Cancer Complementary and alternative medicine Medicine

Yet another cancer cure testimonial that tells us nothing

Having gotten back from the Lorne Trottier Symposium, it occurred to me that my talk (not to mention much of my blogging about “alternative medicine” cancer cure testimonials) was nearly completely about breast cancer testimonials. This is, of course, not surprising, given that breast cancer is what I do for both patient care and research. However, there’s so much more cancer quackery out there than just for breast cancer, and there are more cancer cure testimonials out there than just breast cancer testimonials. Indeed, I happened to come across one on (where else?) that wretched hive of scum and quackery The Huffington Post. Granted, it’s nearly a month old, but, hey, I only just discovered it, and better late than never when it comes to applying some not-so-Respectful Insolence to such a testimonial. At least, that’s what I say.

This time around, it’s a woman named Meg Wolff. On the surface, Ms. Wolff’s story sounds incredibly inspiring on the surface:

When Meg was 33, with an infant daughter and 4-year-old son, bone cancer required her leg to be amputated. She picked herself up, moved on with life, and then … wham! Seven years later, she was diagnosed with invasive breast cancer. After a mastectomy, chemo and radiation, doctors told her the cancer would be back within a year.

Meg had run out of other choices when she fortuitously learned that a plant-based diet might help her. Rather than follow her doctors’ advice to “make her peace with God,” Meg replaced everything unhealthy in her diet with whole grains, beans and vegetables. And … she started seeing fast improvements. As each month passed, she got healthier and stronger. Now 52, Meg continues to eat healthy, and has been cancer-free for nearly 12 years.

Of course, regular readers of this blog will recognize that this is the classic case of taking both conventional therapy and alternative therapy and then attributing one’s survival to the alternative therapy. After all, Meg had not only surgery, but chemotherapy and radiation! From Wolff’s website, I learned that she had a stage IIIB cancer, which is not good, but it its eminently survivable, with perhaps a 50% chance of living 5 years with aggressive therapy. Not the greatest odds, I’ll agree, but certainly nowhere near hopeless, certainly nowhere near anything that would justify any surgeon or oncologist I know telling a patient to “go home and make peace with God.” It is thus not at all shocking that Ms. Wolff is still alive twelve years later; science-based medicine saved her. Still, on her website, she has all sorts of testimonials and appears to be selling various macrobiotic diets as treatments for cancer, all of which would be perfectly fine if her website didn’t leave one with the distinct impression that such diets can improve one’s odds of surviving cancer. As I always say, I have nothing against healthy eating; what I do detest is claiming more than the evidence supports.

The testimonial Meg Wolff is promoting on HuffPo is described in a post entitled From Stage 4 to Cancer-Free: One Man’s Plant-Based Recovery. You’d think from the title that this might be a challenging testimonial for me to take on. Well, yes and no, in that my speculation as to why the man at the heart of this testimonial is still alive. Here’s the story:

In the first class, I briefly shared my own cancer recovery story. Shortly after that first session, I got an email from one of the company’s managers, Scott Gill, thanking me for coming and saying he was inspired because he, too, is a cancer survivor. I was surprised to learn that he had survived stage four colon cancer by following a healthy plant-based diet and other alternative modes of treatment. It has been 20 years since Scott’s diagnosis and he remains cancer-free.

Wow! Stage IV colon cancer! Depending on exactly where it’s metastasized, stage IV colon cancer is potentially curable. Specifically, if the only place it’s metastasized to is the liver or lung, surgical resection of the metastases can still be curative. True, this is a minority of stage IV cancer patients, but I suspect you’ll see where I’m going with this before too long. First, though, let’s hear the rest of the story:

For several years during this time, Scott had suffered through bowel problems and multiple tests and doctor visits. By the time doctors caught the cancer, it was stage four (advanced) colon cancer. Even with the recommended chemotherapy, the prognosis was bleak. Because of his father’s experience with chemo, Scott decided to forgo these treatments and live his life, however short, the best way he knew how.

He remembered back to a younger, happy, healthy life, when he exercised daily and even played minor league baseball for the Detroit Tigers. He was inspired to start running again, and began running every morning. He knew that his work situation was so stressful that it was “killing him,” so he quit his job.

He happened to visit a health food store, where an employee recommended he change his way of eating. So he started cooking and eating whole grains, beans and vegetables. He had very rudimentary cooking skills, but he managed. He started mowing lawns to support himself and his family and later started managing properties, which was a lot less stressful. The stress took a toll on his marriage, and Scott and his wife divorced.

The rest of the story is predictable in that Scott is portrayed as having cured himself with diet and meditation. Not being satisfied to rely on a secondhand description of what actually happened, I decided to see if I could find out some independent information on Scott Gill. Unfortunately, I had a hard time. For one thing, the Doctor Who and Torchwood geek in me noted that there is another Scott Gill, who just so happens to be John Barrowman’s (Captain Jack’s) partner. Clearly, this was not the same Scott Gill. Unfortunately, I couldn’t really find anything about the Scott Gill described by Meg Wolff other than what is in Wolff’s HuffPo article. So, as thin a gruel as this testimonial is, let’s take a look.

