Burzynski Patient Carol M.’s Story

As we prepare for Burzynski’s upcoming hearing in front of the Texas Medical Board in November, and anticipating that people who happen to have survived Burzynski’s and support him unquestioningly will rally for him as they have in the past, we are telling the stories of patients who have supported him in court, in the political arena, and in the media to find out what happens to patients who defend him. So far we have written about Burzynski patient Elke B., Burzynski patient Douglas W.Burzynski patient Janet C.Burzynski patient Sen. Ed G., McKenzie L, and Alice C. These patients may not be testifying in the upcoming trial, but their stories are perhaps the most important and are far more eloquent and revealing.

In September 2011, Carol M. was diagnosed with stage IV, triple negative, inflammatory breast cancer. This is a very bad diagnosis, and the median survival time for patients diagnosed with stage four IBC cancer, according to the American Cancer Society, is about 21 months, which means half of patients live 21 months past diagnosis. The “triple-negative” means that the tumor will not respond to receptor targeted treatments, though it is responsive to other chemotherapy. It’s aggressive and very likely to recur.

As Carol tells the story on April 25, 2012, because she had a younger relative die the previous year of the same disease:

[W]e decided to look for a treatment other than the traditional protocols. A friend recommended Suzanne Somers’ book, Knockout, and, with no other treatment beforehand, we went straight to the Burzynski Clinic. I feel kind of like a poster child for Dr. B.’s Clinic.

She also watched Eric Merola’s uncritical patient exploitation film, Burzynski: Cancer is a Serious Business, which is staggeringly unconvincing to experts, but is eagerly received by the desperate. Suzanne Somers’ medical advice is absurd and dangerous.

As stage IV suggests, by the time the cancer was detected, it had spread through her body. Later we hear that she is watching a large tumor in her breast, two lymph nodes, a tumor in her abdomen, and one on her rib.

In October 2011, Carol is in Houston at the Burzynski Clinic. The regimen she describes is what the clinic sells as “gene-targeted therapy,” but is basically just an untested chemo cocktail with a sodium phenylbuterate chaser. This is the same witch’s brew that was recommended by the Burzynski boys to poor Kathy B. who said that she:

made this video [of a patient visit with Greg Burzynski] in anticipation that I would be receiving the antineoplastons. Apparently after spending over 30,000 here I found out that the Antineoplastons are only reserved for brain cancer patients who have already undergone chemo radiation. FDA put this restriction on the Burzynski Clinic, so any other cancer patients are BASICALLY ONLY GETTING THE TRADITIOINAL ALLOPATHIC TREATMENTS OF SYNTHETIC ANTINEOPLASON PILLS THAT DID NOTHING FOR ME.

We don’t hear what chemotherapies she is using. Breast cancer patient Denise D. ( a truly heartbreaking story) was on Xometa, Xeloda, Zolinza, Tarceva. Real drugs. So maybe we should not be completely surprised that after two months of chemotherapy, in December of 2012, the tumor is responding. A few of the tumors are not visible and there no new nodules on her scan. This is not a miracle; this is chemotherapy.

She signed a petition on Burzynski’s behalf in March, where she describes herself as “stable.”

In June, she reports she is in remission:

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Of course, she has been on chemotherapy, so I don’t know why she is giving Burzynski undue credit.

Then in July, something ominous. Absolutely no details, however:

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On July 30, bad news.

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Carol M. died on Jan 22, 2013, about 16 months out from diagnosis, about five months short of the median survival.

For reliable information about clinical trials, visit clinicaltrials.gov. Please contribute to St. Jude’s Children’s Hospital, which cares for sick children even if they can’t pay

Burzynski Patient Amelia S.’s Story

[Houston Press Readers: This is a re-post of an earlier story that really shows what we’re dealing with at the Clinic. The other story we recommend is Burzynski Patient MacKenzie L.’s story. Just last year, her family fought for him to get his “trials” back, and then horrible things happened to them.]

As Stanislaw Burzynski stands in front of the Texas Medical Board to answer for yet another litany of abominations, patients are no doubt gathering to protest in front of the courthouse so they can beg for their lives. Many of his supporters in the past have been then-current patients who were convinced that Burzynski is their only chance at life. Burzynski’s patients often have dismal prognoses and their prospects do not improve when they buy into his medical adventurism. In anticipation of such patients being used as human shields yet again, we are focusing on stories of people who have testified on Burzynski’s behalf, begged for their lives in courts and in the public, but who of course died anyway. These patients, so far, include Burzynski patient Elke B., Burzynski patient Douglas W.,Burzynski patient Janet C.Burzynski patient Sen. Ed G., and McKenzie L. These patients may not be testifying in the upcoming trial, but their stories are perhaps the most important and are far more eloquent and revealing.

Last week, we posted about the patient who had perhaps the most high profile campaign in the US in recent years. This one is perhaps the biggest in UK in recent years. The case of Amelia S. is a hard one to write about, because it tipped skeptics off to a pattern in the stories that patients at the clinic were telling, that their worsening symptoms were signs of improvement. As you will see, this is a story that Burzynski’s patients have been relating for decades. It’s a long post, but it’s important that you read to the bottom.

***

3-year old Amelia S. lived in Reading. In about September of 2011, Amelia started displaying neurological symptoms–wobbliness and a trembling left hand (often drawn into a fist). The family brought her in to the hospital after she started falling down. On Jan 30th, 2012, she was diagnosed with a brain tumor, and on the 1st of Feb it was determined to be a large tumor on the brainstem. Surgery revealed a grade 2 diffuse astrocytoma, which the family was given to understand meant that the core of the tumor was likely grade 3. Doctors were unable to remove much of the tumor, only the 4 biopsy samples.

Amelia’s medical team was honest. The benefit offered by radiation and chemotherapy, on average, could be measured in weeks. These are bad, bad tumors. The family brought Amelia home on the 20th of February, her mobility and speech impaired, opting to spare Amelia the unpleasantness of the chemotherapy and radiotherapy. When they saw Amelia improving (we’re not told what those improvements were–whether they were reduction in tumor size or reduced swelling as she recovered from surgery, for instance), however, family understandably felt obliged to look for other options.

They found Burzynski. Immediately, the enormous price tag of his antineoplaston treatments spurred the family on to raise funds. Amelia’s father began documenting their journey to Burzynski in a couple of places, at ameliasmiracle.com and on a Facebook page of the same name. As a whole, his story is the most moving and insightful account of parental heroism that I have read since I began this project, and I strongly recommend that you read it for yourself.

By the end of February 2012, the family had decided on Burzynski. We were introduced to Amelia on February 28th in a video posted by her father:

Attached to the video was a simple plea:

Our daughter, Amelia, was diagnosed at the beginning of February with a very rare type of inoperable brain tumour. She has only a few months to live. We have a ray of hope – treatment for her is available at the Burzynski clinic in Houston, Texas. This treatment in total will cost around £200,000. We need to raise this money to allow Amelia to have the chance to live a normal life.

From the beginning, the family sought media attention to raise money for the Burzynski Clinic, as we see in a Facebook post. the earliest example of Amelia’s story appearing in the press was in the local Wokingham Times on 8 March 2012. The public campaign was launched. And by 14 March, £45,000 had been raised by the community, enough to get Amelia in the door at the Clinic (recent accounts put that initial consult at $30,000). The Wokingham Times seems to have informally adopted the family and followed their progress closely for the rest of the year. These community fundraisers appear as human interest stories and reaffirm that people are basically kind and generous and trusting. In fact, my first exposure to Burzynski and realization that something was profoundly wrong came after I did a newspaper database search for all of the patients that I could find. Of those patients I could find an outcome for, every patient who appeared in the international press, usually begging for money, with a single exception was dead.

A week before Amelia hit the papers, on the 6th of March, Eric Merola, who made an uncritical hagiography to Burzynski unironically called, Burzynski: Cancer is a Serious Business, interviewed the family about their upcoming trip to Houston for his new movie, a sequel, which comes out soon. He planned to follow Amelia’s progress in the film. On the 17th, as they planned their trip to the US, the family put up a short video for Amelia’s donors:

So, she clearly she packed everyone’s hearts into her suitcase. Such a dear.

They left on the 23th of March for America, having raised a staggering £75,000 for Burzynski. In a Wokingham Times piece, her father stated some of the opposition that the family had met:

Mr Saunders added that he was amazed at the number of people who had suggested the American treatment would be fruitless.

He said: “I was warned about this before we decided to go with the Burzynski treatment – it is like there is a vendetta out against the man.

“It is so strange, and all I keep getting are contacts from patients who have been or are being cured by the treatment, or at the very least have had positive results.”

People for whom Burzynski’s treatments fail tend not get into contact with other patients. We are witnessing what is known as survivorship bias. You can talk to a dozen survivors and have a positive impression of a treatment but fail to take into account the 10,000 failures, which would put a treatment well below the efficacy of chance remission, misdiagnosis, and unrecognized responses to traditional therapies. This is why controlled trials are so important to determine efficacy, so we can sort out the background noise of chance from real effects. It is also an important reason that dependence on patient testimonials is a red flag for quackery.

Amelia has had a hole opened in her chest where a Hickman line has been inserted, where she will receive her ANP. These frequently have complications with infection and clogging.

By the 30th, Amelia has her backpack full of antineoplastons, as we see in a video. Her family will spend the customary 3 weeks or so in the US learning to administer the ANP themselves. They are infused at high doses almost continuously.

Amelia’s dad shares his first impression of the Clinic on the facebook page:

The clinic have been fantastic. I am still amazed that people give them such a bad press. They have literally bent over backwards to get this started for us. The receptionist Irena even has a photo of Amelia behind her desk, she is so lovely!

Well there is a reason, of course. It’s because they apparently tell patients that they can tell brain tumors are shrinking by looking at their urine:

Mr Saunders said: “Every day is a milestone and the clinic is being extremely thorough in its tests – Amelia has regular blood tests and these are all closely monitored to check for signs of all sorts of things.

“Interestingly, they can actually see the early signs of the tumour breaking down by how her body excretes it in her blood and urine. This might be the only time in my life I get excited by seeing this kind of information!

I’m not sure what this is supposed to mean, and before Amelia’s story I would not have even noticed this. I can see why a parent clinging to hope would sieze onto any augury of healing. Remember, this family has not had good news about Amelia since her diagnosis. Little steps, literally, mean the world to them. I contacted research oncologist David Gorski, who studies and treats breast cancer, about this claim, and he replied:

“Oncologists don’t monitor anything in the urine for tumor breakdown, at least not for that tumor. There is such a thing called tumor lysis syndrome, but that’s usually only seen in leukemias and lymphomas as a result of induction chemotherapy that kills a lot of cancer cells really fast, releasing potassium, and a number of other byproducts. However, as I said, you don’t generally see this in solid tumors (mainly because none of them respond nearly as dramatically to chemotherapy as hematological malignancies). It’s also a complication to be managed, because its most frequent result is renal failure. It’s possible that he’s referring to GFAP, which is a biomarker for glioma under study, but I don’t think it’s really been validated as a measurement of response to therapy.”

There are apparently no biomarkers for glioma that appear in urine. Amelia had chronically low potassium at this point in her treatment.

We don’t see a lot of what is going on at the clinic on facebook, where most of the story is told record, but we get a clue on Amelia’s other website:

10th April 2012

I realised I hadn’t updated the news section here for a few weeks, this is largely because we update our Facebook page daily and much of our time has been taken up going to and from the clinic. Every day has been a bit of a rollercoaster here. Amelia has been on antineoplaston treatment for a week and a half and at the end of last week we hit a bit of a wall with the treatment dosage. Amelia got pretty sick so we had to back down on the dose a little. Yesterday she started getting really bad headaches so we have now also put her on a low dose steroid as well. Other than this, she is doing well and responding well to treatment. We think there are some very slight improvements in her coordination of her left hand side. We are continuing the treatment, and the aim is now to increase the dosage more slowly to see how she responds. All in all we are doing well and looking forward to coming home soon!

So, she’s been up and down. The steroids are a recurring feature of treatment and can very quickly reduce inflammation in a way that leads to improvements of the type that the family is reporting. You see it a lot on this website. It’s hard not to think of John D., who experienced worsening symptoms while under treatment (and on steroids), which was met with joy on the part of the staff:

I want to mention that the IV nurse told mom today that she’s been there for 10 years & has seen this before & many times, the more severe symptoms that are seen as a result of the therapy is really a good sign that it’s working better. I know this nurse & she is very honest & helpful. She also runs the class they run every week for new patients.

On April 19th we hear that the family is preparing to return home, and on the Wokingham Times page where it is announced, we see that damned picture again, patients literally at death’s door, posing in front of the Burzynski Clinic. We get the update that they have arrived back in England on the 22nd. Amelia’s dad talks about the fundraising (truly amazing acts of generosity by the whole community) and how grateful he is for the immense support that the family has received. (Amelia gives her own thank you’s in an adorable little video a few days later.)  He speculates on the road ahead:

I have come home from Houston with a strange kind of feeling. Perhaps a little apprehension, a bit of fear, a dose of happiness and a shot of hope. We still feel that every day is a roller coaster. We may be sitting on a ticking time bomb, and it may still be that any day we might lose Amelia. Every day truly is so precious, and it is a joy to watch her and her little sister back together again, albeit in a different way, a more careful one, where we have to watch them all the time.

The next day, it sounds like Amelia is having the unquenchable thirst that comes with ANP:

Amelia has been OK today, she was a bit sick earlier but we think this was because she drank too much too quickly – she was fine shortly afterwards. We’ve been getting used to life again at home and putting everything in place we need to.

And we hear that she is due for her first post-treatment MRI:

As far as the MRI goes, I just want to make a point that we aren’t expecting a lot to have happened with this next scan. As part of the medical trial we are required to get a scan done every 4 – 5 weeks – and these things take time to show any change. It is very likely the tumour may be the same or have grown slightly. This is fine and we expect this, and clearly if it has shrunk then great – but we aren’t expecting it to have done.

Tumors on which chemotherapy is working should probably not be growing at all. It’s the definition of “working.”

On the 25th:

Today has been a busy day. Unfortunately Amelia was pretty sick this morning – those of you who have been following our journey will know that we are trying to increase Amelia’s dose of drugs and it sometimes has side effects, this seeming to be the most common. She was fine afterwards and has been eating for the rest of the day.

We had an appointment at the hospital at lunchtime and ended up spending most of the afternoon there so we could get everything sorted. The doctors here are being very cooperative – but I must emphasise that they are recommending different treatment (chemo) and we have consistently turned this down. We have not found a single person with a DIPG tumour that has had any effect with chemo – so continue to find it strange that this is offered. Our plan is to continue the antineoplaston treatment for as long as required. We realise this is being frowned upon by the doctors here – but ultimately we are trying the only thing we found that had credible results.

Credible results would have been publication and replication of his trials. Burzynski can’t seem to complete his trials, much less publish them (which is odd given that he has the test agent already developed and the tumors he is working have outcomes comparatively rapidly). If trial completion were a batting average, he’d be at .015 and his trial publication average would be .000.

By May 4, Amelia is a celebrity. They have raised £160,000 (!) and she is meeting and hanging out with celebrities. And the paper has clearly been reading Amelia’s dad’s updates. Also, her dad’s website announces:

Well we have now been back from Houston for a few weeks – and Amelia has continued to slowly improve with both her walking and speech getting better. The Burzynski clinic were brilliant – we were made to feel so welcome and Amelia really made an impression on everybody there!

