Sharon Hanson was given three months to live. She had pancreatic cancer, which carries one of the lowest survival rates of all cancers. It was discovered too late for any treatment except a last-ditch blast of chemotherapy. Get your affairs in order, the oncologist said. Write a letter to your grandkids.
The mention of grandchildren lit a spark in her. Her husband died just two months after her diagnosis, and Hanson said to herself: “My kids and grandkids are not going to lose two of us so close. That’s not going to happen.”
She wanted a second opinion from an integrative oncologist — someone who could advise cancer patients on both conventional medicine and naturopathic therapies. She went to Leanna Standish, PhD, ND, LAc, FABNO, one of Bastyr University’s leading cancer care researchers, practitioners and teachers.
As a research professor, Dr. Standish reviewed results from all of the cancer treatment centers around the area. She’d been tracking impressive results from Ben Chue, an oncologist who ran an unconventional center in Seattle. Go see Ben Chue, Dr. Standish said.
That was five years ago. This fall, tests show that Hanson is cancer-free…
…Just when Mrs. Shiu began to feel that things were on the upswing, in June 2010, three new shadows appeared in a scan around her lower left pelvis indicating stage 4 disease. Typically, for this stage 4 condition, patients are only given three to six months left to live. Mrs. Shiu thanked God that she was referred to Dr. Ben Chue.
Dr. Chue recommended frequent low dose chemotherapy combining several agents and boosting the immune system. Not promising a cure, he shared his belief that the cancer could be controlled under his care. While undergoing treatment with Dr. Chue, Mrs. Shiu experienced significantly fewer side effects than previous chemotherapy treatments. Though she was still often tired, she was able to continue with her regular activities. Dr. Chue took the extra effort to negotiate and obtain the best medicine for her from the drug companies. He also thoroughly investigated her situation from all angles to understand the causes of her discomfort to find the appropriate treatments. Quite remarkably, by March of 2011, no cancer was found in the scan. This is quite rare for stage 4 stomach cancer…
…When Judy consulted with Dr. Chue, what she was told made sense. He advocated boosting the immune system, low dose frequent treatment and combinations of chemo that could provide the best result. He did not promise cure, but believed the cancer could be controlled. “HOPE” seemed to flash in lights. Judy knew prayer had led the way…peace and desire to go on energized her faith – she began treatment February of 2004.
In 4 weeks the tumor had shrunk to half its size. 13 months later she was declared “cancer free”. She had won the battle of stage 5 cancer in March of 2005…
…It was largely untested, and controversial.
The standard treatment for pancreatic cancer, which hadn’t worked for Barrett, involves chemotherapy, blasting the system with the highest dose of chemicals possible.
The new treatment also was chemotherapy, but lower doses, more frequently. Proponents say it allows more chemotherapy over time, increasing its effectiveness. And they say the gentler dosing produces fewer unpleasant side effects, including hair loss and nausea. It costs about the same as the standard treatment, and most insurance plans will cover it, according to the center.
The new treatment also incorporated the services of a naturopath.
The chemotherapy, also called dose-density or metronomic treatment, has shown some success in trials with lung and breast cancer patients. But it is far from being cancer’s gold standard. And for pancreatic cancer, where patients usually are diagnosed at its end stages and given barely six months to live, low-dose chemotherapy brings skepticism from many oncologists.
Dr. Ben Chue, an oncologist at the Seattle Cancer Treatment and Wellness Center, believed it could be done, and believed Barrett was going to be his first patient to prove it…
…”It’s funny how things have turned around,” said Chue, who trained as a medical resident at the University of Washington and the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center and as a fellow at Virginia Mason Hospital. “Before these findings you stood the chance of getting sued for using Herceptin (in early stage breast cancer patients). Now, after the findings you might get sued for not using Herceptin.”
Despite “people around me saying not to do it” Chue just wouldn’t accept the statistic that 70 percent of women with HER2 breast cancer would face a recurrence — and only then were they prescribed Herceptin.
“We knew it lengthened life,” said Chue. “It wasn’t that far off to use it earlier…”
…When Ford met Chue, he asked for a prognosis.
“He said to me ‘I can give you statistics, but you are not a statistic,’ ” Ford remembered. “I thought, ‘This is someone I could go to the wall with.’ ”
The clinic has not formally compared its patients’ survival rates with those of other more traditional clinics, but the doctors there are confident that even if their patients are not living longer, they are living better.
“The quality of life is much higher,” Chue said.
He was one of the first oncologists in the area to give smaller doses of chemotherapy more frequently so that the side effects are less severe. He has found, he said, that the smaller doses appear to act differently in the body, starving tumors rather than killing them along with everything else in the way…