Note: This is a repost of an earlier patient case.
Luna P. was 18 months old when her parents noticed that she was quite unwell in early August 2008. They took her to the hospital and over the course of the next few days she was diagnosed with an ependymoma. Eleven hours of emergency surgery took a hard toll on Luna and left her very weak on her left side and unable to swallow (she was fed through a tube after that). Conventional therapy was very hard on Luna, but in December 2008, the tumor had shrunk enough that the doctor could attempt surgery, and they went through a course of dangerous surgeries over the next few months, which Luna tolerated fairly well, according to her parents’ website. But the tumor kept growing, and this made them desperate.
They met with Anthony Michalski, their consultant in pediatric oncology at the Great Ormand Street Hospital. This interaction and the collaboration of the pediatric oncology department at GOSH was partially documented in the BBC 2 film, A Tough Line. When they review scans following her string of surgeries, the entire team–an entire room of specialists–agrees that the tumor, which is now compressing her brainstem is recurring and that the current treatment is not working. Michalski wants Luna to go on etopocide to prolong her life; a cure, while possible, would likely not be the ultimate outcome. They agree to go on the meds, but when no physician in the UK can offer them a cure, they find Burzynski on the Internet.
In so many of these cases, we hear the parents of children with cancer describe their gamble as an all or nothing game. Either physicians save their child or fail their child. There is no in between, and their desperation is understandable. However, there are halfway points, and while they will feel unacceptable to the parents at the time, there is such a thing as palliative care, which reduces the suffering of everyone involved, especially the patient. It is at this point of abject misery and desperation that Burzynski springs with what he calls “hope.”
In my years working on sketchy claims, I have come to realize that there are two things that anyone can sell, and people will buy it eagerly. The first is flattery. The second is hope. And there is no limit on the price you can exact from desperate parents who are looking for the latter.
And he always tells them exactly what they want to hear. According to Luna’s website:
There is no more treatment that can be done in the UK. We went home and cried for several days then we looked at Luna and thought hang on she’s not crying we cannot give up she has fought so long and hard and not a day passes that through all of this she hasn’t smiled. So we searched and searched asked questions and somehow found contact with another family who’s daughter had exactly the same disease and discovered there was something out there.
A treatment call Antineoplaston therapy which has had amazing results in the US. We have to try this.
The cost to meet the Doctor for assessment is £20,000
If Luna is accepted the treatment then costs £50,000 a year.
This is absurd. There are limited cases where a patient might expect to pay to be in a clinical trial, but the types of trials that Burzynski is doing certainly don’t qualify. Most pharmaceutical companies, when they are developing a drug, offer patients care and treatment free of charge because the patients are volunteering to put their bodies on the line. Burzynski does not technically charge for the antineoplastons, but he charges for everything else that could possibly be related to ANP–visits, phone calls, consults, etc. This does not resemble the business model of someone who expects to eventually make a return on an approved drug, and remember, if he is genuinely going to cure cancer, he is going to be able to charge whatever he likes. The fact that innumerable other startups get their drugs to market without B’s revenue stream is deeply, deeply suspicious.
In late May, and early June, Luna’s story was in the media, in The Sun, in the Watford Observer, and the Sunday Express as the family was actively raising money for Burzynski.
At the end of July, 2011, the family arrived in the United States searching for a cure. By the end of August, back in the UK, they knew that they would be in Houston by September 12.
The traditional treatment seems to be having an effect, keeping the disease from growing. It is an “effective agent,” perhaps the best possible outcome at this point. Nonetheless, the family presses ahead fundraising for Burzynski. They raised £100,000 for Burzynski in a mere 8 weeks.
They report to their consultant in the UK after their trip that Burzynski told them that he has 30% of patients have a good reaction, using the metric of “stable disease.” This is criteria is problematic, though. According to a site review at Burzynski’s clinic:
“Moving from protocols to results, I am surprised by Dr. Burzynski’s statement that stable disease is a positive outcome. That runs contrary to established criteria for trial design. In the context of phase II trials, which are short-term studies, stable disease is not reported as a positive outcome.”
After this consult in the UK, Luna’s doctor remarks,
“But what you hear quite a lot is, ‘how do you know that he or she is going to be ‘the one [who has a successful 'miracle' treatment]? … And the phrase that makes my heart sink is ‘We’d never forgive ourselves if…’. Actually, it’s not about them forgiving themselves. It’s about them doing the best for their child. And the focus should be what’s happening for the individual child rather than parental emotions. It’s tough because it’s so understandable [...] that you are going to do everything in your power to hunt down the last chance of cure, but where that becomes a futile exercise is a difficult call, a difficult line.”
This is the point that an ethical, concerned doctor takes away from a professional lifetime of caring for children, something that Burznyski seems to have never considered. (It apparently doesn’t fit his business model.)
