I have been a cancer patient for more than five years now. I should be precise about what I mean by this. Although it has become – for better or worse – an element of my personal identity about which I have blogged at great length, it would be more accurate to say that during the last five years I have found myself from time to time in the position of cancer patient. Putting it this way emphasises the social, political and interpersonal roles available in these societies for people diagnosed with cancer, trajectories that can be followed by many, something general. The issues become less about expressing identity and more about experiencing how society believes it is supposed to work.
From these experiences I have learned a great deal about a great deal. The journey has been as much intellectual as emotional, spiritual or psychological. In addition to learning from conversations with doctors and other medical personnel, and from encounters with health systems, I have also informed myself using material freely available on the internet.
From the very start it was always obvious that any opinions I might entertain about my condition, every question I could pose about the rationality of what I was being told about it, any inquiry into its causes, and every experience of what was going on in my body, all these were utterly irrelevant to the course the disease would inevitably take and the necessary interventions that were to be encouraged.
I have come to understand that the correct response to what I was being told about my condition, back in October 2012 by urologists at the Diakonessenhuis hospital in Utrecht should have been to agree and believe without question; to take the prescribed medication until it became useless against the cancer, and with grace embrace further palliation, waiting in the queue for death, watching the disease eat my body away until there was nothing left, my only hope to accept in good faith the promise of science, that future breakthrough may one day help my case.
But this was not my response. Very soon I learned that this had already brought me into conflict with a power, a very powerful power with tendrils penetrating deep into the consciousness of these times, extending millennia back into history and infesting every institution of society. These are bold claims perhaps, but there can be little doubt that there is a clear and formal distinction made by medical science between accepted, evidence based knowledge and approaches that do not meet its strict criteria, and that this has an history. The demand from within these complex assemblages of medicine and health care, be they financed by private individuals, the state or insurance capital, that their practices be rigorous and professional, and in accordance with up-to-date knowledge, requires the establishment of an authority and the exercise of power, creating thus an artificial dichotomy.
It is very easy to fall into a dualistic trap here; even although there is a greater acceptance now among medical practitioners that there are other ways of approaching health and sickness, and despite the common use of the expression as a category, there is no such thing as alternative medicine – there is only the medical establishment, and the very complicated line it draws around itself. On the other side of that line there is wide diversity, a veritable multiplicity, no single body of knowledge or opinion, all of which is based on a plethora of principles and assumptions. The most benevolent explanation for continued use of the facile category alternative medicine would be with reference to an habitual intellectual laziness.
There are however those who believe in actual conspiracies to ensure pharmaceutical companies will continue to sell product into the future while insurance capital always provide consumers, for whom such a dichotomy might appear as a clever way of silencing and incorporating dissent, of appropriating anything of value from within the diversity of alternative medicine while conceptualising it as a whole to be not properly scientific, thereby bringing everything under the logic of science. By encapsulating everything else as other, it becomes just one big unknown, devoid of nuance or diversity, subject only to the scrutiny of science. Even a cursory examination of the more zealous ideological tendencies within the scientific community indicates that the consciousness of these times is still infected by reason’s most ancient prejudice, the belief that everything be brought under the absolute control of reason or science, that this must be a good thing and that anybody who does not see this is simply irrational and morally degenerate.
Such scientism is by no means new to me. I had been thinking about these things long before the diagnosis and subsequent encounters with health systems. Also, my mother brought me up according to the principles of Nature Cure – an approach to health and disease that predates the dialectic between so called alternative medicine and this contemporary hyperscientism. Nature Cure is one of the forerunners of what is sometimes called Naturopathy, and has links too with the development of Osteopathy. The general principles of Nature Cure are founded on an understanding of how bodies naturally deal with disease, of which nutritional, psychological, social and emotional conditions are conducive to vitality and good health and how actively to create these during life. My mother certainly did not realise that in the future, inexorably I would be brought into direct conflict with the medical establishment and every social institution and cultural practice its tendrils penetrate – simply by having been brought up to accept as normal something different from the usual stories about viruses and pills, even by the very idea that I might have any control over my health or the progression of a disease.
