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Suzanne Somers’ fishy “whole body cancer” scare

I hadn’t planned on writing about Suzanne Somers again so soon. After all, I haven’t yet received the promotional copy of her book (Knockout: Interviews with Doctors Who Are Curing Cancer–And How to Prevent Getting It in the First Place) that a most generous reader has sent to me, and I didn’t think I’d have a chance until a few days after the book arrived. However, something’s been bothering me since yesterday’s post, and it’s bothering me enough that I think it deserves a followup post of its own. I alluded to it briefly during part of my post, but I really think it’s something to be explored in a little more depth, particularly since Chapter 1 of Knockout is available online. Also, look again (if you can stand it) or for the first time at Somers’ interview with Ann Curry:

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In Chapter 1, Somers describes a cancer scare. Specifically, she describes an incident in which she was brought to the hospital with what sounds like an anaphylactic reaction of some sort and was misdiagnosed with what she calls “full body cancer.” Now, I don’t know what “full body cancer” is, but I do know what full body stupid is, and Somers has it in spades.

Be that as it may, I do want to say right here that I’m not referring to Somers’ “full body stupid” because of her misdiagnosis. It’s quite possible that she was misdiagnosed with widespread metastasis from her breast cancer. I also don’t want to under estimate how much it probably scared her. Imagine yourself having survived breast cancer and then, eight years later, being admitted to a hospital for something else and being told that you had widespread metastases. It’s a horrible thing, if it really happened the way Somers said it happened.

Color me somewhat skeptical, however. Certain elements of Somers’ whole story sound a bit fishy. Moreover, note how, on the interview, Somers declines to identify the hospital. Right at the outset, I wondered why that is and see a couple of likely reasons. First, she’s scared of being sued. Of course, if you’re a celebrity and the truth is on your side you probably don’t have much worry about being sued. In such a case, it’s far more likely that the entity suing would get the worst of it, at least as far as negative publicity. More likely, Somers knows that, whatever hospital she had been admitted to and whatever doctors had cared for her, patient confidentiality and HIPAA law prevents the hospital and doctors from discussing her case–or even admitting that Somers was a patient. Indeed, neither the hospital nor any of the health care professionals involved with Somers care can discuss her case without her explicit permission. Their hands are completely tied, and Somers can say whatever she wants without fear that anyone will contradict her. That’s why it disturbs me that no one who has interviewed Somers yet has asked her a handful of very obvious–and inconvenient–questions, namely:

  • At what hospital were you hospitalized and when?
  • Who were your doctors?
  • Will you release some of your medical records and allow your doctors to speak about your hospitalization?
  • If not, why not?

These are questions that need be asked in addition to questions about Somers’ support for Nicholas Gonzalez, whose pancreatic cancer “protocol” was recently shown to be worse than useless.

Now, on to the story:

I wake up. I can’t breathe. I am choking, being strangled to death; it feels like there are two hands around my neck squeezing tighter and tighter. My body is covered head to toe with welts and a horrible rash: the itching and burning is unbearable.

The rash is in my ears, in my nose, in my vagina, on the bottoms of my feet, everywhere — under my arms, my scalp, the back of my neck. Every single inch of my body is covered with welts except my face. I don’t know why. I struggle to the telephone and call one of the doctors I trust. I start to tell him what is happening, and he stops me: “You are in danger. Go to the hospital right now.” I knew it. I could feel that my breath was running out.

Right off the bat, to me this sounds like an allergic reaction to something or an anaphylactic reaction. It could be something else (more later), but the first thing that comes to mind is an allergic reaction. Indeed, upon hearing this story, I couldn’t help but wonder if one of the many supplements that Somers takes on a routine basis was the cause. Did she start any new supplements recently? Certainly I’d wonder about that. Regardless of the initial cause, it certainly sounded as though the E.R. docs thought she had some sort of allergic reaction going. They treated her appropriately with Benadryl, Albuterol, and steroids. Even someone as dim as Somers realized that:

I say to the doctor, “It seems to me that I’ve either been poisoned or am having some kind of serious allergic reaction to something. I mean, doesn’t that make sense? The rash, the strangling, the asphyxiation. Sounds classic, doesn’t it?”

“We don’t know. A CAT scan will tell us. I really recommend you do this,” the doctor says. “Next time you might not be so lucky — you might not get here in time. You were almost out.”

Why the doctor insisted on a CT scan, who knows? I don’t, and certainly Somers doesn’t give enough information for me to make a particularly educated guess. A CT scan is not generally the test of choice for diagnosing the cause of anaphylaxis or respiratory distress, which is what it sure sounds as though she was being treated for. Maybe doctors saw a mass on chest X-ray. Who knows? It doesn’t make a lot of sense. There may have been other findings on physical examination that suggested that a CT scan might be indicated. Again, in this chapter, at least, Somers doesn’t give us enough information to judge. She does, however, engage in typical pseudoscientific thinking. While acknowledging that those evil pharmaceuticals had saved her life, still she can’t help but hate on them:

I am now dressed in a blue hospital gown, and so far I’ve been reinforced by three rounds of oxygen and albuterol. I’m starting to feel normal again. Drugs have been my lifesaver this time. This is what they are for. Knowing the toxicity of all chemical drugs, I’ve already started thinking about the supplement regime and detox treatments I’ll have when I get out of here, to get all the residue of pharmaceuticals out of me. I’m hopeful this will be the one and only time I have to resort to Western drugs.

