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First, Do No Harm--On Unconventional Treatment for Cancer

Updated on December 21, 2011

"On some positions, cowardice asks the question, is it expedient? And then expedience comes along and asks the question--is it politic? Vanity asks the question--is it popular? Conscience asks the question is it right?

There comes a time when one must take the position that is neither safe, nor politic, nor popular, but he must do it because conscience tells him it is right."

--Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. "Remaining Awake Through a Great Revolution."

"Excellent. Completely normal breast exam, hon," the new doctor said brightly, as if I'd just gotten an A+. "Do you want to go further?"

She was asking me if I wanted additional testing, specifically an ultrasound. I am too young to be a decent candidate for a mammogram. I shook my head. I'd done my own exam before I came to see her, I was just being thorough. I knew the cause of the pain. I'd already had an office visit with Dr. Search Engine, and a consult with Dr. Ask All Of My Medical Friends.

"It's the caffeine" she said with a smile. "You've got to cut back."

I knew that. "Yeah. Try my life without caffeine. I'd rather have a clitoris-ectomy than give up caffeine altogether." I glared at her like the foul-mouthed sinner she was. The very thought made me shudder. Life without coffee?

She giggled, "Alright, I get it. Then EPO might help."

I smiled. "I can take the pain, I'm just here for a cancer spot-check. Are we finished here? 'Cause it's almost time for me to pick up prescription at Starbucks."

She laughed. I started to get dressed, and then made my way out of the office.


No longer a ghostly whisper in the spooky "Never Me, Never Us" woods, cancer had gone from an unspeakable obsenity to a daily presence in my life. With a cancer diagnosis rate of 1 in 2 men, and 1 in 3 women in the US alone, with more than 7 million human lives lost just last year, cancer is no longer the disease that other people get. If you are a human on this planet in this generation--cancer will come up. It will not hold back from invading our friends, our soul mates, our kindred spirits, our children and ourselves. Bold and ruthless, cancer had left only misery and bewilderment in its path after setting its sights on people I loved. I was, among many things, sorely pissed about this.

If I am careful, if I watch my words, then this article will be the indelicate act of treason against my own discipline--modern medicine--that I intend for it to be. I had given modern medicine mixed reviews as a child when my mother was diagnosed with a vague illness, of vague etiology, with vague treatment, and vague prognosis. By the doctor's estimate, she was terminal--vaguely. My mother--to whom defiance and hard-headedness comes naturally--was having no parts of leaving young children behind, and respectfully declined the grim fortune the man in the white coat spun for her. Without so much as a search engine at the time, my mother read up on alternative medicine, food medicine, and did what made sense to her. She sought innovative doctors who were researchers, she refused medicine if it didn't make sense, she had diagnostic studies regularly. She kept her doctor's appointments. It wasn't that she went off the map and on to witch doctors and tribal cures, she took the ambiguity of what had been presented to her by modern medicine as permission to actively participate in her own treatment. The doctor's word was not gospel to her--as her physicians were only clear on the fact that they were completely unclear about what to do. My mother, who is probably texting me at this very moment, blasphemed Johns Hopkins itself with her own health. She was sick, she has not survived unscathed, but doctors have found her health baffling.

Maybe it would help if an oncologist opened with. "you have whatever-anoma, or stage III what- have-you, and we, the white coats, have expensive intravenous poison to treat it. Should you survive the poison, if your heart can take it, we have little to offer in the way of predictable outcome. If you have any questions, please see my degree on the wall." Maybe with this kind of honesty, patients would feel no hesitation, no sense of irreverence, or naughtiness, if they sought alternative advice.

I'm not angry at doctors. The good ones are hard-working, tragically diligent, and highly intelligent. Some of these scientists, these would-be healers with other-wordly strength and endurance, have the outrageous courage and foolish confidence to take on the most conspicuous of all that ails us--cancer. Tripping over the skulls of the knights who tried before them, armed with knowledge, best intentions, and a warrior's heart, they go in to oncology to slay the dragon that has never been slain in an estimated 4000 years of its existence. But it seems, for all the effort, the warriors are not slaying the dragon. According to an article in the New York Times, despite the ever increasing price-tag of cancer treatment, the death rate related to cancer has improved about 5 percent over a span of 55 years. That just isn't enough.

