Cassandra Callender’s cancer is progressing, and the quackery didn’t stop it. Let’s hope real medicine can.

This is the sort of story that I really hate but feel obligated to discuss. I hate these stories because they usually portend the unnecessary death of a cancer patient, often a child with cancer whose parents refuse chemotherapy or who refuses chemotherapy and is unfortunate enough to have a parent who either has alternative medicine proclivities herself, lacks the guts to tell the child that he’s getting treated for his own good and he doesn’t have a choice in the matter, or, in a couple of cases that I’ve discussed, conflates using indigenous people’s medicine instead of chemotherapy as a way of asserting their cultural identity. In the vast majority of these cases, the child has a highly curable lymphoma or leukemia. Not infrequently, the child undergoes one or two rounds of chemotherapy, and the child and/or parent, alarmed at the side effects, decides that the child doesn’t need the rest of the chemotherapy course. This seems to be more likely to happen if the child has a great response to the first round or two of chemotherapy and goes into complete remission. Unfortunately, the chemotherapy regimens for childhood leukemias and lymphomas are long for a reason. Oncologists don’t give up to two and a half years of chemotherapy because they like poisoning children. Decades ago, they learned that if they didn’t give such prolonged courses of chemotherapy, the cancer was likely to return, even if it had gone into remission after only one or two courses of intensive chemotherapy. Unfortunately, that reality has led too many parents who, understandably, can’t stand seeing their children suffering chemotherapy effects to go along with prematurely stopping the chemotherapy.

The names of the children and adolescents with cancer I’ve discussed resonate over the years who have refused chemotherapy still resonate with me even though it’s been a while since I discussed such a case: Abraham Cherrix, Sarah Hershberger, Daniel Hauser, Makayla Sault (who died), and, of course, Cassandra Callender.

Cassandra Callender was a particularly problematic case to me, and I want to update you on what’s happening because readers have written to me. But first a little background for those not familiar with the case. I considered her case problematic because she was 17 years old when she refused chemotherapy. She had developed Hodgkin’s lymphoma, a very treatable malignancy with an estimated expected survival rate of 85%. At the risk of being repetitive, I strongly believe that competent adults have the right to decided their own medical care. They can choose science-based medicine, no treatment at all, or even quackery; I consider it my mission to try to discourage the use of quackery through educating the public. Children are different, however. They depend on their parents and are not considered competent to make such life-or-death decisions. Of course, when children develop the ability to understand the consequences of their decisions is, of course, debatable, as a six year old or eight year old is quite different in his ability to reason and understand consequences than a 13 year old or 16 year old. We as a society have decided that 18 is the age of adulthood for legal purposes. I also realize that society has to pick a number. But what about 17 year olds? They’re pretty damned close to adults. Cassandra Callender was 17 when she was basically locked in a hospital room and forced to undergo chemotherapy. Yes, it was all for her own good, and legally she was not yet an adult, but if you don’t feel at least a little uneasy about her case, even if you ultimately decided it was the right thing to do to make sure she was treated, well, Mister (or Ms.) you’re a better man (or woman) than I.

Not surprisingly, Callender’s case became a cause célèbre among the alternative medicine crowd, as all such cases do—but even more so because of how old she was. Not surprisingly, a few weeks before she was to turn 18, Callender found her way to cancer quack Ty Bollinger, who interviewed her for his “Truth About Cancer” series as an example of “medical kidnapping.” During the interview, which is still in Bollinger’s series, Callender demonstrated magical thinking at ever level, believing that there really is another effective way to eradicate her cancer “naturally” or with homeopathy. At the same time, she hinted at bad news, mentioning a recent PET scan that “didn’t look good.”

Unfortunately, a few months later we learned that she had relapsed in the form of a mass in her lung. Fortunately, this being Hodgkin’s lymphoma, that wasn’t a death sentence. Her disease was far from terminal, but it would likely have required salvage chemotherapy followed by an autologous stem cell transplant. Basically, her bone marrow would be harvested for stem cells, and then she would undergo high dose chemotherapy to wipe out her bone marrow, after which she’d undergo a bone marrow transplant. Her expected survival? Between 40-60%.

