Requiem for a quack, part II: Hulda Clark, author of The Cure for All Cancers, died of cancer

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About a month and half ago, we learned that über-quack Hulda Clark, the woman who said that she had the Cure for All Cancers, had died on September 3, 2009. I was criticized for entitling my post Requiem for a Quack, but, given how Clark’s quackery had contributed to the suffering and deaths of an unknown number of cancer patients, I didn’t really feel too bad about it, although I do realize that the taboo about speaking ill of the recently dead is a strong one.

At the time, I was curious what the cause of Dr. Clark’s death was, because it seemed rather mysterious, being described as the result of a “spinal injury,” with no further description. Then, a reader sent me a scan of Hulda Clark’s death certificate, and this is what it listed as the cause of death:

Multiple myeloma. Cancer of plasma cells, a form of lymphoma.

Don’t believe me? Check out Hulda Clark’s death certificate (certain addresses whited out) for yourself. Even Hulda Clark’s own website admits that she had multiple myeloma:

Dr. Clark helped many people get well, but she couldn’t help herself. Her first symptom was excruciating pain in her arms. Pain medicines were ineffective. It would turn out she had deterioration in her neck vertebrae which was pinching those nerves. Her hands stopped functioning. It would turn out later she had carpal tunnel syndrome. So as soon as Dr. Clark knew there was something wrong, she physically could not use her Syncrometer techniques to investigate it because her hands and arms did not work well enough. Her health deterioration was a mystery.

Well, not really. The cause of her health deterioration, while perhaps a mystery initially, is quite clear now. She had multiple myeloma. It’s also a pretty lame excuse. I mean, come on! Clark “trained” dozens of acolytes to use her Syncrometer. Are they really saying that not a single one of them could use her device, which she claimed as part of the “cure for all cancers,” to cure her cancer, as she claimed she could cure all cancers? Not that it would have done any more good for Clark than it did for any of the cancer patients who misplaced their faith by putting it in her, but the excuse used to explain why Clark died of cancer when she had spent so many years claiming that she could cure it is lame in the extreme. Surely there must have been someone who could have operated the Syncronometer for her! In any case, this is how Hulda Clark’s site describes what happened next:

Dr. Clark could see from her blood tests that she was anemic. She got a transfusion but was uncertain if the anemia was significant because she had occasional anemia all her life. She also saw reduced kidney function. She spent a lot of time trying to figure that out but unbeknownst to her, chasing that clue would not lead anywhere.

She stopped being able to walk without severe pain. Dr. Clark lived with months of severe hip pain before two hip replacement surgeries and three months of rehabilitation let her walk again. Dr. Clark lived with unrelenting nerve pain for over six months before finding a medication that worked. She suffered more than she should have because she wanted to solve her problems herself, even in the face of her severe physical limitations.

In other words, like her patients, Hulda Clark suffered because she eschewed conventional therapy longer than she should have:

Dr. Clark was scheduled for a procedure to fix the vertebrae in her neck. While doing routine blood tests in preparation for the operation, high calcium levels were noted. The surgery was cancelled and the hypercalcemia was treated. Her doctors evaluated all of Dr. Clark’s symptoms and decided multiple myeloma was the best explanation. That is a blood and bone cancer. No biopsy was performed, so it was not one hundred percent certain, but that didn’t matter because the treatment would be the same in any case (monitor calcium and anemia).

Ironically, Dr. Clark documented helping a multiple myeloma sufferer in The Cure For All Advanced Cancers. Perhaps if she had known what to look for earlier she could have better helped herself. But it was too late. In her last few months, Dr. Clark was physically unable to function well. Her family took care of her and was with her when she died peacefully one evening.

It is simply not true that there is no “conventional” treatment for multiple myeloma other than monitoring anemia and hypercalcemia. For patients under 65, the treatment is often high-dose chemotherapy with hematopoietic stem-cell transplantation. Hulda Clark, of course, was 80, and thus almost certainly too old for such a harsh regimen to benefit her. However, for such patients, there is a more mild treatment, namely chemotherapy:

If you’re not considered a candidate for stem cell transplantation, your initial therapy is likely to be a combination of melphalan, prednisone and thalidomide — often called MPT — or melphalan, prednisone and bortezomib (Velcade) — often called (MPV). If the side effects are intolerable, melphalan plus prednisone (MP) or lenalidomide plus low-dose dexamethasone are additional options. This type of therapy is typically given for about 12 to 18 months.

Also, ironically enough, thalidomide has fairly recently been shown to be an effective treatment for multiple myeloma. Either Hulda Clark was so debilitated that she couldn’t handle even the standard therapy of thalidomide, which is a pretty mild drug (unless you’re a reproductive-age woman who becomes pregnant and whose child suffers the birth defects thalidomide causes, which Clark clearly was not), or she chose not to have any science-based therapies. Not surprisingly, I suspect the latter. After all, let’s review the titles of some of her books, shall we? There are:

  • The Cure for All Advanced Cancers (It sounds as though Clark’s cancer was advanced. Why couldn’t her methods cure it? After all, her book says she has the cure for all advanced cancers. Of course, that makes me wonder if maybe she didn’t have the cure for early stage cancers.)
  • The Cure for All Cancers (Never mind that last comment. Clark suffered from a cancer, period. Why couldn’t she cure it if she really did have the cure for all cancers?)
  • The Cure for All Diseases. (This is my favorite of all; I mean, shouldn’t we “allopathic doctors” be out of business, other than trauma and orthopedic surgeons if Clark really had the cure for all diseases?)

It also occurs to me that Hulda Clark’s death teaches us something important about quackery. Specifically, it tells us that many of the practitioners are just as deluded and misguided as those whom they lure away from scientific medicine and towards ineffective and even harmful quackery. There are two kinds of alt-med quacks. First, there are the ones who, like Kevin Trudeau, don’t believe at all, ones who are basically con men. Then there are the ones like Hulda Clark, ones who really believe. While the former can do major harm, I fear the latter more. Because they believe the are the more persuasive for it, and, in the case of Hulda Clark, it is clear from her reaction to her deteriorating health that she almost certainly really believed in her pseudoscience. Of course, its lucrative nature probably didn’t hurt, either, but at her core, I suspect that Hulda Clark really did believe that she had the cure for all cancers, even though it was clear from her own end that she didn’t have a clue about cancer. How she could maintain that belief in the absence of any evidence that her woo did anything, in the absence of a single truly “cured” patient? Who knows? Whatever her motivation, she did incalculable harm to her clients and in the end, by rejecting science-based medicine in favor of her own quackery, Clark blew her best chance at treating her cancer and maintaining her quality of life for as long as possible.

I realize that the universe is not fair in any sense of the imagination. All too often, bad people prosper, and good people suffer horrible fates. However, in the case of Hulda Clark, if I believed in divine justice or some sort of karma, I’d have to believe that her end was completely fitting. The woman whose quackery caused so much suffering among cancer patients during her life ultimately succumbed to the very disease she claimed to be able to cure but was not. Having recently watched a love one succumb to stage IV breast cancer, I wouldn’t wish such a fate on anyone–not even Hulda Clark. However, now that it’s happened to her it’s hard not to feel that, just this once, there were a certain symmetry and justice in the universe. Maybe there is such a thing as karma after all.