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 Herbal Medicine: Essiac 
Richard Walters ©

Dr. Emma Carson, a Los Angeles physician, spent twenty-four days inspecting the Bracebridge clinic in 1937. A skeptical investigator who originally intended to stay in Bracebridge for just a couple of days, she scrutinized the clinical records and examined over 400 patients. In her detailed report, Dr. Carson wrote:

Several prominent physicians and surgeons who are quite familiar with the indisputable results obtained in response to "Essiac" treatments . . . conceded to me that the Rene M. Caisse "Essiac Treatment" for Cancer is the most humane, satisfactory and frequently successful remedy for the annihilation of Cancer "that they had found at that time" . . .

I also visited, examined and obtained data at patients' homes where they were pursuing their business vocations as ably as if they had never experienced the afflictions of Cancer. They declared their restoration to normalcy was indisputably due to Miss Caisse's "Essiac" treatments.... They emphatically declared "were it not for Miss Caisse's Essiac remedy for Cancer, they would have departed from this earth" . . .

As I examined each patient regarding intervening progress during the preceding week and recorded notes of indisputable improvements . . . I could scarcely believe my brain and eyes were not deceiving me, on some of the most seriously afflicted cases....

The vast majority of Miss Caisse's patients are brought to her for treatment after Surgery, Radium, X-Rays, Emplastrums, etc., has failed to be helpful, and the patients are pronounced incurable. Really the progress obtainable and the actual results from "Essiac" treatments and the rapidity of repair was absolutely marvelous and must be seen to convincingly confirm belief.

Another independent investigator of the Bracebridge clinic was Dr. Benjamin Guyatt, a University of Toronto curator and anatomy professor. After making dozens of inspections of the clinic during the 1930s, Dr. Cuyatt summarized his findings as follows:

The relief from pain is a noticeable feature, as pain in these cases is very difficult to control. On checking authentic cancer cases, it was found that hemorrhage was readily brought under control in many difficult cases. Open lesions of lip and breast responded to treatment. Cancers of the cervix, rectum, and bladder had been caused to disappear. Patients with cancer of the stomach, diagnosed by reputable physicians and surgeons, have returned to normal activity.

. . . The number responding wholly or in part, I do not know. But I do know that I have witnessed in this clinic a treatment which brings about restoration, through destroying the tumour tissue, and supplying that something which improves the mental outlook of life and facilitates reestablishment of physiological functions.7

Supporters of the Bracebridge nurse presented a bill to the Ontario parliament in 1938 to allow Caisse to treat cancer patients with Essiac free from the constant threat of arrest to which she had been subjected. Over 55,000 people signed a petition supporting the bill, including patients, their families, and many doctors. The bill failed to pass by three votes.

This set the stage for the creation of the Royal Cancer Commission, which many believed was a judicial farce. Comprised of six orthodox physicians with expertise in surgery, radiation, and diagnostics and led by an Ontario Supreme Court justice, the commission was charged with an impartial investigation of alternative cancer therapies. Public hearings opened in March 1939.

Even though 387 of Caisse's patients showed up to testify, only 49 were allowed to be heard. One after another, patients and ex-patients testified that Rene Caisse had restored them to health and saved their lives after they had been given up as dead by their orthodox doctors.

Annie Bonar testified that her diagnosed uterine and bowel cancer had spread after radium treatments until her arm had swelled to double its size and turned black. Weighing ninety pounds the night before she was to have the arm amputated, she opted for Essiac therapy instead. After four months of the herbal treatment, her arm was back to normal and she had gained sixty pounds. A series of X-ray exams revealed she was cancer-free. The Royal Commission, however, listed Annie Bonar's case as "recovery due to radiation."

Walter Hampson, another patient of Caisse who testified, had cancer of the lip, diagnosed by a pathologist. Refusing radium, he underwent Essiac therapy and was restored to normal. Despite the fact that he had never had an operation (other than the removal of a tiny nodule for analysis), the commission classified his case as "recovery due to surgery." These examples could be multiplied many times.

In addition to misattributing recoveries, the Royal Commission also labeled numerous cases as "misdiagnoses," even though the patients had been diagnosed as definitely having cancer by two or more qualified physicians. Using duplicitous tactics like these, the commission was able to conclude that "the evidence adduced does not justify any favourable conclusion as to the merits of 'Essiac' as a remedy for cancer...."

In 1942, a disheartened Rene Caisse, fearing imprisonment due to her medical work, closed her clinic. Over the next thirty-odd years, she continued to treat cancer patients in great secrecy from her home. Documents indicate that she was under surveillance by Canada's Health Department during the 1950s.

At the age of seventy, in 1959, Caisse was invited to the Brusch Medical Center in Massachusetts, where she treated terminal cancer patients and laboratory mice with Essiac under the supervision of eighteen doctors. After three months, Dr. Charles Brusch, eminent physician to the New England elite, and his research director, Dr. Charles McClure, concluded that Essiac "has been shown to cause a decided recession of the mass, and a definite change in cell formation" in mice. "Clinically, on patients suffering from pathologically proven cancer, it reduces pain and causes a recession in the growth; patients have gained weight and shown an improvement in their general health.... Remarkably beneficial results were obtained even on those cases at the 'end of the road' where it proved to prolong life and the quality of that life.... The doctors do not say that Essiac is a cure, but they do say it is of benefit."

