I've often thought about the circuitous way in which I became a medical/health advocate who helps patients find innovative treatments that work -- treatments their doctors often don't know about. The fact that I grew up with a father who was a doctor could have actually turned me away from the medical system altogether, since my dad taught me that doctors and the medical system in general were to be avoided at all costs. (Read about my dad, " An Honest Medicine Doctor," in my first Healthy.net column.)
But when my husband Tim was diagnosed with a cancerous brain tumor in 1990, I was forced to become enmeshed with the medical system in order to help him through it. I found some very innovative, out-of-the-box treatments that we both felt were keys to his long survivorship. But, unfortunately, most often, his doctors weren't at all interested in learning about these treatments. (Tim died in 2005, having survived his doctors' prognoses by twelve years.)
I first learned about the value of such innovative, out-of-the-box treatments from my mom, Sonya Schopick, who often told me the following story about her mother, my Grandma Julia, and her less-than-ideal experience with the American medical system back in the late 1920s.
I never knew my Grandma Julia, after whom I was named, because she died several years before I was born. To this day, she inspires me with admiration and awe, especially because of the way she and my grandfather handled her cancer diagnosis in 1928, when my mom was just 11 years old.
Grandma Julia had been sick for a year. Her doctors in New York had been treating her for ulcers but, despite their treatments, she continued to get worse. She went first to the Battle Creek Sanitarium, in Michigan, where she was diagnosed with colon cancer. Rather than being operated on there, she went to Minnesota to the Mayo Clinic, which was famous, even then, for being able to diagnose and treat the "difficult cases."
It was Dr. Charles Mayo -- the Charles Mayo -- who opened her up, closed her up, and gave this prognosis: My grandmother would be dead in six months.
But my grandfather, Morris Turitz (we all called him "Papa"), was not one to give up. He was one of the founders of the Yiddish newspaper, the Jewish Daily Forward. It was his "bible." In those days, The Forward carried many columns, including one by a Dr. Chleminitsky, from Vienna, who wrote about all sorts of health problems and treatments for them. His aim was to educate the recent immigrants to the US.
One of Dr. Chleminitsky's columns told of a cancer treatment in Frankfurt-am-Main, Germany. My grandfather telegraphed; the reply was hopeful. So my grandmother -- accompanied by my uncle Marko, who spoke fluent German -- took the next boat to Germany. (This was before airplanes. It was also before Hitler, so Jews could safely travel to Germany.)
In Germany, my grandmother was treated for six months with a combination of ex-ray (radiation), oxygen (96%) and carbon dioxide (4%). When she came home, my mom tells me that Grandma Julia looked better than she had ever seen her look. Her cancer was in remission, where -- with some follow-up treatments -- it stayed for several more years.
When Grandma Julia returned to her New York doctors, they were puzzled and embarrassed. They submitted her to examination by many, many doctors -- including some from the Rockefeller Institute and Mt. Sinai Hospital. All the doctors were shocked; several said she never had cancer at all!
When Grandma Julia died in 1939, my mom was 22 years old, and had completed both college and graduate school. She was out on her own, working. Quite a different story than if she had been left motherless at the age of 11!
Every year, after her return home from Germany, Grandma Julia sent Dr. Charles Mayo a New Year's card and he acknowledged it. She outlived him by a few months.
To this day, I love hearing my mom tell this story. She is now 94 years old, lives as healthy a life as possible, and takes lots of nutritional supplements, but very few pharmaceuticals. Every time she tells this story, I want to comment that it is amazing to me that my grandparents had such "chutzpah" and such "sechel" (Yiddish for "wisdom") way back then. And I also find it remarkable that the Modern German Medicine system of the late 1920s gave my Grandma Julia eleven precious extra years of life.
Also I always want to add that it is amazing to me (and not in a good way!) that the treatment that saved my grandmother eighty-some years ago -- radiation -- is one of the very same treatments oncologists still use on their cancer patients today.
Whenever I think about Grandma Julia, I ask myself: How far has "Modern American Medicine" really come?
In my next few columns, I will write about the four innovative treatments I profile in my book, HONEST MEDICINE: Effective, Time-Tested, Inexpensive Treatments for Life-Threatening Diseases. Like the treatment I describe in this column, the four treatments I write about in HONEST MEDICINE are effective and innovative, but most conventional American doctors do not yet accept them. My mission is to help patients find these treatments, and other treatments like them.