Remember, whenever you hear an alt-med maven say “Western medicine” (shades of Bill Maher!), what that alt-med maven is really referring to is science-based medicine. As for supplements, if they have anything in them that does anything physiological, they contain drugs. There is no difference between drugs found in pharmaceuticals and drugs found in supplements, other than that the drugs found in supplements are adulterated with all sorts of stuff. There is no magical difference between the two. They both contain chemicals, and the body responds to chemicals through its biochemistry. Nothing makes supplements magically immune to the laws of physics and chemistry. Moreover, “detox” treatments are completely unnecessary quackery. Somers’ body is more than capable of “detoxing” away those evil “Western” pharmaceuticals through its own amazing abilities. Somers appears to think that “Western” pharmaceuticals somehow leave their taint behind. Maybe she thinks the proteins in her body have a “memory” in the same way that homeopaths claim that water has “memory” and that the taint has to be somehow purged, just as a Catholic believes that confession purges sins or certain Muslim sects think that self-flagellation will purge them of their evil. It really is religious thinking, that Somers was somehow “contaminated” by “Western” pharmaceuticals and needs to have that “contamination” removed.

But I digress. So what did the CT scan find? This, apparently:

We have very bad news,” he continued. My heart started pounding, like it was jumping out of my chest. “You have a mass in your lung; it looks like the cancer has metastasized to your liver. We don’t know what is wrong with your liver, but it is so enlarged that it is filling your entire abdomen. You have so many tumors in your chest we can’t count them, and they all have masses in them, and you have a blood clot, and you have pneumonia. So we are going to check you into the hospital and start treating the blood clot because that will kill you first.”

Now, we already know that Somers did not, in fact, have cancer. I’ll get to that shortly. In the meantime, let’s take a look at what she says about her oncologist:

The oncologist comes into my room. He has the bedside manner of a moose: no compassion, no tenderness, no cautious approach. He sits in the chair with his arms folded defensively.

“You’ve got cancer. I just looked at your CAT scan and it’s everywhere,” he says matter-of-factly.

“Everywhere?” I ask, stunned. “Everywhere?”

“Everywhere,” he states, like he’s telling me he got tickets to the Lakers game. “Your lungs, your liver, tumors around your heart … I’ve never seen so much cancer.”

So the oncologist who saw Somers first was a world-class dick. It’s quite possible. Not every doctor has a good bedside manner, and some have a horrendous bedside manner. Sadly, some of them are oncologists, even though if there’s a specialty that really needs a good bedside manner, it’s that of medical oncologist. On the other hand, I just learned again not too long ago that the oncologist may not have been as bad as that, if my recent experience was any indication. A while back, I saw a patient with breast cancer in her hospital room, a woman I had operated on. I thought I had calmly laid out the situation, reassured her that her tumor was treatable, and told her that she might not need chemotherapy. About an hour later I got a frantic page from the floor. The patient was in tears, and the family was in an uproar. I don’t know how I had done it, but I had somehow given this patient the impression that her situation was hopeless. When her family arrived to take her home she was crying. Apparently she had interpreted my telling her that she might not need chemotherapy (mainly because of her age and tumor characteristics) as telling her that it was pointless to treat her more. I relearned a valuable lesson that day, one I need to relearn occasionally, unfortunately, namely that patients don’t always interpret what I tell them the way I think they will and that sometimes how I view a conversation may be very different than how the patient viewed the conversation. Fortunately, I was able to reassure everyone and correct the misconceptions that had been left, but I did not feel too good about my bedside manner that day. In fact, I felt for a while like the worst doctor in the world.

On the other hand, let’s just assume that Somers’ oncologist was a flaming asshole. it’s the worst case for “Western medicine” and it is not as uncommon as I’d like to admit. Besides, it’s easier. In that case, I’d say, “So what?” I’m sorry that her oncologist was a jerk. There’s no excuse for that. However, one nasty doctor does not invalidate “Western medicine,” nor does the occurrence of a misdiagnosis.

In any case, it’s quite possible that there was a bit of Somers hearing things one way when her doctors weren’t telling it the way she interpreted them as telling her. The reason I say that is because she goes on and on about how, over six days, doctors told her she needed chemotherapy, something that seemed quite unlikely to me when I read the story. The reason is that, in general, oncologists are very reluctant to give chemotherapy to someone without a definite tissue diagnosis proving that they have cancer, be it metastatic cancer or any cancer. This is doubly true in a case like what Somers describes in her book. Widespread cancer could be a recurrence of her breast cancer (especially given Somers’ proclivity to pump herself full of “bioidentical hormones” after having been treated for an estrogen receptor-positive cancer), but in a 63-year-old woman, there are lots of other possible malignancies. What would be used for breast cancer might not work very well against, say, colon cancer or ovarian cancer, another likely possibility. Another reason I seriously question whether doctors were pushing hard for chemotherapy in a mere six days is because, if they truly thought she had such a massively widespread recurrence of her breast cancer, particularly an estrogen receptor-positive breast cancer, all treatment would be palliative. Consequently, the first rule is to do as little as possible to relieve symptoms. Most likely, an oncologist would have chosen to treat Somers first with an anti-estrogen drug, probably an aromatase inhibitor (no Tamoxifen if she had blood clots causing that much trouble!) and then seen how she did. Chemotherapy would be reserved for the case in which antiestrogen therapy failed. It might not even be used at all if the likelihood of success is tiny; in such cases, hospice would be recommended.