Cancer is a muti-billion dollar industry, and any discussion about the stall we've found in the progression of the treatment of cancer should begin there. I've seen estimates range from 250 billion dollars, to 800 billion dollars for this industry worldwide, and with numbers like that, corruption flourishes. The management of cancer treatment has begun to bare a chilling resemblance to organized crime. When research has been conducted using less profitable means to treat cancer, it has been shut down. When doctors who dare to buck the "first cancer, then chemo" protocol designed by pharmaceutical companies, warrants for their arrest have been issued. It isn't pretty, and I'm not convinced that patients aren't being kept sicker than they should be because the profit from cancer is just too good an offer to refuse.

But who am I? At the end of the day, I'm just a vagina nurse who reads too much. I've spent the bulk of my career getting a fetus from one world to another. What the heck do I know? Those who chose chemotherapy alternatives die also. There aren't guarantees, and I can't, as a professional, even suggest something alternative to the all-powerful protocol without a heavy measure of guilt if someone dies. I suppose I wrote this to prompt anyone facing cancer of any form to conduct additional research, to understand that there's still a tremendous amount of guesswork in health care, and to not feel irresponsible if they make a choice that is separate or ammended from what is reccomended to them in the doctor's office.

Perhaps my point is illustrated best with my experience of speaking with a provider with 15 years experience in oncology. In as light-hearted and jokey way as I could manage, I went off on one of my "college-kid" tangents about the absurdity of chemotherapy. I questioned statistics, I poked fun at the whole concept. I waited patiently for the "stay in your place" condescending retort. The comeback was worse than I could have ever imagined. With an eerie certainty, the provider met my eyes, and hit me with the worst of all blows by quietly saying, "you're right."

--Shannon Jacqueline, RNC

In Loving Memory,--"Papa Wally" :-), "The Unsinkable Margaret Brown," "Sweet Kathy of Ours." 2010~

Also in my anti-cancer, anti-chemo arsenal

Hub Author Reccomends:

The Emperor of All Maladies: A Biography of Cancer
The Emperor of All Maladies: A Biography of Cancer

A doctor's brilliant and compassionate biography of cancer. It's bibliography alone is worth the purchase



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    • ahostagesituation profile imageAUTHOR


      4 years ago

      Wow! Thanks for reading. And yes, I have strong, evidence based opinions about cancer treatment in the United States. I am ever researching and investigating health and disease. But, prevention and early detection stil seems the best defense against this horrific disease. Sorry for the delay in response, I'm in the process of home buying and my crazy life is crazier. Thanks again!

    • Susan Trump profile image

      Susan Trump 

      4 years ago from San Diego, California

      You were recommended to me as having a similar point of view. You do. Keep writing. If we only get one or two to think about what they are doing it is worth the effort.

    • ahostagesituation profile imageAUTHOR


      7 years ago

      So sorry for the delay! Thanks for reading, and whatever someone chooses when they face cancer is up to them. I just think it's important that people know that there are viable options in alternative treatment. That does not negate medical diagnostic measures and interventions.

    • Chris Achilleos profile image

      Chris Achilleos 

      7 years ago

      This information is very interesting and i absolutely agree with most of it especially that cancer is a multi-billion dollar industry. Voted up, interesting, useful and sharing :)

    • ahostagesituation profile imageAUTHOR


      7 years ago

      OH WOW, KITTY!! Congratulations! I hope you choose my stomping ground labor and delivery. I've learned a lot here, and I've been really happy, (when I'm not exhausted). January is soooo soon. How exciting. You're a multi-tasker, and you're intelligent, you'll have no problem. Take a trip before it starts though! :-) Just cause life is strange, I'm back in school in January also to work on finishing my Jacksonville University! University of Maryland was originally where I planned to finish but they've increased tuition, and with me no longer a resident of Maryland, I just can't see spending the extra money. So there's life, it is somehow cheaper for me to study online @JU than MARYLAND. Crazy. Plan to get your Bachelor's it will only work for you. UC San Francisco has me as a Junior, at JU I'd be a senior, so that made the decision. If I end up deciding to walk at graduation (not likely though :-) I'll be around your way!

