The Cure for Cancer? Why False Claims Are Dangerous

04/27/2015 09:59 am ET | Updated Jun 25, 2015


A couple of years ago, I blogged on HuffPost imploring well-meaning (and sometimes not-so-well-meaning) folks to refrain from telling me what to do to "cure" my cancer. The premise of the piece was that while I and may of us dealing with serious illness -- directly or indirectly -- may appreciate hearing about purported cures and treatments, we do NOT appreciate being told everything we're doing wrong, nor do we appreciate being denigrated for our personal choices.

This past week, wellness blogger Belle Gibson was exposed for having made false claims about a healthy diet having cured her brain cancer. Specifically, this opportunistic young woman publicly alleged she'd cured her malignant brain cancer -- including metastases to her liver, kidneys, and spleen -- using only whole foods and holistic remedies. She said she'd been given just months to live at the time of her diagnosis, but had lived well beyond four years and was going strong.

News flash: This girl-with-no-conscience never had cancer, not even a little bit.

Not only did Gibson make calculatedly false claims about having healed her terminal cancer by eschewing chemotherapy in favor of healthy lifestyle choices, she developed what ultimately became a bestselling app (based on her false claims) called "The Whole Pantry." She then followed up the app with a book by the same name, achieving celebrity status and profiting financially from her lies. (Both the app and the book have since been pulled from sale and production.)

Ms. Gibson's claims likely carried significantly more weight coming from someone who (allegedly) had been given a terminal cancer diagnosis, opted against traditional cancer treatment, and then had experienced total healing. This set her apart from many other anti-chemo advocates because she was seemingly speaking from personal experience.

I've been dealing with metastatic cancer for going on 3.5 years now, and I've tried a lot of remedies, from the traditional to the holistic and everything in between. But I haven't, nor will I ever, put all of my eggs in one basket. Why does it have to be either/or? Must the practices of eating a clean diet of whole foods and taking medically-proven cancer treatments be mutually exclusive? And who am I to call myself an expert and tell others, particularly those in life or death situations, what to do?

When I was first diagnosed, I was bombarded with fervent endorsements for various cancer remedies, and the claims sounded wonderfully promising.

"Cancer can't live in an alkaline environment... if you drink alkaline water and eat foods that have low acid ph, cancer won't be able to live in your body."

"Cannabis oil is the cure for cancer."

"Tumeric/curcumin kills cancer cells."

"Frankincense is more effective than chemotherapy at treating some cancers."

"Cutting all sugar out of your diet will cause your cancer to die."

The list of purported "cures" out there is long and growing. And, of course, a cancer diagnosis is the quickest way to get a desperate patient (or the loved one one) to start seeking magic solutions and cure-alls. We'll try most anything, and possibly even spend our last hours and dollars doing so.

The phrase "if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is" comes to mind right about now.

For me personally, I have chosen to cover as many bases as I can. I've tried several different types of chemotherapy drugs. I've participated in a clinical trial. I've had surgeries. I've done infusions as well as oral treatments. I've given myself injections. I've changed my diet. I buy whole, organic foods. I avoid processed foods and toxic chemicals. I drink green tea instead of coffee (usually). I watch my sugar intake. Our family drinks only alkaline water. I soak in himalayan sea salt. I consume a variety of supplements and oils. I buy cannabis oil on the black market (the fact that that's how I have to buy it... well, that's a whole other column), and take it daily in connection with an encapsulated cocktail of turmeric powder imported from India and pure Frankincense oil.

I get Reiki and submit to regular energy work. I get acupuncture and lymphatic drainage massage. I use aromatherapy and iridology. I practice positive visualization and follow the laws of attraction. I meditate. I avoid negative thinking and try to always be thankful in advance. Bottom line, unless it's potentially dangerous, I'm probably going to try it. But I don't do just one of these things; I do them all. (And, P.S., if any of the aforementioned cures really were "the" cure, I probably wouldn't be writing about cancer right now, nor would I still be in treatment.)

As far as I'm concerned, if it can't hurt me, I have nothing to lose. Avoiding sugar and eating clean foods... those can only be good for me. And I know that essential oils and spices are not going to hurt me, nor is cannabis going to be in any way detrimental. Watching my alcohol intake and avoid chemicals, those practices won't hurt me. These things will just help me stay healthier longer (cancer or no cancer), and will help me set a good example for my daughter. There is no downside, certainly not under these circumstances.

On top of these diet and lifestyle choices, I also monitor clinical trials and cancer treatment statistics. I seek second (and third or fourth) opinions before making any major health decisions. I submit to the best, most promising cancer treatments on the market at the time, and stay on top of treatments to come. I have gathered a core team of health and wellness experts. I stay educated. I keep a Plan B in my back pocket, always. I am my own best advocate.

No matter what one's own beliefs or experience, to tout ANY remedy as the one and only cure for cancer is dangerous. But to LIE about not just having had cancer but having cured cancer, then trying to profit from these claims, is reprehensible. It's also offensive for all of those who have succumbed, or will succumb, to cancer, as it implies that they haven't "fought" hard enough or that they just chose to ignore a simple solution.

It will be interesting to learn how many cancer patients decided to stop traditional treatment after hearing about Ms. Gibson's claims, and how many of those patients subsequently died. (And just think about the false hope she gave to so many.) In such instances, it would seem to me that Ms. Gibson would be just as responsible for those deaths as someone who is HIV positive knowingly sharing a needle or having unprotected sex with someone else without making full disclosure... a practice that is criminal in many countries including the U.S.

I certainly wouldn't want that kind of karma.

Words are powerful. Fear makes us vulnerable. We must be careful what we say, even to ourselves.