As is all too common with testmonials like this, there is very little information that is sufficiently concrete to say a lot about this one other than that by promoting the idea that Scott somehow survived by giving up his stressful job, changing his diet, and starting to meditate, HuffPo is once again living down to its reputation for promoting dangerous nonsense. This leaves trying to dissect this case, which boils down mainly to looking at what it left out that might explain Gill’s good fortune. And what did this story leave out?


Yes, there’s a recurring theme in these cancer cure testimonials, and it’s a tendency not to go to deeply into what conventional therapies the person giving the testimonial underwent. In Gill’s case, the questions are two-fold. First, exactly where did the tumor spread to make it stage IV? As I mentioned once before, not all stage IV colon cancers are created equally. There’s a big difference between widespread tumor involvement of multiple organs and a tumor that has only spread to the liver or lung in single metastases or small numbers of metastases. that can be surgically resected. The former has a much more dismal prognosis than the latter. True, all stage IV cancer is far more likely than not to die before five years are up, but stage IV cancer that can be resected completely from the colon and the involved organ is survivable with a five year survival rate of 30% to 40%.

Twenty years ago, it wasn’t uncommon that some surgeons (particularly older surgeons trained in an earlier generation) would take patients with colon cancer to the operating room without detailed CT scans. I know, because that’s when I was in residency. In any case, the big argument back then was whether a surgeon who palpated a liver metastasis at the time of undertaking curative surgery should remove that metastasis during the same operation or wait and come back for another operation. However, if the liver metastasis was small and didn’t require an extensive liver resection to remove, there was almost universal agreement that it could be safely resected during the same operation in which the primary colon cancer is removed. In any case, if all the cancer was surgically removed, it is then quite possible that the oncologists would have recommended chemotherapy afterward.

Then, of course, there is the other possible explanation, which is that Gill never had cancer at all. This is a surprisingly common explanation for alt-med testimonials. We have no description of whether or not Gill had a definitive biopsy or what specific type of cancer (if any) that biopsy showed. Absent that information, it’s impossible to know what sort of cancer Gill may or may not have had, what its estimated prognosis was, and whether it is in the least bit plausible that his chosen treatment worked. Even if he did have cancer, it is quite possible that Gill was an outlier. We have no way of knowing. That’s why promoting a therapy based on a single anecdote is irresponsible in the extreme, which is just what Wolff does:

I felt that Scott’s story really reconfirmed what I did 12 years ago — changing my diet and lifestyle to increase my odds of survival from cancer. I was impressed that he had the strength to leave his job and do the things he knew he needed to do to get well in order to save his life. He self-reflected and decided to decrease the stress and clean up his diet, looking beyond the status quo. He chose a holistic path that made sense to him looking at all the areas of his life that were contributing to his illness, not just treating the symptoms.

Scott Gill trusted himself, let go of the outcome and lived. Today, at 52, he is cancer-free and healthy. I think there’s a lot to learn from his story.

Ah, the post hoc ergo propter hoc fallacy! Because Scott Gill chose some sort of plant-based diet, began meditating, and lived, that means the plant-based diet and meditation were responsible for his survival! Maybe. More likely not. There’s no way of knowing based on one anecdote, particularly a low-quality anecdote. This is not as though we have the story of a patient with stage IV pancreatic cancer whose tumor miraculously melted away. (The mortality of stage IV pancreatic cancer is about as close to 100% as it’s possible for a tumor to be.) In such a case, even one or two such anecdotes would be fairly persuasive evidence that there might well be something to a treatment given. Rather, this is a vague story that leaves out enough information to let us know whether Gill had cancer, what kind of cancer it was, and what its true prognosis was.

Of course, Meg Wolff needs testimonials like this. She’s selling books (Breast Cancer Exposed: The Connection Between Food and Survival), and herself on the basis of claims that she has recipes that will help fight cancer, including breakfast. She sells these with a plethora of testimonials for breast cancer and other conditions.

After all, the purpose of testimonials is to sell products, and testimonials work. Madison Avenue has known that for decades.

I really do have to thank Wolff, though. She’s provided me with a number of cancer cure testimonials. I’ll certainly be incorporating at least a couple of them into future talks, and, when blogging material gets scarce, maybe I’ll take them on one at a time.

By Orac

Orac is the nom de blog of a humble surgeon/scientist who has an ego just big enough to delude himself that someone, somewhere might actually give a rodent's posterior about his copious verbal meanderings, but just barely small enough to admit to himself that few probably will. That surgeon is otherwise known as David Gorski.

That this particular surgeon has chosen his nom de blog based on a rather cranky and arrogant computer shaped like a clear box of blinking lights that he originally encountered when he became a fan of a 35 year old British SF television show whose special effects were renowned for their BBC/Doctor Who-style low budget look, but whose stories nonetheless resulted in some of the best, most innovative science fiction ever televised, should tell you nearly all that you need to know about Orac. (That, and the length of the preceding sentence.)

DISCLAIMER:: The various written meanderings here are the opinions of Orac and Orac alone, written on his own time. They should never be construed as representing the opinions of any other person or entity, especially Orac's cancer center, department of surgery, medical school, or university. Also note that Orac is nonpartisan; he is more than willing to criticize the statements of anyone, regardless of of political leanings, if that anyone advocates pseudoscience or quackery. Finally, medical commentary is not to be construed in any way as medical advice.