We had an MRI scan on Monday that revealed her tumour has stopped growing. Considering she has had no treatment other than the antineoplaston therapy from the Burzynski clinic, we are really pleased (and impressed) that the treatment seems to be working so quickly. We are now continuing the treatment and increasing her dose such that we try to get her to the ‘target’ dose for her weight.

This tumor “stopped growing” news is taken as validation that the treatment is working, so much so, that the Wokingham Times irresponsibly reports that result.   According to her dad:

1. Amelia has been on treatment for less than 4 weeks.
2. She is not on full dose yet, and has some way to go to get there. This is a slow progress, perhaps taking another month or so to achieve this (or more).
3. She has a low grade tumour. Any response will be slow. In other kids where the treatment has worked it has taken many months to show response.
4. She is still on steroids.
5. Her previous scan showed a 13% growth in 7 weeks.

So, having now had several opinions of the scans, I can confirm that Amelia’s tumour has STOPPED GROWING. This is amazing news and we are over the moon that this is the case. For this tumour type, in this short time, with a tumour of the size of Amelia’s, this is an incredibly good result. This is an INCREDIBLY hard tumour to do anything with, one of the hardest to treat and normally very lethal. In most circumstances Amelia would no longer be here (in February there was no way we thought we’d get to May with her) so to have the thing stable is fantastic news.

A few important points. It’s a low grade (slow growing) tumor. This does not seem to have been a PET scan, which would give  a sense how of active the tumor was–to see if it had in fact “stopped.” And initial responses to chemotherapy (and ANP is chemotherapy by every definition) correlate poorly to outcomes, which is, of course, the final goal that everyone involved is keenly interested in. Of course, the Clinic doesn’t convey that information:

I also had a good chat with our doctor in Houston earlier. Again all sounding very positive, and we have again increased Amelia’s dose tonight […] The clinic sound very positive that Amelia’s tumour stopped growing so quickly. Let’s just hope we have more positive news on the next scan in June.

On 12 May, we get an update about Amelia’s progress:

Amelia was on top form today, she was pretty tired after the wedding but perked up and during doses, when we unplugged her from her backpack, she was really bubbly. Later in the afternoon she was doing some proper walking – unassisted. I think we have now realised that a lot of the walking problem now is just her confidence. She was walking almost normally, and certainly the same or better than she was before her operation. Fantastic.

So, they are at point zero, which considering where they have been is wonderful from the family’s perspective, but it doesn’t tell us that the ANP is working of if she has just recovered from surgery to her brain stem and is now on steroids. And this may be important, as dad mentions on the 20th:

She really has improved. We’ve both noticed significant improvements in her speech, mainly in the quality of her pronunciations and also the speed and which she speaks. Slow speech is a classic symptom of her tumour location, so any improvement is a good sign here. This might be the steroids causing this improvement so we have to be careful, but we have a lot of fingers crossed we’ll be taking her off the steroids within the next few weeks if we can get her second bag to target dose. We’ll see.

On the 21st:

Amelia has been a bit groggy, fairly lethargic and pretty reluctant to do a lot. […] Because of the lethargy, the doctor in the US has recommended increasing her steroid dose very slightly. We’ll see if this improves things – if it does then this is a good sign. It does all tie in with us increasing her dose, which is now at maximum on her larger bag. No wonder.

Also on the 21rd, just over a year ago, the fundraiser reaches its goal of £200,000, and the tally continues to climb. In the intervening time, however, we hear that Amelia has had some complications with the Hickman line, which has been replaced because of a tear:

She is doing well otherwise, and we’ll be resuming her treatment tonight. She is now walking by herself, her coordination and balance have all improved and her speech is much better. It looks like the treatment is definitely helping her.

In early June, dad is rattled by the deaths of patients Billie B. and Supatra A., who had the same tumor as Amelia, and for a few days he rails against skeptics. Apparently some have been contacting him and criticizing him. This is wrong, in my opinion. Cancer patients have enough on their plate.

On the 21st, we hear that the tumor remains stable:

Firstly we are waiting on a further interpretation from Dr Burzynski, but as we suspected from our own view of the scans this morning, Amelia’s tumour remains stable. In other words, there is no change since the last scan.

The family accepts this as a sign that they have stayed the brain tumor:

We are 100% sure that without antineoplastons, Amelia would either be in a hospice by now or dead. She has a grade 2 tumour, on scans it appears as a grade 3, and it is very large and in a very dangerous part of the brain. Even a few mm of growth would cause a significant impact on her quality of life at this size. We are all walking on a knife edge. Dr Burzynski’s treatment is undoubtedly keeping her alive. I actually want to wave this in the face of all the skeptics we came across along our journey.

It’s worth noting that the tumor hasn’t shrunk. Small victories–including just not dying–are huge when your child has one of these tumors.

Amelia has her 4th birthday on the 22nd of June, and it is celebrated in the papers.

Again, we see that the steroid dose is being increased on June 25th to control the symptoms of the disease:

We have been advised by the clinic to increase her steroid intake back to how it was last week to see if we see an improvement in her. We will then try in a couple of weeks time to reduce it again but at a slower rate, reducing it by 0.25mg instead of 0.5mg per day. The steroid intake is a tricky issue as they are essential and help reduce the symptoms of this awful disease (headaches, tiredness), however long term steroid use is not good and cause side effects such as weight gain, muscle problems.

We still haven’t seen anything that looks like clear evidence of improvement past diagnosis; it sounds like the symptoms return when the steroids are tapered. She seems to be doing pretty well on this dose of steroids, going to school. (Her last day of nursery school is 11 July.)

On July 15th we hear:

Well – we have had a pretty good weekend. I had a truly amazing conversation last night. Purely by chance I’ve been contacted by the mother of another little girl, who is almost the same age as Amelia, who is receiving the same treatment (for longer), with the same tumour (DIPG) and her tumour just shrunk. By 36%. We are so, so pleased. There is so much hope in our hearts now.

I’ll just briefly mention how frustrated we still are to read so much crap on the internet about Dr Burzynski. I feel like we are ‘insiders’, in a way, and know how the whole thing works now. These doubters clearly don’t. The lady I spoke to last night was told her daughter would die. When she went to Burzynski, her doctor shut her off. Refused to speak. Thank God she chose to follow her heart, and not that doctors advice. She might just have saved her daughters life. There is no doubt this works, and we want it in every hospital in the world. We’ll keep spreading the word until it is.

This child, sadly, is now dead.

By August the tumor has not shrunk, but Amelia has been coping very well. A few weeks earlier she had a wonderful day at the zoo. She’s still a little wobbly on her feet and in the pictures her family put on the Facebook page, you can tell that her face is not symmetrical, but by God she’s enjoying her life, which is an immense thing in itself. On the 6th however, she gets pale and sick; when her blood work is done, they find that her potassium and magnesium are way down, though they stabilize her.

On August 8, we hear:

One of the many things I have said throughout this year is that I hope that maybe, one day, I can learn that another child has had success with this treatment because of the inspiration they gained from Amelia. I know of one little girl, Chey, who is waiting to go to the clinic right now. But due to some complications with the FDA and the clinic, there are some delays – but we are all hoping she will get there very soon. We felt so welcomed by the Burzynski clinic and everything we saw there made us puzzled why so many people don’t believe in it.

We just found out exactly what happened. According to an SEC filing:

In a letter dated June 25, 2012, the [Burzynski] informed the FDA of a serious adverse event which may have been related to the administration of Antineoplastons.  On July 30, 2012, the FDA placed a partial clinical hold for enrollment of new pediatric patients under single patient protocols or in any of the active Phase II or Phase III studies under IND 43,742.  The FDA imposed this partial clinical hold because, according to the FDA, insufficient information had been submitted by the Company to allow the FDA to determine whether the potential patient benefit justifies the potential risks of treatment use, and that the potential risks are not unreasonable in the context of the disease or condition to be treated.

According to the mother of patient Alynn H., her understanding was that a child had died (link is password protected). We have not heard anything else, only that the ANP trials, almost a year later, have not started up again and that the partial hold remains.

On August 13, Amelia’s dad posts a video about Amelia’s life since diagnosis. This write up an unusually long post for this blog, and I haven’t done justice to the support the family has received from their community or the sheer number of people who pitched in to help the family, and this video gives a sense of that:

On the fifteenth, we hear that the family is understandably anxious for the tumor to shrink:

Incidentally, we are well aware that a stable tumour is good. Mondays scan was one that we went into thinking ‘if it is stable then great’. I’ve had a few people come up to me and ask “is the tumour shrinking?”. Now I know people mean well – but it is a little like me walking up to somebody and saying “have you won the lottery yet?”. In other words, frustrating. I smile, say no, it will take time, and move the conversation on.

So far, the tumor’s behavior has been utterly unrelated to the dose of the antineoplaston chemotherapy. On Aug 25, we hear that Amelia is tired on treatment and that she has had a progression of symptoms:

We are still looking to increase her dose slightly as she has gained a little weight since Houston so she should be able to tolerate an increased dose (or at least we hope so). We will probably have to increase her steroids in line with this, but we have been considering this anyway as she seems to have become a lot more wobbly lately. We know from the MRI that the tumour hasn’t grown so an increase in her steroids should help this.

Now, I’m not sure how this was verified. The definition of a “stable” tumor can actually accommodate some growth, so, we can’t know exactly what is happening. And we hear from the family a few days later that they have come to a hard realization:

On the 27th, we hear:

Firstly, Amelia hasn’t quite been herself unfortunately. She has been very reluctant to walk, a lot more tired, slow and pretty lethargic. She was sick on Saturday night also. We are reasonably confident we have probably gone too far with the steroid reduction so we have actually increased these slightly again today. We decided we would rather have a happy and more alert Amelia than one who doesn’t want to do too much – so we made this decision today in coordination with the Burzynski clinic. We’ll see how she does. There is a small chance it is the tumour growing, but much more likely given the scans we have that this is due to swelling of the tumour caused by the treatment. Time will tell. […]

The symptoms we are seeing right now are a direct result of the tumour, hopefully due to it swelling, and the steroids will fix this. They are also what we would see if it has grown.

It really, really looks that her wellness is linked directly to how much steroid she is receiving. And here’s another example of something that is…desperately, desperately wrong at the Clinic. The patient is being told that the tumor is swelling because of the treatment. How is it that only at the Burzynski Clinic that getting worse is indistinguishable from getting better? Second point: this is a tumor on the brainstem. If a possible side effect were swelling of the thing pressing against the brainstem, you’d expect that to be on the informed consent form, right? The type of thing that would be among the “serious side effects,” right? It’s not, at least not in a version of the consent form used after Amelia had started ANP:

consent1 consent2 consent3consent2consent3

(Burzynski’s supporters who have been saying that the treatment has no long-term side effects would do well to look at that first paragraph. The paperwork that every patient signs says it can have exactly that.)

On September 5th, we see a candid moment on the facebook page. The parents are committed to seeing this therapy through, but the father has that lingering awareness that this nothing the tumor has not shrunk:

Whether we have returned to a feeling of optimism or not remains to be seen. I still feel uneasy about the fact that we are so far on without the tumour shrinking. It is frustrating, because we have worked SO hard with the treatment – our entire lives are ruled by it and it is almost a full time job sorting it all out – we just share it between us and make it happen. We just know to be patient, and we 100% know it can work.

At this time, Amelia was returning to school (she had already been going to nursery school on treatment). And the way it appeared in the press, and certainly how I and other skeptics read it, it was being promoted as, “See? This treatment is working enough to let this little girl go back,” a human interest story (The Mirror’s coverage was profoundly disgraceful–suggesting UK doctors “refused to treat” Amelia, whereas when you look above you see that in fact: “The doctors here are being very cooperative – but I must emphasise that they are recommending different treatment (chemo) and we have consistently turned this down”), and by god it was good to hear that Amelia was having a great time, but there’s a lot more going on than is contained in the articles. On the 5th we see how much support was needed to get Amelia in. This was not the return of a healed child that everyone took away from the coverage:

“There has been a LOT of organising around this, far more than getting a healthy child to school. We’ve arranged our nanny, we’ve had to work around the school timetable, we’ve had meetings with the school and the teachers and the hospital nurses and made everything happen. The school have been absolutely fantastic every step of the way – we literally cannot fault them.”

On the 8th, we see on the Facebook page:

“On Monday we have a physiotherapist coming to look at her to see if she can get her walking again. I tried a little walking with her today and she is really, really trying. You can see she struggles, like her brain doesn’t know how to do it but the conscious Amelia that we see and know does. It’s a bit like trying to write with the wrong hand – you know what to do but you can’t quite make your hand write as well as the other. She tries to walk, but can’t quite make it all fit.”

This is not a child improving.

September 10, on they were visited by Eric Merola for his utterly uncritical documentary about Burzynski. More on that in a moment.

On the morning of the 15th, Amelia woke up crying with a pain in her head. She went off treatment for a day or so and got better, not trembling, perhaps speaking a bit better. One wonders if she is not experiencing relief from the hypernatremia that can appear alongside such massive sodium doses and can have such side effects.

Amelia has a great couple of days in late September (and she really takes to her school!), and her dad talks about how the awful waiting game goes in between MRIs, which I have learned is how time is measured by cancer patients:

I’ve said this many times before, but the really frustrating thing for me is not having anything really tangible that tells you this is working, until we get the scan image in front of us. This means an 8 week wait between scans when you really have no idea what is going on, and if she gets worse like she did a few weeks back then I think you naturally assume the worst. Then she gets better, and you relax a little!

The October MRI shows no change. But later that month, the family is trying to come to grips with what life will mean in the likelihood that Amelia is not with them. It’s a beautiful post, and I hope you read it. It’s immensely sad and healthy and you can’t help but feel the full force of their grief and fear. This family is mentally preparing themselves for a horrible future, and this makes what happened next absolutely inexcusable by any measure.

By November 19th, Amelia’s right hand is immobilized, a clear progression, and the family gets the results of a recent scan:

What I don’t want to do is get ours, and everybody else’s hopes up about things. I could not bear thinking that this is working and then to be told it isn’t. (emphasis added)

What I will elude to is that the Burzynski clinic feel that there is a cyst forming inside Amelia’s tumour, very slowly. This does seem apparent on the scan images but we want to make sure this has grown over the longer timeframe. A cyst will form where there is cell breakdown, so clearly is a good thing from a ‘killing the tumour’ viewpoint, but possibly bad in that you then have fluid in a very difficult place to get to. We’ll address that little hurdle if we get to it being a problem in the first place.

This sounds exciting (it is), but we are really trying to be careful about getting too much so. Amelia has got worse, although she has had some improvement over the weeks before her MRI. This could be due to a number of factors and we know the tumour has not grown.

Another point with this is that the tumour isn’t shrinking, but if a cyst is forming then it might be some time before the tumour does shrink. We’ve always said that due to Amelia’s tumour being very slow growing, we have more time on our hands more than most kids who get this.