The greatest intellectual lesson of these last five years has been to avoid being pulled into the dualism; of allowing the artificial conflict between establishment and alternative medicine to infect my consciousness while I navigate the vast sea of information there is out there about cancer, its nature, origins and how to deal with it. My decision not to know the results of any medical tests, to be both medication and medical knowledge free, has freed me from all reactive thinking, from which becoming caught in interminable internal dialectics is but a short slip of the mind. Being mindful at every moment that I am alive now, fit and healthy, able to climb mountains with as much vigour as any man of my age, pulls me off the deterministic progression towards death, within which a whole swarm of unpleasant dualisms hovers ahead of the big difference between being alive and not being alive and what it is going to be like experiencing this. Reading very carefully all information I come across about what is purportedly going on everywhere, forensically examining all discourse and debate, without succumbing to any variety of scientism, keeps my intellect sharp and focused, less susceptible to seduction by false dichotomies, more able to understand the sheer empirical complexities of life and less inclined to reach for abstractions to explain them all away.
Cancer is certainly not one disease. It does not have any singular origin or cause. The word cancer is used to describe over two hundred different conditions and diseases, not all of which are malignant or aggressive. The common element of all is unregulated cell division, leading to the formation of masses, lumps or tumours, which interfere with the functioning of organs, invade surrounding tissue, and leech nutrition away from the rest of the body in order to feed their voracious appetite.
Some cancers are almost immediately fatal, others will fester in a body for years before compromising a vital organ and making impossible its continuing life. Some remain unnoticed until it is too late, some become brutally apparent as soon as they develop. Some cancers are notoriously linked to particular environmental conditions, unhealthy lifestyles and bad dietary habits, and there is allegedly a genetic component to some, if not all – although the value and logic of ascribing the notion of cause to the complexities of gene expression in a world so denatured and toxic remains a matter for speculation.
It has been suggested that these processes of cell multiplication are far from anomalous, rather that they are always present in a body and that it is the function of a healthy immune system continuously to flush out excess cells before they form tumours or swellings, or disrupt the correct function of organs, in this way never giving cancer any foothold. The disease called cancer is at this level a consequence of an unhealthy, compromised or dysfunctional immune system, which is in turn a consequence of inadequate diet, of a depletion or lack of some vital mineral or nutrient, of an accumulation of poisonous substances that cannot properly be expelled or excreted, or of an excess of stress brought about by unbearable psychosocial circumstances. The processes of cancer formation can be seen then as a natural part of the cycles of life, that which exists to bring about the death of an organism when its time comes, or when it is no longer viable.
The search for the cure for cancer would seem at one level to be a search for immortality, for everlasting life; and at another, just a determination to maintain a healthy immune system, to live as free from stress as possible, to eat a clean diet that provides every necessary nutrient and as far as possible to live in an environment devoid of poisons and toxins.
Although this general position might seem on the face of it to be reasonable, it is not one endorsed by medical science.
Some years ago, a document containing, amongst other things, a version of the above position and purporting to be a summary of the latest cancer information from Johns Hopkins University was circulating the internet. Although not well written, it was a concise bullet pointed summary of the consequences of a specifically anti-medical science position, mixed up with assorted non establishment approaches and peripheral research, prefaced by a paragraph of shouty block capitals that rather suggests it was fake.
It was to this extent extremely confrontational.
AFTER YEARS OF TELLING PEOPLE CHEMOTHERAPY IS THE ONLY WAY TO TRY AND ELIMINATE CANCER, JOHNS HOPKINS IS FINALLY STARTING TO TELL YOU THERE IS AN ALTERNATIVE WAY.
1. Every person has cancer cells in the body. These cancer cells do not show up in the standard tests until they have multiplied to a few billion. When doctors tell cancer patients that there are no more cancer cells in their bodies after treatment, it just means the tests are unable to detect the cancer cells because they have not reached the detectable size.
2. Cancer cells occur between 6 to more than 10 times in a person’s lifetime.
3. When the person’s immune system is strong the cancer cells will be destroyed and prevented from multiplying and forming tumors.
4. When a person has cancer it indicates the person has multiple nutritional deficiencies. These could be due to genetic, environmental, food and lifestyle factors.
5. To overcome the multiple nutritional deficiencies, changing diet and including supplements will strengthen the immune system.
6. Chemotherapy involves poisoning the rapidly-growing cancer cells and also destroys rapidly-growing healthy cells in the bone marrow, gastro-intestinal tract etc, and can cause organ damage, like liver, kidneys, heart, lungs etc.