To contact Orac: [email protected]

60 replies on “Yet another cancer cure testimonial that tells us nothing”

I can come up with quite a number of anecdotes of people who have survived stage IV cancers for 5+ years after taking standard treatment without even thinking about it too hard*. Does that mean that standard therapy is infallible and can cure all stage IV cancers? No. Of course not. No one would even think that. So, even giving the alties the assumption that Gill was cured through diet and exercise, why would anyone assume that that means that everyone can be cured by diet and exercise?

*Ok, so most of them were lymphomas and testicular cancers. But I do remember one stage IV melanoma who did very well and is alive 10+ years later. Solitary met, resected, of course. And at least one colon cancer with local extension into the small bowel who did very well after surgery/chemo. Then there are some I can’t explain completely like the woman who had a CR to about 5th line treatment for metastatic, highly pretreated breast cancer. She recurred eventually but only after more than 5 years. This with a therapy that had about a 5% overall response rate…guess it works in a subset though.

I’ve never had a doctor – in any circumstance, not end the conversation about treatment with “you should also get plenty of exercise (depending on current body conditions) and eat a healthy diet.”

To somehow thing that modern medical professionals ignore overall body health “diet & exercise” in total is a bunch of BS pushed by the woo-crowd. Physicians are aware of the advantages of a healthy patient – hence the continued push to reduce obesity in this country as a means of controlling the epidemic rise of diabetes.

I was impressed that he had the strength to leave his job

You know, aside from hating this unevidenced stuff about stress contributing to cancer and worsened cancer outcomes and the victim-blaming it entails, I’m really tired of these people presenting their privilege as moral courage. I’m sure there are many jobs far more stressful than Gill’s – including those that very actively contribute to illness and have a high risk of injury or death – that people can’t just up and quit, because having no income or insurance, aside from being itself rather stressful, isn’t exactly conducive to good health. Even if it did lead to improved cancer outcomes, poor people can’t change their “lifestyle” in these ways. These jokers have a lot of nerve patting themselves on the back, and should be fighting for better working conditions and food policies and universal health care so everyone can have access to more healthful situations in general and treatments that work.

selling various macrobiotic diets

She’s selling books (Breast Cancer Exposed: The Connection Between Food and Survival)

No conflict of interest there, but accepting an Eneman calender makes Orac a pharma shill.

Also, what Cervantes said – I often wonder how many of the people giving these testimonials exist. I am sure that if the person giving the testimonial dies of cancer the testimonial will still stay up.

He started mowing lawns to support himself and his family and later started managing properties, which was a lot less stressful. The stress took a toll on his marriage, and Scott and his wife divorced.

Oh, I missed this somehow. How does this even make sense? And isn’t a divorce a significant source of stress?

Hang on a minute. We have a story of a man with “stage IV cancer” who had to quit his job? Metastatic cancer is grounds for disability in most people’s eyes. The theory that he never had cancer is starting to look good.

Ms. Wolff’s dietary prescriptions sound amazingly like those of the “cutting edge” woo-slingers eviscerated regularly here; fortunately ( or not), I am in possession of a 1960 tome by “Prevention” founder, J.I.Rodale ,”The Prevention Method for Better Health”, which collects _1950’s_ articles from the magazine. It appears that he dotes on vegetables, fruits, nuts, seeds, herbs, “organic”,”enzymes”, bee honey
/ pollen, vitamin and mineral supplements, and “raw” while demonizing processed foods, pesticides, food additives (“cause cancer”), processed milk, sugar, saccherin, coffee, “heated fats, chemical / hormone-laced meat, chlorinated / fluoridated water,and loudly bemoans the industrialization of farming. Today’s woo is totally retro, although many may not recognize that fact.

I’ve never had a doctor – in any circumstance, not end the conversation about treatment with “you should also get plenty of exercise (depending on current body conditions) and eat a healthy diet.”

But have you ever had a doctor end the conversation with a recommendation of a macrobiotic/paleolithic/vegan/low carbohydrate/low fat/low protein/blood type/raw food/woo of your choice diet?

I think the altie trope of dietary ignorance of “mainstream doctors” largely stems from being unaware or unenthusiastic about the patient’s favorite fad diet.

@MA – I would agree. Docs tend not to go with the “diet flavor” of the week. They stress good nutrition, healthy portions & the proper amount of regular exercise (based on patient requirements/needs/abilities).

“After a mastectomy, chemo and radiation, doctors told her the cancer would be back within a year…Rather than follow her doctors’ advice to “make her peace with God,” Meg replaced everything unhealthy in her diet with whole grains, beans and vegetables.”

Oh, those cruel, heartless, clueless doctors! Cut, burn, poison and then proclaim the patient as good as dead! It’s just like Mike Adams is always telling us!!!

Except I know of no physicians who act like this, and I work with oncologists daily and hear plenty of case histories and treatment recommendations at our hospital’s Tumor Board.

The alties love to tell us on the one hand that docs are forcing unpleasant and hopeless therapies on cancer patients, and on the other hand inform them that they should give up because they’re certain to die soon. You’d think they’d recognize the conflicting nature of these memes, but they keep right on feeding them to the gullible.

