Our craziest ‘cures’ for cancer

In this post, blog editor Caroline demystifies some of the wackiest ‘cures’ for cancer that have appeared on our radar recently.


Cancer is difficult for everyone. When you tell someone that you have cancer, they might not know what to say. After overcoming their initial shock, many people’s first instinct is to want to help. Sometimes help comes in the form of a hug, or a casserole – but often it can come as an ill-advised miracle treatment from the depths of the internet. Who knows where your friend or neighbour read this information? Are they even certain that it applies to your type of cancer? Chances are, you probably weren’t looking for a miracle cure and a huge Amazon shopping list when you shared the news either. When we share our medical history, most of us are probably hoping for some quiet understanding – and it can be frustrating and hurtful to be given dubious healthcare advice instead.

At our Great Escape retreat, we run a workshop that encourages young adults with cancer to engage critically with news stories and homespun ‘truths’ about cures for cancer. We discuss everything from apricot kernels to naked mole rats, and look at ways to check the authenticity of any alleged cancer ‘cure’. We often find that the stories doing the rounds lack rigorous scientific evidence, or the findings of one small study have been incorrectly extrapolated and interpreted by non-specialists. Or the proposed treatment does have some benefits – in mice.

We asked our Shine community to share the craziest ‘cures’ for cancer that they’d heard recently – and here’s what they told us.

nery-montenegro-lemons

When life gives you lemons…

Lemons

Maybe that famous saying should be ‘When life gives you cancer, make lemonade’, as so many members of our Shine community recall being told by well-meaning folk that lemons are the secret cure for cancer. According to one chain letter that keeps doing the rounds, ‘blend a whole lemon fruit with a cup of hot water and drinking it for about 1-3 months first thing before food and your cancer will disappear’! Well… it won’t.

Tropical fruit

Not keen on citrus? That might not be a problem! We’ve been told that pineapple, dragon fruit, ‘papayas… all the papayas’, and noni fruit are five-star cancer slayers. Unfortunately, munching your way through a pile of notoriously stinky noni fruit will not cure your cancer. There’s no evidence that pineapple, dragon fruit, or papaya will either. As the American Institute of Cancer Research points out, ‘no single food or food component can protect you against cancer itself’. If someone tries to convince you otherwise, you might like to point them in the direction of US cancer hospital Memorial Sloan Kettering’s excellent resource About Herbs or Cancer Research UK’s diet and cancer information pages. Always check with your doctor before making any major changes to your diet.

Crystals and moon beads

kira-auf-der-heide-HU1pjVyVdXI-unsplash

Crystals for external use only

One Shine member was told that she could cure her cancer by using special beads that are supercharged by the moon! And have you heard the one about crystals? Opal won’t cure your cancer (or ‘remove all the cancer-causing negative energy from your house’, as a young cancer patient friend of ours was told), but crystals of a different kind have proved vital in modern cancer research. Best to enjoy minerals like rose quartz and malachite as decoration, though.

Dog wormer

In April 2019, a lung cancer patient in the US hit the headlines when he proclaimed that dog-worming drug fenbendazole had cured his metastatic disease – which is probably why we’ve heard about it from our Shine community recently. The internet is awash with tales of self-medication for advanced cancer, and at least one study of the effect of fenbendazole on cancer cells has been carried out. Crucially, however, there have been no clinical trials on cancer patients as yet and thus its effectiveness remains unproven.  Don’t go rushing to Pets At Home this afternoon!

Taxi drivers

Not one, but two Shine members told us that taxi drivers had personally intervened to ‘cure’ their cancer!

‘He clasps my hand and absolutely goes “into one”. I am talking full-on, TV-show-style mega prayer, calling the spirit of [insert religious icon of your choice] to help rid me of cancer. This went on for a few minutes and I was so stunned I just sat there. He’d had the good grace to turn the meter off.

Anyway, he’s calling everyone under the sun down to channel through him and into my body (creepy!) and rid me of cancer. Then, just when I thought we were done (I’m still holding my hand awkwardly in his), he says this:

“Cancer… GO!”

I mean, all of a sudden, he shouts “cancer… GO!” so loudly that it actually makes me jump and squeal.

Then he turns to me, gives me back my hand, and smiles sweetly as he says “there, you are cured.”’

Unsurprisingly, we don’t have an explanation for this one. Nor do we have any evidence that it works.

The truth is out there

It’s not all citrus fruit and Uber drivers. We also heard from young people who had been told that they could cure their cancer through things like veganism (one of our vegan members was told that she must have been ‘doing veganism wrong!’), wheatgrass, and foraging for mushrooms in Regent’s Park. And somehow we’ve managed to reach the end of this blog post without mentioning everyone’s favourite super cruciferous, kale.

