Posted by: cg00n | August 28, 2012

On Her Mother’s Sickbed Service

P is having a hectic summer.  About a year ago her mum, living with P‘s brother’s family in Toronto, was diagnosed with lung cancer which had spread.  Up to that time she was living independently (more or less) in her own condo, not bad for an 80-something-year-old with a history of high blood pressure and minor strokes.  Since then she has had several rounds of chemotherapy which she has tolerated quite well and was declining fairly gracefully until about a month ago.  Inevitably this coincided with P‘s brother & family taking off on vacation to the Far East.  With her mum in hospital in a semi-stupor P had little choice but to drop everything and spend 10 days in the not-so-far east.  Brother & family got back just over a week ago at which point P came home.  A few days later her mum slipped into a coma from which she did not emerge and died in the middle of  last week.

We’re noticing something of a pattern here:  my mother and father, various departed friends and relatives of friends have followed it quite reliably.   They get sick or extremely aged (or both) and appear to be on a glide path that will intersect the earth at some time T from now.  At about .8T something critical fails and there is a sudden crash.  Even when one is expecting the end fairly soon this can be something of a shock.  At least it is not as devastating as losing a friend to a falling helicopter.  There is time to prepare, tidy up loose ends, and meditate on the impermanence of all things.  P and the rest of her family are doing fine and life is getting back to normal.

I, too, am doing fine.  The immune system boost may account for the rapid departure of a recent cold:  I don’t think that rhinovirus knew what hit it when it tried to invade.  My IL-2 injections were slightly delayed due to some sort of problem obtaining the drug from the outfit in Quebec which makes it.  That really brought it home to me how this would affect those people who rely heavily on a consistent supply.   In my case, not knowing when the next treatment would happen provoked just a twinge of anxiety.  For some people it could require desperate measures.  Spare a thought for them when you hear a news item about drug shortages:  there have been a couple in the last year.

So in the absence of anything much to worry about I have been thinking, usually a precursor to a freshly-minted uncertainty.  In this case, thanks to an email from Mr. D.H of B.C (or possibly vice-versa), I’ve been wondering how any of us know anything for a fact.  It seems to me that everything ultimately comes down to faith or trust.

This line of thought started with an interview conducted by Dr. Joseph Mercola. He is a somewhat controversial figure, prone to promoting what the mainstream medical establishment regard as unsupportable theories but a hero to many who feel that (big-S) Science is elitist and exclusionary.  His interviewee is Stephanie Senneff, Ph.D who has fairly credible Scientific bona fides and some radical views on diet and the role of sulphur.  For example, contrary to most commentators, she believes that eggs (especially the yolks) are really Good Stuff and we should, in general, be consuming a lot more in order to avoid a cholesterol deficiency.  (N.B: watch the interview yourself and tell me if I am misrepresenting this.)

Mr. D.H himself has been quite active in the drinking water fluoridation debate, being very clear that “Fluoride is terrible stuff.”  When I was a young lad my dentist gave me F-tabs (fluoride tablets) to harden my tooth enamel which he said was leaving me vulnerable to cavities.  Later in life my various dentists commented on how tough my teeth were so maybe the F had the desired effect.  Maybe it also made me a neurotic wreck.  Suppose I wanted to find out “the truth” about fluoride or dietary cholesterol, intelligent design or any other theory.  How would I go about it?

First, I suppose, I need to understand how to evaluate “truth”.   For me this is a matter of finding the scientific theory that best fits all the known observations and which can be used to make predictions regarding the results of observations that have yet to be made.  Now, what is an “observation”?  Things get messy at this point.  There are the obvious well-documented “we have the pictures to prove it” kind, but how can one be sure that the pictures are undoctored, the evidence untainted, the observers unbiased?  There are the statistical observations, but these always come with margins of uncertainty and rely on the aforementioned unbiased, untainted, undoctored raw observations.  There are the experiential observations where a huge number of individuals make strikingly similar reports of something that happened to them, but an equally huge number have an entirely different experience under the same conditions:  is there such a thing as an objective experience anyway, or are they all subjective?  I don’t see myself, as a layman, being able to draw any scientific conclusions from this dog’s breakfast.  If I became an expert in the domain under consideration I might, perhaps, feel confident enough to take a stand, but only in that domain.

A non-expert (such as myself) must therefore rely on expert opinion to decide which theory is best.   OK, so which experts are trustworthy?   In whom should I put my faith?  Perhaps those with the most convincing credentials, but then I also have to trust those who awarded the credentials and whatever assessment process they used to do so.  I could go for a consensus opinion, but which consensus and why?

Perhaps there are some guidelines I can apply.  Observations that cannot be corroborated, results that cannot be reproduced are highly suspect.  Experts who have been exposed as cheats or frauds and data that are demonstrably unreliable are not trustworthy.  Direct personal experience may be considered fairly reliable assuming one can account for faulty perceptions, altered states of consciousness and so forth.  Proof by blatant assertion is insufficient:  I have to be convinced that there is a logical, supportable chain of reasoning underpinning the theory even if I am incapable of verifying every step for myself.  That helps to eliminate most of the obvious outliers but it still leaves a lot of undecided cases.