But the first thing that any competent oncologist would demand is a tissue diagnosis, either from a needle biopsy or other tissue, to prove that there was cancer and to identify the type of cancer, so that the correct chemotherapy could chosen. As I said, there’s something very fishy about Somers’ story. It just doesn’t add up very well. What I suspect to have happened is that perhaps the oncologist did have a conversation about a probable need for chemotherapy, and, like my conversation with my postoperative patient, Somers saw the conversation differently from how her doctors did. She probably viewed various “what if” conversations or “if this is recurrent breast cancer, then you will need this” conversations as “pressuring” her to take chemotherapy. If her oncologist wasn’t particularly warm and fuzzy and patient, she might have interpreted his recommendations that way even more.

Ultimately, Somers did get a biopsy. She describes it in her interview above, “They cut into my neck and went in and took a piece of my lung, a piece of one of the so-called tumors around my heart turned out it was not cancer at all.”

So what was it? Well, as I said before, I guess I’ll have to wait until the book arrives to find out. My first guess, though, was sarcoidosis, likely with a pneumonia complicating it. Even though she’s on the old side for a first presentation of sarcoidosis, which usually hits people between 20-40, in retrospect Somers’ presentation was pretty classic, as this article shows:

What are symptoms of sarcoidosis?

Shortness of breath (dyspnea) and a cough that won’t go away can be among the first symptoms of sarcoidosis. But sarcoidosis can also show up suddenly with the appearance of skin rashes. Red bumps (erythema nodosum) on the face, arms, or shins and inflammation of the eyes are also common symptoms.

It is not unusual, however, for sarcoidosis symptoms to be more general. Weight loss, fatigue, night sweats, fever, or just an overall feeling of ill health can also be clues to the disease.

Those tumors around Somers’ heart? They were probably enlarged hilar lymph nodes, which are classic for sarcoidosis, which can also be associated with shortness of breath. I could, of course, be wrong. I’ll find out soon enough. Or maybe not. It wouldn’t surprise me if Somers never tells her readers exactly what she had–or even knows exactly what she had. From what I can gather she appears to have had a blood clot, which made the E.R. docs worry about a pulmonary embolus, and she had all these masses “around her heart,” as well as an enlarged liver. Sarcoidosis may account for it, but there are certainly other possibilities to account for the apparent misdiagnosis.In the meantime, while I await the arrival of Knockout (of my neurons), perhaps my internal medicine colleagues could weigh in on the differential diagnosis of Somers’ presentation as reported in her book. As I sometimes say with false modesty, I’m just a dumb surgeon.

Whatever Somers had, I guess we can blame an oncologist with a bad bedside manner, doctors too quick to leap in and tell her she had widespread metastatic cancer before getting a tissue diagnosis, and what appears to be an understandable (at least initially) misdiagnosis for her latest book. Of all the people this sort of thing had to happen to, it had to happen to someone who is so prone to pseudoscience that she saw this all as a validation that her distrust of “Western medicine” must be right and that all those “brave maverick doctors” who are allegedly “curing cancer” must be right. The result is a book that lionizes quacks like Nicholas Gonzalez under the guise of bringing “hope” to cancer patients.

I’m beginning to ask myself if I really want to go through with my project of blogging this book, but I’ll steel myself up and do it–again, at least as long as my sanity can handle it. Hopefully I’ll finish my project by Thanksgiving. The things I do for my readers. Or to my readers. I haven’t quite made up my mind about that.

ADDENDUM: Don’t forget, send some “inconvenient questions” to Larry King Live. Somers is going to be appearing on the show on Friday night. Chief among them: Will you release some of your medical records or give your physicians permission to speak about your diagnosis and treatment? My guess is that what Somers understood of her treatment and diagnosis is related to her actual diagnosis and treatment mainly by coincidence.

By Orac

Orac is the nom de blog of a humble surgeon/scientist who has an ego just big enough to delude himself that someone, somewhere might actually give a rodent's posterior about his copious verbal meanderings, but just barely small enough to admit to himself that few probably will. That surgeon is otherwise known as David Gorski.

That this particular surgeon has chosen his nom de blog based on a rather cranky and arrogant computer shaped like a clear box of blinking lights that he originally encountered when he became a fan of a 35 year old British SF television show whose special effects were renowned for their BBC/Doctor Who-style low budget look, but whose stories nonetheless resulted in some of the best, most innovative science fiction ever televised, should tell you nearly all that you need to know about Orac. (That, and the length of the preceding sentence.)

DISCLAIMER:: The various written meanderings here are the opinions of Orac and Orac alone, written on his own time. They should never be construed as representing the opinions of any other person or entity, especially Orac's cancer center, department of surgery, medical school, or university. Also note that Orac is nonpartisan; he is more than willing to criticize the statements of anyone, regardless of of political leanings, if that anyone advocates pseudoscience or quackery. Finally, medical commentary is not to be construed in any way as medical advice.

To contact Orac: [email protected]

127 replies on “Suzanne Somers’ fishy “whole body cancer” scare”

Hopefully she’ll get cancer and learn firsthand just how “effective” her recommended treatments are…

As I commented in the other thread yesterday, I heard her for about 30 secs on Thom Hartmann. Barf.

Her problem, apparently, is that “Western medicine” doctors won’t lie to her and assure her that they can “cure” her cancer.

Meanwhile, given what we know about Dr Nick, apparently the good thing about the doctors in her book is that they WILL lie to her.

Western medicine – is that when you bite down on a leather strap while Tex digs a bullet out of your side with a Bowie knife?

Also, Somers’ story is more than fishy. It’s rotting corpse of a beached blue whale-y.

