Tuesday, May 5, 2015

The Sad Case of Samantha Beaven

Today in the news there was a story about a young mother of two who died of cervical cancer at the age of 29.  That right there would have been a very sad thing indeed, but what makes this story doubly so tragic is that Samantha Beaven was lied to by a promoter of fantasy-based medicine and before her untimely death she wasted eight weeks and 60,000 GBP at a fantasy-based medicine "clinic" in Mexico, far from her native England.  Samantha's case is incredibly heart-breaking.  She had two young daughters to look after, and when she was pregnant with her second child, she noticed unusual symptoms like cramping and bleeding.  Despite eight different doctor's visits over this, she was assured that it was normal and related to her pregnancy.  Having been pregnant already once before, Samantha knew that something was not right, and she was diagnosed cervical cancer soon after she gave birth at 26 weeks.  She underwent chemo and radiation, which seemed to work but the cancer was later found to have spread to her lungs.  This case is most definitely a failure of reality-based medicine, or rather of the human beings who practice it.  I never argue that conventional medicine is perfect, and it most certainly has its fair-share of failures. It is not clear how long Samantha was having these undiagnosed symptoms, but if they started during pregnancy, then she must have been having them for around six months or so.  It is always so devastating to see something like cancer misdiagnosed for this long.  For a disease like cervical cancer that is quite treatable if caught early, it is especially devastating.  Could Samantha have been saved by conventional medicine if the first doctor had run some very simple tests?  Would she had turned to quackery if she had not gotten the blow-off from so many medical professionals?

Though the details are not there, at some point Samantha decided to go to Mexico to undergo a cancer treatment called hyperthermia therapy. Hyperthermia, apparently can be used to help treat some cancers, but as of yet is largely an experimental therapy and results are mixed as to its efficacy. What we do know is that it not the cure for cancer. At any rate, it can potentially be very dangerous and so it should only be administered by a highly-trained doctor who knows what she is doing.  This is one of those "therapies" which might have some potential, but which can quickly morph into quackery if used in a way (whole body) and on patients who can no longer receive any benefit from the treatment. To me, these are the most dangerous quack therapies out there.  They appeal to people who are intelligent and educated because they actually do have some science to back them up.  Unfortunately this does not translate to working a miracle on every person with cancer, no matter the type or stage.  Though not mentioned in any article, this treatment was ostensibly not offered to Samantha by any of her doctors in the UK, likely because they knew it would bring her no benefit.  To pay for it, Samantha sold her possessions and moved into a cheaper house.  Her six-year-old daughter even sold her toys on Ebay.  The family started a fundraiser so that it might raise the nearly 60,000 quid necessary to pay for the "treatment" in Mexico.  In the end, it did not work and Samantha returned in much worse shape than before and died within days of an infection, one of the possible side effects of hyperthermia.

So what was the harm here?  After all, so many people who promote fantasy-based medicine claim that if someone is already terminal, then there is no harm in trying an alternative.  Well, let's see.  Samantha left her two young children for eight weeks while she went halfway across the world to pursue a treatment which would not work.  Since this treatment involves raising the temperature of the body, I am going to have to assume that the treatment itself was unpleasant.  In those eight weeks she could have been home getting palliation.  Her daughters could have formed a few more good memories with their mother.   There could have been a few more moments of laughter, of reading stories before bed, of playing games, and going to the park.  They will never have the option to do any of those things with their mother ever again.  That was stolen from them by the people at the "clinic" in Mexico.  And what about the money she raised?  Well, in the grander scheme things money is not particularly important, but every mother I know with small children would take a lot of comfort in leaving them some money before she died.  Could this 60,000 GBP have been put in a trust to help the girls through university when the time came?  Well, now it is lining the pockets of some scammer in Mexico.  He or she won't be giving it back or anything.

Samantha is a perfect example of someone at their most desperate and most vulnerable.  Samantha did not just want to live; she needed to live.  She had small children to raise who needed their mother.  I have no doubt she was willing to do whatever it took to give herself a chance at life.  Unfortunately she was terminally ill with cancer and there were not any treatments left for her.  The family claims that it was not the cancer which claimed her life, but a lung infection, thus promoting the idea that this treatment would have worked for her.  This sounds all too familiar to anyone who has followed what happens in these Mexican "cancer clinics".  These places are not set up to treat disease.  A lung infection will go untreated.  If you're in Tijuana and you get really sick, then the staff might drive you across the border, drop you at a fast food restaurant, call 911 and bolt.  Otherwise, you get put back on a plane home and your doctor there is left to clean up the mess the quack in Mexico made.   If you develop a complication of any of these cancer "treatments" at a Mexican clinic, you will not get treatment for it.  It's a sweet little scam for them.  They get to claim that their "treatment" would have worked had you not gotten that nasty little infection, and the hospital in San Diego is left to pick up the pieces.

