Category Archives: alternative medicine

“Alternative” medicine isn’t medicine, and sometimes it’s a death sentence

I’ve been following the story of Steve Jobs’ pursuit of “alternative” treatments to his pancreatic cancer with some interest, mostly because it is an exact replica of the period of time that lead up to the death of my uncle.  Well, an exact replica except for the gigantic personal wealth and fame part….

My uncle was a chiropractor of the more traditional sort.  That is, he truly believed that he could treat and cure disease through chiropractic therapies.  This, of course, made him more likely to believe all sorts of crazy things.  He was a fan of homeopathy, and thought that herbal and vitamin therapy was also curative.  I remember when my grandmother, his mother, was moved to an assisted care facility, he showed up with a gigantic ziploc bag full of bottles of pills made from things like cow urine.  He gave the bag to the nurses and instructed them to dispense them to my grandmother with her meals.  While we were standing in the hallway outside my grandmother’s room, he held his hand out straight towards me in the air with his fingers extended, and explained that he could diagnose which parts of the body were causing problems by which fingers trembled.

My uncle was diagnosed with colon cancer.  They caught it early, and it very likely could have been “cured,” if that’s the appropriate word, by a combination of surgery and chemotherapy.  Instead, he elected to treat himself through a combination of chiropractic, a juice diet, and the aforementioned herbal and vitamin supplements.  He died within a year of diagnosis.  I am still uncertain how I feel about the whole thing.  On the one hand, this was his choice.  Presented with the options of scientifically and medically sound treatments, or total bullshit, he went with the bullshit.  I get it with him.  He was in his sixties at the time, and his entire adult life and sense of himself was based on chiropractic treatment being legitimate and respectable.  On the other hand, he pushed this stuff on other people.  Other people who looked at him in his white doctor coat as a figure of authority, and who likely believed him when he said that he could cure what ailed them.

Apparently Jobs ended up regretting that he didn’t turn to traditional surgical and medical treatments earlier.  It’s a little mind-boggling to me when someone who is so clearly intelligent engages in such destructive magical thinking.  It makes me wonder how many people have died much earlier than they should have, because of irrational beliefs in quack treatments.

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