Just an aside, as a student going into emergency med.
One of the more common reasons we CT someone who is in respiratory distress is concern for pulmonary embolism. I’ve noticed though that in a patient who is less of a clear slam dunk “anaphylaxis or allergic reaction” patient who is wheezing (especially unilaterally), index of suspicion for PE goes up. I suspect her presentation was less classic than she’s saying on TV now. Patients almost never are as straight forward as they say they were later!

“Hopefully she’ll get cancer and learn firsthand just how “effective” her recommended treatments are…”
NO please – that’s a horrible thing to wish on anybody. What I’d like her to get is something non-terminal but chronic and which can only be helped by so-called “Western” medicine. Since I have tachycardia, that would be my choice – only beta-blockers and (in some cases) surgery work with that.

Hopefully she’ll get cancer and learn firsthand just how “effective” her recommended treatments are…

That never works. Steve McQueen’s cancer was “cured” and he died of something else. Christine Maggiore didn’t have AIDS; she died of community acquired pneumonia. The pseudoscientists are brilliant post-hoc explainers.

Saying you hope someone gets cancer makes you sound like you can’t manage your anger. It’s a little scary being around such people.

I am angry about medical misinformation that harms patients. But I don’t wish for anyone to get cancer.

“Full body cancer” would imply that every cell in your body was cancerous — or, that you yourself were in fact a cancerous tumor.

So yeah… Suzanne Somers a cancer on society? Sounds like the docs made the right diagnosis after all…

Coincidentally, I was looking up business info on Somers’ company, which is listed as being in Marina del Rey; I think she lives in Malibu.It’s *just* possible that the hospital was in Santa Monica.Not exactly the third world.

Whitecoat Tales gives an interesting hypothesis for why a CT scan was ordered, but there may even be a simpler explanation: It’s conceivable the hospital just got a new toy and some doctor had a hard-on to use it. That kind of crap is not at all unheard of, unfortunately…

Speaking as a complete amateur, one of the most startling revelations (for me) from the rise of SBM is the idea that sometimes screening/diagnosis/monitoring can be a bad thing, statistically speaking. I suspect it will take some time for the medical community to fully wrap its collective head around such a counter-intuitive idea. (It’s certainly taking me some time to wrap my head around it!)

Hopefully she’ll get cancer …

I thought she already DID have cancer? And she doesn’t anymore, due to those evil Western medicine doctors who never cure anyone…

Well one things for certain, These celeb’s sure get a lot of great book publicity regardless of content.
Must drive real writers nuts (keep in mind that these types do not really write the book, thier agent usually finds them someone who can actually write).
Similar to when they begin dabling in painting in thier spare time, thier paintings are often good sellers because its not the content of the painting (althought Jonathan Winter’s has produced some pretty good art) it is the celebrity whom painted that is the draw.

That being said, its free country and your allowed to take really bad information and advice and kill yourself and your family with it. Maybe this is part of the evolutionary process to thin out the herd a bit.

There was a time when alternative medicine was merely to get a second opinion from another doctor (preferably a specialist).

Orac: “Those tumors around Somers’ heart? They were probably enlarged hilar lymph nodes, which are classic for sarcoidosis.”

This could have been the case. However, I’ve never ever heard of enlarged hilar lymph nodes being described (to a patient or among doctors) as “tumors around the heart”.

I suspect the doctors at the hospital where she was seen for “full body cancer” are now receiving therapy for ocular damage sustained due to uncontrollable eye-rolling after hearing her account. Whatever the real story is, it’s very unlikely to closely resemble what Somers is claiming.

The part about “detoxing” her body from the drugs that apparently just saved her life is hilarious, though.

James Sweet:
The concept of screening tests seems like a great one, but a good screening test is actually very hard to achieve. Briefly (and non-mathematically) the characteristics of an ideal screening test:
1. Sensitive – able to pick up most or all cases
2. Specific – able to pick up cases without falsely identifying normals as positive
3. verifying the positives should be low-risk
4. they should indentify a diagnosis that can be treated effectively
5. the screening test should be risk-free, easy to administer, and inexpensive.

Most proposed screening tests fail on one or more of these requirements.

Pablo #2 – I listened to that whole nauseating interview. At one point I actually thought Hartmann was going to call her on her bullshit, but I was sadly mistaken. She made the comment that in Europe men are not treated for prostate cancer, to which Thom responded with an incredulous, “What?!” But that was as far as his skepticism went. She went on to say (I’m paraphrasing here) that men with prostate cancer in Europe are just given testosterone and because that’s what the cancer wants…if we can just find out what the cancer wants and give it to the cancer then everything will be hunky-dory. I don’t think I have ever felt so strong a desire to go all Office Space on my radio until she hit my airwaves. Needless to say, my respect for Hartmann has slipped tremendously.

However, I’ve never ever heard of enlarged hilar lymph nodes being described (to a patient or among doctors) as “tumors around the heart”.

I don’t see that as a problem, given that it’s only Suzanne’s story that they were so described. And given the possibilities of incorrect memory (perhaps exacerbated by attitude) and/or ‘artistic’ license in Suzanne presenting things more firmly than they actually were said, I find it hard to consider that as solid evidence.

I suspect the doctors at the hospital where she was seen for “full body cancer” are now receiving therapy for ocular damage sustained due to uncontrollable eye-rolling after hearing her account. Whatever the real story is, it’s very unlikely to closely resemble what Somers is claiming.

That’s why it would be so interesting to hear their side of the story. I gotta admit, though, I’m not optimistic. I can’t imagine her identifyng the hospital or doctors, or releasing her medical records. The truth might actually come out, which would make the stories in her book questionable.

