Published in The Malaysian Insider
A friend’s mother was diagnosed with Stage III cancer recently, and together with the commiserations came introductions to “Islamic treatments” and various types of snake oil quackery.
I did not say anything at that time, because if I did I was sure I’d be the one whom people call an asshole, and not the scam peddlers.
I admit I was frustrated. But not because I was confused about whether snake oil and the like can cure cancer. I am quite convinced that they are pretty useless in curing cancer.
I am convinced that even if it has not been proven yet that alternative treatments cannot cure cancer, there is absolutely no proof at all that they can.
Steve Jobs comes to mind. He is probably the most famous case of a bafflingly intelligent man who ultimately lost his life to cancer because he put his hopes in alternative medicine.
Jobs was diagnosed with a mild case of pancreatic cancer, and spent nine months wasting his time trying to treat his cancer using alternative treatments: Buddhist vegetarian diet, special fruit juices, acupuncture, visiting “spiritualists.”
He died in October 2011, regretting his unwise choices a tad too late.
I was frustrated because I have yet to learn how to put forward this simple straightforward message that there is no easy cure for cancer — if any — without fear of being ostracised by my peers, and without being seen as a heartless monster who wishes for a patient to die.
How can I go toe-to-toe, one versus many, against those who offer hope?
Prayers can at least comfort one during times of trouble, if not cure ailments. Alternative medicine offers none of that, save perhaps the satisfaction of doing something noble.
I interviewed a consultant oncologist for a health feature once. He told us that one of the dreaded situations faced by oncologists is when well-meaning — but misguided nonetheless — relatives and friends offer patients snake oil, charms, alternative medicine, Islamic treatments and the such, just because conventional medicine is “less optimistic.”
It is during these vulnerable times that so-called friends and family suddenly come out of nowhere to hawk hope. In the end, it is the desperate patients and their loved ones who end up getting swindled — broke, and still dying.
People need hope, and taking it away usually invites backlash. This is why sometimes the religious slam those who do not share their beliefs.
Because if the non-believers are right, then there is no hope and salvation at the end of the tunnel. Just death.
I am still frustrated. But I was told by someone to tell it as it is, if only to assuage my conscience. “Cancer is cancer, not to be treated by faith, mumbo-jumbo,” he said.
So here it is, my friend. I’m writing this to tell you that I have the utmost concern for you and your family in this difficult time. As a friend, I do not wish to see you throw your money away all for a faint glimpse of fake hope.
Life is not easy. Unlike John Constantine in “Hellblazer”, Lucifer will not just wrest your lung cancer away just because he made a shoddy deal with you. Even Walter White’s Stage III lung cancer in “Breaking Bad” went into remission after intense chemotherapy sessions.
In reality, no surgery, chemotherapy or radiation therapy can guarantee 100 per cent survival from cancer.
What they can do, however, together with palliative care, is to make one’s end days relatively more bearable. They extend the end days a bit longer, so there will be more time to say goodbye. But ultimately one would still have to say goodbye.
Maybe one day I will find a way to say this in a manner that does not make me seem like a monster. Maybe my readers will feel that I am only able to say this easily because it is not me, nor my loved ones, who are afflicted by cancer.
I do hope that if I ever get into the same situation, I will have the courage to say the same right thing: that alternative and faith-based healing is no cure for cancer. May my conscience be clear.