When this news was released on the family’s Facebook page, followed by rapturous confirmation the next day, it was brought to the attention of Orac at Respectful Insolence, who gave an honest medical opinion:

It pains me greatly to do this, because, no matter how I write this, it will be perceived as trying to take away the hope for Amelia’s survival that the Saunders family holds. Such is not my intent, by any stretch of the imagination. However, these “cysts” almost certainly represent areas of ischemia (low blood flow) leading to tissue death as the tumor outgrows its blood supply. This is a phenomenon commonly seen in advanced malignancy. I know this because tumor angiogenesis ia one of my areas of research interest. […]

Sadly, then, seeing “cysts” growing in Amelia’s tumor most likely says nothing one way or the other about whether or not it’s responding to Burzynski’s antineoplastons. That’s assuming that Burzynski’s interpretation of the scans is even correct, which I wouldn’t bet money on. Most likely, these “cysts” indicate that there is no therapeutic effect. I take no pleasure in saying this, but most likely this is true.

Amelia’s dad was understandably upset and actually responded to Orac on Nov 29th, but the day after Orac posted, the family updated their followers:

We know that some people doubt what we are doing. We understand that it is in human nature to question, and many people will not just take something on faith alone. But, ultimately, this is our choice. And that choice seems to be paying off.

Yesterday I sent a CD with the latest MRI scans on to our local oncologist and I’ll be waiting for their opinion. We’ll consider this, and then continue until the next scan and see if the cystic formation that we have been shown grows in some way. I don’t want anyone to think we just take things at face value and accept them – we consider what we see, what we are told, and get as many opinions as we can. We can see with our own eyes though that something has changed with the tumour and we hope this continues. Amelia’s tumour hasn’t enhanced or progressed, so we know it is unlikely to be anything other than cysts, but we will get that second opinion for sure.

Amelia had a magical week. She won a community award, the “Child of Courage” award, and was literally the star of a Nativity play with her friends. The reality of Amelia’s situation soon came upon the family, however. On 2 December:

The truth is, Amelia isn’t getting any better neurologically. We live with her every day and we see it. She is very slowly deteriorating and I think we would be putting our own heads in the sand if we didn’t accept this. On one hand we have the Burzynski clinic who believe the tumour is beginning to die. We are getting opinions here about this theory and we’ll very likely need another scan of a different type in early January to back this up. Everything is based on opinions – and nobody agrees, which makes it all very hard on us.

And the final assessment from the Great Ormond Street Hospital:

We had our meeting at Great Ormond Street yesterday and, sadly, they just don’t have anything for us. We kind of knew this before we went – but wondered if they might have a trial that we could take part in. Unfortunately they don’t.

They felt that Amelia is in the latter stages of the disease, and that what is called ‘progression’ has already started. This means her tumour is growing, the cancer is spreading and we don’t have a huge amount of time left. Again we had already guessed this was happening but it was good in a way to have another opinion of this.

Were it just a one-off bad interpretation of an MRI on the part of the Burzynski Clinic, we might have been able to write this off as a simple mistake. But it’s not. Not by a long shot.

Had Burzynski not used this line on the family who had given him by far the most publicity of any other in years, this recurring theme might have slipped by unnoticed. But it’s clear that this is not just a coincidence, it’s an M.O. predicated on false hope that strings parents and patients along. And it’s been going on for decades! And it leaves patients utterly crushed and confused. The few skeptics who have been working these stories in their spare time have found case after case of patients thinking that getting worse is getting better (a partial, growing list can be found in this post). Consider that the cases written up at this website represent 1/10th of the total cases we’ve been able to find and will be bringing to you, that we have only found a small fraction of cases, mostly from the most recent years, and that this guy has been operating for over 35 years! My god! Imagine what that means!

In light of this, when Eric Merola, in his new movie, says in a series of title cards:

Two months after this interview, Amelia’s tumor began to swell and fill with fluid.

There was confusion and disagreement among between their local radiologists and the radiologists in Houston, [sic] about why this was happening–

So her parents decided to discontinue antineoplaston therapy.

[Then he cuts to a picture of Amelia’s obituary and says,]

“Amelia passed away with her parents by her side on January 6, 2013.”

…it is fundamentally dishonest. There was no confusion. There was the right diagnosis and Burzynski’s diagnosis, a story that’s been spun for decades to desperate parents, and it’s a goddamned disgrace that Merola suggests that the parents’ evidence-based decision could have been related in any way to the outcome.

Instead of the usual plea for a donation to St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, which researches children’s tumors and provides care for free, we’d like to ask you to make a donation to Naomi House, the children’s hospice center that cared for Amelia’s family in the last days and which seems to be the family’s preferred charity.

If you want to take action, protect the vulnerable, and put reliable information in front of patients who might be looking into this Clinic, the Skeptics for the Protection of Cancer Patients (facebook page here) have put up guidelines about how to boost good information into Burzynski’s search results.

Burzynski Patient Priscilla P.’s Story

Priscilla P. had driven a school bus in numerous cities around the country. In November 1998, she was diagnosed with ovarian cancer. She had radical surgery, a complete hysterectomy and removal of her gall bladder, appendix and lymph nodes. Following that, she endured a year and a half of chemotherapy.

On 8 June 2000, her story appeared in the Atlanta Journal Constitution, raising awareness of a fundraiser for Burzynski:

The chemo slows the cancer, but it’s still growing. But [Priscilla] is upbeat, determined and not about to give up. Her bright blue eyes are animated as she explains Dr. Stanislaw Burzynski’s experimental treatment program in Houston, where she has been accepted as a patient. The treatment is called antineoplaston therapy. Very basically, antineoplastons act as a biochemical microswitch, turning on tumor ­suppressing genes to stop tumor growth.

“My son read about it in People magazine,” she said. “Basically, you have an infusion or take a pill which only attacks cancer cells, without destroying healthy cells. It teaches the cancer cells to die. . . . He’s had over 3,000 patients with great results and very good results with soft sarcomas, which is what I’ve got.”

There’s only one snag to the scenario, and that, of course, is money.

Of course. he has no track record–no basis to claim ANY results with sarcomas because he has never published a respectable account of his treatment. And there is similarly no evidence that ANP is a “biochemical microswitch,” an unnecessarily sciency term if I’ve ever seen it. The article continues:

Since the clinical trial has not yet been approved by the FDA, insurance companies won’t pay for the treatments, which would total about $50,000 for a five-­month program. Like most people, [Priscilla] doesn’t have access to those kinds of funds, and the clinic requires up-­front payment of $20,000 before treatment can be started.

“I can’t understand why insurance won’t pay,” said [Priscilla]. “The cost is a bout the same as chemo, and it would only be for five months, where the chemo can go on indefinitely. . . . Less than five percent of patients are able to go for these kinds of clinical trials because of the money situation, but this is how cures are found. If they don’t have the people to do the trials, how can they hope to find a cure?”

I hate to have to disagree with a patient, but this is NOT how cures are found. Respectable researchers secure funding on the basis of the merit of their ideas, their track record, their ability to convince knowledgeable peers at research foundations to sponsor their research, or their ability to attract investors. Disreputable quacks hit up the dying for cash and bleed the desperate dry, never publishing anything convincing.

Part of Priscilla’s mission, it seems, was to spread the gospel of Burzynski, and she and her family repeated his talking points to the press, who dutifully reprinted it without critical comment, which is deeply irresponsible. I guess fact-checking is something that other newspapers do.

Education of the public is part of what they hope to accomplish as well, said [Priscilla’s daughter].

“I just want people to be aware that these kinds of treatments are available, but people can’t use them because they don’t have the money, and insurance won’t pay,” said [Priscilla’s daughter].

“The other thing is that people like my mom get accepted after everything else is exhausted. She’s had a year and a half of chemo, and she’s completely run down by it. What would have happened if she went (for the treatment) right after surgery? She may have been completely cured by now. If they could go immediately when diagnosed, rather than after chemo brings them to death’s door, how much more effective would that treatment be?”

In all probability, the fact that Burzynski’s patients usually have had prior treatment has lengthened the lives of his patients, as there is no evidence that his treatment does anything. It also gives Burzynski a bogus out for whenever a patient dies: It was the prior treatment that killed them.

On the 22 June an update appears. The fundraiser was successful and raised enough money for Burzynski that he’d let her start.

After the second month of treatment doctors will know whether or not it is effective. If it is not, [Priscilla’s daughter] plans to donate the rest of the money to another candidate for the treatment. The obstacle of money is almost overcome, but now there is a challenge of finding a place to stay during the treatment. [Priscilla’s daughter] is looking into several possibilities, including the Ronald McDonald House, but hopes a local resident with ties to Houston will help. Right now, [Priscilla] is being treated at Kennestone Hospital for blood clots in her lungs.

The Ronald McDonald House has denied Burzynski’s patients housing in the past because of who their doctor is. Think about what that says about the doctor.

An update appeared on November 23 in the AJC. She’s on treatment, and the family is still raising money for Burzynski:

To fund an experimental cancer treatment in Texas, she is selling cookbooks at Curves for Women, a Woodstock business on Main Street that features exercise and health routines for women. The $10 cookbook features low-­fat recipes for busy people and was written by Dawn Hall. The treatment costs  $9,200 a month and lasts five months. [Priscilla], 58, undergoes a 24­-hour­ a ­day infusion of anticancer medication and ingests several dozen pills daily.

Priscilla died of her ovarian cancer on 23 August 2001.

For reliable information about clinical trials, visit clinicaltrials.gov. Please contribute to St. Jude’s Children’s Hospital, which cares for sick children even if they can’t pay.

(Tip of the hat to the Research Ninja, whose hard work made the recent flurry of posts available. Many more to come.)

Burzynski Patient Alice C.’s Story

As Stanislaw Burzynski stands in front of the Texas Medical Board to answer for yet another litany of abominations, patients are no doubt planning to protest in front of the courthouse so they can beg for their lives. Many of his supporters in the past have been then-current patients who were convinced that Burzynski was their only chance at life. Burzynski’s patients often have dismal prognoses and their prospects do not improve when they buy into his medical adventurism. In anticipation of such patients being used as human shields yet again, we are focusing on stories of people who have testified on Burzynski’s behalf, begged for their lives in courts and in the public, but who of course died anyway. These patients, so far, include Burzynski patient Elke B., Burzynski patient Douglas W.,Burzynski patient Janet C.Burzynski patient Sen. Ed G., and McKenzie L. These patients may not be testifying in the upcoming trial, but their stories are perhaps the most important and are far more eloquent and revealing.

Alice C.’s story begins in August 1994, when after 2 years of a steadily growing lymph gland in her neck, she switched to a doctor who took the symptom to be something more serious than a mere infection. In December she received the diagnosis, non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. She reports that the diagnosis was left unceremoniously on her answering machine, which might have been a massive privacy violation and she has every right and reason to be disgusted by that.

Alice’s story is shared in the book Women Confront Cancer: Twenty-one Leaders Making Medical History by Choosing Alternative and Complementary Therapies, in which she is described as a “real-estate broker, master gardener, and former flight attendant” (33).

In January of 1995, she began working with an oncologist who explained the prognosis, that it was not a curable cancer, but that it was treatable with chemotherapy. She reconstructed the conversation:

“I asked him, “Well, how soon do I need to start it?’

“He said, ‘Today.’

“I asked him, ‘Well, what kind of time are we talking about?’

“He said, ‘Ten years doing chemotherapy, five years if you don’t do the therapy.'” (34)

Alice insisted on an independent second opinion, a completely reasonable course of action. A bone biopsy showed the cancer in the marrow, meaning that the cancer was stage 4. The first mention of Burzynski in the account comes at this cancer center:”

“At the cancer center she asked one of the doctors what his opinion was of antineoplaston treatment, and he dismissed Dr. Burzynski as the ‘pee doctor.’ (His antineoplastons were originally derived from urine.)

Burzynski’s treatment was originally isolated from urine and the claim is that cancer patients lack these endogenous, cancer-fighting compounds. No other physician, researcher, or scientist has ever confirmed this, nor do they recognize antineoplaston as a risk factor for cancer. And the treatment has not gotten any mintier smelling since the early days, it seems. According to one recent patient, whose daughter was being treated with ANP:

BTW if you come over, expect our house to smell funny. Alynn’s medicine has a strong smell. I think it smells like a hamster cage.

The BBC’s flagship investigative journalism show Panorama, in their “Hope for Sale?” which looked into the Clinic. According to the BBC:

It looked like something out of Willy Wonka’s factory. A room full of pipes and noise; a production process that flowed through steel tubes, steaming boilers and glass tanks of bubbling liquid.

But there was one striking difference from a chocolate factory – the whole room smelled of urine.

And USA Today reports that the drugs have an unpleasant odor. Burzynski’s nickname, it seems, is not unearned.

Alice talked to other lymphoma patients and eventually decide to pursue alternative medicine. Part of her regimen was “a concoction of mistletoe and a few other ingredients” (35). And this is the interesting bit. A few months after deciding to not pursue traditional therapy, around February of 1995, she got the results of a scan. Her doctor told her:

“…that I was a case of spontaneous remission. This was either from the herbs that I was doing or from what doctors say about lymphoma, the waxing and waning process.” (35)

When there is no need to invoke the magic potion thrown together with no demonstrable medical skills, don’t. This type of cancer waxes and wanes. It would seem that whatever she happens to be doing as the cancer runs its natural unopposed course in her body will share credit for what the cancer would be doing anyway. This will include Burzynski’s treatment and all the other alt med remedies.

As is often the case, Alice’s doctors do not want to work with Burzynski. According to her story:

When she became [Burzynski’s] patient, she found that most other doctors were unwilling to work with her. ‘I didn’t get help from anywhere. I felt abandoned and alone.”

This, I’m certain, is misleading. Burzynski’s treatment requires a doctor to work with the patient in their home state while they are on treatment. Patients often have a hard time finding someone, especially finding a qualified oncologist, who will work with the Clinic. It’s not that they won’t work with the patient, you see, but with the Clinic. She has a hard time getting the port installed in her chest, where she will take in the ANP. When she does, she has numerous complications, including the port breaking and a piece of it traveling to her heart, where it needs to be removed. As far as I can tell, these are unnecessary complications of the treatment. These are the reasons why doctors don’t work with Burzynski.

Because of complications, including pain from necrotic tissue and swollen lymph nodes, she went off of ANP on 26 October 1996. A few weeks later, she learns that there was a 58% reduction in her cancer. (Of course, it’s still a waxing and waning cancer, so there is no need to give Burzynski any credit.)

It is during Alice’s treatment that Burzynski’s big fraud trial was underway. She appears in the Dallas Morning News at the height of the drama:

“The FDA is violating my constitutional rights to treatment,” said Alice [C], a 45­-year ­old Dallas woman suffering from non-­Hodgkins lymphoma. The agency, she said, “has made a list of who will live and who will die. I guess I’m not on the list.”

The article gives an example of a strategy that has worked for Burzynski in the past, letting his desperate patients stand as human shields between him and justice:

“Dozens of Dr. Burzynski’s tearful patients gathered Tuesday to accuse the U.S. Food and Drug Administration of murder for obtaining a court order that could close his practice beginning Wednesday.”

Alice had not ruled out chemotherapy, and she saw it as something to fall back on after she tried alternative medicine. We don’t know if she did rely on chemotherapy in the end. She died on 10 December 2004, however, right in line with her original prognosis if she took chemotherapy. But we simply don’t know. There is no reason to think that Burzynski’s treatment helped her, as the disease would flare up and go into remission on its own. Even if she never had conventional therapy, we can’t in principle know that she wasn’t a statistical outlier or if Burzynski’s treatment helped because both outcomes look exactly the same.