Good grief, I keep deleting half my comments today. This should have been the other half of #16:

So I don’t see why you saw the need to raise this objection, given that you clearly recognize that Suzanne’s story is unlikely to be accurate.

I don’t think I have ever felt so strong a desire to go all Office Space on my radio until she hit my airwaves. Needless to say, my respect for Hartmann has slipped tremendously.

And to think just a week or two ago, he had Richard Dawkins on (and it was a good interview). Of course, as I noted at the time, only 1/2 hour before, Hartmann commented how he doesn’t trust giving vaccines to kids

Someone fill me in on “bioidentical hormones” – is it just newspeak for artificial hormones?

Yes, I was pleasantly surprised by Hartmann’s interview of Dawkins given his (Hartmann’s) spirituality. A year or two ago when he was interviewing the guy from Freethought Radio (I think…it’s been a while) Hartmann was almost hostile. Used to be I could just ignore him when he spouted woo, but after the Somers interview I’ve hit my limit. I’m done. I’m switching my radio back to music for a while.

Somers’ comments about prostate cancer treatment in Europe are based on a real difference, but then go off into Bizarro World. In Europe, low grade prostate cancers in men older than a certain age are managed by “watchful waiting”, rather than prostatectomy, since the rationale is that the patient is likely going to die of some other natural cause before the cancer progresses. I would expect that cancer in a younger person, or a higher grade cancer would be treated more aggressively. And treating prostate cancer with testosterone would be exactly the WRONG thing to do. Prostate cancer is testosterone dependent. Advanced cases are treated with testosterone antagonists!
I’m making these statements without having viewed the interview (I had a good breakfast and I don’t want to lose it) and not having more than a general knowledge of urologic oncology in Europe or the USA. If I’m wrong, I welcome corrections.

Anyway, since when did Hollywood become a Center of Medical Excellence?

Yes, “Bioidentical” is just newspeak for synthetic hormones. The “bioidentical” just refers to a hormone that is produced by the human body. So it’s hormone replacement therapy under a fancy name that lets the manufacturer charge a premium for dirt-cheap generic hormone. Needless to say, hanging the “bioidentical” label on a hormone doesn’t eliminate its side effects, and estrogen is the very last thing that somebody who has had an estrogen-sensitive tumor should be taking.

But of course, it is an article of faith among the woo-full that all hazards of drugs derive from their “unnatural” nature, so there’s no way a “bioidentical” hormone can hurt you

@trrll: Thank you.

I guess I should be positively surprised – I’ve encountered more than one woo-woo who believed the very same chemical to be good if made in a plant or animal but evil if made in a lab.

Dear Suzane;

Das scientific und medizin is nicht fur gefingerpoken and mittengrabben. Ist easy der misversten unt schnappen, blowenfusn und poppencorken mit speizensparken. Das rubbernecken sightseeren musten keepen das cotton-pickenen mund shuten and relaxen und jus watchen das blinkenlights!

The above pig german warning is a veriation on a similar message once displayed on the front panel of my SEM

If it was sarcoidosis presenting in such a dramatic & potentially organ-threatening fashion, doesn;t it seem likely that methotrexate plus steroids would be a pretty standard treatment recommendation?
Maybe someone tried to explain methotrexate as a chemo drug and she heard that through the filter of her own woo-soaked beliefs. I could see docs trying pretty hard to convince someone they needed to take a serious medication for their potentially life-threatening disease.

James F, there’s a whole lot of stupid in that link. When Sean Hannity is the most reasonable voice in a YouTube clip…I don’t even know how to finish that sentence.

If anyone wants to stomach the Thom Hartmann/Suzanne Somers interview, you can find it here: (look for “Cancer Cure”). In listening to it again (and developing a large bruise from slamming my head into the desk), I realized I was wrong…Thom doesn’t say, “What?!” he says, “They watch it.” No skepticism at all. *sigh*

About the james F’s link;

Holy shit!!! You have got a minister and Deirdre Imus talking about vaccines to Sean Hannity. They should have our cat on that show, he has managed to learn how to open doors with his paws.

Imus when asked by Hannity, “your telling people not to get the H1N1 vaccine?”
Imus replies, “I’m not saying that. I am saying research it.”

Clearly idiot Imus appears to be feeling some sort of pressure otherwise she would have said, “Yea I’m saying don’t get the virus.”

I beleive a lot of these babbling fools may be approaching judgement day and they are beginning to feel warmth near thier ass.

I dunno about you, but when I hear Western medicine, I think of giving a guy whiskey and digging a bullet out of him with a Bowie knife.

If her liver is enlarged, and if that is not caused by the sarcoidosis or whatever it is that she had, I wonder if all of the crap “supplements” that she ingests are causing liver damage. Wonder what her LFT’s look like.


Sarcoidosis? Nope. Wrong again. Suzanne admitted on TV she had an acute pulmonary fungal infection, valley fever. Try going back to medical school, you mental midget.

So, basically when Orac admits he’s essentially working from secondhand narrative and incomplete information — i.e., he can’t ask the patient questions or perform his own tests, or even get the doctors’ narratives — you, Borack, feel that his inability to correctly reconstruct things is an automatic sign that it was a deficit in his education, rather than the fact he didn’t have all the information and was making a best guess about what happened from what he knows (with the idea that he can revise it if more information presents itself, and with caveats). I guess when I get ‘I saw something odd in the sky’ emails from people and attempt to answer these, if I get them wrong*, I need to retake Astro 101, rather than just give my standard caveats about how describing something to me isn’t the same as me seeing it myself.