7. Radiation while destroying cancer cells also burns, scars and damages healthy cells, tissues and organs.
8. Initial treatment with chemotherapy and radiation will often reduce tumour size. However prolonged use of chemotherapy and radiation do not result in more tumor destruction.
9. When the body has too much toxic burden from chemotherapy and radiation the immune system is either compromised or destroyed, hence the person can succumb to various kinds of infections and complications.
10. Chemotherapy and radiation can cause cancer cells to mutate and become resistant and difficult to destroy. Surgery can also cause cancer cells to spread to other sites.
11. An effective way to battle cancer is to STARVE the cancer cells by not feeding it with foods it needs to multiple.
What cancer cells feed on:
a. Sugar is a cancer-feeder. By cutting off sugar it cuts off one important food supply to the cancer cells. Note: Sugar substitutes like NutraSweet, Equal, Spoonful, etc are made with Aspartame and it is harmful. A better natural substitute would be Manuka honey or molasses but only in very small amounts. Table salt has a chemical added to make it white in colour. Better alternative is Bragg’s aminos or sea salt.
b. Milk causes the body to produce mucus, especially in the gastro-intestinal tract. Cancer feeds on mucus. By cutting off milk and substituting with unsweetened soy milk, cancer cells will starved.
c. Cancer cells thrive in an acid environment. A meat-based diet is acidic and it is best to eat fish, and a little chicken rather than beef or pork. Meat also contains livestock antibiotics, growth hormones and parasites, which are all harmful, especially to people with cancer.
d. A diet made of 80% fresh vegetables and juice, whole grains, seeds, nuts and a little fruits help put the body into an alkaline environment. About 20% can be from cooked food including beans. Fresh vegetable juices provide live enzymes that are easily absorbed and reach down to cellular levels within 15 minutes to nourish and enhance growth of healthy cells.
To obtain live enzymes for building healthy cells try and drink fresh vegetable juice (most vegetables including bean sprouts) and eat some raw vegetables 2 or 3 times a day. Enzymes are destroyed at temperatures of 104 degrees F (40 degrees C).
e. Avoid coffee, tea, and chocolate, which have high caffeine. Green tea is a better alternative and has cancer-fighting properties. Water–best to drink purified water, or filtered, to avoid known toxins and heavy metals in tap water. Distilled water is acidic, avoid it.
12. Meat protein is difficult to digest and requires a lot of digestive enzymes. Undigested meat remaining in the intestines will become putrefied and lead to more toxic buildup.
13. Cancer cell walls have a tough protein covering. By refraining from or eating less meat it frees more enzymes to attack the protein walls of cancer cells and allows the body’s killer cells to destroy the cancer cells.
14. Some supplements build up the immune system (IP6, Flor-ssence, Essiac, anti-oxidants, vitamins, minerals, EFAs etc.) to enable the body’s own killer cells to destroy cancer cells. Other supplements like vitamin E are known to cause apoptosis, or programmed cell death, the body’s normal method of disposing of damaged, unwanted, or unneeded cells.
15. Cancer is a disease of the mind, body, and spirit. A proactive and positive spirit will help the cancer warrior be a survivor.
Anger, unforgiving and bitterness put the body into a stressful and acidic environment. Learn to have a loving and forgiving spirit. Learn to relax and enjoy life.
16. Cancer cells cannot thrive in an oxygenated environment. Exercising daily, and deep breathing help to get more oxygen down to the cellular level. Oxygen therapy is another means employed to destroy cancer cells.
Johns Hopkins University now has a page dedicated to distancing itself from this document. There is no surprise here. It further enumerates eight hoaxes it claims are made by the article and contrasts these with what it calls the truth. The authority to which the article appeals for truth is of course the edifice of science, in particular the expertise of Johns Hopkins’ own Kimmel Cancer Center.
The Hoax: Everyone Has Cancer Cells
The Truth: Cancer is a genetic disease resulting from a variety of mutations and alterations either inherited from our parents or, more commonly, acquired over time due to environmental exposures and behaviors, such as smoking and poor diet. These alterations turn off important cell growth regulators allowing cells to continually divide unchecked, explains Luis Diaz, a clinician-scientist in Ludwig Center for Cancer Genetics at the Kimmel Cancer Center at Johns Hopkins. This type of cell is called a malignant or cancer cell. Among the trillions of cells in the human body, inevitably everyone has some abnormal or atypical cells that possess some of the characteristics of cancer cells, most resolve themselves and never result in cancer, says Diaz.