@12: I strongly suspect that Ms. Wolff’s doctor told her the odds of recurrence and she interpreted 50/50 (or so) as being “as good as dead.” Or maybe s/he told her the odds without adjuvant therapy (much lower, though I don’t have enough details to be able to say for certain what the odds would be…it would depend on a lot of details of tumor biology, size, and LN status) and remembered that number, not the odds with treatment. Then again, her doctor might have simply made a mistake or been flat out wrong. Or been a jerk. Hard to tell from what she’s told us on her site.

@12: I suspect this a case of altered memories. It’s possible that she thought of the doctor unfavorably, and her recollection was colored by this. That seems to happen on these comment threads, at least to some of the more aggressive alternative medicine advocates.

Thanks Orac. It’s been four years and my raw-foodie colleague has yet to challenge my oncology dietitian to a debate when told that vegetarians and people on macrobiotic diets still get cancer. And she sees SBM docs for regular checkups. What’s up with that? She doesn’t trust her own woo that she’s so blindly passionate about, and needs validation from “the enemy?”

Salty @ #4, I agree with you, but food wooers don’t care about helping out everyone else like you describe. If they did that, who would they have to feel superior to?

My Aunt was diagnosed with stage 4 colon cancer with mets to the liver & it had spread to the lymph nodes.

She was a raw/vegan/crystal meditating/Omega 3 swallowin’ personal trainer. Exercise, eating little and only consuming raw vegetables was her MO for YEARS and YEARS before the diagnosis. (We all attributed her ashy hair & complexion to be a sign of her not eating enough meat and dairy and not resting enough, little did we know she had cancer).

Since she lived this “western medicine is evil” mantra, it took her over 8 months to seek proper care for her persistent abdominal pain and diarrhea. And by proper, I mean seeing a DOCTOR and not taking weird herbs. Then she wasn’t going to do chemotherapy because it was supertoxicpoison, blah blah. Thank god this Doctor did chastise her, “Look lady – you are a single mother of five children. You cannot afford to reject chemo.” So she acquiesced.

And it worked! Surgery removed all the stuff in her colon, they removed a bunch of lymph nodes and her liver tumors started shrinking – and – disappearing altogether! (a miracle! Oh, no wait – just medicine…)

Until she decided that she did not need the supertoxicpoison to get better. She needed to go to Chinatown & spend THOUSANDS on herbs (thousands her kids sure could use at this point) and that bs thing where some dip waves a light over your body & says your lymphatic system has been cleansed.

Guess what happened? Long story short, cancer came roaring back, then she’d get scared and do 1 or 2 treatments then go off for 6 months again, then it would come back worse than ever. The whole time she ate raw greens, supplements, herbs, did meditation, exercise, reiki, crystal crap, you name it.

She left 5 kids behind. All her money spent on junk. She would even say, as she lied in her Hospice bed, 60 some odd pounds, “I just have to get my energy up… if I meditate, but I can’t think straight…” Saddest shit I’ve ever seen.

Point being – my anecdote cancels out hers.

After all, the purpose of testimonials is to sell products, and testimonials work. Madison Avenue has known that for decades.

Indeed (as you like to say). This is one of the biggest problems we’re up against as skeptics/rationalists: to someone with a scientific/rational worldview, testimonial is in fact advertising, not evidence. To most of the lay public, though, testimonial feels like evidence, and when we say that testimonials aren’t evidence, they feel like they’ve been “invalidated”.

There’s a deeper issue here, which is that when practicing science correctly, one deliberately fights the universal human tendency to try to gather evidence in support of what you wish to be true, as opposed to gathering evidence and drawing the conclusions it leads to. And that in turn is based on the tendency to confuse “what is” and “what should be”. Part of the reason why efforts to promote skepticism and critical thinking have had limited success is that they don’t convey why the latter mindset is important in the first place. As a result, they “start in the middle”, working on the assumption that their audience already understands the real fundamentals when they don’t.

Steven Bratman used to have a really good, emotionally compelling explanation of why and how testimonial could be misleading, but his main site seems to be gone.


And do you know what her kids may have thought? They may have reacted like a friend of mine back in high school, who’s mother died a similar death:

“It’s breast cancer so I’ll probably get it too. I’m never going to be married or have kids, because I wouldn’t want them to go through that. And when it comes, I’m just going to lie down and die, since nothing works.”

Not only do they see that alternative doesn’t work, they think real medicine is just as ineffective. It was just another one of the things she tried.

Before anyone else takes the credit after reading the first paragraph of my last comment, I will proclaim that the general public tends to credit testimonials with “evidenciness”.

I remember reading an article about a kid who had leukaemia who was told he had a 15% chance of surviving by doctors. His dad (an altie) put him on a ‘special diet’ which cured him after the doctors ‘told him he had no chance’. Er…no. They told him 15%. The dad now ran a dietary supplements company. Poor kid. (Oh yes, and he did have all the conventional treatments as well which the dad didn’t see as a reason for survival).

Then, of course, there is the other possible explanation, which is that Gill never had cancer at all. This is a surprisingly common explanation for alt-med testimonials. We have no description of whether or not Gill had a definitive biopsy or what specific type of cancer (if any) that biopsy showed.

