REDWOOD: What are some possible solutions to the current problems between alternative and conventional medicine? What can we do differently?
SMITH: It appears that there is progress being made, because a number of physicians are realizing that this "cold war," as I call it, really doesn't make sense and that the patient deserves better. The patients want better and are insisting on it. So medical schools today are including more information on nutrition and some other aspects of what we think of as alternative or holistic medical practice. That's a good sign. And it may be that as the younger doctors come along, there'll be a broader application of these various therapies rather than simply going the way it's been in the last half century.
REDWOOD: Do you feel that if a person seeks out a conventional medical diagnosis, that he or she must then necessarily follow up with conventional treatment?
SMITH: No, I don't think a patient should feel obligated to follow up with the conventional treatment if the physician isn't open to alternative means. The best example of that, I think, is Marion Woodman, who is a psychotherapist in Toronto. She's written a book called Bone, which is about her experience. She was diagnosed with a malignancy in her uterus and advised to have a hysterectomy. She didn't resist that; she had the hysterectomy. But afterward, she was told she needed radiation. She went for the radiation, but in the meantime also saw a naturopath because she wanted some help dealing with her healing after the surgery.
Well, the conventional doctors who heard about her consulting a naturopath had a very negative, really hostile reaction. One of them threatened to report him as a charlatan. That's the sort of adversarial attitude and relationship that puts the patient in a bind. If she hadn't been the strong person that she was, strong in her own convictions about what was right, she probably would have buckled and just done what her radiologist wanted her to do, instead of doing what she felt she should do. She wanted the best of both and she got the best of both, and she survived to tell the story.
REDWOOD: What was Jane's diagnosis and how did she proceed once she understood it?
SMITH: The first diagnosis was when they found some malignant cells in the fluid in her lung. That's all we knew. But she didn't have any pain in her lungs; all the pain was in her lower back, her spine. She went to a surgeon who thought the back pain might have been caused by a disc problem, and that she might need surgery to repair that disc. He suggested that we do an MRI to be sure, and that revealed she had tumors in her lower spine and hip. At that point there was no question that she was in serious condition with cancer. The big problem was that they didn’t know where it had originated, and they never were able to pinpoint the source. So, instead of their being able to target the source, they recommended a treatment that was general chemotherapy and radiation. And even that, they said, wouldn't cure her or save her life.
So Jane sought alternatives because that was a death sentence. She sought help from a homeopathic physician, who prescribed various things which were, I think, far too late at that point. She died within four months of being diagnosed.
REDWOOD: Though your book is titled Misdiagnosed, it seemed to me that to a great extent, the love story between you and Jane was even more central to the book than the cold war between alternative and conventional medicine. What was it like for you accompanying her through this difficult illness?