I want to make something very clear here: Samantha and her family are 100% the victims in this case.  They were at their most vulnerable and most desperate, and at a time when they had lost all hope, someone came along and promised to be their savoir.  If they had any skepticism or doubt, then the salesperson at the "clinic" would naturally have assured them that there was science to back this up and that it was only not used in countries like the US and the UK because of some conspiracy by big medicine to suppress "the cure" for cancer.

34 comments:

  1. Over the years I have read a few stories of young people from the UK and Ireland who went to one of these clinics (or the Burzynski clinic). If I recall correctly, they all later succumbed to their cancers. Does anyone have the names of these people? I would research it myself but I just came off a 12 hour day and then wrote this post, so I am a little pooped at the moment. Thanks.

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    1. There is a fairly comprehensive site at https://theotherburzynskipatientgroup.wordpress.com

      As many of the patients/victims were children, the author only uses first names & initials of the last name to preserve some dignity for the families, who after all, have been deceived in one of the cruelest ways I can imagine...

      It's run under the auspices of the Skeptics for the Protection of Cancer Patients and I feel I should warn anyone reading this - it's really not bedtime reading.

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    2. Thank you Peta this is great. I wish I had the time and skills to put together a blog as good as that one!

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    3. No worries! Oh, and Violet - please don't be so modest, we know you have an actual day job (aside from "Professional Troll &/or Spy" or whatever the accusation this week) and that you do the vast majority of the work here.

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    4. I just dream someday of putting together a piece with lots of examples and quotes like that. When I imagine something I might write, it looks like that, and not something I bang out after work while my dinner is cooking. Yes I moved out of my mom's basement, got a sex change and a job, and now cannot be the professional troll I once was!

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    5. Oh, you're doing great as a semi-professional troll, Violet. ;)

      In all seriousness, Samantha's story is gut-wrenching, and all too common. Samantha and victims like her are exactly the reason it's worth holding quacks to account. I don't understand why people like Candice can't see that.

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    6. I assume they simply convince themselves that "their" truth is actually "the" truth. Also, someone like Candice-Marie Fox who obviously has been chasing fame her whole life has a hard time saying no to this kind of opportunity.

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    7. I remember reading something about a list Belle Gibson made years ago about how to make money (get more training, start a business, etc.), and she obviously landed on something that would get her fame, money and a comfortable lifestyle almost over night: cancer. One day she was just a teen mother with little money, the next she was a beloved heroine, her child a "miracle." The cancer myth did that.

      While Candice's story is obviously quite different (I still believe she actually had thyroid cancer), it's basically the same thing. She wanted to be famous, she tried a few different avenues like modelling and whatever she thinks "journalism" is, then she got cancer, and voila! It solved all her PR problems. She now has the platform she needed, and now all the disparate elements of her life and personality have come together - the universe wanted her to get sick, to cure herself, and to be the poster-child for that cure.

      For most people, cancer is not actually a solution to a problem. But in Belle's case, and in Candice's, it is. At least until the public starts asking pesky, logical questions.

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  2. I can relate to this story. My Dad was diagnosed with terminal cancer when I was 7. He was told that beyond his initial surgery there was nothing left the doctors could do. I don't know the exact circumstances but he too was sold false hope and flew to Mexico for costly unsuccessful treatment.

    I remember missing him terribly but gratefully I had a few more months with my Dad before he passed, unlike these poor little ones.

    I get the desperate need to try anything but these clinics are selling hope while simultaneously stealing money and valuable time - it disgusts me and I cannot believe they still operate.

    I am proud of my Dad for being so courageous and for trying every single thing he could to stay with us - I too would literally do anything to remain with my babies and that's what these disgusting people count on.

    I would also like to point out that since my Dad passed 26 years ago, reality based medicine has advanced so much that his cancer would be treatable now - how wonderful and amazing is that! I highly doubt these clinics can boast such improvement.