Many years ago I had a cat that was diagnosed (via a biopsy) with bone cancer. He died several years later of kidney disease.

As vet said: Glad I’m not a diagnostician.

Man, you know what this is basically like?

It’s like going to an NBA practice and surveying the players and determining that the average height of a human is about 6’7″.

Well, a combination between that and turning off your car’s airbag, getting in a crash, walking away, and assuming that, as a result, seat belts are useless because you weren’t hurt.

So many of the sCAM aficionados really, truly don’t seem to understand statistics.

A person surviving a disease with a 99% mortality rate is not amazing. Lucky, perhaps – although the luck obviously started after they got the disease.

I’m not a statistician. I barely understand “p=0.01”. But it’s blindingly obvious that 99% mortality means that there will be many, many survivors.

I really don’t understand why it’s so hard for people to reject one-off anecdotes. Perhaps the underlying challenge is to look at a piece of information, and to say “That does not actually increase my understanding, and I have no real idea how to find out more information about that.”

I had somebody show me videos of martial arts people who appeared to be flying backwards a lot. Not levitating, but going back more than you would normally expect to see. He was really, really annoyed when I explained to him that I really didn’t know what throwing somebody backwards would normally look like, since I rarely see people fighting and being thrown off balance. He could not accept the concept that I wouldn’t comment on how miraculous it was since I didn’t know what non-miraculous real kung fu looked like.

Ugh. Why did you have to mention macrobiotic diets? Brings back bad memories of my ex’s mercifully short-lived excursion into cooking macrobiotic meals.

She had read some book by some Japanese fellow, which insisted we should only eat products that originate in our locality. Also, we should be vegetarian (or maybe vegan, I forget). So, that meant we were deprived of meat and fish (I would not eat Ohio River catfish for all the money in the world), but also oranges, orange juice, bananas, and on and on. I am not sure how she justified buying rice and beans that came from someplace else, but whatever.

Macrobiotic diets are supposed to be “healthy,” but in terms of nutrition make no damned sense at all. It’s hard to understand how they could “cure” cancer, unless the patient truly had an abysmal diet beforehand. (As in a Supersize Me style diet.)

This is a little bit off topic, but I have a friend who has started to talk about this doctor named Jacinto Convit who has created a vaccine against brain, stomach and breast cancer.

Every skeptic fiber in my body is calling BS, but I can’t find any information either way. Anyone heard about this? Could this maybe get some Respectful Isolence? Because I’d like to be able to point my friend to some info.

Whether that will help or not is debatable, though.


Quackwatch has a page on macrobiotic diets.

A 1971 report of the AMA Council on Foods and Nutrition noted various types of serious nutritional deficiencies, some of which were fatal, among individuals restricting themselves to Ohsawa’s +7 diet for extended periods of time. These included cases of scurvy, anemia, hypoproteinemia (low serum protein), hypocalcemia (low serum calcium), emaciation due to starvation, and loss of kidney function due to restricted fluid intake (43). Publicity surrounding these cases led to the development of a strongly negative stereotype of the macrobiotic regimen in the 1960s. The American Cancer Society (ACS) Committee on Unproven Methods of Cancer Management published its first statement on macrobiotic diets in 1972 (90).

Spare me. ūüėČ

My wife and I cook brown rice once in a while instead of white rice because it has more fiber and seems to give her a little less blood sugar trouble (she’s diabetic). But, it takes a lot longer to cook and I haven’t figured out a good way to avoid the sticky texture.

Wheardogg: That book was probably by George Ohsawa; he died of heart failure at the relatively early age of 72. A friend of mine had his book, and insisted that it stated that following a macrobiotic diet meant that he could continue to smoke as much as he liked! (I wouldn’t be surprised if it had – Ohsawa himself was a heavy smoker for much of his life.)
One of Ohsawa’s followers, Michio Kushi, wrote a book titled The Cancer Prevention Diet. Sadly, both he, his wife and his daughter all developed cancer.

squirrelelite: I eat brown rice two or three times a week – I enjoy the flavour and texture. Never really had a problem with stickiness – I use short-grain Bismati rice,cooked in a steamer for a full hour. Maybe you should try it that way.

Thanks to sophia8.

Would that be in a rice cooker?

Or do you put it in a bowl in one of the steamer layers.

We like to cook fresh vegetables in a steamer.

Use a rice cooker and rinse the rice before cooking. Adjust the amount of water for the type of rice — a cup and three fourths for average rice, as much as three cups for wild rice, and maybe a cup and a half for rice that comes out too sticky.

Back on topic with another anecdote:
A local oncologist had colon cancer with one or more liver metastases at least twenty years ago. We all figured he was doomed, but (naturally with standard medical/surgical treatment) he is still practicing and in excellent health.

My personal anecdote is in the autism/ADHD area. My son and another boy in the neighborhood were both having problems, and both traveled to Illinois — the other boy went to a quack with a diet cure for neurobehavioral issues, and I took mine to Chicago, went up the Sears Tower and the Hancock Center, visited the Museum of Science and Industry, and ate lots of interesting food. Both of them came back much improved, but mine had a lot more fun.

I could never understand the urge to believe in dreadful fad diets as the cure for everything.

