Life and death lessons from Stephanie Lee

Every once in a while, mainstream media surprises us with a tale that digs deep enough into reality to offer a true glimpse of what a patient really goes through as they undergo conventional cancer treatments.

Over the past couple of years writers from Esquire magazine (yes, Esquire magazine) have compassionately and closely followed the journey of Stephanie Lee, who died last year from “complications related to” her bout with colon cancer—complications we feel, along with the authors of the article, that were more related to the standard of care she received.

If you haven’t listened to the recently-released podcast detailing this struggle, you can check it out for free here or play it now here:

The podcast features original audio recordings of Stephanie as she expressed both her acceptance of her condition and despaired over frustration with medical procedures done to her for no good reason. Also, if you have time we would encourage you to read these two articles:

(Part one) Patient Zero

(Part two) The Death of Stephanie Lee, Patient Zero

Radiation had made her intestines nearly useless, while antibiotics used to treat hospital infections had killed off her body’s good gut flora and made way for an infection of C. Difficile to return with savage strength. A specialist in fecal transplants had been brought into reseed this flora by pumping healthy excrement into her stomach.

And this was the beginning of the “personalized medicine” she would receive. This “fecal transplant” would help make her body well enough to move into the specialized medicine that might help her. This personalized medicine would theoretically address and target her particular cancer without doing as much harm as chemo and radiation.

It was the most cutting-edge cancer treatment available at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York and, presumably, was the most cutting-edge cancer treatment in the world.

But the first obstacle was getting past the damage caused by the methods her first doctor used on her.

With her colon blocked from the earlier radiation to the delicate tissues in her GI tract, the doctors would need to feed the tube into her nostrils, snake it down her esophagus and feed her stomach and intestines with the bacteria that would fight back the C. Difficile infection that threatened to kill her.

A shout out to Esquire’s honesty about cancer

This is the kind of honest reporting on cancer and treatments we appreciate and rarely see. It simultaneously celebrates positive advancements in conventional medicine (we applaud anyone who wants to establish healthy gut flora and target cancer cells without harming the body) while also showing how destructive a misguided treatment can be to a cancer patient.

If you’re considering radiation as part of your treatment plan, please consider that the American Society of Clinical Oncology says radiation is ‘rarely used’ for the treatment of colon cancer, and long before she died, Stephanie Lee learned firsthand how radiation had the exact opposite effect on her cancer.

Here’s an excerpt from the latest Esquire piece:

She was not simply sick. Her CEA count—the most useful blood marker for colon cancer—had dropped to nineteen when she visited Palm Beach. By the end of April 2014, it had climbed back to eighty-six. A scan revealed a blockage in her descending colon, which Dr. Roberts proposed to treat with radiation and as much chemotherapy as she could tolerate.She feared the chemotherapy. But Dr. Roberts assured her that the radiation would have minimal side effects and help with her pain. Without delay, he scheduled five consecutive treatments for her with only a weekend's respite, and after the first one, Stephanie told Mark that it wasn't so bad: “You just lie down in a darkened room with a ceiling illuminated like the night sky, and the stars are so pretty.”She completed the radiation therapy on May 13, but the pain didn't go away or relent. Itintensified. It began to crumple her and torture her and reduce her at night to a shuddering heap, curled in the fetal position on the bathroom floor… [We] were surprised to hear from Ross Cagan that Randy Holcombe had strongly disapproved of Dr. Roberts's decision to irradiate Stephanie’s abdomen and was, in fact, “ranting” about it. We were surprised when we visited Dr. Holcombe to hear him tell Stephanie that “radiation to the abdomen is pretty toxic,” and he believed that “a lot of your symptoms are related to the radiation.” Radiation inflames, radiation scars, radiation creates adhesions, radiation damages nerves and blood vessels, radiation wreaks such havoc on abdominal tissues that it works best when shrinking tissues due to be excised surgically. Not only does radiation rarely offer a benefit commensurate with its potential for damage, worst of all, it’s irreversible. Indeed, the American Society of Clinical Oncology has said that radiation is “rarely used” for the treatment of colon cancer, although there are “specific situations when a doctor may recommend it.” And there, that afternoon at Sinai, Dr. Holcombe said, “I haven't given radiation for colon cancer in years. It's not something I normally do. Because this is what happens. People get really sick.”

Why this particular piece caught our attention

We recently spent a week with Dr. Josh Axe, Donna Gates and Dr. Eric Zielinski who attracted more than 30 of the most celebrated natural medicine experts on gut health in the world. There we heard from a number of voices linking the body’s natural cancer-fighting ability back to gut health.

And that’s when we remembered the heart-wrenching story of Stephanie Lee whose gut health and immune system were decimated by treatment long before she ever had a chance to fight back.

We were glad to read that the top oncologists and their professional societies do not agree with the type of treatment given to Stephanie early in her diagnosis. Unfortunately for her and so many others, there are still cancer-treatment centers practicing what even their own peers in the medical community are calling barbaric.

Stephanie’s fight is over, but ours is not

Many people who visit Cancer Tutor have either undergone or are considering conventional treatment options. Even if you decide on this path in consultation with your doctor, we believe that much of the information you can find here will help you tolerate conventional treatment and will also aid your body as it rebuilds from chemotherapy and radiation.

The story of Stephanie Lee tells us many things. It reminds us that our health is more in our hands and determined by our decisions than that of the medical community. We’re reminded that our bodies have an amazing capacity for healing if given the chance. And we’re taught to take a breath long enough to educate ourselves on ALL of our options.

No one has a corner on the market when it comes to cancer. There’s no silver bullet. But in our desperation to be rid of the death sentence we’ve been taught cancer to be, we throw ourselves at the mercy of the professionals without considering the consequences. And, in many cases, this makes cancer more dangerous than ever.