And that’s why testimonials are not evidence of efficacy.

Burzynski Patient Courtney H.’s Story

In October 1997. 6-year old Courtney H. started to have neurological symptoms, including headaches, trouble hearing, stumbling, and double vision. On 11 November 1997, Courtney was diagnosed with a tumor on her brain stem. According to a first-person narrative authored by her parents in February 1999, the prognosis was about 3 months. (This is of course, highly variable.) Courtney underwent 6 weeks of radiation therapy, some 33 treatments. The parents were clearly shocked by the weight gain caused by the steroids that her doctors put her on, likely to reduce swelling around the tumor.

After the radiation treatment, Courtney went to North Carolina to be put on a chemotherapy regimen at Duke. She had two more months of this treatment. Courtney, then, had two therapeutic regimens before she went to the Burzynski Clinic. This is important to consider when we see what came later. Both chemotherapy and radiation can kill cancer for months after they have been administered.

In April 1998, Courtney’s family took her to the Burzynski Clinic. According to the father:

With no time to waste, we packed up and drove to Texas. After 1 month on antineoplastons, the tumor had decreased by 30%. That was the best news I have ever had in my entire life. I felt as if a bulldozer had been lifted off my back.

The reasons that there are controlled trials is to determine whether or not it was the chemotherapy Courtney had just finished, the radiation that she had, the antineoplastons, or some combination of these that contributed to the reported decrease. It’s hard to tell what improvement, if any, she has experienced with respect to this reported decrease, as the father says:

However, Courtney was still suffering. The steroids had put her in a wheelchair because her feet were so swollen she couldn’t walk without crying.

Apparently, she is still on steroids at this point. (Steroids seem to be part of the routine at the Burzynski Clinic; she was on steroids before Burzynski as well.) Three months after the family started treatment, in the summer of 1998. the family was trying to taper her off of the steroids:

Courtney has done wonderfully on antineoplaston therapy. After 3 months of treatment, her tumor decreased by about 50%. When she was being tapered off the steroids, however, Courtney developed pneumonia, became dehydrated, and went into a coma. We were air­lifted by helicopter to Children’s Hospital. She was unresponsive for 3 days. She had a catheter inserted to collect urine, and IV in her arm, a tube in her nose to her stomach to remove excretions, and a tube down her throat so she could breathe. A spinal tap was performed. The doctors initially told me Courtney was bleeding in her brain. Later, we were relieved to find they were wrong. What they believed to be bleeding turned out to be calcium deposits. After she came out of the coma, she stayed in the hospital for another week. Then she came home, and we put her back on antineoplastons.

The calcium deposits in the brain can appear following inflammation of brain tissue. The doctor’s suspicions of stroke, however, might not be unfounded. Children have had strokes while on antineoplastons; take the cases of Elizabeth K. and Haley S. (and the Clinic’s heartless response to Haley’s stroke), for instance.

In a brief Cincinnati Post article from 30 July 1999 we hear how much this treatment is costing Courtney’s family:

The controversial treatment, which was created by Dr. S.R. Burzynski, features the use of a substance called antineoplastons. The family struggles financially because their medical insurance won’t cover the $14,000 per month cost of the treatment, which is considered experimental.

Yes. Going to Burzynski bankrupts families, who turn to their community who often bankrolls the dubious patent medicine. Take for instance the junior-high student who raised over $3,600 for Burzynski, as reported in the Post on 4 March 1999. Or the $42,000 raised at a single fundraiser for Courtney, according to an article from June 24, 1999. Communities rally behind the sick. However, would they be so generous if they knew what it was funding?

Even in the laudatory report written by Courtney’s parents, it’s hard to see anything that looks like progress, as he reports that after she returned to treatment:

Unfortunately, that was not the end of Courtney’s problems. I noticed some discharge around her C­-line. It was infected and had to be removed. Courtney was given antibiotics.

Infection at the site of the port that is placed in the patient before administering the ANP is a fairly common complication (see the cases of Keith G.Erik M., Leo D., and James N.) and one that the Burzynski has had trouble reporting to the FDA in the past, at least according to a recent inspection, when the FDA told Burzynski:

“You failed to protect the rights, safety, and welfare of subjects under your care. Forty-eight (48) subjects experienced 102 investigational overdoses between January 1, 2005 and February 22, 2013, according to the [trial number redacted] List of Hospitalizations/SAE (serious adverse events) [redacted]/ Overdose [redacted]/Catheter Infection report. Overdose incidents have been reported to you [….] There is no documentation to show that you have implemented corrective actions during this time period to ensure the safety and welfare of subjects.” [emphasis added]

Sadly, more complications are lurking around the corner for Courtney:

After only a couple of more months of antineoplaston therapy, Courtney again began to have serious problems. She stopped eating, developed prolonged diarrhea, nausea, and vomiting. She stopped drinking, too. Therefore, her sodium levels became high. We found ourselves in and out of the emergency room. Finally, we decided that Courtney needed a feeding tube. The tube is connected to pumps that provide 100 cc of formula and 300 cc of water to Courtney every hour. From April 1998, when she began antineoplastons, to February of 1999, Courtney’s brain tumor has decreased by 75%.

It’s hard to imagine how this patient is benefiting from this supposed decrease. Even in the father’s story, things seem to be getting steadily worse. Indeed, when the parents’ account was written, Courtney is not attending school, attending ballet, running, or playing.

The father seems to think that the side effects are caused by the radiation. Of course, the high sodium levels are a well known side effect of antineoplastons–patients report having to take in huge amounts of water to keep their sodium levels in check–and the same type of complication may have killed Josiah Cotto, and it certainly led to an overdose in Luna P., whose regular doctor reacted like this when he heard how high her sodium level was (178):

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Indeed, hypernatremia is the top entry on the lengthy list of side effects that appear on the antineoplaston informed consent sheet that every patient receives:

consent1

consent2

consent3

By February of 1999, Courtney’s family has raised $100,000 for Burzynski, according to the family’s story.

In December 1999, according to the Post in March 2000, the family hears that the tumor is 90% gone, though if it is true, there is nothing to confirm that it was that antineoplastons and not all the prior treatment.

In May 2001, a magician decides to unicycle across the country to raise funds for Courtney. The snippet from the May 13th Cincinnati Enquirer is revealing:

“I really have two reasons. One, I want to raise money for Courtney. Two, I want to raise awareness of Dr. (Stanislaw) Burzynski and his Houston clinic.” “Courtney” is 10­-year­ old Courtney [H], suffering from an inoperable brain stem tumor and receiving Dr. Burzynski’s $7,200 a month treatment. It’s considered alternative, so insurance doesn’t help. Mr. Dalton’s brother Mark had the same treatment last year and his tumor was nearly gone when he had to go off the medication. He died in March 2000.

Imagine that. Tumor almost gone, patient dead shortly thereafter. This is not an aberration; it happens over and over and over. In another report, from 25 Jan 2001, we see this account of Mark’s tumor:

The treatment got rid of Mark’s tumor, but other complications arose. He died in March.

Bunk. But look at how Courtney’s parents describe what is happening:

However, many of the problems Courtney has experienced and is now experiencing are side effects of the radiation therapy she received.

It’s the same story, over and over. To the true believer, it’s never that the treatment didn’t work. It’s always something else.

Courtney died on 20 March 2002.

A side note. The account that this was based on comes from the Burzynski Patient Group. Her story has disappeared from that site:

memoryhole

This is one reason that this site exists, to make sure that nobody’s story disappears down a memory hole. All the stories are important, not just the ones that Burzynski’s supporters think make him look good. We have far more stories than the Burzynski Patient Group will ever have, well over a thousand at this point, and we’ll tell them all.

Burzynski Patient Chelsea S.’s Story

In May 2012, 3 months after she gave birth to her second set of twins, 35-year old dancer Chelsea S. lost vision and experienced numbness in one half of her body. She was diagnosed with a brain cancer almost never seen in adults, a pilomyxoid astrocytoma (PMA). It was near the brain stem and could not be removed, though she received a diagnosis after a biopsy. It appears that she also had radiation. In August, after the radiation, she was told that palliative care was her best option.

The family, understandably was upset and sought another option. As recounted in the Vancouver Sun in November 2012:

They weren’t ready to accept that Chelsea would die; within a matter of days, they had heard through friends of the Burzynski clinic; a quick search online brought them to his website. Steyns’ sister Emma filled out an online application, sent in a package of Steyns’ medical information, and two weeks later the sisters were on a flight to Texas.

They didn’t balk at controversy surrounding the doctor, or the cost: $35,000 up front and up to $30,000 a month for the targeted gene therapy treatment

According to a facebook page that was set up in Sept 2012,

Since her diagnosis, Chelsea’s case has been overseen by a team of doctors from both Lion’s Gate Hospital and the B.C. Cancer Clinic. She has just completed an aggressive round of radiation treatment but unfortunately it has not stopped the tumor growth and her doctors have said that they are unable to offer her any other conventional medical options. The Burzynski Clinic […] in Texas can offer her Personalized Gene Targeted Cancer Therapy which has shown huge success in the the treatment and remediation of Chelsea’s type of cancer, however because the treatment is still in its trial phases, it will come at a huge cost.

Usually, experimental therapies are provided at no cost to a patient. This may technically be true at the Burzynski Clinic, where they happily tell US senators that there will be no charge for the experimental agent, but then charge out the nose for all sorts of “support” services. How much in the case of Chelsea?

$35,000 up front and up to $30,000 a month for the targeted gene therapy treatment.

Now at this point it seems that it’s unclear which form of quackery Burzynski is pouring into her veins, whether it is the “antineoplaston” treatment, a fraction of human urine a lack of which is not recognized as a cause of cancer but which Burzynski “replaces” anyway, or the untested, potentially synergistically toxic chemo cocktail based on the genetic equivalent of palm reading that he calls “gene-targeted therapy.” Both are dangerous and unproven.

Burzynski is treated with well-earned contempt by physicians interviewed for the Vancouver Sun piece:

Dr. Chris Daugherty, an oncologist and international authority on medical ethics and end-of-life decision making at the MacLean Centre in Chicago, draws a line between patients pursuing treatments based on “real trials” and Burzynski, who he says is “off the bell-shaped curve 95 per cent of us practice on.”

Daugherty said it would be unfair to compare Burzynski, whose treatments have not been shown in any randomized study to be effective, with doctors conducting clinical trials at more traditional medical centres […].

Chelsea has her first appointment on Sept. 18th spends several weeks in Houston, suggesting that this is in fact that ANP treatment, Burzynski’s patent medicine. Of her first day, we hear on her blog:

Then we spent the rest of the day at the Burzynski Clinic where I met the Big Guy. See pic. They reviewed my files and images in a very formal way. We were interviewed by 2 separate doctors and then the 2 of them together with Dr. Burzynski. Then after they accepted me into phase 3 of the trial of the Antineoplastone program, they send you to financial department to drill you and see if you can actually afford it (thank goodness for the run). Next they take you for a physical – blood work and an exam. Now we wait for the FDA to approve my case which needs to happen before I can start (up to 3 days). We felt very excited leaving the clinic. A new pathway for me and some real hope to kick this tumour into remission!

Yep. They give you hope and then they shake you down for cash. It’s called the hard sell, and any number of patients have reported that. It’s curious that they think that they are in a trial, where it sounds like they are applying for a special exemption with the FDA. A few days later, we hear:

After receiving FDA approval, Chelsea has begun her customized treatment. She  had some wonderful days exploring neighboring towns with her sister […] last week before treatment started Thursday, and on Monday was joined by her brother […]. Despite a few challenges, she is doing well and continues to express her gratitude for everyone’s love and support here at home.

What are the few challenges? Perhaps the side effects of the ANP:

She has had difficulty tolerating the treatment, and is experiencing severe side-effects including dangerously low potassium levels, temporary blindness and severe pain.

It is chemotherapy by any reasonable definition. And isn’t temporary blindness her original symptom? Nonetheless, Chelsea’s sister is a nurse and is taking care of her, and we get a peak at what the family was being told at the Burzynski Clinic:

“Before we went to Texas I was just sad all the time,” [Chelsea’s sister] said. “Texas really gave us a boost because the nurses and doctors are saying they’ve seen patients come in totally debilitated, as bad as Chelsea, and walk out.”

Notice this is very different from actually seeing the patients get out of their wheelchairs. And since the nurses have a nasty habit of saying stupid things to patients at the clinic, like, “Your side effects are a sign the ANP is working,” one should take their words with a grain of salt substitute. They return from Texas on October 11. At any rate, Chelsea is very popular and her fundraisers, by November, have raised over $200,000 for Burzynski.

Another thing that sticks out from the Sun article, is how puffy Chelsea’s face is. This is likely a side effect of the steroids that Burzynski puts his patients on.

Just before Christmas, Chelsea’s facebook page reports, in between massively successful fundraisers for Burzynski:

Christmas has officially come early this year. Great news yesterday! Chelsea’s Tumor has shrunk 13% since the last MRI which was in October and this result has been confirmed by Doctors both here as well as in Texas.

On Feb 21 we get this update:

Update time: Chelsea had a scan on Feb 5th which again showed continued reduction of the tumor. This was not a surprise to her or her family as her movement and strength in both her legs and arms continued to improve also.

It’s been a rough month with colds which have been a challenge for Chels, but she has faced them all with a smile. Her best week included watching her “kids” dance at Snowmotion. Her next scheduled scan is in March.

We don’t hear about the March scan, only that she is on vacation with her family. The next update relevant to her treatment comes on May 24:

A very brief update on Chelsea: She is at home with [her husband] and the kids, and is continuing to receive cancer treatment. Some days are better than others as is to be expected, however she faces each one with positivism, spunk and resilience as only Miss Superwoman can.

Chelsea S. died on June 23rd.

For reliable information about clinical trials, visit to clinicaltrials.gov. Please contribute to St. Jude’s Children’s Hospital, which cares for sick children even if they can’t pay. Unlike Burzynski.

Burzynski Patient Derek W.’s story

As Stanislaw Burzynski heads to court again to answer charges made by the Texas Medical Board on behalf of a variety of patients, he is doubtlessly preparing by getting the testimony of current and former patients. In anticipation of this pony’s one trick, we are telling the stories of patients who have testified on Burzynski’s behalf over the course of his long, dubious career and see where they are now. Much of what follows is based on reporting from The Oregonian and on written testimony presented to Congress in 1996 in the same hearing in which Douglas W. testified.

Derek W. was just 7-years old but already knew what he wanted to be when he grew up: a preacher. His proud parents nicknamed him the “preacher in sneakers” and ensured he was active in their growing church congregation. Derek also enjoyed participating in his local cub scout troop.

On November 6, 1995, Derek’s parents received the devastating news that Derek had a deadly tumor in his upper brain stem. According to his dad, the news was bleak, so they scoured the country for a solution:

Without treatment he was given 3-6 weeks to live. With paliatory treatments, primarily radiation, he was given between 4 and 18 months. As any parent in our position would, we researched all known traditional and non-traditional cancer treatments.

The doctors’ recommendation of radiation was not likely to be curative. So the family decided to try Burzynski’s treatment antineoplastons because it “appeared to be based on firm scientific data.” Derek’s dad said Burzynski “felt that his success rate was as high as 20%,” but the trusting father acknowledged that the number “was not scientifically documented”.