    • kittythedreamer profile image

      Kitty Fields 

      7 years ago from Summerland

      SJ - brilliant hub once again, friend. I have to say that I do agree with's sad but true. By the way, side topic - I finally got into nursing school...I'm starting in January. :) Thanks for sharing. You're an inspiration.

    • ahostagesituation profile imageAUTHOR


      7 years ago

      Martie Coetser, it is alarming, but very, very true. The wrong time to think about cancer is when your waist-deep in a diagnosis of cancer. Fear clouds the facts. A sober look at cancer pre-emptively might be helpful. But no one wants to talk about it. ;-). Thanks for reading!

    • MartieCoetser profile image

      Martie Coetser 

      7 years ago from South Africa

      Interesting facts about cancer treatment, informative and quite alarming. Thanks, Shannon!

    • ahostagesituation profile imageAUTHOR


      7 years ago

      Habee, how funny!! My mom named me after a tennis player...I don't play though. :-). I'm in the intermittent process of writing about my mother right now. Thanks for reading!

    • habee profile image

      Holle Abee 

      7 years ago from Georgia

      Great writing here! My middle daughter's name is Shannon - AND she's a nurse! Voted up.

    • ahostagesituation profile imageAUTHOR


      7 years ago

      KKG, I also meant to mention that I'm seeing complentary/aternative medicine gaining strides as well. Chiropracty and acupuncture are both covered under my medical insurance. I think that says a lot. I think it shows a lot of promise for us irreverent hippies. :-).

    • ahostagesituation profile imageAUTHOR


      7 years ago

      Hi Dexter! Thank you so much. I'm looking forward to seeing what you've been writing while I've been MIA from HP. I really appreciate the read. I have to say, I think a lot of doctors are victims/casualties in the war against cancer and the war against illness in general. A lot of how medicine is practiced is determined by committees, lawyers, rigid generalized protocols, and pharamceutical companies. If a doctor goes outside of the protocol, it is considered malpractice. Even if the protocol is illogical. Keep doing great things for your health, and thanks again for reading!!

      KKG, my mother really is an amazing woman. I so appreciate getting your comment on this hub, and for you taking the time to read it. Anyone who knows me knows that I'm not one for hotions, potions or lotions. I hold alternative medicine to the same scrutiny that I do western medicine. It has to make sense, it has to have research behind it. Even if it is "rough" research, I'll take it if it's verifiable. It wasn't until I wrote this that I realize how much mother's illness shaped my views on medicine, because I never took what any doctor said as the ultimate authority on health. They were never deities to me, they were smart people in white coats with opinions. Thank you again for reading!!

    • KoffeeKlatch Gals profile image

      Susan Hazelton 

      7 years ago from Sunny Florida

      Your mother is an amazing woman. There is a lot about cancer that we don't understand. I have seen alternative treatments becoming more common. It seems to me that there must be something to it.

    • Dexter Yarbrough profile image

      Dexter Yarbrough 

      7 years ago from United States

      It is so great to have you back and writing again! You have been missed!

      As for your hub, excellent perspective on cancer, how it is treated and the need for chemo. I would be very much like your mother. Many doctors are great. But so is the potential for greed at the expense of dying people. I would (and have) seek alternative treatments, change my diet, get plenty of exercise and keep a positive attitude.

      I sure do appreciate your honesty as well as your courage. Thanks for writing this. No doubt your words will reach others and hopefully help them make better decisions in this area.

    • ahostagesituation profile imageAUTHOR


      7 years ago

      Ruby, I've missed you. I've been very conflicted about writing this, and I am trying to be careful. But chemotherapy is more than just spirit crushing, heartbreaking and cell destroying--it is also largely ineffective. Hurts to write this, to say this, and to know this.

    • always exploring profile image

      Ruby Jean Richert 

      7 years ago from Southern Illinois

      This is one of your best Shannon. I think we have much more to learn about cancer. I like your Mother's attitude. Doctors are not God, eventhough some think they are. Voted up all the way..Thank you..

    • ahostagesituation profile imageAUTHOR


      7 years ago

      Thank you, casmgr

    • profile image


      7 years ago

      Very, very interesting. Wonderful writing


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