* And I probably do.


Wow. What a bunch of kooks. Did Hannity say ‘Ammonia’? I’ll get ammonia if I get H1N1 flu?

Also, wow, Hannity looks like the sane one.

Yeah, I do think this could be valley fever, it would explain the rash as well. I also think any atypical viral infection could explain what sound like a rash, lymphadenopathy and possibly hepatitis with that ‘enlarged liver’. If it was valley fever, there probably was a strong push for her to take Diflucan, which she may have viewed as ‘chemotherapy’, and I don’t doubt Weil et al would likely have a more ‘natural’ therapy. The reason for the CT is likely looking for PE, probably her complaints seemed out of proportion with her exam, and she certainly has risk factors for PE, including history of Breast CA, estrogen use, and probably recent travel. I can’t tell from this if in fact she did have a PE, if she did, then that’s a second reason for her not to be on hormones, bioidentical or not.

There is zero evidence Somers ever had breast cancer. She was caught getting a boob job and said it was “reconstructive” surgery.

She’s not stupid, though – she’s got her own jet and a few mansions peddling her nostrums on QVC.

There is zero evidence Somers ever had breast cancer. She was caught getting a boob job and said it was “reconstructive” surgery.

She’s not stupid, though – she’s got her own jet and a few mansions peddling her nostrums on QVC.

Borack, if you knew anything about sarcoidosis and coccidiomycosis (Valley Fever), you would know that the signs, symptoms and even the pathology are very similar. In fact, part of the diagnostic workup for sarcoidosis is specific testing to rule out Coccidiomycosis.
So a guess of sarcoidosis, given the limited information, is pretty damned good.
BTW, maybe you should consider a refresher course yourself at Troll Medical School.

I’ve read some of the excerpt now…Somers really doesn’t have a clue.

In her story, the evil Dr. Oncologist says “Well, you should have told me you were on steroids” after the “full-body cancer” “misdiagnois” and her response:

I am not on steroids. I would never take steroids. But because he is stuck in old thinking and so out of touch with new medicine, he has no clue and doesn’t understand cortisol replacement as part of the menopausal experience…Why steroids would have anything to do with being misdiagnosed with full-body cancer, I can’t guess.

Here’s a guess, brainiac: you constatly talk about taking steroid hormones. Newsflash! “Bioidentical” (a stupid, stupid term) means that they’re identical to the steroids your body produces or those found in FDA-approved evil BigPharma medications. Thus, Dr. Chrissy Snow, you have been taking steroids. Sex hormones like estrogen are steroids whether from a pill marketed by the evilest of those Pharma corporations or your friendly neighborhood. substantially-less-regulated compounding pharmacy.

Why would anyone take medical advice from this two-bit actress? Or any actress?

“Bioidentical hormones” = some compounded
woo-knows-what cream/ointment/gel “prescribed”
by a woo practitioner after the results
of a saliva test or two are known. May
contain “mountain yam” (from which Syntex
first synthesized artificial hormones);
usually made up at a compounding pharmacy;
and what the FDA rightly calls “unapproved
new drugs”. (Disclaimer: I have a
woo-meister friend whose specialty is BIHT.
She lives in the hotbed of natur-woo-pathy,
Portland OR. I’ve heard a lot of burning
stupid on this topic…)

Has Somers run the pharmaceutical-laden
“TCM” gamut, claiming it’s the cure-all,
end-all, yet?

OT – does anyone know offhand if the
aforementioned mountain yam is the tuber
“yama-imo” used in Japanese dishes like yamakake,
valued for its sticky consistency? Never
have been able to find that out…

Borack might be a troll, but you all seem hyper-sensitive to his criticism. I was going to post that Orac shouldn’t bother doing third-hand diagnosis as I thought this sort of thing to be unethical?

SS is nuts and I’m not sure there is any value in going on and on about it. Most of the shows she’s on don’t really do interviews–they host “appearances” of popular people who write goofy books and somehow manage to get them published. Makes me glad I killed my television years ago.

As to Hartmann, that’s as sad as the otherwise funny 2009 Dawkins Award Winner. Hartmann has a lot of “maverick” ideas as do a lot of people’s views I otherwise like.

Again, the bigger question is–why will so many people buy SS’s book (and all the others like it) and believe every word in it and what can the skeptic/medical community do about it? Somers’ story about the bedside manner of her doctor (true or not, it’s her perception) is what I hear from a lot of woo-oriented friends. Some people deeply internalize an experience in which someone in supposed authority makes them feel “small” or unimportant. They are the same people who have a terrible time with grief and cannot say that someone DIED (which is why they love the concept of afterlife), but always that they “passed” or “crossed over”.

This problem (woo) is as intractable as religion, and the only answer is education, education, education.

I’m not aware of any ethical issues with speculating on a diagnosis of a public figure, especially if she releases detailed information about her condition. And hypersensitive? Remember that Borack called Orac a “mental midget” and suggested he go back to medical school. That’s not criticism, that’s abuse. And he’s not even correct when he implies that it’s a dumb error!

Apologies for the OT but why, Orac, why?. Even as (yet another) drive-by snark, this is quite misplaced.

I beg to differ. It is truly annoying and blows my irony meter to smithereens to see PZ going on about how Chris is supposedly “obsessed” with his critics when PZ never misses a chance to highlight negative reviews of the book. My point was that it’s a classic case of the pot calling the kettle black.