There is no single or standard test for cancer. There are ways to screen for certain cancers with tests such as colonoscopy for colon cancer, mammography for breast cancer, PSA for prostate cancer, and the Pap smear for cervical cancer, and these tests can detect cancers in a very early and curable stage. For many cancers, there currently are no screening tests, and they are diagnosed when they begin to cause symptoms.
Diaz and other Kimmel Cancer Center researchers are working on new tests that detect abnormal DNA shed by cancer cells into blood and body fluids and have the ability to find cancers before they cause any symptoms. Approaches like this could lead to a broad-based screening test for cancer.
Tests like these also are being used to detect cancer recurrences and malignant cells left behind following surgery, and can find cancers that are not detectable under the microscope or in x-rays.
Other researchers are studying cancer stem cells. They are stealth cells that make up just a tiny fraction of a tumor. While small in number, investigators believe they may be the cells that drive certain cancers and lead to cancer recurrence. Therapies that target these cells are now being tested in clinical trials.
A team of our breast cancer researchers has developed a method that could make it possible to detect breast cancer from the DNA contained in a single drop of blood.
But, while evasive cancer cells are a challenge and the focus of ongoing research, it does not mean, as the email contends, that all patients, even those treated successfully for cancer, have cancers-in-waiting—undetectable but still there. People are treated and completely cured of cancer everyday.
The Hoax: A Strong Immune System Destroys Cancer
The Truth: When it comes to cancer and the immune system, it is not a matter of strong or weak as the fictional report contends, but rather an issue of recognition. “The immune system simply does not recognize cancer. In its complexity, the cancer cell has learned to disguise itself to the immune system as a normal, healthy cell. Cells infected with viruses or bacteria send out danger signals setting the immune system in action. But cancer cells do not, explains Elizabeth Jaffee, co-director of cancer immunology and leading expert on cancer and the immune system.” By deciphering the methods cancer cells use to make them invisible to the immune system, Jaffee and team have developed cancer vaccines that have successfully triggered immune reactions against prostate cancer, pancreatic cancer, leukemia, and multiple myeloma.
The Hoax: Cancer is caused by Nutritional Deficiencies and Supplements Will Correct Them
The Truth: Dietary habits and lifestyle choices, such as smoking, contribute to the development of many human cancers, says Johns Hopkins Kimmel Cancer Center director William Nelson. Our experts recommend a balanced diet as a way of reducing cancer risk. In terms of supplements, Nelson points out that while they may help mediate vitamin deficiencies, taking doses above what the body needs provides no added benefit.
The Hoax: Chemotherapy and Radiation Therapy Harms Normal Cells. Surgery Causes Cancer to Spread
The Truth: Chemotherapy and radiation therapy kills cancer cells with remarkable selectivity, says Nelson. There are some temporary and reversible side effects common to cancer therapies, including hair loss and low blood counts. Limiting and managing these side effects is an integral part of treatment.
Surgery is the first line of treatment for many types of cancer. It does not cause cancer to spread. Cancers spread to other tissues and organs as a tumor progresses and cancer cells break away from the original tumor and travel through the bloodstream to other body sites.
The Hoax: Cancers Feed on Certain Foods
The Truth: The premise is that cancer cells feed on certain foods, and if a person refrains from eating these foods, the cancer will die. According to our experts, a poor diet and obesity associated with a poor diet is a risk factor for the development of cancer. However, there is no evidence that certain foods alter the environment of an existing cancer, at the cellular level, and cause it to either die or grow.
While there is such a thing as tumors that produce mucus, the mucus made by a tumor does not result from drinking milk. And, eating less meat, while a good choice for cancer prevention, does not free up enzymes to attack cancer cells, explains cancer prevention and control expert Elizabeth Platz.