So here’s what’s going on. I’ve recently been made aware of Callender’s GoFundMe page, and the news is not good. The page was set up on March 14, 2017, and this is the story:

This page has been set up to help raise money for Cassandra’s 2nd battle against Hodgkin’s lymphoma . In 2014 she was diagnosed and pronounced in remission after 6 months of chemotherapy in 2015. 9 months later in 2016 Cassandra had found out she relapsed with a mass in her left lung and surrounding neck/chest. She spent the whole year using alternative treatments / cannabis oils but unfortunately the cancer became more aggressive. In January of 2017 cassandra discovered that now both of her lungs are full of masses along with her surrounding lungs , chest , surrounding heart and neck . Cassandra now has to go through a very intensive 6-9 months of chemotherapy, again in hopes that things clear up. Her life expectancy doesn’t look well at the moment and it’s going to be quite the battle . She no longer has a normal breathing capacity and struggles with daily life functions that the sickness brings . She is unable to work, is now behind on bills and overall the financial struggle of going through this process yet again is taking a financial toll on her and her family . Any donations would be appreciated at this time . All donations will go directly to Cassandra. After going through this battle once already , Cassandra looks at life as everyday a gift especially when the next day is not promised .

So basically, the woo didn’t work and Callender’s disease is progressing alarmingly. Cannabis oils didn’t stop the cancer because cannabis does not cure cancer. Sadly, none of this is a surprise; untreated relapsed Hodgkin’s lymphoma is not going to go away on its own, and that’s basically what would have had to have happened for Callender to get better. At least she appears to be finally getting treatment again. This is something that’s common among those who choose quackery instead of medicine. When it becomes obvious even to them that the woo isn’t working; they go back to the chemotherapy. Unfortunately, by then it is often too late, or they have to undergo a much more rigorous, unpleasant treatment with less chance of success than they had before.

Maybe Callender’s use of chemotherapy explains a bit of something I noticed on Facebook. Not long before Callender set up her GoFundMe page, the despicable cancer quack Ty Bollinger posted this on his “Truth About Cancer” Facebook page:

Here’s the interesting thing. The Vimeo link to the video above is dead. Similarly, the link to a simila earlier video from Callender from 2016 that Ty Bollinger had posted to Facebook is also dead:

So clearly Callender had gone to Tony and Marcy Jimenez’s Hope 4 Cancer Institute in—where else?—Mexico, a mere 30 minutes south of the border near San Diego. In other words, this is a Tijuana quack clinic. And, boy, is it ever! Just take a look at what it offers:

Yes, any place that offers coffee enemas to treat cancer is a quack clinic par excellence, particularly when the practitioners there justify it the way Hope4Cancer does. Besides regurgitating the usual “death begins in the colon” tripe so beloved of those who think that toxins from built up poop in the colon cause cancer, the Jiminezes offer this gem:

Coffee from the coffee enemas (this is not regular coffee that is available in the market!) preferentially absorbs through the venous system in the lower part of the colon going directly to the liver. The coffee stimulates the liver to produce more bile that flushes out the toxins from the organ, This frees up the liver’s capacity to process more toxins instead of being in a constant state of overload. Without this detoxification, the toxins remain concentrated in the bloodstream and upstream in the various tissues and organs, causing overall toxicity in the body.

Only someone with minimal to no understanding of physiology could come up with a ridiculous explanation like this. Even if coffee did stimulate the liver to produce more bile that wouldn’t “free up the liver’s capacity to process more toxins instead of being in a constant state of overload.” That’s not how the liver works.

Perhaps my favorite is this one:

At Hope4Cancer Institute we require that the patients watch an Immuno-Imagery program, a health imaging video and audio series that promotes health from within. This unique self-imaging system combines the scientific discoveries of psychoneuroimmunology (the study of the interaction between the mind and the immune system) with the latest professional guided imagery and deep relaxation techniques of Emmett E. Miller, M.D., a nationally acclaimed physician specializing in Psychophysiological Medicine.

This comprehensive program contains time-lapse motion picture photography through a microscope of actual immune cells. It reveals captivating animation, coupled with an inspiring narration that describes just how the body defends itself. These images guide the patient through a visualization process that helps activate their immune system. The audio provides relaxation and visualization guidance with soothing music and calming sounds of nature. Dr. Miller comments, “IMMUNO-IMAGERY provides a crucial element in any program designed to support the healing process in a most beneficial way, providing clear, vivid images of healthy functioning immune cells doing exactly what you want them to do within your body.”

