Evening Telegraph - UK
ISSUE 1957 - Tuesday 3 October 2000
Anne-Marie Sapsted on bogus therapies
CANCER and death sentence. These were the only words that registered as the doctor gave me my wholly unexpected diagnosis. They were hard, negative words - and the complete opposite of what he had actually said.
I had been told I had bowel cancer, would need surgery and possibly further treatment, but that mine was a curable cancer and certainly not a death sentence. As a medical journalist, I have dealt with the subject of cancer many times and I knew where to get the best information and advice. We were in America because of my husband's job, and friends and colleagues in Britain were unanimous that I was in the best place for treatment.
Within 24 hours of the colonoscopy, I had an appointment with a surgeon. He was able to take the time to explain that I had a stage three tumour (on a scale of one to four), and that the concern was whether the cancer had begun to spread. Six days later, I was on the operating table and five days after that, home - sore and weak and wondering what I would have to face next. Three of 17 lymph nodes removed were affected, and I was looking at six months' chemotherapy.
It was while I was sitting in the oncologist's waiting room that I had the first approach. The woman sitting next to me asked if I was a cancer patient. When I told her I was, she lowered her voice. Don't listen to what the doctors say, she advised. If I refused chemotherapy, she would tell me exactly where to go for a miracle vitamin cure her father-in-law had just tried. Don't take the poison, she urged.
Then the phone calls started. People I hardly knew would ring up to tell me about someone they knew who had survived bowel cancer, or they would recommend a television programme I should watch or a book I should read or a treatment I should try. Several agreed with my waiting-room acquaintance: don't listen to the doctors. But I did my own research, talked to the doctors and had six months' chemotherapy. It wasn't pleasant but it seemed sensible. It was the only treatment available with extensive clinical trials and research to back it up.
I did, however, try one alternative remedy, after a friend had told me it would alleviate the side effects of the chemotherapy. For we cancer patients want to be able to do something to help ourselves. Generally speaking, the treatments are unpleasant, with no guarantee of success. Little wonder that there is what amounts almost to an underground movement of cancer sufferers passing on tips and information.
Not surprisingly, charlatans know they can make money from bogus remedies. So, when I was approached by the BBC to help uncover an extreme example of this, I jumped at the opportunity. The target was a man in South Wales claiming to use something called the "Hulda Clark method" to treat cancer. Dr Hulda Clark (not medically qualified) claims, in a book of the same name, to have discovered the "cure for all cancers". She is based in a clinic in Tijuana, Mexico, having fled there to escape prosecution in America.
I telephoned Roy MacKinnon in Swansea, who said he would be happy to see me (for £35 an hour). I told him I had suffered from cancer, been treated, but thought it was back. With producer Robert Ashworth posing as my brother-in-law, and carrying secret cameras, we arrived at MacKinnon's home. He told me, without any pretence of examination or testing, that my cancer had come back: he could tell simply by looking at my face, he said. Of course he could treat me and cure my cancer. I needn't worry about going to my doctor, about surgery or any more chemotherapy.
What I did need was about £1,500 worth of dental treatment to get rid of all fillings and other work. Then we went through the list of pills, vitamins, herbs and cleaning fluids that I would need, which I could get from a company called Health Leads UK Ltd. I would also need a vital piece of equipment called a zapper, costing £65.50, which would, I was told, disrupt the DNA of the parasites causing my cancer. We took the theories and the equipment to Christie's Hospital, Manchester, a world-renowned centre for cancer treatment.
Unsurprisingly, there is not a shred of evidence to support any of it. But Roy MacKinnon has a list of patients and claims a 75 per cent success rate. He knows that he is breaking the law - he explained that he was in breach of the 1939 Cancer Act, an obscure piece of legislation intended to prevent people like him from preying on vulnerable cancer patients.
An American study has suggested that the people most likely to search out alternative therapies are the better educated. Even though I had just received the all-clear after a comprehensive check, and I knew that what this man was saying was nonsense, I was upset and angry. In different circumstances, I might just have succumbed.
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