Can optimism beat modern medicine?

On the weekend it was announced that 30-year-old ‘Wellness Warrior’ Jess Ainscough died after a seven-year battle with a rare shoulder sarcoma. Whilst this is a very devastating story, it has led some to wonder whether her death could have been preventable. You see, Jess insisted on holistic methods instead of chemotherapy or amputation.

Jess was a lively 22-year-old – beautiful, intelligent, with the world at her feet. Then she was diagnosed with a rare type of cancer; a tumour in her shoulder. She was given an option to have chemotherapy or to have a disfiguring operation that would remove her arm as well as the entire shoulder and shoulder blade. She chose neither and set forth on a series of controversial therapies, including Gerson therapy which involves coffee enemas. In a very sad message on her website last year, Jess said:

This year absolutely brought me to my knees. I’ve been challenged, frightened, and cracked open in ways I never had before. After my mum died at the end of last year, my heart was shattered and it’s still in a million pieces. I had no idea how to function without her, and it turns out my body didn’t either. For the first time in my almost seven year journey with cancer, this year I’ve been really unwell. I’ve lived with cancer since 2008 and for most of those years my condition was totally stable. When my mum became really ill, my cancer started to become aggressive again. After she died, things really started flaring up.

I’ve had scans to detect what’s going on in my body, and I can report that the disease is still contained to my left arm and shoulder, however I do have a big fungating tumour mass in that shoulder that’s causing me dramas. Over 10 months of non-stop bleeding from the armpit has rendered me really weak (and uncomfortable) and as a result I’ve had no choice but to stop absolutely everything and rest.

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Dr David Gorski, a cancer surgeon who writes for Scienceblogs, had been following Jess’ case and he has some strong opinions about her choice to go to alternative therapies route, or what he calls “quackery”. He believes that Jess lived for 7 years after diagnosis not because of her strict diet and reliance on fruit and vege juices, but because most people with her rare form of cancer do live past the five-year mark, on average. He said, “Epithelioid sarcoma is not among the most aggressive of sarcomas. Its ten year survival overall…for patients between 17 and 30 years (i.e., patients like Jessica Ainscough), [is] approximately 72%. Of course, that is with treatment with surgery; without surgery, five year survival is 35% and ten year survival is 33%…What this further implies, given that Ainscough never underwent surgery, is that she was lucky enough to be in this group. In other words, she’s another case in which the quackery didn’t save her; she was fortunate enough to have slowly progressing disease”.

Blogger Rosalie Hilleman wrote just last week that she believed Jess Ainscough was “lying to herself, lying to her followers, lying to the public about her situation and deliberately hiding the truth of her condition. This can not continue, she is influencing people’s health and cancer treatment choices by misleading them. It is unconscionable”. Is this too harsh?

Another sad fact of Jess’s untimely death was that she had to ultimately admit that her natural treatments did not work. But that isn’t to say that they don’t fundamentally work – because many people have found solace and healing in natural therapies – it just seems like common sense to do what doctors say is right – would you agree? Or should you be in charge of your own health?

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Jess’s own mother died of breast cancer last year after refusing breast cancer treatment, instead using Gerson therapy, which ultimately (and needlessly) took her life.

These are just two cases of people who have chosen alternatives to modern medicine, with many more going against doctor’s orders to stay in control of their health. Apple boss Steve Jobs infamously chose not to have life-saving surgery on a tumour in his pancreas. He had a 95 per cent chance of surviving but he took the other route.


It’s a complicated topic, but what do you think? Share your thoughts below.