Suffice it to say that it annoyed me.

Borack who the hell are *you*?

I’m thinking perhaps it’s “David M.”, who in this post apparently believed that he was achieving a decisive rhetorical victory that would be marveled at for all the ages by calling Orac ‘Borat.’ Was looking for an old post and came across that one by accident, so it was fresh in my mind. Apparently if it is David M. he hasn’t gotten one whit more intelligent in the intervening time.


As I commented in the other thread yesterday, I heard her for about 30 secs on Thom Hartmann. Barf.

You too, huh?

I heard her for longer than that and wondered if she was on a publicity tour to hawk her new Volume o’ Woo. Apparently, she is.


Yes, I was pleasantly surprised by Hartmann’s interview of Dawkins given his (Hartmann’s) spirituality. A year or two ago when he was interviewing the guy from Freethought Radio (I think…it’s been a while) Hartmann was almost hostile.

I don’t get how he goes from interviewing Dawkins to interviewing Suzanne Somers and falling for her woo hook, line and sinker, but I get the ominous feeling that it has less to do with his Christianity (which is hardly fundamentalist) than an inability or unwillingness to fact-check her claims due to some sense of misplaced sensitivity.

Used to be I could just ignore him when he spouted woo, but after the Somers interview I’ve hit my limit. I’m done. I’m switching my radio back to music for a while.

I agree with him on some things and just as vehemently disagree on others, but uncritically hawking Somers’ nonsense was very, very regrettable, to say the least.

Suzanne admitted on TV she had an acute pulmonary fungal infection, valley fever

And that can show all sorts of interesting tumor-like things on your x-rays.

The University of AZ used to send a cocci information sheet back with any visiting archaeology students and profs after a Japanese guy had a lung removed in Tokyo for “cancer” that was really Coccidioides immitis that he caught on a dig.

I beg to differ. It is truly annoying and blows my irony meter to smithereens to see PZ going on about how Chris is supposedly “obsessed” with his critics when PZ never misses a chance to highlight negative reviews of the book.

So do you have similar objections when he repeatedly points out the failings of his other adversaries? PZ certainly has been persistent in telling Dembski to move on from the ‘irreducible complexity’ nonsense–and is similarly quick to link to new manifestations thereof. How is this any different?

Indulging in pointing and laughing at an opponent’s fuck-ups is a common practice on your blog(s), and many others. Why is this particular instance so annoying?

My point was that it’s a classic case of the pot calling the kettle black.

If PZ were continuing to nitpick the content of UA, and then calling the authors out for responding to his criticisms, you would have a point. This isn’t what’s happening, though. He is criticizing M&K’s protracted rebuttals of all the bad reviews their book received. Whether or not you agree with the negative reviews, it’s generally seen as a bad sign when authors spend this much time attempting to justify the ideas in their published work.

Again, I’m sorry for the off-topic–I just don’t know where else to talk about this.

Please keep at it. I am a 23 year survivor of Ewings Sarcoma (diagnosed at 22). Chemotherapy, surgery, and radiation absolutely saved my life. Suzanne Somers is dangerous and spreading false information that could kill people. Real doctors need to speak out and loud and specifically about how off base and dangerous this woman is. You are doing a great job….please keep at it and save lives !! We need you.

Did you really just compare Chris Mooney and Sheril Kirshenbaum to Bill Dembski?

Not exactly–I compared PZ mode of response to both–relevant criticism on the substance of their ideas, delivered with a healthy dose of mockery. My point is that while you complain about PZ’s tactics, your real beef seems to be with his choice of targets. If that’s the case, so be it, but at least be honest about what is truly ‘annoying’ you.

This may not be interesting or current enough for you to blog about at this point, and I completely respect that choice. But for someone who is usually so articulate and (appropriately) ruthless when speaking his mind, the passive-aggressive drive-bys on Pharyngula and on The Intersection seem a bit out of character.

I gave the topic exactly the amount of effort that I thought it deserved. Quite frankly, I’m tired of the pissing match that developed between PZ and Chris, and I tend to view PZ as more at fault (with Chris being rather dumb for rising to the bait) for reasons I will not go into here.

It is rather interesting, though, your choice of examples to illustrate your point. A Freudian slip, perhaps?

Somers apparently has no beef with western style plastic surgery. I don’t mean the boob job – her face looks reconstructed.

T. Bruce:

I take your point that Borack is a nasty character and apologies if I’m mistaken on the ethics issue–I’m just a layperson here trying to follow this somewhat technical thread. It’s just that when I ask a doctor if some symptom could be this or that, I’m always told that he or she couldn’t possibly speculate on a diagnosis without examining me. Also, Sommers was very thin on detail in the part of the book Orac was using, but maybe he had enough to go on–again, I wouldn’t be qualified to really know. In spite of his name-calling, I think it was fair of Borack to contribute additional information if he knows something about Sommers’ illness (IF being the question, I guess).

Perhaps I should give up this blog. I came here because it seemed a good place to pick up arguments to counter the woo that pervades my life, but it seems to be an Orac fan club and I get somewhat smacked down quite often. Maybe I should just stop commenting!

Thank god this amazing person whom was keeping files on doctors that were actually curing cancer!!!!!
To think that there are individuals hopelessly going to recognized cancer centers around this country who have no idea that they are wasting their time at these cancer centers. My god, they need to know about these doctors!!!! I need to save them!!!!

F*&king self absorbed celebrity sleez bags. This sort of information used to be limited to carnivals and the traveling circus.
No wonder people are distrustful of many things today, look at what qualifies as newsworthy today.

