson’s therapy and to question the establishment’s relationship with the pharmaceutical industry. Audiences will be inspired to seek more information about the therapy, natural treatments for cancer and the American food industry’s r eliance on artificial additives to make tasty products. After watching this film, even buttered and salted popcorn – a staple of the moviegoing experience – takes on added (and disturbing) significance. “

WS: I was nearly – only nearly – speechless. What descriptive commentary could do jutice to the genesis of this jaw-dropping gullibility?  A talented writer (“sympathetic provocation”) but a collapse of critical analysis and reason? But then, hope for humanity seemed to sublimate into the ether with the following three brief public comments to the review:

1/9/2009 3:58:59 PM

What an open minded and balanced review. Excellent. I’ve not seen the film, but have watched all the clips available. There is definitely something dark in the health care system. This documentary throws some rare light

1/9/2009 4:40:35 PM

Thank you for the review. I look forward to seeing the film. I am one of those who credit my long term survival to the Gerson Therapy. I began the diet in 1991 due to a diagnosis of spreading malignant melanoma. I’m still here. Many people I’ve met throughout the years who were also diagnosed with various cancers are not. They chose traditional methods. Cancer is conquerable. Max Gerson and Charlotte and her son have been saving lives for years that were given no hope or little hope or a shrug of the shoulders. I would do it all again in a heartbeat if the need arose. My brother is currently dying of a fourth stage cancer and watching him suffer chemo was very difficult knowing there was another way. I hope someday Big Pharm loses it’s stranglehold on the duped citizens of our country. Until that time all I can hope to do is share the opportunity of Gerson therapy with others willing to make the efforts needed in following the therapy. It works. Kay A

1/16/2009 11:14:50 PM

Please. PBS, with all their pro corporate sponsors, would NEVER air something like this. Most media is owned by the dark side. I’m really shocked this paper is even covering this movie.

It’s been 35 years,  Judy, and so little has changed…

Posted in: Cancer, Health Fraud, Herbs & Supplements, Nutrition, Pharmaceuticals, Politics and Regulation

Leave a Comment (6) ↓

6 thoughts on “The Anniversary

  1. Dr Benway says:

    Quackery eats up more of my time now than it did in the 1980s when I lived in the Bay Area –woo-town USA. I blame the Supplement Act and the NCCAM.

    When I hear “Big Pharma blah blah blah,” I say something like:

    “You have to rule-out an ordinary explanation before you accept a paranoid one. When people claim they were fired for being black or gay or whatever, you can’t be sure of that until it’s clear they weren’t simply incompetent, unpleasant, always late, etc. Likewise, you can’t be sure doctors are against some treatment because they’re all brainwashed or bribed by BigPharma until you’ve rule-out the more ordinary explanation: the treatment doesn’t work or shouldn’t work because it makes no sense physiologically.”

    Anyway… It sure is nice when people get better and say thanks.

  2. Eric Cartman says:

    You should investigate Australian “Food Matters” at foodmatters.tv. Makes similar claims about “magic foods” curing everything.

  3. David Gorski says:

    If you want to see some actual clips from the movie, I reviewed it a couple of months ago when it opened in New York (although I have no idea what happened to the formatting that leaves huge swaths of empty space around the embedded YouTube videos.

    Very disturbing in its credulity.

    There may be another one coming down the pike, too:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4TJEXXt6dJc

  4. Calli Arcale says:

    Reminds me a bit of “What the Bleep Do We Know?”. Still bothers me that some very smart people I know were taken in by that movie, until it was explained that one of the interviewees was Ramtha (and just who Ramtha was). IOW, a convincing demeanor is all it takes to persuade a lot of people, even very smart people, and destroying the credibility of one of them is all it takes to persuade them the other way. The actual merits of the argument (or lack thereof) seldom get a proper hearing, which is sad.

    Wonderful to hear about your patient. That’s so sweet of her. I hope that if I’m ever in a situation like that, I can be as thoughtful as her.

  5. DLC says:

    Good to know your patients keep in touch.
    Bad to see that some horrible movie got made.
    Worse still that the bad movie got free publicity.

  6. Dr Benway says:

    One of my patients raved to me about that What the Bleep flick, so I rented it. A few minutes into the film my husband and I were launching throw pillows at the TV. Then we saw drinking game potential on the word “quantum,” which livened things up a little. Still, we couldn’t make it through to the end. Teh stoopid, oy!

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