In the final analysis I just have to accept that there are undecided questions in my life which are probably undecidable, at least by me.  Should I eat more eggs?  Did the extra fluoride do more harm than good?  Does vitamin D help control cancer?  Is human activity primarily responsible for global warming?  Is Stephen Harper destroying Canada?  Was JFK assassinated by Lee Harvey Oswald?  Beats me.  My world view is founded on emptiness.  How about yours?  Send me your thoughts.

News Roundup

Tons of news this time around.  I really need to clear the queue more often.

Melanoma research news

Melanoma treatment news

Melanoma and tanning

Other cancer news

Meditation and mindfulness

To wrap it up, a Livestrong questionnaire about cancer survivor care which you may wish to fill out and an interesting opinion piece on coming to terms with universal health care.  By the time you’ve digested that lot I may have another posting ready.  But probably not.



  1. Let me get this straight here. Stephanie Senneff, Ph.D says we should get as much as possible of our Vitamin D from exposing our skin to the sun. Edward C. De Fabo, Ph.D., Frances P. Noonan, Ph.D., and Anastas Popratiloff, M.D., Ph.D. say there is no such thing as a safe tan. Both references from your latest post. So clearly I should – do what?

  2. Well, that’s really my point. It beats me. In this particular case there has been some serious push-back from some researchers who feel the case against natural sunlight has been greatly overstated. Personally I cover up, use lots of sunscreen, and take 3000 units of Vit. D per day. Every few months I have a blood test to make sure 3000 units is not too much.

  3. Purely anecdotal: I had a moderate number of cavities in my youth and early adulthood. I haven’t had a new cavity in many years, and the change happens to coincide with Calgary water fluoridation. Now that the city has stopped fluoridating the water, I wonder if this will change?

    To Mr. DH of BC, I guess I would ask what is the overall dental and health situation in communities with high natural levels of fluoride in their water. I have not investigated this, but I assume someone might have done so. What were the results?

    We have to rely on the hope that a sufficiently large number of scientists investigating a question will have competing prejudices and faults, and that biases will simply be turned into larger error bars in a meta-analysis rather than warping the underlying results. The maggot in this stew is that sometimes you don’t get that mix of scientists with competing prejudices and faults. But perhaps fifty years later folks with different prejudices will re-investigate.

    Second comment, some scientists try as hard as possible to be neutral. They cannot be entirely neutral, of course, but if they try hard enough then their biases should be swamped by the hard evidence, and have a negligible (but non-zero) effect on the answers.

    The ‘harder’ the science, the easier it is to try for that neutrality. With medical evidence, it is indeed so easy to bias the results in many ways, both subconscious and conscious.

    Who to rely on? Well, solid meta-analyses in which the scientists discuss in a convincing way all of the possible sources of error would be good to start with.

  4. I tend not to use the word “truth”, but to refer to “facts” instead. Those who claim to have “the truth” often seem to lack “the facts” of the matter. I tend to see “truth” as an opinion massaged from what “facts” you chose to use.

    Re your IL-2 injections: I was signed up in a double-blind post-market-release study of a diabetes drug that you injected only once a week. I was fine with the protocols, until my A1c (longterm measure of aging blood cells’ glucose count) came back at 8.0. Good is 5.8 or less–you’re almost diabetic, but not there yet. My usual had been around 6.5. I was Not Happy. I wrote my endo and said I wanted to be on that med now, for sure, because I wasn’t willing to risk my health for a maybe/maybe not dose of a drug I actually need to be using. There goes the study. Attendant good news is that I have come down 29 lbs from my highest weight, and mostly through managing portions better. If I hadn’t had that torn gum, I wouldn’t have been uncomfortable enough, then or after it was treated & while healing, to cut my portions back by 2/3. After the wound healed, I decided I should try to keep my portions that size. Some days it’s a struggle or worse, but the continuous gradual drop is encouraging me.

    Sunlight on skin for maybe 15 min. is okay for *most* people. Depressives need at least that, and not just for the Vit. D.

    I hope, in the next few days, to read the links above which interest me–far too many for the time I have!

    Please give P my condolences.

  5. I am sorry to hear of the loss of P mother and your mother in law. I remember what a big help she was when A was a baby. One time I saw her laugh a hearty, health producing laugh, when A as a preschooler said something wrong when speaking Cantones (I think). P explained and then said it wasn’t really A they were laughing at, but you, because your mother was quite sure your attempts at the language were being picked up by A. I laughed listening to her laugh even though I lost the story when they tried explaining a subtle difference in sounds. I’m sure P misses her mother deeply and A misses her grandmother. Hugs.

    Truth like “right vs wrong” ought to be concrete, but so often open to interpretation. Whatever you are doing is likely the best thing to be doing because it is working. Perhaps flouride gave your body the aggressiveness to keep melanoma at bay. We don’t know, it is a mystery. I started drinking Dandelion tea and I like it. I imagine it is helping my liver cleanse out any pre-cancer cells. I agree with your analysis that after 80 it is much more difficult for the body to fight infection or recover from trauma. Health care professionals have two levels of seniors, the young and (more or less) healthy senior and the frail elderly (which basically means over 80).

    On FB I see that A has been successfully launched … if starting university is launching! Will be come home for Thanksgiving?

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