You should be able to find this book in the fiction and humor section at Barnes and Noble.

Another Somers gem:

Why steroids would have anything to do with being misdiagnosed with full-body cancer, I can’t guess. But we still don’t know what has gone wrong in my body. We still have to find out what caused me to end up in the ER.

Uh, because you pumped yourself full of not just “bioidentical” hormones but cortisol too, and the cortisol suppressed your immune system, leading you to get a case of raging systemic coccidiomycosis that almost killed you!

Damn. I should have looked for another excerpt instead of just relying on the MSNBC excerpt. The Insolence would have turned out so much more satisfying. Perhaps I’ll rectify that by analyzing the first chapter on SBM on Monday, pulling together everything I’ve learned into a more coherent and sober post, perfect to send to journalists. 🙂

I will, however, keep my promise not to write about this book any more here on RI until after I’ve read a few chapters.

When does this lady stop? First it’s weight loss, then menopause symptoms , then cancer. Is she an expert in everything>? I sure hope the average American reader does the research themselves and talks to their doctor before following this self proclaimed expert on all women’s issues!

In reply to post 67: This lady will stop when the potential for generating attention and income is gone

I came here because it seemed a good place to pick up arguments to counter the woo that pervades my life, but it seems to be an Orac fan club and I get somewhat smacked down quite often.

Well, here’s just my humble opinion, but I think that if you read a glimmer of what could be a point embedded in the abusive screed of a troll, you might be better off asking that glimmer that you think you see outside of the context of ad hominem invective in which the troll chose to place it.

If it were you, which of these would be more likely to evoke a serious response: “I had a doctor tell me that it would be unethical for him to speculate on a particular medical matter; is it ethical for you to speculate on this matter, and if so, what’s the difference between the two?” or “Gee, I think that guy who called you a ‘mental midget’ and told you to go back to medical school might have had a good point!”?

I am not a doctor, but I see several differences between Orac’s speculation about Somers’ “whole body cancer” scare and the situations you alluded to where you were asking the doctors to speculate (actually, I should say it sounded more like you were asking the doctors to legitimize your speculations.) A past incident vs. a present incident; speculating in front of bystanders vs. directly to the patient; the hypotheses of a trained professional vs. those of a layman – it seems to me that any of these makes for a very big difference in what the ethical thing to do is.

To Antaeus Feldspar: I think it also makes a difference that in this case, Suzanne Somers described her symptoms and said that she was misdiagnosed with cancer; as a non-doctor, I appreciate hearing an oncologist talk about how a doctor might interpret the symptoms she described. If the original post had purported to tell us exactly what Somers had with no caveats, I would be concerned, but I thought it was clear that Orac was offering a speculative explanation for the oddities in Somers’ story.

Anthro said: “It’s just that when I ask a doctor if some symptom could be this or that, I’m always told that he or she couldn’t possibly speculate on a diagnosis without examining me.”

This is because the doctor-friend is worried that you may use their back-of-a-beer-mat diagnosis or advice and base real medical treatment decisions on it. I’ve had similar experiences; and it is really down to the concern of your friend for you, that they could possibly give you information that meant you either didn’t see your own doctor, or undertook treatments you didn’t need, and hurt or killed yourself. The big difference here is that Madam Nut-job is unlikely to even see this, never mind base treatment decisions on it. And I sincerely hope that anyone reading scienceblogs knows better to base a diagnosis of their own condition on random stuff off the net.

I believe this whole scenario that was written is nothing more than a farce! As I read the first chapter of Suzanne Sommers “Knockout” book, it is if I were reading a “novel”! And it seems interesting that a month prior to this “hospital event”, she was entertaining many in the medical field, who support her alternative beliefs, at her own home, discussing alternative medicine. Certainly, this woman is obsessed with her body, her sexuality, and her desire and passion to consume 100 supplements or more a day (Dr. Gonzalz’ recommendation?????), plus eating organic foods, and taking bio-identical harmones. But to me, the bottom line is that this is just one more book and a few more million dollars in her pocket!! There really isn’t much any one can do to stop this publicity stunt. She is being evasive about the second “diagnosis”, and like many, I do not believe there is such a thin as full body cancer. And I also don’t think any Oncologist would present his findings to a prospective cancer patient immediately, without doing more testing!! Further, I do not believe this “episode” had anything to do with cancer. So, I shall close by comparing Suzanne Sommers to the “Henne family balloon hoax”! Suzanne Sommers isn’t any different in this sham, the only thing being, it is rather doubtful she would ever be charged in Court with any felony or misdemeanor!! So, I would suggest saving your $$$$$. This book, like many others written by Suzanne Sommers is useless, and the content of this book possibly could cause MORE HARM AND EVEN DEATH to a person who has been or in the future will be diagnosed with cancer.

If a person were a complete asshole wouldn’t cancer of the rectum be “full body cancer”?

Anita opines @ 67:

Is she an expert in everything>?

Perhaps she should be put in charge of the Large Hadron Collider.

On second thought, cancel that. Don’t anyone tell her about it!

Susanne is clearly confused about her medical condition. I would advise her to see a reputable physician at any reputable hospital in the world. After that visit, perhaps she would have a better understanding of what cancer really is, its causes and cures.

I am concerned that patients will read her ridiculous tripe and swallow it. Suzanne, if you want to write a book and get a message out there, let it be a carefully researched book. Pop-health books can be dangerous. Your will certainly lead some very sick people to make the wrong decisions.

I would wish your book to be pulled off the market.

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