A Cambodian Natural Cancer Cure?

On October 5, I wrote Steve Jobs’ Death and the Spectre of Cancer in Cambodia. At the time, I was saddened by the “news” that Sopheak’s aunt had died of cancer and we were sending her body back to Svay Renh for burial. As it turned out, that was a little premature. What my wife was trying to convey to me was that her aunt was dying of cancer and wanted to return to her home village to die.

It was several days before I learned this subtle distinction. Sometimes verb tenses can make a big difference! One day I went downstairs to make a cup of coffee and was surprised to see her lying down on our living room couch. She was alive, but just barely. It was pissing down with rain and we didn’t want to pack her into a car and send her on her way when there was a danger of flooding, so we put her up in our doctor’s clinic for the weekend, so she could be more comfortable and could be on a fluid drip, since she had stopped eating.

Our doctor recommended sending her first to a Russian hospital in Phnom Penh. He was sure she was dying, but thought a biopsy was in order and she could get one for free there. On Monday, October 10, Sopheak took her to the hospital. It was an incredibly stressful trip because when she arrived, Sopheak learned that while her aunt could get a biopsy for free, she first had to provide the hospital with papers and a doctor referral. Sopheak put her and her husband up in a hotel, returned home, got up at dawn the next morning and spent half the day gathering the necessary paperwork before returning to Phnom Penh in the evening.

The next day everything went smoothly. As my first paragraphs show, details get lost in the translation, but according to Sopheak, “Doctor say if have 1-5, can give medicine. If more, maybe not work. He say she have 10. Take medicine will kill sure.” The medicine he was referring to was chemotherapy.

I was relieved to hear this, because I had already become all but convinced that chemotherapy was essentially a con. Although we believed that both the biopsy and the treatment were free, if she accepted the treatment, I felt like I would be partially responsible for her death, since she would never have gone to the hospital without my assistance. As it turned out, the medication was not free, but the doctor told Sopheak it would be a waste of money and she would probably die before she reached Svay Renh. He said the best course to take would be to send her home to die and that’s what Sopheak did.

The next thing I heard was that Sopheak’s aunt was so weak, the relatives in Svay Renh decided to build a funeral pyre for her. Because of the flooding in Svay Renh, they had to build an elevated platform. At one point, Sopheak received a call telling her that she had died, but they called back a few hours later and said they had made a mistake. Her pulse had been undetectable and there was no sign of breathing, but she then came to.

That was about 3 weeks ago. Until yesterday, I heard nothing more except that relatives had found a “Cambodia doctor” (meaning a traditional practitioner). Then, out of the blue, yesterday Sopheak informed me that her aunt was feeling much better and was coming back to Sihanoukville.

I got up this morning to find her washing our clothes. I tried to stop her, but she insisted on working, telling me through Sopheak that it was her way of thanking us for our help and that she was feeling much better. I have no idea what the “medicine” is that she is taking. Sopheak tells me it is a plant that grows in Picnel (sp?), a hilly region about halfway between Sihanoukville and Phnom Penh.

Sopheak’s aunt isn’t exactly the picture of health. Her skin is yellow and she is still very thin, but she’s smiling, eating and working a little. As soon as I get a chance I’m going to take some photos and try to find out more about her medicine.

I have to close now, but just for the record, while this drama was unfolding, I signed up to listen to a series of talks by alternative cancer treatment specialists. They were free to listen to live, but in order to get them to keep, you had to pay. I listened to a few of them and they were fascinating. This morning I finally paid for the whole series and downloaded them. I figured serendipity was at work. I’ll get back to you with info as I get time to review the audio files and read the PDF transcripts.

Steve Jobs Death and the Spectre of Cancer in Cambodia

People die. Most of us die unremembered by all but a handful of our closest relatives. In fact, my wife just called and told me that an aunt just died unexpectedly. We are sending her body back to Svay Renh, where she can be buried in her home village.