Sadly, the data released by the Burzynski Clinic over the decades has been notoriously misleading. Indeed, the 20% survival number remains unsubstantiated even two decades later. And yet, other desperate families are still under the false impression that antineoplastons have been demonstrated to be safe and effective.

For example, the family of McKenzie L. thought she had a 27% chance of survival by being pumped full of Burzynski’s concoction. To a desperate parent, a 1-in-5 or better chance certainly sounds infinitely better than the 0% chance that brutally honest cancer doctors sometimes are required by ethics to provide.

The mother of Brendan B., who paid $10k to the Burzynski Clinic in 1991, describes the psychology in a 1996 New York Times article:

“I would have gone out and stood naked in traffic,” Mrs. [B] said. “I would have died in his place if that were possible. I would have done anything to make this child live.” Dr. Burzynski, she said, “offered us a thread to cling to.”

When she and her son Brendan were in Dr. Burzynski’s office, she said, “a very interesting thing happened.” She explained: “I got caught up in this whole thing with all these sick people, people coming and saying they were cured. I feel so stupid even talking about it because I am intelligent and educated and so is my husband.”

She believed in Dr. Burzynski, in spite of herself she said, because “this beautiful child is dying and here’s this person who may possibly have something.”

In addition to Burzynski’s treatment, Derek received radiation as recommended by his oncologists. His father is hopeful that the tumor’s lack of growth is a good sign:

We had an MRI that showed no new tumor growth since we began Dr. Burzynski’s medicine. We still feel [Derek’s] situation is shaky, and this does not mean the medicine is working for sure. It is our one and only hope. Without it, he for sure would die. With it, we still have a chance.

If only Derek’s parents had been able to speak to Mrs. B, who said, “It’s fine to say Dr. Burzynski offers hope, but you have to have hope in something that’s not ephemeral.”

And if only Derek’s parents had reviewed the results of a 1982 visit to the Burzynski Clinic by Canadian doctors. The doctors’ report contained a horrifying picture of what was happening in Houston, according to the 1996 NY Times article and a Usenet posting:

We were surprised that Dr. Burzynski would show us such questionable cases. We were left with the impression that either he knows very little about cancer and the response of different tumors to radiation and hormonal measures, or else he thinks that we are very stupid, and he has tried to hoodwink us.

As we look back over the cases were were shown, we are left with the impression that the only patients who are still alive either had slowly growing tumors, or had received effective treatment before being referred to Houston.

And the Canadians reportedly concluded:

After reviewing 20 case reports, selected by Dr. Burzynski as his best examples of clear cut responses to Antineoplastons we were unable to identify a single case in which therapeutic benefit could be attributed to Antineoplaston.

[…]

We believe that it is unethical to administer unproven agents such as Antineoplastons to patients without satisfying the requirements of the FDA and an ethics committee, that the minimum standards for human experimentation are being met. We also believe that it is immoral to charge patients for this unproven, experimental treatment.

What’s true in 1982 is still true today, since the American Cancer Society agrees that “there is no convincing evidence showing that antineoplastons actually work.” In fact, Burzynski has, according to FDA inspection records, a horrible time satisfying them that his evaluations of his trial outcomes are accurate. Indeed, the FDA recently found that his outcomes are inflated 2/3 of the time.

Derek died of his cancer on December 13, 1996, just over 11 months after his diagnosis. There is no available evidence that antineoplastons improved Derek’s survival.

Derek’s parents wanted to create a special memorial to their son. So when their church expanded to include three 40-foot crosses, they made sure one of them was dedicated in memory of him. The crosses were made of steel and shared their message at least 2 miles away.

Derek’s mom thought the memorial cross was a fitting way for her “preacher in sneakers” to continue to preach: “You want a chance to remember the person who died and to have their dreams live on. [The cross] is a testimony to our hope.”

 

Burzynski Patient Amelia S.’s Story

[This is a repost of an earlier story.]

As Stanislaw Burzynski stands in front of the Texas Medical Board to answer for yet another litany of abominations, patients are no doubt gathering to protest in front of the courthouse so they can beg for their lives. Many of his supporters in the past have been then-current patients who were convinced that Burzynski is their only chance at life. Burzynski’s patients often have dismal prognoses and their prospects do not improve when they buy into his medical adventurism. In anticipation of such patients being used as human shields yet again, we are focusing on stories of people who have testified on Burzynski’s behalf, begged for their lives in courts and in the public, but who of course died anyway. These patients, so far, include Burzynski patient Elke B., Burzynski patient Douglas W.,Burzynski patient Janet C.Burzynski patient Sen. Ed G., and McKenzie L. These patients may not be testifying in the upcoming trial, but their stories are perhaps the most important and are far more eloquent and revealing.

Last week, we posted about the patient who had perhaps the most high profile campaign in the US in recent years. This one is perhaps the biggest in UK in recent years. The case of Amelia S. is a hard one to write about, because it tipped skeptics off to a pattern in the stories that patients at the clinic were telling, that their worsening symptoms were signs of improvement. As you will see, this is a story that Burzynski’s patients have been relating for decades. It’s a long post, but it’s important that you read to the bottom.

***

3-year old Amelia S. lived in Reading. In about September of 2011, Amelia started displaying neurological symptoms–wobbliness and a trembling left hand (often drawn into a fist). The family brought her in to the hospital after she started falling down. On Jan 30th, 2012, she was diagnosed with a brain tumor, and on the 1st of Feb it was determined to be a large tumor on the brainstem. Surgery revealed a grade 2 diffuse astrocytoma, which the family was given to understand meant that the core of the tumor was likely grade 3. Doctors were unable to remove much of the tumor, only the 4 biopsy samples.

Amelia’s medical team was honest. The benefit offered by radiation and chemotherapy, on average, could be measured in weeks. These are bad, bad tumors. The family brought Amelia home on the 20th of February, her mobility and speech impaired, opting to spare Amelia the unpleasantness of the chemotherapy and radiotherapy. When they saw Amelia improving (we’re not told what those improvements were–whether they were reduction in tumor size or reduced swelling as she recovered from surgery, for instance), however, family understandably felt obliged to look for other options.

They found Burzynski. Immediately, the enormous price tag of his antineoplaston treatments spurred the family on to raise funds. Amelia’s father began documenting their journey to Burzynski in a couple of places, at ameliasmiracle.com and on a Facebook page of the same name. As a whole, his story is the most moving and insightful account of parental heroism that I have read since I began this project, and I strongly recommend that you read it for yourself.

By the end of February 2012, the family had decided on Burzynski. We were introduced to Amelia on February 28th in a video posted by her father:

Attached to the video was a simple plea:

Our daughter, Amelia, was diagnosed at the beginning of February with a very rare type of inoperable brain tumour. She has only a few months to live. We have a ray of hope – treatment for her is available at the Burzynski clinic in Houston, Texas. This treatment in total will cost around £200,000. We need to raise this money to allow Amelia to have the chance to live a normal life.

From the beginning, the family sought media attention to raise money for the Burzynski Clinic, as we see in a Facebook post. the earliest example of Amelia’s story appearing in the press was in the local Wokingham Times on 8 March 2012. The public campaign was launched. And by 14 March, £45,000 had been raised by the community, enough to get Amelia in the door at the Clinic (recent accounts put that initial consult at $30,000). The Wokingham Times seems to have informally adopted the family and followed their progress closely for the rest of the year. These community fundraisers appear as human interest stories and reaffirm that people are basically kind and generous and trusting. In fact, my first exposure to Burzynski and realization that something was profoundly wrong came after I did a newspaper database search for all of the patients that I could find. Of those patients I could find an outcome for, every patient who appeared in the international press, usually begging for money, with a single exception was dead.

A week before Amelia hit the papers, on the 6th of March, Eric Merola, who made an uncritical hagiography to Burzynski unironically called, Burzynski: Cancer is a Serious Business, interviewed the family about their upcoming trip to Houston for his new movie, a sequel, which comes out soon. He planned to follow Amelia’s progress in the film. On the 17th, as they planned their trip to the US, the family put up a short video for Amelia’s donors:

So, she clearly she packed everyone’s hearts into her suitcase. Such a dear.

They left on the 23th of March for America, having raised a staggering £75,000 for Burzynski. In a Wokingham Times piece, her father stated some of the opposition that the family had met:

Mr Saunders added that he was amazed at the number of people who had suggested the American treatment would be fruitless.

He said: “I was warned about this before we decided to go with the Burzynski treatment – it is like there is a vendetta out against the man.

“It is so strange, and all I keep getting are contacts from patients who have been or are being cured by the treatment, or at the very least have had positive results.”

People for whom Burzynski’s treatments fail tend not get into contact with other patients. We are witnessing what is known as survivorship bias. You can talk to a dozen survivors and have a positive impression of a treatment but fail to take into account the 10,000 failures, which would put a treatment well below the efficacy of chance remission, misdiagnosis, and unrecognized responses to traditional therapies. This is why controlled trials are so important to determine efficacy, so we can sort out the background noise of chance from real effects. It is also an important reason that dependence on patient testimonials is a red flag for quackery.

Amelia has had a hole opened in her chest where a Hickman line has been inserted, where she will receive her ANP. These frequently have complications with infection and clogging.

By the 30th, Amelia has her backpack full of antineoplastons, as we see in a video. Her family will spend the customary 3 weeks or so in the US learning to administer the ANP themselves. They are infused at high doses almost continuously.

Amelia’s dad shares his first impression of the Clinic on the facebook page:

The clinic have been fantastic. I am still amazed that people give them such a bad press. They have literally bent over backwards to get this started for us. The receptionist Irena even has a photo of Amelia behind her desk, she is so lovely!

Well there is a reason, of course. It’s because they apparently tell patients that they can tell brain tumors are shrinking by looking at their urine:

Mr Saunders said: “Every day is a milestone and the clinic is being extremely thorough in its tests – Amelia has regular blood tests and these are all closely monitored to check for signs of all sorts of things.

“Interestingly, they can actually see the early signs of the tumour breaking down by how her body excretes it in her blood and urine. This might be the only time in my life I get excited by seeing this kind of information!

I’m not sure what this is supposed to mean, and before Amelia’s story I would not have even noticed this. I can see why a parent clinging to hope would sieze onto any augury of healing. Remember, this family has not had good news about Amelia since her diagnosis. Little steps, literally, mean the world to them. I contacted research oncologist David Gorski, who studies and treats breast cancer, about this claim, and he replied:

“Oncologists don’t monitor anything in the urine for tumor breakdown, at least not for that tumor. There is such a thing called tumor lysis syndrome, but that’s usually only seen in leukemias and lymphomas as a result of induction chemotherapy that kills a lot of cancer cells really fast, releasing potassium, and a number of other byproducts. However, as I said, you don’t generally see this in solid tumors (mainly because none of them respond nearly as dramatically to chemotherapy as hematological malignancies). It’s also a complication to be managed, because its most frequent result is renal failure. It’s possible that he’s referring to GFAP, which is a biomarker for glioma under study, but I don’t think it’s really been validated as a measurement of response to therapy.”

There are apparently no biomarkers for glioma that appear in urine. Amelia had chronically low potassium at this point in her treatment.

We don’t see a lot of what is going on at the clinic on facebook, where most of the story is told record, but we get a clue on Amelia’s other website:

10th April 2012

I realised I hadn’t updated the news section here for a few weeks, this is largely because we update our Facebook page daily and much of our time has been taken up going to and from the clinic. Every day has been a bit of a rollercoaster here. Amelia has been on antineoplaston treatment for a week and a half and at the end of last week we hit a bit of a wall with the treatment dosage. Amelia got pretty sick so we had to back down on the dose a little. Yesterday she started getting really bad headaches so we have now also put her on a low dose steroid as well. Other than this, she is doing well and responding well to treatment. We think there are some very slight improvements in her coordination of her left hand side. We are continuing the treatment, and the aim is now to increase the dosage more slowly to see how she responds. All in all we are doing well and looking forward to coming home soon!

So, she’s been up and down. The steroids are a recurring feature of treatment and can very quickly reduce inflammation in a way that leads to improvements of the type that the family is reporting. You see it a lot on this website. It’s hard not to think of John D., who experienced worsening symptoms while under treatment (and on steroids), which was met with joy on the part of the staff:

I want to mention that the IV nurse told mom today that she’s been there for 10 years & has seen this before & many times, the more severe symptoms that are seen as a result of the therapy is really a good sign that it’s working better. I know this nurse & she is very honest & helpful. She also runs the class they run every week for new patients.

On April 19th we hear that the family is preparing to return home, and on the Wokingham Times page where it is announced, we see that damned picture again, patients literally at death’s door, posing in front of the Burzynski Clinic. We get the update that they have arrived back in England on the 22nd. Amelia’s dad talks about the fundraising (truly amazing acts of generosity by the whole community) and how grateful he is for the immense support that the family has received. (Amelia gives her own thank you’s in an adorable little video a few days later.)  He speculates on the road ahead:

I have come home from Houston with a strange kind of feeling. Perhaps a little apprehension, a bit of fear, a dose of happiness and a shot of hope. We still feel that every day is a roller coaster. We may be sitting on a ticking time bomb, and it may still be that any day we might lose Amelia. Every day truly is so precious, and it is a joy to watch her and her little sister back together again, albeit in a different way, a more careful one, where we have to watch them all the time.

The next day, it sounds like Amelia is having the unquenchable thirst that comes with ANP:

Amelia has been OK today, she was a bit sick earlier but we think this was because she drank too much too quickly – she was fine shortly afterwards. We’ve been getting used to life again at home and putting everything in place we need to.

And we hear that she is due for her first post-treatment MRI:

As far as the MRI goes, I just want to make a point that we aren’t expecting a lot to have happened with this next scan. As part of the medical trial we are required to get a scan done every 4 – 5 weeks – and these things take time to show any change. It is very likely the tumour may be the same or have grown slightly. This is fine and we expect this, and clearly if it has shrunk then great – but we aren’t expecting it to have done.

Tumors on which chemotherapy is working should probably not be growing at all. It’s the definition of “working.”

On the 25th:

Today has been a busy day. Unfortunately Amelia was pretty sick this morning – those of you who have been following our journey will know that we are trying to increase Amelia’s dose of drugs and it sometimes has side effects, this seeming to be the most common. She was fine afterwards and has been eating for the rest of the day.

We had an appointment at the hospital at lunchtime and ended up spending most of the afternoon there so we could get everything sorted. The doctors here are being very cooperative – but I must emphasise that they are recommending different treatment (chemo) and we have consistently turned this down. We have not found a single person with a DIPG tumour that has had any effect with chemo – so continue to find it strange that this is offered. Our plan is to continue the antineoplaston treatment for as long as required. We realise this is being frowned upon by the doctors here – but ultimately we are trying the only thing we found that had credible results.

Credible results would have been publication and replication of his trials. Burzynski can’t seem to complete his trials, much less publish them (which is odd given that he has the test agent already developed and the tumors he is working have outcomes comparatively rapidly). If trial completion were a batting average, he’d be at .015 and his trial publication average would be .000.

By May 4, Amelia is a celebrity. They have raised £160,000 (!) and she is meeting and hanging out with celebrities. And the paper has clearly been reading Amelia’s dad’s updates. Also, her dad’s website announces:

Well we have now been back from Houston for a few weeks – and Amelia has continued to slowly improve with both her walking and speech getting better. The Burzynski clinic were brilliant – we were made to feel so welcome and Amelia really made an impression on everybody there!