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    1. Thanks for sharing this personal story. This is why I think it is important to have an honest and truthful discussion about these places - people are desperate to live and will "try anything" and I do not blame them one bit. The tragedy is that there is very often nothing of value to try. The quacks in Mexico steal these people's time and money and they get nothing but more heartache and more sickness in return. Often this is the time a person needs to get their affairs in order and say their goodbyes. It breaks my heart to think that in those eight weeks that Samantha could have had some moments of feeling well enough to leave her eldest daughter with just a few more memories of her. I don't know how the people who run these places manage to sleep at night.

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    2. So sorry about your Dad, RKB. You were so young to go through something so devastating. It's worth telling your story though, because contrary to popular opinion, it's not merely the ignorant or the gullible that fall for the outlandish claims of fantasy-based medicine. Most often it's just desperate people whose mental faculties have been blunted by grief, fear and physical illness.

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    3. I'm really, really sorry about your Dad too, RKB. [I've been away for a few weeks - literally in the wilderness beyond regular internet access, so I'm sorry for the belated reply.] I have to say, many who went through an experience as devastating as yours, especially at such an early age would have been tempted to turn away from Science-based Medicine (to be honest - I unfortunately know a few in that category). I assume that you must remember the difference in your Dad's condition before and after his "treatment" in Mexico, which rather puts the lie to these places primary claims concerning the conflation of side-effects from conventional cancer treatments and the loss of condition caused by the cancer itself, not to mention their most awful hook of all: that there is a "conspiracy" in the West to "hide the Truth™" about cancer cures so Doctors may continue to "Slash, Poison & Burn".

      People frequently bemoan the lack of progress in cancer research whilst conveniently forgetting the many incremental advances which lead to substantial improvements over time, so I'd like to thank you for sharing this story also.

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    4. Thanks Violet, Ella and Peta, it has definitely had a long lasting effect on me but at least I know he tried everything available at the time. He would have jumped at the chance to be treated further conventionally, which is why CMF and the like infuriate me so much. I can't imagine how much harder it would be knowing that a science based treatment existed but was rejected - that's a tough legacy to leave your loved ones.

      For a long time the experience left me with a pretty decent fear of hospitals and medical centres but it never, ever stopped me from seeking their help and I will always have faith in modern medicine - it's not perfect but it's the very best chance we have. And man am I grateful for the science based palliative care that was available for my Dad - his end was peaceful and the memory of that is a gift that only science and the incredible medical professionals were able to provide.

      As for Mexico - a waste of time and money yes, but to hear that people are pretty much dumped and sent on their way if things take a turn for the worst makes me feel sick. My Dad was already frail when he left and I don't remember any significant change when he returned, so really he was lucky. If his health had taken a turn it would have been quite difficult for him to travel all the way back to Australia and that would have made a tragic situation even worse.

      Science with a hefty serve of greens (and steak without guilt) is how I'll be living my life:)













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  3. I've been reading this and other blogs since hearing the Belle Gibson story (thankfully I'd never heard of her or Jess Ainscough until the Belle story unravelled, despite apparently living in her neighbourhood).

    Now as I trawl I find more and more examples, mostly thanks to your blog. I'm sure this isn't a female thing only, but it really seems like 99% of the "wellness warriors" and their followers are female. Why is this? Very strange.

    I've lost 2 close family members to cancer in the last year who followed conventional, reality based, treatments. A third has followed a combination, but thankfully has stuck to chemo even though she's wasting plenty of money on Vitamin C treatments. She's well exceeded or prognosis, and believes it's 99% down to the alternative treatments...I can live with that, as long as she keeps up the real treatment.

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    1. I don't know. This website mentions Mark Simon, Chris Wark and Pete Evans quite a lot. I think the female "wellness warriors" just have a more pervasive influence because they're youthful and beautiful.

      In the media, women are still used to "attract" in a way that men aren't. For example, if you pick up a men's magazine it's full of women, and if you pick up a women's magazine it's also full of women. The image of a radiant, healthy woman with a huge smile like Belle Gibson's is much more appealing that Mark Simon's disshevelled, ageing hippie look.

      I'm so sorry about your family. I know people too who have battled or are battling cancer and credit alternative medicine with improvements even though they're also receiving conventional treatment. The most common approach these days seem to include doing a bit of everything just to keep your bases covered. Surgery, radiation, chemo, enemas, saunas, vitamins, and usually a gruelling overhaul of your diet.