Steve Jobs goes to heaven

Source: The Washington Post - click image to visit

Other people die in the public eye. Steve Jobs was one of those. I learned about it when I turned on the TV at lunch time. CNN happened to be one of the only channels that was working and they were having a special tribute to Jobs. Then, when I returned to my computer to work, I opened my email and saw the following attachment from the Health Ranger. As I wrote in a comment:

I just sat back down to work after watching CNNs coverage of Steve Jobs’ death when I got the newsletter that directed me to this page. I was thinking about many of the points you raise here as I watched the CNN tribute and am very pleased to see them so sensitively addressed here. Thank you.

The reason why I was prompted to write those words was because the writer didn’t fail to see the downside of Jobs’ legacy, yet didn’t condemn him either. He looked at him as a human being with faults as well as virtues. Steve Jobs was a larger than life public figure, but he wasn’t larger than life, as his death proves. The part of the article that was most meaningful to me begins with this heading:

Live by principle, because that’s the only thing you take with you

It’s been said a million times before, in a million different ways, but we still don’t seem to get it – or at least don’t take it to heart. While gadgets like the Mac computer, the iPod, the iPhone and the iPad are cool and useful, in the end they are just gadgets and can be put to positive or negative use.

I’m in no position to judge or even have an opinion about Steve Jobs. He is less real to me than Sopheak’s aunt, who used to live near us and washed our clothes for us until she found a job somewhere else. All I know about him are the myths. Like all deaths, his emphasises the fact that we are only here temporarily and if our lives have any significance, it’s in the principles by which we live them. I believe we leave a karmic footprint behind us and carry our footsteps forward, hopefully to learn and grow from each lifetime. I can’t prove it, but I’m sure of it. One thing is for sure: you can’t take your wealth, power or influence with you when you die. In the bigger picture, even gold is nothing but a fiat currency that is of no real value at all.

Steve Jobs dead at 56, his life ended prematurely by chemotherapy and radiotherapy for cancer

Interestingly, we just moved another relative from the public hospital here in Sihanoukville to the clinic run by our family doctor. What’s interesting about that? He suspects she has breast cancer and needs a biopsy, so we’re now taking her to Phnom Penh since that can’t be done here. Our doctor has already recommended chemotherapy. That puts me between a rock and a hard place because I have serious doubts about the efficacy of that treatment, yet have no alternative to offer her. It’s not that I don’t have alternative theories: I just have no alternative proof that would tip the scales in favour of her trying something else.

Also interesting is that just last week I had a short assignment to write about the benefits of soursop fruit. There are claims that it is a powerful anti-cancer treatment. Fortunately, we have fresh soursop here in abundance, so I’m buying that for her and encouraging her to eat it. It’s as much to ease my conscience as anything else, because I feel I’m sending her to her death sentence by sending her to Phnom Penh, but feel powerless to do anything else. The kind of treatment she receives is not up to me, partly because an NGO is footing the bill for the treatment and partly because I don’t believe in dictating to others just because I’m financing her hospital care and transportation.

It seems like we’re hearing about somebody dying of cancer every day these days. I took the afternoon off today and went to the beach. While I was there, I overheard a conversation between two Americans. One of them was telling the other about the chemotherapy he was getting from Thailand for his wife. He was grateful because it “only” cost $350 a month, which I guess is something to be grateful for because he went on to say that the going rate, even here, is something like $1500 a month.

When I got home, I asked my wife if Cambodians had always died of cancer and she said no, it was a recent phenomenon. I also asked her if she knew of any traditional remedies for it and she knew of none.  Cambodians, like other cultures left out of the modern medical loop, have always had to rely on indigenous plant-based remedies. There is something for everything, but nothing for cancer. I’m just speculating here, but I can’t help but wonder why. I know the standard medical line is that there are few records of cancer prior to the 20th century because it was not an identified disease, but come on; you get a lump, it is excruciatingly painful and you die. If it was historically prevalent, there would be records of it and indigenous treatments would have been tried. I’ve heard another line that people died too young before the miracle of modern medicine to contract cancer, but both of these women are young and so are so many cancer victims.

Once again, I’m talking off the top of my head here. I’d more than welcome any comments, criticism or advice.

While I’m on a roll here, a couple of years ago I was commissioned to write some articles about THC as a treatment for cancer. It was then that I learned about the dark side of the American medical profession and the pharmaceutical industry. I’m going to have to dig those articles out and rewrite them.