New Zealand Herald columnist and young cancer survivor Jake Bailey speaks out on his sadness at people with highly treatable cancers dying after rejecting conventional medicine to try alternative medicine first.

My chemotherapy in 2015 and 2016 left me with something called ‘peripheral neuropathy’, a fancy term for nerve damage in my legs.

Chemotherapy works on the principle of killing things that are growing in your body (preferably the cancer, but also stuff like hair), and unfortunately nerves fall into that category.

It doesn’t affect all chemo patients, but a good number. It meant that I couldn’t walk properly for a few months, because the messages from my brain weren’t getting to my legs.

Nerve damage is an area where medicine doesn’t really have a solution. I was told that my nerves may heal, or they may not, and it was a waiting game to find out. Nerves are one of the slowest growing parts of a body, so it was a long waiting game. In that time, my family and I consulted with my doctors and assessed what alternative treatments I could safely have.

After seeing a naturopath, I was given a bunch of supplements to take – nothing particularly unusual, just things like folic acid, vitamin B, a few others. Long story short, my legs improved, and are now back to 100 per cent. Now we’ll never know if the ‘natural medicine’ played a part in that, or whether it would have healed regardless. I’m glad I took them either way.

Some of the biggest highlights of my work are the connections I get to make with the people I meet. It’s such an honour to be able to share my story, and to hear other people’s stories in return. Those stories are often about cancer, and often situations that are still ongoing at the time.

Over the past few years, I’ve had a handful of people reach out to me with stories involving patients being encouraged to, and deciding to deny clinical treatment for cancer, to instead trial alternative medicine first. Not after, not during, but instead of chemotherapy or radiation.

To put it bluntly, people are trying to beat cancer with alternative medicine, and are dying in the process.

A cursory Google search found two cases this year in New Zealand and that is only the people who have gone to the media. I would imagine the true number would easily be in double figures. It is a hidden issue in our country.

I am personally aware of people who were diagnosed with highly treatable cancers, ones they most likely could have beaten, and who died because they went against all medical advice and reason. I’m not able to give specific details of the situations out of respect, but I’ve had several messages on my Facebook page in recent years along these lines.

These people truly believed they could beat their cancers by cutting out sugar, or meat, or by drinking juices. And it leaves me both irate and desolate, because it plays on my conscience.

At the core of this issue are naturopaths, like the ones I went to, who more often than not are the ones perpetuating these treatments to cancer patients. Not all naturopaths, but some.

In New Zealand, unlike in many other countries, naturopaths need no qualifications, training, or regulation. Anyone can be a naturopath – I am, you are (put that on your CV), your neighbour is. If you want to call yourself a naturopath, you can.

I see no fault in naturopathy as a field. It generally does no harm; it often does benefit. Naturopaths have helped me, my family, people I know, with their treatments. But the fact that they face no regulation is dangerous.

Even the New Zealand Society of Naturopaths is asking the government for regulation. But nothing is happening, they’re not being given it, and misled people are dying.

Why is the government not stepping in and taking some ownership?

Their role is to care for the vulnerable, and anyone who can be misled into trying fruit juice enemas to cure their life-threatening disease, instead of proven science, is certainly vulnerable. It’s time that regulations was placed around naturopaths to prevent any attempts to treat life-threatening illness, unless it is in conjunction with medically recommended treatment.

Undeniably, there is huge benefit in building up stores of vitamins and minerals through living a healthy lifestyle. While your naturopath won’t be able to cure your cancer, they may be able to reduce the chances of you getting cancer – but then again, you can do this yourself just by living a healthy lifestyle.

So once more, I don’t have an issue with alternative medicine. I’ve used it, I think it might have worked for me. I would seek it out again in the correct circumstances. Feel free to try it yourself, but not if your life depends on it.

Try it in conjunction with the recommended treatment for cancer, try it if there’s no other option, do not try it if the doctors are telling you to do something else instead.

The time for alternative medicine is when all alternatives are exhausted. When medicine has no solutions to offer.

Because if medicine still has solutions to offer, it does so because they work. They are proven. They used to be called ‘alternative medicine’, and now that we know they work, they’re called ‘medicine’.

The newfound trend of people deciding they know more about medicine than their doctors do is mindboggling.

I’ll stay away from talking about anti-vaxers. I can’t imagine what it must be like for the doctors, knowing they could save lives if it weren’t for brainwashing and misinformation. I find it hard enough just reading messages from these people who are committing suicide by naivety.


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