Every time! Every time someone claims their cancer was miraculously cured by a restrictive diet, or apricot kernels or any other woo, it turns out with a little probing that they had conventional treatment too, but have chosen to credit whatever else it was they did with the improvement in their condition.

No doctor ever told a stage 111 breast cancer patient that her the cancer would be ‘back within a year’, or that she should ‘make her peace with God’. Flat out lies.

I was diagnosed with stage 111B breast cancer too. I was a bit of an altie at the time and considered refusing chemo and rads. My consultant siad ‘If you have these treatments you have a good chance of being alive in ten years; if you don’t, you don’t’. I think it’s people’s misinterpretation (sometimes wilful misinterpretation) of statements like this that leads them to claiming they have been given ‘x months/years to live’.

Having now survived almost 7 years, I have fallen on the right side of what I think I was told was a 54% chance of 5 year survival.

Like Meg Wolff I’ve survived a poor prognosis thanks to conventional cancer treatments.

Not only was I a bit of an altie (I’m not now), but I was also a vegan, and still am. I had been living on a plant-based diet for almost a decade at the time of my diagnosis – and an almost-plant-based diet for decades before that.

“Yet another cancer cure testimonial that tells us nothing”

It’s testimonials that direct much of the research that’s already been carried out – so they obviously don’t mean “nothing.”

She would even say, as she lied in her Hospice bed, 60 some odd pounds, “I just have to get my energy up… if I meditate, but I can’t think straight…” Saddest shit I’ve ever seen.

This is exactly what my ex’s dad did. He got penile cancer, and let it get to the point where it was bleeding, a LOT, before he finally went to the doctor. He was putting aloe vera salve on it and taking some kind of mushroom powder for it. The docs told him the penis would have to come off, immediately, and all the lymph nodes, although from what I’ve read about penile cancer it was probably too late to save his life. Well, he was all, nuh-uh, they’re not going to turn me into a woman! My herbs will cure me. Months later, he weighs about 90 pounds and can’t keep any food down, we take him to Iowa City to the emergency room, and where all the genitalia used to be he had a gaping hole through which you could see internal organs. The seasoned emergency room doctors were stunned. All this time, treating that with aloe vera and mushroom powder, and seeing his chiroquackter regularly. Jebus wept. And up until the day he died, he was sure if he just took his vitamins – along with HUGE amounts of morphine – he would get well again.

It’s testimonials that direct much of the research that’s already been carried out – so they obviously don’t mean “nothing.”

There’s a difference. Said testimonials have to be as accurate and complete as possible, and all data, success and failures, has to be taken into account. This testimonial omits several critical pieces of information, and is therefore useless.

If my doctor told me I had to “make my peace with God,” I’d find a new doctor.

I don’t want to be treated by either a defeatist or someone who’s so insensitive they don’t respect my lack of religious beliefs.

“This testimonial omits several critical pieces of information, and is therefore useless.”

That he might not have had cancer at all even though his doctors told him he had stage four colon cancer? Because that’s the only thing I can conceivably see as making this testimonial completely useless. It’s possible some sort of gross medical error was made, though with stage iv cancer it doesn’t sound very probable at all.

Testimonials should never direct research — but they can give researchers ideas of where to start looking, and they can give researchers a reason to care about the answers. But they are not generally data points. They’re isolated observations, nothing more.

When testimonials direct research, research is biased by the attempt to prove or disprove the testimonial, and not to understand the whole picture.

Mr. Crosby, if you had bothered to read the article (or simply didn’t filter out everything you disagreed with), you would have realized he omitted the fact that they had undergone conventional therapy as well. Also, there are all those people for whom the alternative therapies didn’t help, who aren’t around to give their testimonials. Both of these aspects were discussed heavily, so I’m left with two possibilities:

1) You’re dishonest.

2) You’re lazy.

Your pick.


If you go back and read Orac’s post again, you will note that he points out some very important information that is missing from the story. Assuming that he did, indeed, have stage IV cancer, we do not know:

1) Whether or not he had surgery, and
2) How extensively the cancer spread.

Without knowing just what other treatment he may have had prior to going down the diet/meditation route, we cannot begin to accurately assess whether his approach is worth studying.

For example, suppose my computer got a virus that, if not completely removed, will reinstall itself. This virus is so bad, that even after removing it, it is a good idea to remove and reinstall all of my programs, with a good chance of losing some of my documents in that further process. I don’t want to lose any of my documents or programs, though. All I tell you is that I followed the advice of someone else to take a quartz crystal and wave it over my computer a few times, then keep the crystal near my computer to prevent any further viruses, as well as changing my online behavior to not open any attachments or visit any web sites that I don’t already know are safe. It has been 5 years and I have not had any virus problems.

Now, tell me. Based on my story, should we investigate the power of quartz crystals to both clear and prevent viruses from getting installed on computers?

Before you decide, some further information that was not in my account: I actually called an IT person to help me. He went into all the affected directories and registries and deleted all traces of the virus. To be safe, he recommended the further action above, but I didn’t do that part. With that additional info, is it still likely that waving a crystal around cleaned my computer, or is my computer cleared of the virus due to the actions of the tech, and that I was lucky that he didn’t miss any piece of the virus?