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    2. I think some of it is simply a remnant of old-fashioned thinking about women's bodies. Like in Victorian times if a woman had menstrual cramps, then that was because of some moral failure on her part. These women are what women SHOULD be like if only they "took responsibility" for their bodies and their minds. They're pure and feminine and wise and pleasant and always happy and helpful. These are women who never "have a headache". They aren't ever grouchy or sluggish. They always have lots of beaming energy to give to those around them. They're very much focused on the domestic sphere and are constantly in the kitchen, creating beautiful and nutritious food. Really these wellness women are a backlash against feminism and women's equality. Here is the first generation of women to benefit from the women's rights movement from birth and yet there is clearly a desire among many of them to return to the more traditional aspects of womanhood. Look how Candice-Marie Fox talks about quitting your job and following your dreams in order to really be well. They all say stuff like that, and none of them seem to have a 9 to 5 job. When they get cancer or some other disease, don't they ALWAYS in part blame the stress of their busy and hectic lives? Once they figure out how to get better, it involves quitting their jobs, getting in the kitchen, and looking gorgeous and serene at all times. I mean, if we read about some 19th century physician blaming "masculine pursuits" as the cause of female illness, then we scoff. But how much different is the 2015 wellness woman? She is no different at all: her sickness was all her fault. She failed both morally and physically at being a modern woman. Her career, combined with the food she ate which she herself did not cook, made her sick. She got punished for being a "bad woman" and now she has done her penance and is filled with the serenity and joy that comes with being a good woman at last.

      Men are not expected to be punished for having a stressful, career-driven life, or of eating food that is not home-cooked. There isn't really character arc for them. It is the women who grow and change once they ditch their lifestyle of being a bad woman who eats convenience food, feeds her children the same, and stresses out over work to becoming a healthy woman who loves nothing more than to cook her family healthy food.

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    3. I also feel from my own experience, you don't receive payment or other physical reward for being extremely ill so becoming a "better person" as a result of the experience is a common outcome that many people hope they have achieved. Be terrible to have nearly died and nothing changed because of it...

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    4. Yeah, I guess. I am all for self-improvement, but there is something a bit degrading to me that these people associate eating a lean cuisine, or having done some lines of coke in college as being something just so terrible that only a complete change in lifestyle can ever make up for it. I just don't think that most people are bad people. Some are, but most of us are perfectly decent people who live perfectly decent lives. We don't always eat right and we are always happy, but that's okay. To me, these stories of redemption after illness are more for people who overcame drug and alcohol addiction, not for people who gave up gluten.

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    5. Agree with your points, I was thinking more of the end state image Candice et al hope they portray. As in Candice's case, it is an extremely thin marketable veneer beneath which seems to pretty serious levels of aggression and other less desirable attributes - not very attractive to those wanting to become "better people" which I think is partially refected by the significant decrease by her FB followers in what Candice is thinking / promoting.

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    6. Yeah I think Candice really wanted to portray herself as serene and positive, but it quickly became obvious that she is nothing of the sort. She degraded into cussing and aggression quite quickly. Her excessive use of the word "fuck" makes me think that she has a lot of hostility towards life still. I wonder how many other wellness women are more like Candice but are simply better at controlling what they put on the internet.

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    7. I suspect some of the other wellness promoters have more stable support networks and market aware people around them than Candice. A few reasonable questions and some very minor pressure to deliver and Candice's Mum is offering to bash people up, backed up by her sister spewing poison without restraint. Very poor performance for someone aspiring to have a commercially viable public profile.

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    8. Yeah it seems that Candice's lower class roots are quite obvious in the way she writes, talks, dresses and styles herself. I simply cannot see her having too much appeal to middle and upper class women. Jessica Ainscough had a lot of appeal to women from those classes because she was clearly one of them. Unlike Candice, Jessica had a good education and could talk without saying "fuck" every other word. She also dressed and styled herself in a natural yet sophisticated way that today's women respond to. Belle at least attempted to emulate this, and was smart enough to do a grand total of two television interviews, because I think she saw how different she came across on television than on instagram. Candice's most recent media appearances have been to complain about people who are critical of her. It makes her look fickle and weak, and does nothing to send out whatever "message" she is trying to convey. She is not very good at any of this, and it shows. Successful modern wellness women have a style and image that Candice cannot seem to get a grip on. They also tend to write their own stuff on facebook and their websites, and do not rely so much on memes created by others to get their message across. They do this so that their personal brand is distinct and memorable. I am not as yet quite sure what Candice is going for in this arena. Her styling and colors on facebook and her blog are not what I am used to seeing the wellness world. She uses bold colors and old-fashioned fonts, and her styling seems to shift from a sort of biker chick to hippie to 1950's pin-up. She just has not found her voice as a wellness blogger yet, and people are going to have a hard time responding to that in any sort of meaningful way.