So what can you do when someone tells you that they know exactly what to do in order to treat your cancer? If they’re your doctor, lean in. If they aren’t? You might want to direct them to this excellent infographic that clearly explains the difference between relative risk and absolute risk – and shows why your bangers and mash is unlikely to kill you. There are some excellent resources available for people who wish to understand more about the science behind the headlines. You might like to check out Sense About Science, the Cancer Research UK Science Blog, or Quackwatch – a doctor-led website that has been busting myths and outing quacks since 1997.

Ask for evidence, do your own research, and remember to talk to your medical team before making any diet or lifestyle changes. And if you’ve had to bust a cancer myth recently, let us know in the comments!

 

Lemon slices photo by Nery Montenegro on Unsplash

Crystals photo by Kira auf der Heide on Unsplash

My experience on the Shine Great Escape

Guest blogger Sam was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma in February 2019 at the age of 28. After six months of chemotherapy, she found out she was in remission the day before attending the Manchester Great Escape. In this post she writes about her experience on the Escape and why she found it so valuable.  


Shine Great Escape Manchester 2019 - deckchairs

In October 2019 I made my way up to Manchester for the Shine Great Escape. This free weekend brings together young adults in their 20s, 30s, and 40s who have been diagnosed with cancer. During the 3.5 days retreat there are various workshops that explore issues that affect young adults with cancer. It’s also an opportunity to have fun and meet people who just ‘get it.’

After a two-hour drive from Birmingham, I arrived at the hotel in Manchester on Thursday afternoon. I checked in with the Shine team at reception and everyone seemed really chatty and friendly, so I immediately felt at ease. After dropping my bags off in my room, I was introduced to my peer supporter and peer group. We had the opportunity to chat for a while before everyone headed into a room where Emma and Ceinwen (the founding directors of Shine) introduced themselves and we started to get to know each other.

In total there were over 20 of us attending the escape. Everyone seemed so different, but the more we talked the more I realised how much we also had in common. Although we had been through different experiences, it struck me how there were some things we could all relate to.

Over the next few days, I attended workshops on topics such as managing anxiety, relationships, and working after cancer. I can honestly say every single session I attended was invaluable. My brain was buzzing with information by the end of it. I even started saving snippets of advice in my phone so I wouldn’t forget things!

Each session was around 45 minutes long (sometimes shorter) and there were plenty of breaks built-in. There was also no pressure to do anything you didn’t want to do, and you could take a break or go for a nap in your room whenever you needed to.

When I told friends and family I was going on a “cancer retreat,” some assumed it would be a very sad and sombre occasion. Although the sessions covered some serious and sometimes painful topics, we generally maintained a light-hearted feel throughout.

Before coming on the escape I wasn’t sure how I’d feel sharing personal information about my life to a group of strangers. However, it didn’t take long before I felt completely comfortable. It felt good to know I could speak openly and honestly without fear of being judged.

Sam wearing an orange shine tshirt

Blog author Sam

What did I enjoy most about the Escape?

When I think back on my highlights from the Escape, there are a few moments that spring to mind.

On our first evening, we were given an icebreaker task to complete during dinner. Each table had to create a sculpture using pipe-cleaners, tin foil, and other random materials. The winning team’s Gwyneth Paltrow-inspired creation was brilliant! My team won the prize for ‘Best effort’ (which I’m trying to tell myself wasn’t just another way of saying ‘Congratulations, you came last!’).

When they bought in the therapy dogs on Saturday afternoon I had the biggest smile on my face! Then, on Saturday evening, we went into Manchester city centre for a meal before some of us headed on to karaoke. If you watch the video of the weekend, you’ll see I was really getting into it! Karaoke is something I used to enjoy doing before I was diagnosed (even though I’m a terrible singer!), and it felt so good to be doing it again.

In fact, this weekend really reminded me that cancer hasn’t changed me completely. I used to think of myself as a *fun* person, before chemo and hospital appointments took over my life. The Escape reminded me that I am still that person. I laughed and smiled more in those 3.5 days than I had all year!

During the final day of the Escape, we headed to Quarry Bank, a beautiful National Trust property around a 20-minute drive from the hotel. This was the location for our fundraising walk. It was very muddy, but luckily the rain held off. In total we raised almost £2,500, which will help fund places for the next Great Escape.

Shine Escape ready for fundraising walk

Would I recommend the Shine Great Escape?

Absolutely. The advice and information I received has been so helpful, and the memories I made will stay with me forever. I hadn’t been coping very well since finishing treatment, but the Escape helped me realise everything I’d been feeling was normal. That I wasn’t alone.

Our next Great Escape takes place in Bournemouth from 23-26 January 2020. Applications for the Escape – which is free to attend – are open until 15 November 2019. Apply now!

A version of this blog post was originally published on griffblog.co.uk.