The Sloan-Kettering Institute for Cancer Research tested one of the herbs in Essiac, sheep sorrel, between 1973 and 1976. Caisse sent a quantity of the herb to Sloan-Kettering, along with detailed instructions on how to prepare it as an injectable solution. On June 10,1975, Dr. Chester Stock, a Sloan-Kettering vice president, wrote to Rene: "Enclosed are test data in two experiments indicating some regressions in sarcoma 180 of mice treated with Essiac" (emphasis added).8 Despite these promising results, the tests ground to a halt when Rene was horrified to learn that instead of boiling the herb, as she had instructed, the scientists were freezing it.

In 1977, Rene sold the formula for Essiac to the Resperin Corporation, a Canadian company. Resperin's tests on Essiac, though initially encouraging, dragged on for years. Patients in Canada seeking Essiac through the government must first find a physician who will sponsor them and submit the appropriate official form. The physician should contact the Health Protection Branch of the Canadian Health and Welfare department to arrange to purchase the product from Resperin Corporation. The physician's request should roughly read: "I have a patient who has (type of cancer) affecting (body parts or organs). I request permission to treat the patient with Essiac on an emergency basis." The physician should mail the request to the Health Protection Branch, Bureau of Human Prescription Drugs, Director's Office, c/o Emergency Drug Division, Tower B- Second Floor, 355 River Road, Place Vanier, Vanier, Ontario K1A 1B8. Many doctors are reluctant to do this, however, fearing establishment pressure or ridicule. Even if the necessary forms are submitted, permission to use Essiac is not always granted.

A report issued in 1982 by the Health Protection Branch of the Canadian Health and Welfare department finds that "no clinical evidence exists to support claims that Essiac is an effective treatment for cancer." This blanket condemnation ignores sixty years of clinical documentation and observational evidence as well as laboratory studies. The report says:

In 1982, 112 physicians who had received Essiac under these circumstances, were asked to submit case reports. Seventy-four responded on 87 cancer patients. Of these, 78 showed no benefit.

Investigation of the nine remaining cases revealed that the cancer was progressing (four cases), the patient had died (two cases) or that the disease had stabilized (three cases).

Of this last group, all the patients had previously undergone some form of cancer treatment which could have stabilized the disease.

The report does not explain why only 74 of the 112 physicians responded. Were the other 38 doctors perhaps afraid to submit responses favorable towards Essiac, fearing orthodox ridicule and peer pressure?

It is also not clear whether the 78 patients that "showed no benefit" experienced a reduction in pain or an improvement in appetite. These important components of cancer care are generally not counted as a benefit in such studies.

Were any of the 87 patients, all severely ill, given intramuscular injections of Essiac, as Rene Caisse so often administered in advanced cases? Critics of the report say that no patients were given intramuscular injections.

Was the herbal mixture prepared correctly, or were the herbs possibly frozen and damaged, as was done at Sloan-Kettering? Were the oral doses given frequently enough? Neither answer is known.

In three cases, "the disease had stabilized." What does this mean? Had the cancer stopped growing? If so, that is highly significant.

What about the four cases where the "cancer was progressing," plus the two cases where the "patient had died"? Why are these counted among the "remainder" rather than among those that "showed no benefit"? Doesn't that mean they did show some benefit, and if so, what were the benefits? The report does not say.

Even a casual analysis of these poorly run trials illustrates the bias that pervades much of the research purporting to be objective and scientific.

Gary Glum, biographer of Rene Caisse, calls the Canadian government report an outright deception. He says that some of the people listed in the report as "dead" were actually alive and well and that a number of them showed up on Caisse's doorstep in 1978, the first year of the study, to thank her profusely for having saved their lives. Glum views the report as one more attempt by Canada's medical orthodoxy to discredit Essiac.

A Los Angeles chiropractor, Glum spent three years researching Caisse's story. In his biography of the nurse, Calling of an Angel (see Resources),9 published in 1988, Glum says he obtained the formula for Essiac from a woman who had achieved total remission of her cancer after treatment by Rene. This woman, according to Glum, was given the Essiac formula in writing by Caisse. The unidentified woman, as Glum tells it, tried to alert the world to the efficacy of Essiac in treating cancer, and in the late 1970s, she took her case as far as the Michigan Superior Court but was then constantly harassed by FBI (Federal Bureau of Investigation) and FDA officials.

Glum says that he later verified the authenticity of the Michigan woman's formula with Mary McPherson, an Ontario woman who was Caisse's close friend. McPherson lived and worked alongside Caisse for many years, after the Bracebridge nurse cured McPherson's mother of cancer in the 1930s. McPherson confirmed by telephone that she did in fact meet with Glum and that his formula was indeed correct, although there were variations that Rene occasionally used.

Glum's critics contend that the formula Glum gives in an instruction sheet accompanying his book is inaccurate. They charge that it is missing at least one key ingredient and is drastically off in the ratios of the various herbs. The critics allege that Glum's version of Essiac is not the true Essiac and that it is potentially harmful to patients.

(Excerpted from Options: The Alternative Cancer Therapy Book ISBN: 0895295105)
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