Moderation is key, says Platz. As part of a balanced diet, sugar, salt, milk, coffee, tea, meat, and chocolate—the foods the “Update” calls into question—are all safe choices, she says. The real concern with many of these, particularly sugar, is that it adds calories to a diet and can lead to obesity, and obesity is a major risk factor for cancer. A balanced nutritious diet, healthy weight, physical activity, and avoiding alcoholic drinks may prevent as many as 1/3 of all cancers. Platz recommends eating at least five servings of fruits and vegetables per day and limiting red and processed meats, like hot dogs.
Several Johns Hopkins experts participated in the World Cancer Research Fund – American Institute for Cancer Research report Food, Nutrition, Physical Activity, and the Prevention of Cancer: A Global Perspective, published in November 2007, which is considered by cancer prevention experts to be an authoritative source of information on diet, physical activity and cancer. Their recommendations for cancer prevention and for good health in general are:
- Be as lean as possible without becoming underweight.
- Be physically active for at least 30 minutes every day.
- Avoid sugary drinks. Limit consumption of energy-dense foods (particularly processed foods high in added sugar, or low in fiber, or high in fat).
- Eat more of a variety of vegetables, fruits, whole grains and legumes such as beans.
- Limit consumption of red meats (such as beef, pork and lamb) and avoid processed meats.
- If consumed at all, limit alcoholic drinks to 2 for men and 1 for women a day.
- Limit consumption of salty foods and foods processed with salt (sodium).
- Don’t use supplements to protect against cancer.
Our experts recommend that people meet their nutritional needs through their food choices. While vitamin supplements can be helpful in people with nutritional deficiencies, evidence suggests that supplementation above what the body can use provides no added health benefit.
The Hoax: Cancer is a Disease of Mind, Body, and Spirit
The Truth: Cancer is a disease caused by genetic alterations. Many times, these alterations occur through our own behaviors—cigarette smoking, a poor and unbalanced diet, virus exposures, and sunburns, says cancer prevention and control expert John Groopman.
How stress, faith, and other factors influence this is largely unknown. We would like people to be happy, loving, and stress free, simply because it is a nice way to live and can contribute to an overall feeling of well being, says Platz. There is no evidence, however, that a person prevents or causes cancer based on his or her state of mind.
Still, we understand that a cancer diagnosis can make patients and families feel stressed and anxious, and these are not pleasant feelings. So, we offer extensive patient and family services, including a cancer counseling center, pain and palliative care program, chaplain services and a meditation chapel, an image recovery center, and the Art of Healing art and music program.
Read more about Cancer Genetics in “A Genetic Revolution”
The Hoax: Oxygen Kills Cancer Cells
The Truth: Platz recommends regular exercise as a part of any healthy lifestyle, but says there is no evidence that breathing deeply or receiving oxygen therapy prevents cancer.
On its Web site, the American Cancer Society includes the following statement about oxygen therapy, “Available scientific evidence does not support claims that putting oxygen-releasing chemicals into a person’s body is effective in treating cancer. It may even be dangerous. There have been reports of patient deaths from this method.”
Please pass this information on to family and friends.
The Hoax: An Acid Body is a Magnet for Sickness
The hoax: An acid body is a magnet for sickness, disease, cancer and aging. Eating more alkaline foods helps shift your body’s pH and oxygenates your system. Alkaline foods keep your body healthy and functioning correctly, preventing and combating cancer.”
The Truth: Our experts say that, in general, the answer is no. There aren’t acid bodies and alkaline bodies. Blood pH is tightly regulated. However, when people are really sick, they may no longer be able to regulate their blood pH. I have included a few other reputable sources below that also list this contention as myth.
It would be quite easy for a reader to be seduced by the anodyne scientism of these putative rebuttals, to accept their incipient mechanism without noticing, and to fail to smell the reek of burning straw man. Irrespective of whether or not the alleged hoaxes are actually claims made in the document, or whether or not they are in any sense true, read with greater circumspection and care, these alleged rebuttals seem either to be flat denials without a great deal of supporting explanation, or hardly rebuttals at all, rather affirmations using a different vocabulary.
The first “hoax” is a case in point: that “everybody has cancer cells” is rebutted by explaining that cancer cells come into existence as a consequence of triggers switching off cell growth regulators, but that the underlying causes of this are genetic, and then concluding that “everyone has some abnormal or atypical cells that possess some of the characteristics of cancer cells” – which is not really a rebuttal at all. The rest of the “rebuttal” is about how there is no general test for cancer, only for specific cancers, so that most cancers do not appear until they present symptoms, by which time they are often too advanced to be treated. It is therefore important that new tests be developed so as to be able to catch it at earlier stages of its progression. At the end of the argument it has by no means been demonstrated that it is not true that “everybody has cancer cells” – only that more research is needed to develop tests that will find those that have hitherto remained undetectable.
