I’m not sure how many of you have followed Jess Ainscough, the “Wellness Warrior”, who built a successful blog and business after she was diagnosed with a very rare form cancer (epithelioid sarcoma) at the age of 22.
Jess died last week at the young age of 30. I’m very sad and extend my deepest sympathies to her family and friends.
Lots of articles have been published since her death and many conventional practitioners “use” her story as an example to show how terribly wrong things can go when cancer patients rely on alternative therapies.
Jess was a promoter of the Gerson therapy to “heal herself from cancer naturally”.
But, and that seems to be forgotten in the midst of all the heated discussions around her treatment decisions, her main mission was to show people how to create wellness in their life.
She didn’t “just” talk to cancer patients, but to anybody who wanted to improve their own health by eating real food and enjoying life to the full.
Reality gets quite twisted by many. Numerous articles state that Jess shunned conventional treatments. This is not true- she actually tried isolated limb perfusion with chemotherapy in an attempt to avoid amputation of her left shoulder and arm. This is the usual route taken with this type of cancer and has been shown to prolong survival.
The treatment initially worked- but not for long and Jess suffered a recurrence shortly afterwards. And that’s when she turned to alternative treatments because she couldn’t face amputation of her arm and shoulder.
Initially, Jess did great on the Gerson therapy and was- apparently- in remission for a few years. Last year, though, her mother died from breast cancer, which she refused to treat with conventional medicine. She, too, opted for the Gerson therapy, but not with the same outcome as her daughter.
The death of her mother hit Jess hard, as she wrote on her blog, which is not online any more.
She retreated and started a period of self-care. However, it looks like this trauma triggered her illness again and she died at the end of February 2015.
A few people have asked my opinion on Jess and whether I’d have opted for conventional treatment in her case. Let me share my views here.
As you might have read on my website, I went through all conventional treatments that were offered to me. I responded quickly and well to the first round of radiotherapy but, like Jess, had a recurrence not even 2 years later.
But, I still hadn’t lost faith in my oncologist and conventional medicine and agreed to another set of radiotherapy– this time stronger and more aggressive, with more side effects, obviously.
A bit less than two years later, the side effects in my treated eye were bad. My consultant wasn’t certain whether the tumour was really dormant. That’s when I was offered Avastin injections with possible enucleation (eye removal) if they didn’t work.
There are similarities to Jess’s story- I too asked for a “grace period” where I could try “my own thing”.
If you haven’t been in this or a similar situation, it’s so hard to understand that the decision to part with a body part is incredibly difficult. This is still an understatement. There were so many thoughts, concerns and fears in my mind when I was facing taking my eye out.
“Will my personality change because my brain might be affected by only having one eye?“, “Will I be able to look after my kids?“, “What about traveling- will I always have to be near a doctor or hospital in case something happens?“, “Will my husband still love me?“, “Can I still ski?” are just a fraction of the things that went through my head.
It’s so simple for people to say- it’s a no-brainer because it will save your life. I don’t just know that based on my own experience but by working with clients who were in the same boat.
Fact is, I had nothing to lose and it worked– I was lucky, fortunate or whatever you’d like to call it. My consultant very carefully keeps monitoring and supporting me “although” it’s completely alternative and I haven’t done any conventional treatments for 5 years. I still have my eye AND my eye sight although this was said to be impossible to achieve.
People sometimes ask whether I regret having done conventional treatments because the ketogenic diet seems to have more effect in my case. My answer is a clear no- I would do the exact same thing again. A tumour needs to be dealt with immediately- the quicker, the better.
I must admit, I did hesitate when I was offered surgery and radiotherapy for the second time but I have no regrets. Although radiotherapy didn’t make the tumour shrink like the first time round, at least it stopped its growth with immediate effect.
And at the moment, the ketogenic diet helps stabilise my eye, it has brought my eye sight back and supports me in managing my tumour. For how long? Nobody knows- there’s no guarantee for any approach or treatment.
I’m in remission at the moment. But I’m very careful when I choose my words and I don’t mention “healing” or “curing” to any of my clients or on my website.
What I do is offer support before and during conventional therapies and ways to manage cancer once treatments are completed.
And I can’t claim that it was the ketogenic diet that cured my cancer. First of all, I still have a tumour- can I call myself cured then? Regular scans show that it is dead- but it’s there. And we all know too well that it takes a few mutations in one single cell that can trigger the growth of cancerous cells again.
And secondly, it was a mix of conventional and complementary therapies that brought me to where I am now. I wouldn’t do without one or the other: knocking the tumour on its head, then deal with side effects and address root causes.
This has been my mantra since the beginning of my career as a nutritional therapist who specialises in cancer care.
Yes, I do come across clients who want to work with me after refusing conventional treatments. I can only take them into my care if they work with an oncologist who agrees to a “watch and wait” situation and monitors them carefully. Otherwise I have to decline.
Of course there are a number of clients who can’t have conventional treatment- in the case of certain brain tumours, for instance. I’m more than happy to help them with a ketogenic diet because they keep being monitored and they have no other option but to try “something else”.
One thing I’d like to add as well: Complementary and Alternative Medicine is often accused of being “pseudoscientific”.
While I agree that there are definitely people “out there” who do harm to people, who make false promises and make money on the back of vulnerable people, I have to say that I find “pseudoscience” in conventional practice, too.
I’ve had a few clients who went for a second opinion in the USA, for instance, and were told they were “over treated”. They wouldn’t have needed chemotherapy at all for the type and stage of their cancer, according to the latest evidence. How frustrating!
And then there’s the patient who’s getting IV chemotherapy in hospital. He’s sitting there with a can of coke beside him just to make sure he’s getting calories into him. Is this a scientific approach? Not when I read the latest paper how elevated glucose levels make chemotherapy less efficient.
It also happens to some of my elderly patients that they don’t respond well to treatment. They’re then put on cisplatin, a very strong chemotherapy drug with some nasty side effects. It’s sort of a “let’s try this if nothing else works” approach but I wonder where the evidence for this is.
If someone is already clearly weakened and elderly, this might just be the final straw- I’ve seen it happen a lot more than just once, unfortunately.
People act in desperation, I totally get that. And I also know that oncologists are under huge pressure. Not just time pressure with an increasing number of cancer patients to look after. But pressure to just do “something”.
Relatives often insist on another round of treatment or some sort of pill in the hope that this could make a difference.
And that’s when the borders between science-based medicine and “trying something in desperation” get blurred. We’re only human, after all.
Back to Jess: nobody knows why she didn’t opt for amputation to save her life- and it’s actually none of our business. Would I have done it myself? Probably- for my two kids.
What would I do if I had another relapse? I don’t know. I would carefully analyse my options, get a second opinion and make an informed choice.
I doubt that Jess, who was a bright woman who loved life, didn’t do exactly the same. She made a choice that was right for her.
It’s always easy to judge, criticise and know everything better- in hindsight. And please let Jess rest in peace.