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In the summer of 1997, my wife Lucille detected a small lump. She obtained a biopsy in the early winter. She met with an oncologist who diagnosed a small, pea-sized carcinomatous breast tumor. He recommended mastectomy and lymphectomy with a course of chemotherapy. She concealed her meetings with her physicians and her diagnosis from me and our children, and from members of her own family. I recall an argument I had with her in that period when she stated she did not want to 'be cut, burned, or poisoned' in the event she was ever diagnosed with cancer.
Lucille consulted a physician in another city, a physiatrist, with whom she had an acquaintance. This physician urged her to obtain a second opinion, which she did. The second opinion was the same, but Lucille was determined to obtain nontraditional treatment. She prevailed upon her physician acquaintance to find an individual to provide such a treatment. Together they visited a naturopath who claimed to cure cancer. However, at their meeting he requested an advance payment in full of many thousands of dollars as well as agreements signed by all family members excusing him from any liability.
Lucille determined to find another person to treat her illness. She began to read books with titles like "The Cure for All Cancers" and "The Cancer Encyclopedia." One such book was by a chiropractor in a nearby state. Lucille sought treatment at his clinic. After their first meeting, she believed he could cure her cancer. She began to visit his clinic on a regular basis, although it was almost 150 miles away. She wrote him frequently to keep him updated with the progress of her disease. During her visits, he extracted blood and examined it in a dark-field microscope, showing her the field of view. At some point, he recommended that she use 714X, an injectable medicine promoted by a Canadian doctor. So she sent for it and began giving it to herself.
Meanwhile she continued to consult her physician acquaintance who examined her periodically, sold her homeopathic remedies, and provided blood irradiation services (a technique of extracting blood into a quartz vessel illuminated by ultraviolet light).
She continued to conceal both her disease and the true purpose of her homeopathic treatment from all in her family. She described her behavior as a search for a healthy lifestyle. I witnessed a gradual buildup of dozens of homeopathic remedies and the conversion of our family to organic-only food; and finally I discovered her self-injection treatments. She knew I disapproved strongly of these and of her visits to the chiropractor. I began to print and leave around articles which I found at the CDC website on the dangers of nonlicensed medicine. In hindsight, this was far too little, too late. However, being married for 33 years to this woman who was wonderful in other ways made me too tolerant.
Eventually her untreated cancer broke through to the surface of her breast. Her physician acquaintance explained that the cauliflower-like nodules were "carbuncles" caused by an excess of lymph. Her self-treatment became even more extreme and she purchased a device with two headlights on wands at a cost of many thousands of dollars. The instructions with these show a diagram of the human lymphatic system and they were intended to "promote lymphatic flow."
By this time, two years had passed since the initial diagnosis. The chiropractor stated that he couldn't help her any more and suggested she go to Germany to be treated there. Lucille discovered through a casual remark by his staff that his other patients were receiving chemotherapy. Lucille felt misled by him because he had caused her to believe that chemotherapy was harmful and not desirable.
The growing tumor had metastasized and Lucille's left arm developed extreme lymphedema (swelling caused by blockage of drainage of the lymphatic system). This was not concealable, and I began to question her. Eventually she disclosed her condition and within a few days I convinced her to see another physician both of us had worked with and whom she also trusted. He arranged for immediate admission to his hospital and for the case to be taken over by an excellent oncologist. We obtained her cooperation to this 'conventional' treatment. Her oncologist did not criticize her homeopathic, naturopathic health providers even as he gave us a prognosis of months. She was released from the hospital on a fearsome regimen of chemotherapy. A surgeon consultant and radiation therapist consultant found her untreatable; and she died approximately 4 months later -- a few days short of her 55th birthday.
Losing Lucille was an emotional disaster from which I am slowly recovering. It's still hardly believable because we didn't get to fight her disease together. I and her family still discuss how a bright, energetic, educated person made such a lapse in judgment. Up to a month before her death, Lucille still said she was going to get better. Most ironically, she was a registered nurse with a master's degree in counseling, working locally as a rehab nurse for many years.
The quacks and their nostrums encouraged Lucille to hide from the reality of her disease, which could well have been cured in its early stages by standard treatment. Her physician acquaintance should have dismissed herself from Lucille's care. The loss of her friend as a caregiver might have shocked Lucille into more rational behavior. Whenever I see ads urging breast self-examination or other cancer-awareness strategies, I realize that's not all that is needed. I've heard reports of distant relatives who are "thinking of going the homeopathic route." But I say to women who have lived through radical mastectomies and chemotherapy, "Congratulations. You faced your disease squarely. Your reward is that you get to live."