The second “hoax” – “that a strong immune system destroys cancer” – is examined with a greater degree integrity, by explaining that cancer cells cleverly disguise themselves as normal cells and as such are not recognisable to the immune system. This means that the strength or otherwise of an immune system is irrelevant to the level of cancer cells. Immune systems are for combatting toxins, bacteria and viruses, but not cancer. Research will establish how cancer can disguise itself like this and so expand drug treatments. But the argument still fails to satisfy; for it becomes merely a bald denial, asserting established knowledge that the immune system works according to certain principles, followed again by an appeal to the power of future research.
The rebuttal of the third “hoax” is similarly unsatisfying: “cancer is caused by nutritional deficiencies and supplements will correct them” [sic]. Apart from this statement being badly punctuated, the rebuttal is not a rebuttal at all, simply a restatement of the “hoax” in a different vocabulary – supplemented by an unnecessary warning from experts that taking supplements above recommended doses will have no added effect.
The fourth “hoax” – that “Chemotherapy and Radiation Therapy Harms [sic] Normal Cells. Surgery Causes Cancer to Spread” – is flatly denied. Shouty capitalisation aside, radiation and chemotherapy kill cancer cells in spite of side effects, all of which can be managed. Surgery does not cause cancer to spread, this happens when cancer cells mutate and break off to spread through the body, although the processes by which this takes place are not described.
The rebuttal of the fifth hoax – that “cancers feed on certain foods” – follows a similar path to the third. Although it is accepted that a balanced diet should assist in prevention, there is no evidence that once a cancer has been diagnosed it will respond to any dietary management. Despite this disagreement, the diet recommended by science to help prevention is not dissimilar to, or at least, points in the same direction as, the one favoured by the hoax document.
The sixth “hoax” – that “cancer is a disease of mind body and spirit” is simply denied. The causes of cancer are genetic alterations. No debate, doubt or other viewpoints possible here. Although genetic alterations can also be the result of certain behaviours, habits, conduct, diet and exposure to certain environmental conditions. Of course it can be stressful, having cancer, but there is no evidence that a person can prevent or cause cancer with a state of mind. Many organisations offer help to those suffering emotional or social effects of the disease. Which is all very well, but it does nothing to further the argument of the rebuttal
The rebuttal of the seventh “hoax” – that “oxygen kills cancer cells” – is vague and unconvincing. It recommends exercise as part of a healthy life – during which the inhalation of greater volumes of oxygen than usual is presumably a consequence, but claims there is no evidence that breathing deeply can prevent cancer. It turns into a warning against something called oxygen therapy, which apparently advocates the injection of oxygen releasing chemicals into a body.
The final “hoax” – that “an acid body is a magnet for sickness” – is denied in another unsatisfying appeal to experts, who say that bodies are not acid or alkaline and that blood pH is tightly regulated. Which tells a reader nothing really.
Johns Hopkins chooses simply not to address most of the detailed arguments contained in the hoax document – in particular the analysis of the effects of radiation and chemotherapy – but instead to gloss them over using its own generalisations, logic and vocabulary, and to offer a long list of links to sources. In most cases the stated “hoaxes” seem also to be profound misinterpretations of what is written in the hoax document, in which is stated, for example, that milk causes the body to produce mucus, upon which cancer feeds, especially in the gastro-intestinal tract, so that cutting out milk from a diet will starve a cancer. The response is that while “there is such a thing as tumors that produce mucus, the mucus made by a tumor does not result from drinking milk.” To be frank, I do not quite know what to make of this odd exchange, quite what motivated a committee of Johns Hopkins staff so blatantly to misread an argument that seems on the face of it to be plainly enough stated, is a matter of pure speculation.
Be that as it may and more disturbingly, this entire exchange creates a false and unnecessary dichotomy, firstly by the deliberate effort on the part of persons unknown to give the appearance of disrupting established medical opinion by using a viral hoax document, and secondly by the reaction of Johns Hopkins, which appears to have felt the need so disingenuously to defend itself, to fall back entirely on authorised knowledge rather than either engage seriously with the issues raised by the document, or just to ignore it.
