A couple of days ago, I wondered how on earth cancer quack Stanislaw Burzynski could still be operating as usual, luring the families of desperate cancer patients like an 11-year-old girl with medulloblastoma named Demi Knight. She is from Louth in Lincolnshire in the UK, and the false hope peddled by Burzynski led her family to launch a fundraising campaign to come up with £150,000 to pay for Burzynski’s “miracle cure” that isn’t known as antineoplastons (ANPs).
The family’s effort was aided and abetted by the UK press, specifically Rebecca Curley from The Sun, who did a story entitled RACE AGAINST TIME: Demi Knight’s desperate bid to raise £150k for US treatment after being struck down with brain cancer at 11 , Phoebe Southworth of The Daily Mail, whose story was entitled Devastated mother has race against time to raise £150,000 to take her 11-year-old daughter with cancer to America for potentially life-saving treatment, and James Silcocks of the Louth Leader, whose story is entitled ‘I will never give up on my daughter’: Louth family’s plea for £150,000 life-saving treatment. The stories are virtually indistinguishable from each other. All three portray the plight of Demi and the efforts of her mother Mel Knight to save her life as a human interest story in which the family is fighting against all odds to raise enough money to travel to Houston and be treated by Stanislaw Burzynski. In all three stories, the Burzynski Clinic is portrayed as Demi’s last hope for survival, rather than the quack cancer clinic that it is. In all three stories, an unnamed child with brain cancer who supposedly went to the Burzynski Clinic and survived is credulously repeated. In all three stories, link to the Knights’ GoFundMe page and Facebook page are included.
Apparently, these efforts have borne fruit. From a story by Jamie Waller in the Grimsby-Telegraph:
Young cancer patient Demi Knight may soon be able to begin treatment for her life-threatening cancer thanks to a huge wave of online donations.
Her GoFundMe page now stands at nearly £25,000 thanks to more than 1000 generous supporters.
Since the NHS is unable to do anything for her aggressive brain tumour, 11-year-old Demi’s only hope is an experimental treatment at a Texas clinic – and her family have been begging for help from readers.
Her mum Mel says that while the donations won’t cover all of the costs, it should be enough for Demi to start treatment.
“It was so overwhelming to see so much money come in. There are lots of really generous people who have made donations, and we can’t thank them enough,” she said.
“We are waiting for our visas for America to come through which should be today or tomorrow, and then the clinic will help us arrange our trip. We could be over there by next week.”
So here we go again. As I said before, I really do feel as though it were 2012, a year when I wrote about a number of these stories, in which the families of patients with terminal cancer, usually brain cancer, were enticed into carrying out similar fundraisers to raise similarly huge amounts of money in order to bring their loved ones to Houston to be treated with Burzynski’s toxic witches’ brew of antineoplastons. These stories rarely ended well.
I get it. I really do. I understand, as much as anyone, the desperation that takes hold of a family of a terminally ill cancer patient. Nine years ago, my wife and I watched my mother-in-law’s decline and death from metastatic breast cancer. So I understand how a family would be willing to do anything to save their loved one. True, the bond between parent and child is even stronger, but nonetheless I have a pretty good idea
And if that isn’t enough, there are the patients I’ve written about. There have been so many patients. I know I just listed them two days ago, but I feel obligated to list them again, in order to emphasize just how long Burzynski has been peddling false hope to patients: Rene Louis, Shana Pulkinen, Jessica Marie Hahn, Kelli Richmond, Olivia Bianco, Billie Bainbridge, Rachael Mackey, Amelia Saunders (whose father actually wrote to me), Seán Ó’Laighin, Hannah Bradley, Laura Hymas, Sheila Herron, Christina Lanzoni (Fabio’s sister), Neil Fachon, Stephanie O’Halloran, Liza Cozad (wife of Sammy Hagar’s drummer David Lauser), and McKenzie Lowe.
And if that’s still not enough, Bob Blaskiewicz has chronicled many, many more stories of Burzynski’s preying on cancer patients. Through it all, I keep seeing horrible news stories about Burzynski, chock full of false balance.
I also get how a reporter could find a story like this irresistible. I mean, look at Demi. She’s a sweet, adorable kid with a horrible disease. Who wouldn’t want to do everything he or she could to save her life? It’s also an irresistible human interest story, a story of humans fighting against all odds to save the life of a child. Here’s the problem, though. Burzynski won’t help these children (and adults). His antineoplastons have never been shown to have significant anticancer activity in humans, no matter how much Burzynski tries to spin negative clinical trials as positive and publishes incredibly unimpressive results, but they do produce significant toxicity in the form of hypernatremia (too much sodium in the blood), including at least one death. Stories that do not put Burzysnki’s true results into context are a crime against cancer patients, and the editors who commission them and make sure that they are spun as optimistic human interest stories about families overcoming all odds), and the reporters who write them are complicit in Burzynski’s scam. I know they mean well, at least most of them, but that is no excuse.
Indeed, Burzynski’s whole business model relies on the kindness of strangers. Most people can’t come up with hundreds of thousands of dollars or pounds to pay for Burzynski to administer his antineoplastons. Even after draining their bank accounts and even selling their houses, most people just don’t have that kind of money. Enter fundraising, which has become a lot easier with the dawn of social media and websites like GoFundMe. The kindness of strangers does the rest, and it all benefits Burzynski, while the donors feel that they’re doing something good for a desperately sick child. (They aren’t.) This isn’t a problem just with Burzynski. As I’ve pointed out before, quack German cancer clinics like Hallwang Clinic do the very same thing, as do Mexican quack clinics, and all too frequently the press publishes stories just like the ones for Burzynski to assist in the fundraising.
If there’s one thing about cancer quackery that infuriates me besides how it leads dying patients to waste the last months of their lives desperately begging for money is how it harnesses the goodness of human beings, who only want to help a dying patient, and uses it to enrich people like Stanislaw Burzynski.