We had an MRI scan on Monday that revealed her tumour has stopped growing. Considering she has had no treatment other than the antineoplaston therapy from the Burzynski clinic, we are really pleased (and impressed) that the treatment seems to be working so quickly. We are now continuing the treatment and increasing her dose such that we try to get her to the ‘target’ dose for her weight.

This tumor “stopped growing” news is taken as validation that the treatment is working, so much so, that the Wokingham Times irresponsibly reports that result.   According to her dad:

1. Amelia has been on treatment for less than 4 weeks.
2. She is not on full dose yet, and has some way to go to get there. This is a slow progress, perhaps taking another month or so to achieve this (or more).
3. She has a low grade tumour. Any response will be slow. In other kids where the treatment has worked it has taken many months to show response.
4. She is still on steroids.
5. Her previous scan showed a 13% growth in 7 weeks.

So, having now had several opinions of the scans, I can confirm that Amelia’s tumour has STOPPED GROWING. This is amazing news and we are over the moon that this is the case. For this tumour type, in this short time, with a tumour of the size of Amelia’s, this is an incredibly good result. This is an INCREDIBLY hard tumour to do anything with, one of the hardest to treat and normally very lethal. In most circumstances Amelia would no longer be here (in February there was no way we thought we’d get to May with her) so to have the thing stable is fantastic news.

A few important points. It’s a low grade (slow growing) tumor. This does not seem to have been a PET scan, which would give  a sense how of active the tumor was–to see if it had in fact “stopped.” And initial responses to chemotherapy (and ANP is chemotherapy by every definition) correlate poorly to outcomes, which is, of course, the final goal that everyone involved is keenly interested in. Of course, the Clinic doesn’t convey that information:

I also had a good chat with our doctor in Houston earlier. Again all sounding very positive, and we have again increased Amelia’s dose tonight […] The clinic sound very positive that Amelia’s tumour stopped growing so quickly. Let’s just hope we have more positive news on the next scan in June.

On 12 May, we get an update about Amelia’s progress:

Amelia was on top form today, she was pretty tired after the wedding but perked up and during doses, when we unplugged her from her backpack, she was really bubbly. Later in the afternoon she was doing some proper walking – unassisted. I think we have now realised that a lot of the walking problem now is just her confidence. She was walking almost normally, and certainly the same or better than she was before her operation. Fantastic.

So, they are at point zero, which considering where they have been is wonderful from the family’s perspective, but it doesn’t tell us that the ANP is working of if she has just recovered from surgery to her brain stem and is now on steroids. And this may be important, as dad mentions on the 20th:

She really has improved. We’ve both noticed significant improvements in her speech, mainly in the quality of her pronunciations and also the speed and which she speaks. Slow speech is a classic symptom of her tumour location, so any improvement is a good sign here. This might be the steroids causing this improvement so we have to be careful, but we have a lot of fingers crossed we’ll be taking her off the steroids within the next few weeks if we can get her second bag to target dose. We’ll see.

On the 21st:

Amelia has been a bit groggy, fairly lethargic and pretty reluctant to do a lot. […] Because of the lethargy, the doctor in the US has recommended increasing her steroid dose very slightly. We’ll see if this improves things – if it does then this is a good sign. It does all tie in with us increasing her dose, which is now at maximum on her larger bag. No wonder.

Also on the 21rd, just over a year ago, the fundraiser reaches its goal of £200,000, and the tally continues to climb. In the intervening time, however, we hear that Amelia has had some complications with the Hickman line, which has been replaced because of a tear:

She is doing well otherwise, and we’ll be resuming her treatment tonight. She is now walking by herself, her coordination and balance have all improved and her speech is much better. It looks like the treatment is definitely helping her.

In early June, dad is rattled by the deaths of patients Billie B. and Supatra A., who had the same tumor as Amelia, and for a few days he rails against skeptics. Apparently some have been contacting him and criticizing him. This is wrong, in my opinion. Cancer patients have enough on their plate.

On the 21st, we hear that the tumor remains stable:

Firstly we are waiting on a further interpretation from Dr Burzynski, but as we suspected from our own view of the scans this morning, Amelia’s tumour remains stable. In other words, there is no change since the last scan.

The family accepts this as a sign that they have stayed the brain tumor:

We are 100% sure that without antineoplastons, Amelia would either be in a hospice by now or dead. She has a grade 2 tumour, on scans it appears as a grade 3, and it is very large and in a very dangerous part of the brain. Even a few mm of growth would cause a significant impact on her quality of life at this size. We are all walking on a knife edge. Dr Burzynski’s treatment is undoubtedly keeping her alive. I actually want to wave this in the face of all the skeptics we came across along our journey.

It’s worth noting that the tumor hasn’t shrunk. Small victories–including just not dying–are huge when your child has one of these tumors.

Amelia has her 4th birthday on the 22nd of June, and it is celebrated in the papers.

Again, we see that the steroid dose is being increased on June 25th to control the symptoms of the disease:

We have been advised by the clinic to increase her steroid intake back to how it was last week to see if we see an improvement in her. We will then try in a couple of weeks time to reduce it again but at a slower rate, reducing it by 0.25mg instead of 0.5mg per day. The steroid intake is a tricky issue as they are essential and help reduce the symptoms of this awful disease (headaches, tiredness), however long term steroid use is not good and cause side effects such as weight gain, muscle problems.

We still haven’t seen anything that looks like clear evidence of improvement past diagnosis; it sounds like the symptoms return when the steroids are tapered. She seems to be doing pretty well on this dose of steroids, going to school. (Her last day of nursery school is 11 July.)

On July 15th we hear:

Well – we have had a pretty good weekend. I had a truly amazing conversation last night. Purely by chance I’ve been contacted by the mother of another little girl, who is almost the same age as Amelia, who is receiving the same treatment (for longer), with the same tumour (DIPG) and her tumour just shrunk. By 36%. We are so, so pleased. There is so much hope in our hearts now.

I’ll just briefly mention how frustrated we still are to read so much crap on the internet about Dr Burzynski. I feel like we are ‘insiders’, in a way, and know how the whole thing works now. These doubters clearly don’t. The lady I spoke to last night was told her daughter would die. When she went to Burzynski, her doctor shut her off. Refused to speak. Thank God she chose to follow her heart, and not that doctors advice. She might just have saved her daughters life. There is no doubt this works, and we want it in every hospital in the world. We’ll keep spreading the word until it is.

This child, sadly, is now dead.

By August the tumor has not shrunk, but Amelia has been coping very well. A few weeks earlier she had a wonderful day at the zoo. She’s still a little wobbly on her feet and in the pictures her family put on the Facebook page, you can tell that her face is not symmetrical, but by God she’s enjoying her life, which is an immense thing in itself. On the 6th however, she gets pale and sick; when her blood work is done, they find that her potassium and magnesium are way down, though they stabilize her.

On August 8, we hear:

One of the many things I have said throughout this year is that I hope that maybe, one day, I can learn that another child has had success with this treatment because of the inspiration they gained from Amelia. I know of one little girl, Chey, who is waiting to go to the clinic right now. But due to some complications with the FDA and the clinic, there are some delays – but we are all hoping she will get there very soon. We felt so welcomed by the Burzynski clinic and everything we saw there made us puzzled why so many people don’t believe in it.

We just found out exactly what happened. According to an SEC filing:

In a letter dated June 25, 2012, the [Burzynski] informed the FDA of a serious adverse event which may have been related to the administration of Antineoplastons.  On July 30, 2012, the FDA placed a partial clinical hold for enrollment of new pediatric patients under single patient protocols or in any of the active Phase II or Phase III studies under IND 43,742.  The FDA imposed this partial clinical hold because, according to the FDA, insufficient information had been submitted by the Company to allow the FDA to determine whether the potential patient benefit justifies the potential risks of treatment use, and that the potential risks are not unreasonable in the context of the disease or condition to be treated.

According to the mother of patient Alynn H., her understanding was that a child had died (link is password protected). We have not heard anything else, only that the ANP trials, almost a year later, have not started up again and that the partial hold remains.

On August 13, Amelia’s dad posts a video about Amelia’s life since diagnosis. This write up an unusually long post for this blog, and I haven’t done justice to the support the family has received from their community or the sheer number of people who pitched in to help the family, and this video gives a sense of that:

On the fifteenth, we hear that the family is understandably anxious for the tumor to shrink:

Incidentally, we are well aware that a stable tumour is good. Mondays scan was one that we went into thinking ‘if it is stable then great’. I’ve had a few people come up to me and ask “is the tumour shrinking?”. Now I know people mean well – but it is a little like me walking up to somebody and saying “have you won the lottery yet?”. In other words, frustrating. I smile, say no, it will take time, and move the conversation on.

So far, the tumor’s behavior has been utterly unrelated to the dose of the antineoplaston chemotherapy. On Aug 25, we hear that Amelia is tired on treatment and that she has had a progression of symptoms:

We are still looking to increase her dose slightly as she has gained a little weight since Houston so she should be able to tolerate an increased dose (or at least we hope so). We will probably have to increase her steroids in line with this, but we have been considering this anyway as she seems to have become a lot more wobbly lately. We know from the MRI that the tumour hasn’t grown so an increase in her steroids should help this.

Now, I’m not sure how this was verified. The definition of a “stable” tumor can actually accommodate some growth, so, we can’t know exactly what is happening. And we hear from the family a few days later that they have come to a hard realization:

On the 27th, we hear:

Firstly, Amelia hasn’t quite been herself unfortunately. She has been very reluctant to walk, a lot more tired, slow and pretty lethargic. She was sick on Saturday night also. We are reasonably confident we have probably gone too far with the steroid reduction so we have actually increased these slightly again today. We decided we would rather have a happy and more alert Amelia than one who doesn’t want to do too much – so we made this decision today in coordination with the Burzynski clinic. We’ll see how she does. There is a small chance it is the tumour growing, but much more likely given the scans we have that this is due to swelling of the tumour caused by the treatment. Time will tell. […]

The symptoms we are seeing right now are a direct result of the tumour, hopefully due to it swelling, and the steroids will fix this. They are also what we would see if it has grown.

It really, really looks that her wellness is linked directly to how much steroid she is receiving. And here’s another example of something that is…desperately, desperately wrong at the Clinic. The patient is being told that the tumor is swelling because of the treatment. How is it that only at the Burzynski Clinic that getting worse is indistinguishable from getting better? Second point: this is a tumor on the brainstem. If a possible side effect were swelling of the thing pressing against the brainstem, you’d expect that to be on the informed consent form, right? The type of thing that would be among the “serious side effects,” right? It’s not, at least not in a version of the consent form used after Amelia had started ANP:

consent1 consent2 consent3consent2consent3

(Burzynski’s supporters who have been saying that the treatment has no long-term side effects would do well to look at that first paragraph. The paperwork that every patient signs says it can have exactly that.)

On September 5th, we see a candid moment on the facebook page. The parents are committed to seeing this therapy through, but the father has that lingering awareness that this nothing the tumor has not shrunk:

Whether we have returned to a feeling of optimism or not remains to be seen. I still feel uneasy about the fact that we are so far on without the tumour shrinking. It is frustrating, because we have worked SO hard with the treatment – our entire lives are ruled by it and it is almost a full time job sorting it all out – we just share it between us and make it happen. We just know to be patient, and we 100% know it can work.

At this time, Amelia was returning to school (she had already been going to nursery school on treatment). And the way it appeared in the press, and certainly how I and other skeptics read it, it was being promoted as, “See? This treatment is working enough to let this little girl go back,” a human interest story (The Mirror’s coverage was profoundly disgraceful–suggesting UK doctors “refused to treat” Amelia, whereas when you look above you see that in fact: “The doctors here are being very cooperative – but I must emphasise that they are recommending different treatment (chemo) and we have consistently turned this down”), and by god it was good to hear that Amelia was having a great time, but there’s a lot more going on than is contained in the articles. On the 5th we see how much support was needed to get Amelia in. This was not the return of a healed child that everyone took away from the coverage:

“There has been a LOT of organising around this, far more than getting a healthy child to school. We’ve arranged our nanny, we’ve had to work around the school timetable, we’ve had meetings with the school and the teachers and the hospital nurses and made everything happen. The school have been absolutely fantastic every step of the way – we literally cannot fault them.”

On the 8th, we see on the Facebook page:

“On Monday we have a physiotherapist coming to look at her to see if she can get her walking again. I tried a little walking with her today and she is really, really trying. You can see she struggles, like her brain doesn’t know how to do it but the conscious Amelia that we see and know does. It’s a bit like trying to write with the wrong hand – you know what to do but you can’t quite make your hand write as well as the other. She tries to walk, but can’t quite make it all fit.”

This is not a child improving.

September 10, on they were visited by Eric Merola for his utterly uncritical documentary about Burzynski. More on that in a moment.

On the morning of the 15th, Amelia woke up crying with a pain in her head. She went off treatment for a day or so and got better, not trembling, perhaps speaking a bit better. One wonders if she is not experiencing relief from the hypernatremia that can appear alongside such massive sodium doses and can have such side effects.

Amelia has a great couple of days in late September (and she really takes to her school!), and her dad talks about how the awful waiting game goes in between MRIs, which I have learned is how time is measured by cancer patients:

I’ve said this many times before, but the really frustrating thing for me is not having anything really tangible that tells you this is working, until we get the scan image in front of us. This means an 8 week wait between scans when you really have no idea what is going on, and if she gets worse like she did a few weeks back then I think you naturally assume the worst. Then she gets better, and you relax a little!

The October MRI shows no change. But later that month, the family is trying to come to grips with what life will mean in the likelihood that Amelia is not with them. It’s a beautiful post, and I hope you read it. It’s immensely sad and healthy and you can’t help but feel the full force of their grief and fear. This family is mentally preparing themselves for a horrible future, and this makes what happened next absolutely inexcusable by any measure.

By November 19th, Amelia’s right hand is immobilized, a clear progression, and the family gets the results of a recent scan:

What I don’t want to do is get ours, and everybody else’s hopes up about things. I could not bear thinking that this is working and then to be told it isn’t. (emphasis added)

What I will elude to is that the Burzynski clinic feel that there is a cyst forming inside Amelia’s tumour, very slowly. This does seem apparent on the scan images but we want to make sure this has grown over the longer timeframe. A cyst will form where there is cell breakdown, so clearly is a good thing from a ‘killing the tumour’ viewpoint, but possibly bad in that you then have fluid in a very difficult place to get to. We’ll address that little hurdle if we get to it being a problem in the first place.

This sounds exciting (it is), but we are really trying to be careful about getting too much so. Amelia has got worse, although she has had some improvement over the weeks before her MRI. This could be due to a number of factors and we know the tumour has not grown.

Another point with this is that the tumour isn’t shrinking, but if a cyst is forming then it might be some time before the tumour does shrink. We’ve always said that due to Amelia’s tumour being very slow growing, we have more time on our hands more than most kids who get this.