Great. So the Jimenezes sell the marks a bunch of videos of animations of how the immune system works with a soundtrack of soothing nature sounds as a method of showing patients how to tell their immune system to attack the cancer. Yeah, that’ll work. (That’s sarcasm, people.) I particularly like the woo babble (like Star Trek technobabble but with woo) about psychoneuroimmunology, proving once again that quacks can co-opt any scientific term in the service of selling stuff.

Then there’s this:

At Hope4Cancer Institute we have the technology and know-how to extract, from urine, the proteins that are produced by the cancer cells and develop a vaccine “Autologous Antigen Receptor Specific Oncogenic Target Acquisition” (AARSOTA). This vaccine is administered intramuscularly at specific intervals to promote an antigen-antibody response and provide immunological information to the antibodies. The immunological response enhances specific cancer fighting ability by the body’s defense system.

Tumor markers are measurable biochemicals that are associated with a malignancy. They are either produced by tumor cells (tumor-derived) or by the body in response to tumor cells (tumor-associated). They are typically substances that are released into the circulation and thus measured in the blood. There are a few exceptions to this, such as tissue-bound receptors that must be measured in a biopsy from the solid tumor or proteins that are secreted into the urine.

It all sounds pretty impressive; that is, if you don’t know anything about cancer. What amazed me even more is that the Jimenezes basically admit that what they are doing is complete bullshit:

As tumor cells grow and multiply, some of their substances can increase and leak into the bloodstream or other fluids. Depending upon the tumor marker, it can be measured in blood, urine, stool or tissue. Some widely used tumor markers include: AFP, beta-HCG, CA 15-3, CA 19-9, CA 27.29, CA 125, CEA, and PSA. Some tumor markers are associated with many types of cancer; others, with as few as one. Some tumor markers are always elevated in specific cancers; most are less predictable. However, no tumor marker is specific for cancer and most are found in low levels in healthy persons, or can be associated with non-neoplastic diseases as well as cancer. Also, no tumor marker test is free of false negatives or false positives.

Which basically tells you that trying to make a vaccine out of all these tumor markers isolated from the urine is doomed to failure. In the slideshow that accompanies this woo babble, slide 6 shows a list of cancer vaccines in development by other companies without noting that the antigens being targeted are far more specific to the tumors being treated. The presentation also includes a slide about how whole cell extracts are good sources of cancer antigens, as though this justifies the approach of extracting the urine. In particular, I note that not a single scientific paper or clinical trial is presented to justify the treatment, which is called “Autologous Antigen Receptor Specific Oncogenic Target Acquisition” (AARSOTA).

The case of Cassandra Callender saddens me. There’s no doubt that she got a raw deal, first being diagnosed with cancer and then being on the wrong end of the 85% survival rate for Hodgkin’s lymphoma when she relapsed. However, she still had a decent shot to salvage the situation. It would have been a hard and painful road. The high dose chemotherapy and autologous stem cell rescue still had about a 50-50 chance of failing. But the flip side of that is it also had a 50-59 chance of succeeding. By choosing quackery, unfortunately Cassandra Callender chose death, even as she thought she was choosing life. Her tumor progressed. Fortunately she appears to have realized her mistake, and it’s great that she’s finally fallen back on real medicine. I really do hope it can save her life, but there’s no doubt that her chances are much worse than they would have been if she hadn’t waited after her tumor relapses. That’s what quackery did; it diminished her chances of survival after relapse.

If she thinks that the quacks at Hope4Cancer and Ty Bollinger don’t know that, she should ask them why they’ve’ scrubbed her the two videos about her “journey” at Hope4Cancer from Vimeo. (Certainly I couldn’t find them.) The reason is simple. She is a testimonial they used to sell their quackery, and a patient dying of cancer doesn’t make a good sales tool. Neither does a patient who used quackery like the Jimenezes’ quackery at Hope4Cancer and seen her cancer continue to progress despite all the woo thrown at her.

Also, as much as I hate to say it, if Callender dies of her disease (and I really hope she doesn’t), quacks will oh-so-sadly and piously say it was because she didn’t stay the course with the Hope4Cancer quackery and instead underwent chemotherapy again. The chemotherapy, they will falsely claim, killed her and not the cancer. Quacks are predictable that way.