My initial story, without that added information, is pretty useless. If, based on my testimonial, anyone were to conduct research into quartz crystals as a method of clearing and preventing viruses on computers, they would be wasting time and money pursuing absolutely pointless research.

“they can give researchers ideas of where to start looking, and they can give researchers a reason to care about the answers”

-That’s what I meant.

“1) Whether or not he had surgery”

Perhaps the reason he didn’t mention surgery might have been because he didn’t have surgery?

“2) How extensively the cancer spread.”

But with stage iv cancer, no matter how much or little it spread, your odds of survival are still going to be against you. If the patient survived, couldn’t that still leave open the possibility of other factors?

Perhaps or perhaps not, that is kinda the point of this if we’re meant to relay on this testimonials as evidence it is very important to know the full story. We can not simply assume one way since there are a number of past cases in which individuals had undergone surgery but make no mention of it in testimonials. This is especially true since this antidote is a secondhand account. There is also ample reason to believe surgery would of been carried out because it is the basic standard of care for colon cancer treatment. The point is we can not definitely conclude one way or the other and hence it is essentially impossible to come to a firm conclusion about the case.

For example if he did have surgery and they were able to remove the cancer completely then his survival just by chance is not very remarkable (Orac gives the figure 30-40%). However say he did not have surgery and he had metastases to multiple organs then his survival after five years is pretty bloody remarkable and is decent evidence that the diet regime might merits a look.

However since we don’t have any of this data there is no way to tell how “remarkable” the recovery actually was and hence no real value in the testimonial.

Jake, yes, the chances for any individual stage 4 cancer patient aren’t that good. But loads of people get cancer annually, so the chances of there being plenty of survivors around in a large population (like the US!) is high. Terrifying for individual patients (although a 20% survival, say, is a hell of a lot better than guaranteed death), but doesn’t stop the possibility of survivor testimonials.

And where the metastasis is matters – as several actual doctors have said earlier in the comments, if it’s in a neat lump somewhere (like the liver, the lungs or the rest of the gut) where you can cut it out easily and still leave the patient functioning, it’s much more treatable than if it’s in a structure you daren’t touch, or so diffuse you can’t cut it all out without removing too much of the organ.

Jake said, But with stage iv cancer, no matter how much or little it spread, your odds of survival are still going to be against you.

So what? When you buy a lottery ticket, the odds are against you. The odds for winning the Powerball are 1 in 195,249,054 (0.0000005%) But people win the lottery, don’t they?

The less it has spread the better: a couple of small tumors in an easy to reach spot versus lots of them all over the place, maybe in the brain. There’s a definite difference there.

When you buy a lottery ticket, the odds are against you. The odds for winning the Powerball are 1 in 195,249,054 (0.0000005%) But people win the lottery, don’t they?

To continue the analogy, if you do win the lottery, it isn’t because your numbers are superior, it’s just that you were lucky.

Orac- I don’t suppose you’d care to dissect the study by Zimmerman et al that’s doing the rounds about how “cancer is man made”, in a future blog post?

It’s kind of interesting because my parents had forced me to eat everything that has great nutritional value, saying that it would protect me from diseases and such, but it makes me think how sometimes things are out of our control, and cancer can happen just like that. It’s kind of funny how this type of √ʬĬúquackery√Ę¬Ä¬Ě plays a role. All these patients have some sort of medical operation on it. I think the √ʬĬúhealthy living√Ę¬Ä¬Ě factor is something everyone strives for because of the fact that it’s a cheap way for us to √ʬĬúdo it ourselves√ʬĬĚ, but that is not the case. Fruits and vegetables are good for maintaining a good health and can improve health in general, but I doubt it is going to stop the abnormal cell division taking place in one’s body.

Orac, it was nice to meet you the other night. Your presentation was the best, both well organized and succinct, with obvious compassion for your patients.

You remarked that dead people didn’t leave testimonials about quack medicine. There’s a chance at some witness testimonials, though. Did you notice this in Christopher Hitchens’ article, “Tumortown,” which was largely about quacks coming out of the woodwork?

I did get a kind note from a Cheyenne-Arapaho friend of mine, saying that everyone she knew who had resorted to tribal remedies had died almost immediately, and suggesting that if I was offered any Native American medicines I should √ʬĬúmove as fast as possible in the opposite direction.√Ę¬Ä¬Ě Some advice can actually be taken.

Who is interested in what dead people tried anyways? Whatever they tried didn’t work and I don’t care what it was. The folks who did survive have tons of guts to come out and tell the world how they lived through and survived to only have people say “they didn’t have cancer?” It’s just a slap in the face for us who have to find ways to live after doctors look us in our faces and tell us “You must understand, you are terminal!” But really we’d rather be living “anecdotes” than be dead statistics after months on traditional “deadicine”.

But what if what the dead people tried was exactly what you are considering trying? Would you care then what the dead people tried?

I’m sorry you feel that this criticism is like a slap in your face, but have you considered how your words feel to someone who has lost a loved one to cancer? Your statement that you just don’t care — that if they didn’t live, they have nothing to tell you?