It is almost as if the document was set up to create conflict and dichotomy, or perhaps to demonstrate authority, rather than to further debate or come to any real understanding of cancer. The truth lies not in the difference of opposing opinions, but in a plurality emerging from the refusal to oppose opinions in any kind of abstract dichotomy – no matter how threatening they are to established knowledge.
Metaphysical assumptions and vocabulary aside, the only real bones of contention to be found in the substance of the difference are the status of genetics and what is meant by the immune system. These refer respectively to original and imminent causes, about which there has been debate ever since there has been debate about anything. How did we come to be here and what is it that keeps us alive in the present? It is therefore not at all surprising that these issues recur in the difference between what medical science regards as respectable and the rest.
How did we come to be here and what is it that keeps us alive in the present?
In the mechanistic universe of establishment medicine, we are the expression of the genetic information held in the nucleus of every cell in our bodies, some of which might result in a cancer or in behaviours that will increase exposure to carcinogenic conditions; one day we will all die, in the meantime medical science and our immune systems will fend off toxins, bacteria and viruses; at the moment cancer can be managed with surgery, radiation, chemotherapy and other medication, while research into genetics will improve our ability to fight it and one day cure it. We live in bodies that operate like a complex machine, with components arranged together into functional systems that have come into existence according to the deterministic expression of genetic information, and that will continue to function until they wear out or are overcome by some medically untreatable condition or catastrophe.
Whether we believe this story is entirely a matter of choice. There are many reasons not to. As has been affirmed at many times throughout the history of our species, we are not machines: the immune system, for example, does not exist, even although bodies are undoubtedly endowed with a capacity to expel toxins – in the most general sense – until such time as they are no longer able and they then succumb. The change in vocabulary expresses the principle of an innate power within that can heal from within, but without making any assumptions about how this might specifically exist at any moment. Likewise, without a mechanistic vocabulary, there is no inevitability to how genetic information is expressed; genes do not cause bodies to come into existence as they are, rather the development of each new embryo into a foetus is an intimate and unique journey of genetically regulated cell division within specific molecular conditions that shape its every turn.
Unwittingly, we view the phenomena of our lives through the lens of established knowledge, succumbing to the confusion of truth with accepted opinion, perhaps because it is easier to assume that established knowledge is correct, rather than just made up on the run for specific reasons, always in relation to whatever went before, and on the basis of carefully selected evidence.
Undoubtedly, the legacy of Cartesian metaphysics and Hegelian historicism inclines consciousness and public discourse towards mechanisms of one sort or another. The very languages we use are shot through with mechanical metaphors and only work because of the regularities of form, sound, structure and meaning agreed upon by their users. The mechanical nature of social life at the beginning of this new millennium has moreover dulled our collective intellect, turned normality into the repetition of standard protocols and procedures, turned the attention of human consciousness away from minor, unusual, peripheral events and phenomena, towards an obsessive concentration on manageable, regular, standardised practices, making habitual what has become necessary to hold together very complex societies.
One of the most common tropes of the anti medical science establishment is the idea that cancer is big business, that capitalism has an interest in maintaining a living population of cancer patients to whom it can dispense medication, in which context pharmaceutical companies deliberately stifle genuine research into actual cures in favour of mass producing substances and selling them to medical systems, which will alleviate symptoms, suppress disease and keep people alive for as long as possible under carefully regulated conditions. This may well be true, but it misses the point, and it is hideously constrained by the dialectic of reason with itself, still subject to the power of an authority that adjudicates what is appropriate evidence and what not, hereby perpetuating the same delusion.
The problem is not that we are being told a lie by a conspiracy of pharmaceutical and insurance capital, that the pills we get to swallow are probably not doing us any good at all, and that if resources were properly allotted, real cures might be forthcoming. Even if this is true, it only contributes to obscuring the real issue; that we have become convinced that the power of being alive, the intrinsic flame of life, lies not in the conduct of our lives, in our attitudes both to ourselves and to others, nor the choices we make, but in the machinations of society, that this collective dereliction of natural responsibility has become normality.
These words are dedicated to the memory of Eleanor Spence.