On October 10th, the family posts a photo of themselves in front of the Burzynski Clinic. As best I can tell, a lot of patients take the same photo. It’s like being forced to watch a horror movie again and again.
Only one week later, however, on October 17, the message goes out:
Little Luna is currently in hospital and not too well. Our thoughts are with all of you xxxxx
So quickly does Luna’s condition deteriorate it’s difficult not to think about how quickly Rachel M. nosedived this fall after starting ANP and how groggy she was. According to an interview with Luna’s mother in the Watford Observer, the treatment put Luna in the hospital:
However, Mrs Petagine said the treatment at The Burzynski Clinic was actually killing her daughter.
She added: “The treatment was – what was happening – was actually killing Luna because it put this pressure on her brain stem.”
Once Luna was on the Burzynski treatment, her sodium level went insanely high. Her REAL physician’s reaction to this news, which was captured on film by the BBC, tells the whole story about what a horror antineoplastons are:
This is much the same deadly side effect that nearly put Adam M. into a coma. Antineoplastons are toxic chemotherapy. A patient informed consent form for one of the ANP trials (dated from last year), included the following as a partial list of ANP’s side effects:
- severe or life-threatening increased sodium concentration in blood;
- risk of death;
- difficulty arousing;
- severe or life-threatening low potassium concentration in the blood;
- decreased levels of consciousness;
- upset stomach;
- low platelet numbers requiring transfusions;
- severe fatigue interfering with activities of daily living;
- fever greater than 104F;
- frequent urination at a rate of urination at least once every hour of more often or a requirement for a catheter;
- liver toxicity;
- irregular heartbeat;
- decreased white blood cell count;
- slurred speech.
This goes on for 3 pages. The quantities of water that patients need to drink (I’ve seen up to 11 liters a day) is obscene.
At a checkup at GOSH, that Luna is in a sorry state is immediately apparent. She is chugging water incessantly throughout the clip and slobbering uncontrollably. No matter what a Burzynski supporter says, this is a potentially toxic treatment and its terrible effects are written all over this little girl. (I should note that this disturbing film is really important to understand the horrible choices that parents are forced to make. I recommend it, lest you think anyone can take writing about these issues glibly. You can’t.)
By February of this year, the ANP has proved to have been a resounding failure. Burzynski, just like with Adam M., tries to get them on his ridiculous “gene-targeted” therapy; it’s basically a Chemo Colatta, apparently mixing drugs that have never been tested together, often applied to cancers that they have not been tested on, but don’t take my word for it:
Luna and her family have been talking to Doctors in the US at the Clinic, who have agreed it is unsafe to put her back on the Anteneoplaston Therapy because her tumour is so close to her brain stem. They have however suggested they put her on a treatment called Gene Targeted Therapy. This is where they take a sample of the tumour and in a lab test it’s genetics and test what drugs will work against it. Then then will give those drugs to Luna. The family are very excited because they knew the Anteneoplaston could eventually be too much for Luna, with possible fatal consequences and of course they are desperate to cure her. The Gene Targeted Therapy is having amazing results in adults so we pray it will do the same for Luna. We now need to continue to fund raise so the family can start the treatment and carry on with it. Any fund raising ideas please email us via the website. Thank you x
Charging $30,000 to start up (again, according to Adam M’s wife) and $20,000/month thereafter for off-label drugs selected via the genetic equivalent of palm reading, the Burzynski boys are shameless. For an illustration of a patient who is on this course of treatment, see the case of Denise D.
From this point on, it is uncertain to me what their relationship with Burzynski is. They seem to have continued fundraising but were working with doctors in Boston.
It is with a heavy heart that we write this update. Despite battling against all the odds over the last 3 years it saddens us to tell you Luna is losing her battle. Lucy and the family took her back to GOSH on Friday after she appeared to be deteriorating in front of their eyes. A CT scan gave the devastating news that not only had the tumour grown but that it now appears inoperable and beyond treatment. The family have been told to take Luna home and cherish the time they have left with her. The picture here shows Luna, her siblings and cousins enjoying a family day for their Popsies birthday. The family continue to show unprecedented strength and dignity throughout and we have nothing but admiration for them – especially Luna x
They carried their daughter very, very far. Her father ran a damned marathon for her. These parents did everything that their instincts told them to do.
On August 8, 2012, the sad, sad news came that Luna had died:
On behalf of Lucy and Mario It is with great sadness that we share with you that our Beautiful Luna fell asleep very peacefully with mummy and papa holding her tight to become a shinning star, and we thank her for all the wonderful memories she leaves with us, and thank you from the bottom of our hearts for all your support and love you have shown us in everything that you have done.
On the 16th, the family–and the whole community that sprang up around her—said farewell to their daughter.
Her family has continued to memorialize their daughter, and I do hope that they continue to press Parliament for more funds for brain cancer research.