The world is a lot more interesting than just whether people are alive or dead. It is wonderful when people survive cancer. My aunt survived ovarian cancer for 14 years after being told she was unlikely to survive a year. She stayed on conventional medicine the entire time, and her case was written up in several journals because you can learn so much from the exceptional cases. In the end, the cancer killed her, but she had a mostly wonderful fourteen years first, getting to see all of her daughters married and even meeting most of her grandchildren. It was truly extraordinary, and wonderful, and although you may not be interested, medical science certainly is. It wants to know *why*, which is a much more interesting question than simply “did she live” or “did she die”.


I suggest following the link supplied by Orac in the paragraph where he suggests the possibility that Gill did not have cancer.

In fact, the link goes through some very solid reasoning why many cancer cure testimonials are often unreliable.

The final analyses of testmonials include some rather graphic photographs of cancer progression by people refusing conventional treatments (surgery, chemo, etc.) for cancers, and suggest rather strongly that the reason why it matters what dead people tried is because living people trying the wrong things end up being dead people – unfortunately, sometimes after they have already published a testimonial.

Thanks for talking to me like I am a little schoolgirl. You think I have no clue. Why don’t you scare people with the data of how many died because they chose traditional “deadicine?”

No, Natasha, you tell us. You tell us what the odds are for a specific type of cancer with the various treatment options. Go and find out how well women have done with breast surgery, versus not getting surgery and foregoing all other treatment.

Though, remember we need to know how the cancer was diagnosed. If it was a Hulda Clark Zapper, then it was probably not cancer.

If you don’t want to be treated like a little schoolgirl, then come in with some actual information to discuss, not complaints about “how do you know” without even reading all of the material.

Natasha, your “ad hominem” attacks don’t give your position any more credence, so I suggest cooling down and coming back to talk in an informative manner, as well as reading the material.


I am not talking to you like you are a little schoolgirl. You, however, are sticking with vitriolic soundbites like “deadicine” and loathsome sentiments that you don’t care what the dead tried. All because you consider your own feelings more important than those of others. Seriously; that’s how you come across. You don’t care if people died after taking alternative medicine — yet you are quite happy to trust those who lived after taking alternative medicine. You are deliberately blinding yourself to part of the picture.

I don’t think you have no clue. However, I think you are deliberately avoiding looking at that clue. Why, I couldn’t say. I’m sure the reason is very personal.

Care about everyone, Natasha, not just the ones who say things you like to hear. Lots of people die; in fact, everyone dies, eventually. Do not discount them on account of their mortality. Hear the sad stories as well as the happy ones. They are all important.

I’ll tell you a sad story, and then a happy story.

Another aunt of mine developed breast cancer at a young age. She was in her twenties, and the cancer was very aggressive. This was around 1980; treatment options were more limited than they are now, and even now, prognosis is guarded at best for young patients. It had already metastasized when it was detected. She underwent mastectomy and chemotherapy, but it was not enough to save her; it had metastasized to her lung, and the original tumor had invaded her chest wall. She believed in the power of modern medicine, though — to her detriment. I was very young at the time; I don’t know if the doctors weren’t sufficiently frank about her chances, or if she refused to hear what she didn’t want to hear. In any case, she selected the most aggressive therapies at a time when realistically, she probably should have gone with palliative therapy and spent as much time as possible with her young son. Instead, she was in and out of the hospital (mostly in), and eventually she died of pneumonia. It was a sad story; likely, nothing would have saved her, as it was too late, but she should not have continued to pursue a medical cure. Such a cure was impossible. Even as she lay dying, she was convinced she was going to beat the cancer. It was very tragic.

Now, a happy story. My godmother developed breast cancer as well, though later in life. Hers was detected early, and the doctors gave her a very good chance of survival. She had a lumpectomy and chemotherapy. That was over five years ago, and there has been no new sign of cancer. She is a wonderful woman, and I love her dearly. You don’t care what dead people tried? Well, maybe you’ll care about what she tried, because she is, for all intents and purposes, cancer free.

Two stories. Similar treatment (though I can guarantee my godmother got a lighter and probably much less toxic chemo regimen), very different outcomes. The point is, the stories are a lot more complex than just who lives and who dies. The stories are about people, and if you’re insulted that people don’t immediately leap to your cause, consider for a moment how we feel when you reduce our loved ones to such a base, simplistic view.


You claim that our replies in comments #53-54 are the equivalent to talking to you as if you were a little schoolgirl.

Certainly I can’t understand in the slightest how you could characterize Calli Arcade’s reply (comment #53) in such a light.

I also am not certain what in my reply (comment #54) constitutes talking down to you in such a fashion.

After all, by suggesting you review the analysis of cancer testimonials for yourself, I am crediting you with being a grown-up, rational agent who is capable of reading such a document on her own, comprehending the points made in the analysis, and understanding its applicability to the world of cancer patients, cancer survivors, & cancer testimonials.

I will have to agree with you on the subject of surviving cancer with a good diet and exercise. On many occasions, I have heard stories from websites and television commercials where people √ʬĬúfollowed a simple diet and had proper exercise√Ę¬Ä¬Ě and were miraculously cured. The only thing is that with what they were diagnosed with it seemed almost impossible to be cured with just more healthier foods and more exercise. I feel that Scott Gill might not have had cancer at all because I can hardly believe that his diet alone was able to cure his cancer.

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