When this news was released on the family’s Facebook page, followed by rapturous confirmation the next day, it was brought to the attention of Orac at Respectful Insolence, who gave an honest medical opinion:

It pains me greatly to do this, because, no matter how I write this, it will be perceived as trying to take away the hope for Amelia’s survival that the Saunders family holds. Such is not my intent, by any stretch of the imagination. However, these “cysts” almost certainly represent areas of ischemia (low blood flow) leading to tissue death as the tumor outgrows its blood supply. This is a phenomenon commonly seen in advanced malignancy. I know this because tumor angiogenesis ia one of my areas of research interest. […]

Sadly, then, seeing “cysts” growing in Amelia’s tumor most likely says nothing one way or the other about whether or not it’s responding to Burzynski’s antineoplastons. That’s assuming that Burzynski’s interpretation of the scans is even correct, which I wouldn’t bet money on. Most likely, these “cysts” indicate that there is no therapeutic effect. I take no pleasure in saying this, but most likely this is true.

Amelia’s dad was understandably upset and actually responded to Orac on Nov 29th, but the day after Orac posted, the family updated their followers:

We know that some people doubt what we are doing. We understand that it is in human nature to question, and many people will not just take something on faith alone. But, ultimately, this is our choice. And that choice seems to be paying off.

Yesterday I sent a CD with the latest MRI scans on to our local oncologist and I’ll be waiting for their opinion. We’ll consider this, and then continue until the next scan and see if the cystic formation that we have been shown grows in some way. I don’t want anyone to think we just take things at face value and accept them – we consider what we see, what we are told, and get as many opinions as we can. We can see with our own eyes though that something has changed with the tumour and we hope this continues. Amelia’s tumour hasn’t enhanced or progressed, so we know it is unlikely to be anything other than cysts, but we will get that second opinion for sure.

Amelia had a magical week. She won a community award, the “Child of Courage” award, and was literally the star of a Nativity play with her friends. The reality of Amelia’s situation soon came upon the family, however. On 2 December:

The truth is, Amelia isn’t getting any better neurologically. We live with her every day and we see it. She is very slowly deteriorating and I think we would be putting our own heads in the sand if we didn’t accept this. On one hand we have the Burzynski clinic who believe the tumour is beginning to die. We are getting opinions here about this theory and we’ll very likely need another scan of a different type in early January to back this up. Everything is based on opinions – and nobody agrees, which makes it all very hard on us.

And the final assessment from the Great Ormond Street Hospital:

We had our meeting at Great Ormond Street yesterday and, sadly, they just don’t have anything for us. We kind of knew this before we went – but wondered if they might have a trial that we could take part in. Unfortunately they don’t.

They felt that Amelia is in the latter stages of the disease, and that what is called ‘progression’ has already started. This means her tumour is growing, the cancer is spreading and we don’t have a huge amount of time left. Again we had already guessed this was happening but it was good in a way to have another opinion of this.

Were it just a one-off bad interpretation of an MRI on the part of the Burzynski Clinic, we might have been able to write this off as a simple mistake. But it’s not. Not by a long shot.

 

Had Burzynski not used this line on the family who had given him by far the most publicity of any other in years, this recurring theme might have slipped by unnoticed. But it’s clear that this is not just a coincidence, it’s an M.O. predicated on false hope that strings parents and patients along. And it’s been going on for decades! And it leaves patients utterly crushed and confused. The few skeptics who have been working these stories in their spare time have found case after case of patients thinking that getting worse is getting better (a partial, growing list can be found in this post). Consider that the cases written up at this website represent 1/10th of the total cases we’ve been able to find and will be bringing to you, that we have only found a small fraction of cases, mostly from the most recent years, and that this guy has been operating for over 35 years! My god! Imagine what that means!

In light of this, when Eric Merola, in his new movie, says in a series of title cards:

Two months after this interview, Amelia’s tumor began to swell and fill with fluid.

There was confusion and disagreement among between their local radiologists and the radiologists in Houston, [sic] about why this was happening–

So her parents decided to discontinue antineoplaston therapy.

[Then he cuts to a picture of Amelia’s obituary and says,]

“Amelia passed away with her parents by her side on January 6, 2013.”

…it is fundamentally dishonest. There was no confusion. There was the right diagnosis and Burzynski’s diagnosis, a story that’s been spun for decades to desperate parents, and it’s a goddamned disgrace that Merola suggests that the parents’ evidence-based decision could have been related in any way to the outcome.

Instead of the usual plea for a donation to St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, which researches children’s tumors and provides care for free, we’d like to ask you to make a donation to Naomi House, the children’s hospice center that cared for Amelia’s family in the last days and which seems to be the family’s preferred charity.

If you want to take action, protect the vulnerable, and put reliable information in front of patients who might be looking into this Clinic, the Skeptics for the Protection of Cancer Patients (facebook page here) have put up guidelines about how to boost good information into Burzynski’s search results.

Burzynski Patient McKenzie L.’s Story

As Stanislaw Burzynski stands in front of the Texas Medical Board to answer for yet another litany of abominations, patients are no doubt gathering to protest in front of the courthouse so they can beg for their lives. Many of his supporters in the past have been then-current patients who were convinced that Burzynski is their only chance at life. Burzynski’s patients often have dismal prognoses and their prospects do not improve when they buy into his medical adventurism. In anticipation of such patients being used as human shields yet again, we are focusing on stories of people who have testified on Burzynski’s behalf, begged for their lives in courts and in the public, but who of course died anyway. These patients, so far, include Burzynski patient Elke B., Burzynski patient Douglas W., Burzynski patient Janet C., and Burzynski patient Sen. Ed G. These patients may not be testifying in the upcoming trial, but their stories are perhaps the most important and are far more eloquent and revealing.

Today we start looking at the roster of the dead and dying known as the ANP Coalition. This is the collection of patients, mostly children, who came to Burzynski’s aid when his unproven “antineoplaston” chemotherapy was taken off the market following a juvenile patient’s death. The ANP Coalition did help get the trials reinstated, as best we can tell, however, out of the nine patients who have appeared in the Coalition’s pro-Burzynski campaigns, 6 have died. Not all of the patients received ANP, but all of the patients have been used. Only one, as far as we know, is on ANP at this time.

The first patient we will examine is McKenzie L. Hers was perhaps the most extensively covered story of all the ANP Coalition’s new patients. We have some 80 files on her story. It is horrible and long and frustrating, but it’s a story that must be told because it makes staggeringly clear the real harm that sloppy journalism can cause. Everyone here tried to do the right thing, but a selective blindness is pervasive and it has truly catastrophic results.

The first evidence that something is wrong appears on McKenzie’s grandfather’s Facebook page on 28 Nov 2012:

2012-11-26

It turns out, as we hear almost two years later that McKenzie had been walking home from school with her grandfather and

“swayed in a crooked line down the sidewalk and her eyes seemed unfocused. When he asked her what was wrong she told him she was seeing double.”

The diagnosis is Diffuse Intrinsic Pontine Glioma, a tumor in the brain stem. Almost universally fatal. It catches the fifth-grader and her family mid-stride; McKenzie had just received a stellar report card and seems to be athletically inclined, swimming and riding horses. Within two weeks, she begins a long series of visits to the hospital for conventional treatment, radiation and chemotherapy, it seems.

Right out of the gate, the traditional therapy does what it is supposed to, beat back the cancer. It is unlikely to kill off it all, but is only a stop-gap measure. We hear on Jan. 7 that double vision and walking have been a problem, but the problems are lessening. On 20 February 2013, we hear that according to their first MRI after treatment, the tumor has shrunk by 50%.

By October, however, the tumor grows back.

Burzynski first appears on the family’s timelines in January 2013, when McKenzie’s grandfather posts an article about Burzynski, one riddled with inaccuracies and conspiracy theories (get a skeptic’s take on the same Burzynski decision here). In September of 2013, however, with the family running out of options, members of the Burzynski Patient Group begin appearing in the family’s Facebook timelines, especially an enthusiastic chemtrailNew World Order, and fluoride truther.

On 2 October 2013, McKenzie L.’s family goes to Houston looking for a miracle:

Untitled

By the end of the month, there seems to be devotion to the Burzynski cause. At the time, Burzynski’s antineoplaston trials were suspended after the death of a child, Josiah C., whose story was told on the cover of USA Today in November 2013, just after McKenzie’s family seems to have committed to Burzynski’s cause. Neither the Clinic nor the FDA told Josiah’s family that the clinical trial that their son was on had been shut down following his death.

Five days after the expose of Burzynski appeared on the cover of USA Today, Michael Rosenfield of WBZ-TV files a report about a petition that McKenzie’s grandfather has started to lobby the FDA for a compassionate exemption for her to receive Burzynski’s drug. At the time, the compassionate exemption seemed to be the only way that Burzynski could get patients on the drug. All of the trials were closed. The list of Burzynski’s horrific violations seemed too unthinkably long to permit him to continue. Burzynski’s response to the charges was clearly inadequate for the FDA. This is the first point where the media failed to serve the public interest. An 8-month investigation raising profound doubts about whether the “doctor in Texas,” as Rosenfield refers to him, and his “controversial drug,” as Rosenfield refers to it, was completely ignored. Indeed, the absence is conspicuous given the horror with which the article was received. We believe that Rosenfield had a journalistic obligation to report that the FDA had observed that:

  1. Burzynski (as investigator, the subject of the inspection) “failed to comply with protocol requirements related to the primary outcome, therapeutic response […] for 67% of study subjects reviewed during the inspection.” This means that several patients who were reported as “complete responses” did not meet the criteria defined in the investigational plan, as were patients who were reported as having a “partial response” and “stable disease.” This means that his outcomes figures for these studies are inaccurate.
  2. Additionally, some patients admitted failed to meet the inclusion criteria for the study.
  3. Even though patients needed to have a physician back home to monitor their progress prior to enrolling in a trial, the FDA found a patient who began receiving treatment before a doctor had been found.
  4. Patients who had Grade 3 or 4 toxic effects were supposed to be removed from treatment. One patient had 3 Grade 3 events followed by 3 Grade 4 events. Another patient had 7 disqualifying toxic events before he was removed from the study.
  5. Burzynski did not report all adverse events as required by his study protocols. One patient had 12 events of hypernatremia (high sodium), none of which was reported. There are several similar patients.
  6. The FDA told Burzynski: “You failed to protect the rights, safety, and welfare of subjects under your care. Forty-eight (48) subjects experienced 102 investigational overdoses between January 1, 2005 and February 22, 2013, according to the [trial number redacted] List of Hospitalizations/SAE (serious adverse events) [redacted]/ Overdose [redacted]/Catheter Infection report. Overdose incidents have been reported to you [….] There is no documentation to show that you have implemented corrective actions during this time period to ensure the safety and welfare of subjects.” [emphasis added] It seems that these overdoses are related to the protocol, which requires family members to administer the drugs via programmable pump on their own. Further, patient records show that there were many more overdoses that were not included in the Hospitalization/SAE/Overdose list.
  7. “Your […] tumor measurements initially recorded on worksheets at baseline and on-study treatment […] studies for all study subjects were destroyed and are not available for FDA inspectional review.” This is one of the most damning statements, as without any…not a single baseline measurement…there is no way to determine any actual effect of the antineoplaston treatment. This means that Burzynski’s studies–which by last account cost $30,000 to begin and $7000 a month to maintain–are unpublishable.
  8. Some adverse events were not reported to the Burzynski Clinic IRB for years. (One patient had an adverse event in 1998 and the oversight board did not hear about it until 2005.)
  9. The FDA observed that the informed consent document did not include a statement of extra costs that might be incurred. Specifically, some informed consent documents were signed days to weeks before billing agreements, and in a couple of cases no consent form could be found.

This document was available online for anyone access to Google to see. Nonetheless, this is the doctor to whom Rosenfield unquestioningly commended young McKenzie’s eager and vulnerable family. The audience of this report was not informed about the true magnitude and nature of the controversy before the station linked to the petition, which was certainly relevant and available. Michael Rosenfield must share some of the blame for what comes.

Three days later, WMUR files a similar report about the petition. McKenzie’s grandfather, again, appears in the report. The interview with McKenzie’s grandmother is heartbreaking, but reporter Jean Macken does not put their grief and fear in context. And they link to the petition, which has already received at least 9,000 signatures following Rosenfield’s report. Jean Macken must share some of the blame for what comes. Incredibly, WMUR had already reported about a fundraiser for the antineoplaston treatment that DIPG patient Justin B. received. Sadly, Justin died.

The next day, the New Hampshire Union Leader publishes an article called, “Hope for McKenzie; A girl vs. bureaucracy.” It is wretched. For instance:

The FDA exists to improve the health of Americans. It screens and tests drugs so that unsafe ones do not reach the market. But what about people who are terminally ill? If someone is facing imminent death, who cares about possible negative side effects of an experimental drug? The FDA does.

Doctors do. For instance, a patient who is facing immanent death may forego palliative care. They risk having their remaining limited time and their savings squandered by a quack. They may get killed quicker. Their quality of life may decline. The cost of trying to deal with the side effects may escalate. They may become ineligible for trials that might actually have a chance of helping them.

Terminally ill children and adults can get unapproved drugs through a policy called “compassionate use.” But even that takes time. Patients have to apply, and the FDA has to approve the use. It is time that some patients do not have.

In emergency cases, the FDA can get approval for compassionate use or “expanded access” overnight.

McKenzie [L.] is fighting for her life. No one knows how much time she has left. We pray that it is longer than the time the FDA will take to respond to her parents’ request. If you would like to help, you can sign the online petition asking that McKenzie be allowed to take the one drug doctors say could save her life.

This last line is deceptive, making it sound like more than a tiny number of uninformed or self-interested physicians would say that ANP would be the one and only drug that could save her. In fact, as we will see, the family has a hard time even finding a physician who would be willing to administer the drugs. This is factually misleading, emotionally manipulative, and irresponsible in the extreme. The New Hampshire Union Leader’s editors must share some of the blame for what comes.

The same day, 25 Nov 2013, the Nashua Telegraph reports on the family’s attempt to get signatures for the petition and to raise money. This is in the news section, not the opinion section, and the reporter, Dean Shalhoup, does not recommend that readers support the initiative. He just reports. Nonetheless, there are some disturbing lapses in judgment that warranted a little research that was either not done or not included.

[The family was] so intrigued by Burzynski’s apparent success in raising from near zero to around 27 percent the cure rate of patients diagnosed, as was McKenzie, with an inoperable pediatric brainstem tumor that they traveled to Houston about two months ago to meet him. “The man has a success rate with this drug,” [McKenzie’s grandfather] said. “I have been in touch with (cancer) survivors who used this drug.”

Of course, Liz Szabo, by this point, had already made it abundantly clear why one should doubt the value of Burzynski’s testimonials:

Yet independent oncologists say that appearances can be deceiving, and that patients shouldn’t be too quick to credit Burzynski. Experts say there are several reasons to be skeptical of Burzynski’s claims.

• Burzynski often relies on anecdotes, which don’t tell the full story. […]

• Burzynski’s therapies are unproven. […]

• Burzynski’s patients may have been misdiagnosed. […]

• Burzynski’s patients may have been cured by previous therapy.

Also, I should mention that sometimes weird things happen. Flukes and fortune can also, rarely, lead to remissions. Next, the “apparent success” cited was easily shown by a little research to be “illusory success.” For instance, Szabo had just reported that the FDA had found that Burzynski had been:

Inflating success rates in 67% of cases, by inaccurately reporting how tumors responded to treatment.