      Well, ultimately those things are not important to the bigger issue of her offering proof of her claims, but it is still interesting on another level to see how these women create a strong personal brand for themselves. As to Candice, I simply cannot figure out what hers is supposed to be. On the one hand, she is a member of The Liberators, who I guess are supposed to be all about letting go of the restraints of a modern consumer lifestyle, but then she goes and gives the Daily Mail photos of herself posing with The Bachelor to publish alongside her story. I don't get if she is into being a pseudo-hippie going to Burning Swan, or if she is a mainstream woman oriented towards mediocre reality shows and celebrity culture. I just don't think that jumping from back and forth from one to another is going to resonate with most women. They'll need someone with a clear image who they can solidly identify with.

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    9. Violet, the comment about feminism and wellness is a post in its own right! I think you're absolutely correct that wellness puts women "back in the kitchen where they belong," so to speak. It's the same old criticism that has been levelled at women for generations. That we have a moral duty to be nurturing, and that sickness is a punishment for neglecting that moral duty.

      Your deconstruction of Candice's public image is interesting, too. In a nutshell, Belle was aspirational. She knew how to market herself in that glossy B-School kind of way. Her artfully photoshopped images had all the signifiers of an upper-middle class darling of the blogosphere. Good teeth, glowing skin, long shiny hair, chic but understated wardrobe, chunky, artsy accessories and expensive-looking sunglasses. She posed with her little boy, or in her stylish home, and she displayed the markers of her affluence like the dainty meal in business class or the poolside mocktail. And then of course there was the food.

      There was no personality under all that, but the veneer was polished enough that nobody noticed for a while. Candice's lack of substance, on the other hand, is immediately discernible to the average savvy blog user. The boob job, the headbands, the drawn-on eyebrows, the hippie-dippy wardrobe and the cutesy smile she does in every single pic, not to mention the compulsive, rapid-fire nattering, poor grasp of language and obvious lack of common sense and self-reflection suggest that she will only appeal to a small subset of the online community: people exactly like her.

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    10. I hate to see any flaws whatsoever in your brilliant and incisive writing, Ella, but I feel I must point out that Belle's eyebrows were also ludicrous.

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    11. I don't want to start a Catfight, but I do still contend that they are marginally less ludicrous than Candice's. However, I will deduct some points from Belle due to that unique trout pout whereby she looks like she's sucking through an invisible straw, and the orange stripes of bronzer on each cheekbone at the Cosmopolitan 'Most Contouring Woman of the Year' Awards, or whatever that event was.

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    12. The odd thing to me is how unnatural these women all look, given that they are in the business of shilling "natural" treatments for cancer.

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    13. One thing I just realised that is quite interesting: a lot of the articles about Candice have used the picture of her with a scarf over her head and minimal makeup alongside a pic of her with full makeup and long hair:

      http://tn.nova.cz/clanek/nemocne-modelce-zbyvalo-par-let-zivota-pak-se-stal-zazrak-a-muze-za-to-ovoce.html

      Do you think she's giving them those pics deliberately, as an implied "before and after" pic? Even though she never had chemo, and obviously simply has her hair tucked into that scarf?

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    14. I asked her about that Ella and she rather triumphantly replied that she was having some sort of integrative spa treatment that was not POISONOUS and not INVASIVE etc etc but ignored the fundamental question if, it's a bit misleading

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    15. I've noticed this a few times. She often includes the photo of herself in a 'chemo scarf' implying that she had chemotherapy. It's not coincidental, and deliberately misleading.

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    16. As opposed to all the integrative spa treatments that ARE poisonous and invasive? ;)

      As Violet said ages ago, she must be the one giving these media outlets the images in a press release. So I'm inclined to think you're right, Clover. In Candice's mind the spa treatment probably was "natural chemo."

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    17. Some of those spa treatments may be the ones she "reviews" in those awful Eluxe "articles". Wonder if she paid for those or they were freebies?

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  4. So sad.. Symptoms of the disease are not always obvious and may not appear until it is at an advanced stage.

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  5. I am really sorry and sad to see the story and it is so heart-breaking. It is so incredible that eight doctors have checked the pregnancy of of Samantha. Is it the conditional knockout choice of the heaven.

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  6. Hey that was very sad.. "Samantha did not just want to live; she needed to live" This line was heart breaking..
    Tacrol

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