This fact was available and relevant to Shalhoup’s story. Secondly, Burzynski had not–and has never to date–published a reputable study stemming from the 60+ clinical trials he’d opened in the 1990s. This fact checking didn’t need investigative reporting; Szabo, her colleagues, and her editors had done that. All it needed was a Google search. While this is somewhat better than other reporting on McKenzie’s case, Dean Shaloup must share some responsibility for what comes. He allowed desperate people to parrot poppycock.

The next day, on 26 Nov 2013, New Hampshire Senator Kelly Ayotte issued a press release titled:

“Ayotte Urges FDA to Consider Compassionate Use Request for 12-­Year Old New Hampshire Girl Fighting Brain Cancer”

The entirely Burzynski has routinely benefited from patients who believe that he is their only hope. They go to public officials and beg for their lives, which is a bargain that politicians are not in a position to make. They beg in and outside of courts, in statehouses, and in the halls of Congress for the perversity of paying to be in a clinical trial. I don’t doubt that Sen. Ayotte wanted to do the best thing for her constituent. We ALL wanted McKenzie to live a long life. And once Sen. Ayotte had thrown in with Burzynski’s patient, well, someone in her position is in the awkward position of not being able to retract that support gracefully. I had hoped that what happened to McKenzie would lead to the Senator sponsoring radically increased funding for rare childhood brain tumor research in McKenzie’s memory. Research into these tumors is underfunded and patients deserve more options than quackery. There should never be a patient who has to say that “no other treatment options are available,” to quote Ayotte’s press release.

Of course, Shalhoup had to follow up on the story after Ayotte’s office got involved, but when he did, he included a link and instructions on how to find the change.org petition. This is not to his credit. By the 27th, the petition had received 40,000 signatures, no doubt largely from the people who had been misinformed by these reporters. Quackery thrives when reporters opt to do almost entirely uncritical human interest stories. April Guilmet reported in the Union Leader Correspondent that:

Ayotte noted, however, that there have been documented cases of patients reacting positively for the treatment, while the [L] family noted that some patients in past studies have even had their tumors shrink over time.

Burzynski “documented” cures are just as “documented” as UFO abductions and sightings of Bigfoot. This is why scientists–and the regulatory process–requires a higher standard than mere anecdote for miracle cancer claims. Woe to everyone if every nostrum-pushing quack is allowed to circumvent the regulatory process.

On January 13, Shalhoup, from the Telegraph, reports on how the community has committed to help McKenzie, as is to be expected. Strangers can be endlessly kind, but they need to be informed. They need better information than:

“The FDA recently banned the drug, prompted in large part by Burzynski’s 1995 indictment on multiple charges stemming from allegations he violated the federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act.”

No. He beat those charges. The FDA didn’t revisit that case. The immediate cause of the suspension appears to be Josiah C’s death and the subsequent investigation. Again, it was in the USA Today piece. While Shalhoup does give a strong half a sentence to vague, uninterviewed detractors of Burzynski, there is nothing like balance in the article, as, again, the link to the petition and info on how to donate is included.

On 28 January Carol Robidoux at the Nashua Patch published an entirely credulous snippet called, “Saving McKenzie [L]: How You Can Help.”

This article ended:

McKenzie’s grandfather […] said the FDA has proof the controversial treatment, available through a clinic in Texas, has a 33 percent cure rate, versus that of conventional cancer treatment, which has a 0 percent cure rate for the kind of cancer McKenzie is up against.

Watch the YouTube video, uploaded here, in which McKenzie and her grandfather tell their story. Then, go to change.org and sign the petition.

Then, pass it on.

Links were included throughout the original. Skeptics did contact Robidoux to try to put what was happening in context. In reply to one skeptic’s email expressing concern, she wrote:

They are going into this with open eyes.
Just as people every day fly to foreign countries for treatments or surgeries that aren’t approved or legal in the U.S., this family has the right to pursue whatever treatment they would like, based on what they’ve tried and what their options are, what’s available, and what offers some shred of hope in a hopeless situation. If it is snake oil, if Burzynski is a fake, there are certainly enough local authorities and national news outlets delving into Burzynski’s claims to bear that out. I see Texas authorities have been investigating him since the 1980s. That’s a long time.
If the family does nothing, McKenzie will die. What they’ve tried already, within the realm of approved treatment – also very toxic to the human body – has not netted any positive results.
People make bad investments every day – in stocks, in get rich quick schemes, in religious organizations that promise healing, in New Age crystals and other remedies. Maybe Burzynski realizes he’s capitalizing on the desperation of people who truly have no other options. Maybe he believes something about his treatment has merit for some percentage of patients. I’m not a medical reporter, or even an investigative reporter, by my own or anyone’s standards.

Her standards clearly mean nothing. She’s in fact wrong about this, as conventional treatment unquestionably had abated some of her symptoms and initially shrunk the tumor as hoped. Orac called out her credulousness on the 30th, and she showed up in the comments:

As the other “credulous” reporter referenced here, I just want to reinforce that the story I wrote was one of several written about a family taking desperate measures to save a child with cancer who had run out of “conventional” treatment options. They were well aware of the quackery charges against Dr. Burzynski, yet were willing to take a calculated risk. It is not my duty as a journalist to tell them they are making a mistake – although I did discuss with the grandfather what I had learned about Burzynski in researching it on background for the story. He knew it all, and had visited the clinic himself. For the poster of this blog to persist in calling me a “credulous” reporter in the context of this blog reinforces to me that he is unable to comprehend that sometimes the elements of a story are not what the story is actually about. I cannot and will not investigate Dr. Burzynski – it was out of my realm of expertise and resources, and has already been done by other investigative health and regional reporters; I will report why a New Hampshire family is feeling so desperate that they are willing to petition the FDA for an unproven and controversial treatment. There was nothing about what I wrote that added credulity to Dr. Burzynski or his method.

The question left unanswered is how a decision can both be calculated and desperate? Robidoux’s staggering lack of self-insight to not realize that a call to “pass it on” might suggest to readers that there was something worth fighting for in Burzynski suggests she is in the wrong business.

On the 30th, we hear from April Guilmet that the family has received the support of Senator Jean Shaheen too. We hear how things were going in mid-December:

In a letter sent to Commissioner Hamburg Jan. 17, both Ayotte and Shaheen urged the FDA to communicate directly with the [L.] family.

In early December, the [L.] family was told that McKenzie would be permitted to start ANP therapy in Texas, provided the family could find a physician willing to monitor her progress locally, [a] family friend […] said.

Burzynski even offered to provide the therapy to McKenzie at no cost, according to her family. [emphasis added]

But just over a week later, further complaints against Burzynski were revealed and the FDA told the family they could no longer issue a compassion exemption.

“It’s come down to this,” said [McKenzie’s grandfather] via his cell phone as he drove on the interstate Tuesday morning. “So now I’m headed out to bang on a couple doors.They may want me to go away but I’m not backing down.”

[McKenzie’s grandfather] said he recently learned that the FDA has made more than 50 claims against Burzynski and at least one of his patients died while being treated.

And despite this, the commitment has been made. The grandfather is crashing through warning barriers that were meant to protect McKenzie and other patients

On the same day, the Skeptics for the Protection of Cancer Patients reached out to the reporter to let her know about our strong reservations about the treatment. We offered documents to substantiate our concerns and gave her contact information of patients who claimed to have been maltreated. She immediately replied that she would like permission to use portions of our letter because:

I think its important to share all sides of this story and there are so, so many.

We consented and appeared in the follow up article a few days later:

Of the Burzynski therapy, the American Cancer Society said last week: “Relying on this type of treatment alone avoiding or delaying conventional medical care for cancer may have serious health consequences.’’

Science blogger Robert Blaskiewicz of the Skeptics for the Protection of Cancer Patients group, said he’s been researching Burzynski for the past two years and is genuinely concerned for [McKenzie’s] well-being, should she ultimately be able to obtain ANP treatment.

“I’m all for patient choice,” Blaskiewicz said. “But I’m also for informed consent. Is [McKenzie’s family] aware of the stories, of the 20-year pattern of patients believing that unambiguous signs of progression are signs of success?”

Dr. David Gorski, an oncologist and the administrator of the sciencebasedmedicine.org website, has likewise devoted much of site to speaking out against Burzynski as well as the anti-vaccine movement and various forms of alternative medicine.

Contacted this week, Gorski said he believed previous trials of ANP “were designed to let Burzynski treat patients, not find answers.”

Gorski is right. We know almost nothing more about antineoplastons than we did when the trials were opened. We have detailed the unambiguous signs of progression (especially ischemic necrosis, or tumors breaking up in the middle because they have outgrown their blood supply) on this site. All we want is a reputable paper to fact-check us, because if we’re right, this is a potential medical ethics scandal that involves 8 times as many patients as the Tuskegee Experiment:

Also in the article, we also hear about McKenzie’s grandfather’s trip to Washington, D.C.:

[He] met individually with some legislators or their staffs last week, including U.S. Sens. Kelly Ayotte, R-N.H., and Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H., as well as Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., Ted Cruz, R-Texas, Rand Paul, R-Ky., Ed Markey, D-Mass., Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., and Tom Harkin, D-Iowa.

He also attended a meeting with seven FDA officials, though FDA Commissioner Margaret Hamburg was traveling and wasn’t present at the meeting.

“Basically, we told (the FDA) that it would be nice if we could get everyone sitting down at one table with them — doctors, patients and legislators,” [the grandfather said] said. “Because there hasn’t been enough communication here.”

When skeptics said that we had concerns, we were not making things up. We had warned and warned and warned everyone about what was going to happen to McKenzie if the family charged ahead and circumvented patient protections. We were concerned that if the doors were opened for one patient, then the FDA would have no justification for denying the treatment to other desperate people.

This is why we were devastated to hear on March 23rd in USA Today:

The FDA acknowledged Friday that it has agreed to allow [7 Burzynski patients] to use the experimental drug, but only if they can find a qualified, independent physician to administer the drug. Beyond infusing the drug and overseeing their care, the doctor would have to formally apply for expanded access to an “investigational new drug,” as well as get approval from an institutional review board, an independent panel that reviews safety and ethical issues involved in clinical trials.

The FDA grants an average of more than 1,000 requests a year for expanded access.

Burzynski will supply antineoplastons for free, says his attorney, Richard Jaffe. [emphasis added]

The next step is finding a doctor to administer the drug, as pointed out in the Billerica Minuteman on March 27th in an article called: “Help McKenzie [L.] Get Needed Treatments.” Again, links are included to the various petitions and projects that can really only help Burzynski and nobody else. The family is still having a hard time finding someone to sign up to work with Burzynski, as we hear in the Nashua Telegraph on 29 March:

That second hurdle, to date a seemingly insurmountable obstacle, is finding a doctor who would agree to administer the drug, called antineoplastons, or ANP, [McKenzie’s grandfather] said. “They said she can use it if we can find a qualified doctor,” he said. “But who knows what ‘qualified’ means? An oncologist? Do they want a research doctor?”

Essentially, the answer to the last question is yes. Which means, [he said] said, even if there’s a doctor out there who would take McKenzie’s case, he or she would likely have to spend lots of money and jump through a lot of hoops to become qualified.

“We can’t even find a doctor to go that far,” [he] said.

This is another red flag; when qualified researchers are unwilling to sign the papers, you have a problem.

Following a visit to Dana Farber in mid-April, according to a public Facebook page set up of McKenzie, the docs say that she “looked really good.” We don’t hear about progress getting a doctor to sign up with Burzynski until May:

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This doctor is Terry Bennett, who explained his participation in the June 15 Telegraph:

The latest move came several weeks ago in the person of a Rochester physician who battled the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to get access to a similarly expensive drug that he felt confident would stem the cancer that was ravaging his body and buy him some time.

Dr. Terry Bennett said his experience prompted him to come forward when he learned the young Hudson girl and her family were beseeching the FDA to grant a compassionate exception that would allow McKenzie access to ANP treatments. […]

Bennett said it didn’t take long after he met McKenzie to agree to be her “backup” doctor in New Hampshire, as he calls his role.

“I thought, if there’s any way they can make this happen, I’m all for it,” he said.

“We have a (sick) little girl here. I will supervise what goes on here the best I can.”

Though you might think, based on the things said above (in bold), and in keeping with common research practice, that the Burzynski Clinic was going to foot the bill. Nope. The family is being charged the customary $15,000 a month in ancillary charges.

Even though the clinic is providing the medication free of charge it is still going to cost approx. $15,000.00 per month for medical supplies, consultations, & administrative fees that insurance will not cover.

While we expected Burzynski to charge out the nose for this treatment, some people thought it was going to be free including the doctor and the nurse who volunteered their services on that basis. On the same day that McKenzie’s Facebook group announced that she was starting on the ANP…

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….and article by Dylan Morrill appeared at Fosters.com, which revealed in part:

Nearly two months later, Bennett and his employees spent more-than 100 hours filling out the FDA application to become the sponsoring doctor and perform the therapy using Burzynksi’s medicines.

Dye was then contacted through “a friend of a friend of a friend,” and decided to offer her nursing services for free to McKenzie. She took two trips down to Burzynski’s Houston clinic to learn about the therapy.

Both Dye and Bennett are not charging for their services, and they thought that Burzynski would also be working pro bono. In December, 2013, Burzynski wrote a letter to U.S. Sen. Kelly Ayotte’s legislative assistant Dan Auger explaining that he would provide antineoplaston therapy for free if the FDA granted the exemption.

The letter read: “This is to confirm S.R. Burzynski, manufacturer of Antineoplaston A10 and As2-1 infusions is willing to provide these agents for free and for compassionate means.”

Bennett said he was told in May during a phone conversation with Burzynski that the medicine was being donated. It was after that conversation that Bennett decided to sponsor McKenzie.

[McKenzie’s] family also believed that McKenzie’s medicine was being provided for free. But […] McKenzie’s mother, said she received an itemized bill from Burzynski showed up in her mail a few weeks ago.

The family was told that the first month will cost $28,000 and every month after that will cost $16,000.

The family received an itemized bill from Burzynski? I think the FDA would be interested in seeing it. I smell a refund!

“It meets all the criteria for a bait and switch operation,” said Bennett. [emphasis added]

The next day, Bennett appeared in another article, which reported:

Bennett said he will not withdraw his sponsorship of McKenzie, despite the cost of treatment. But he’s extremely upset over what he calls a very disturbing phone call that he received on May 28.

Bennett says a representative of the Burzynski Clinic called him on that date seeking payment for the first month of McKenzie’s therapy. Prior to that, Bennett, who is donating his services, thought Burzynski was doing the same.

Instead, said Bennett, “I’m supposed to be the bag man for all of this. They want me to collect the $30 grand for the family and send it to Burzynski.” [emphasis added]

He later said:

On the other, there’s the opinion of Dr. Terry Bennett of Rochester, who agreed to be the overseeing local physician for the treatment of Burzynski.

“This is a classic bait­-and-­switch operation,” Bennett said of Burzynski in a recent phone interview. “He suckered me and this family into buying into a very expensive treatment plan.”

That second article, by the way,  is titled, “Dr. Feels Misled in Cancer Treatment Costs.” It sort of reminds me of the headline. “Amelia S.’s Family ‘Misled By Clinic’” It reminds me of the gouging of Denise D., who was treated so badly by the clinic. It reminds me of Supatra A’s family, who had budgeted but still found themselves in debt to the clinic. It reminds me of poor Kathy B. who said that she:

made this video [of a patient visit with Greg Burzynski] in anticipation that I would be receiving the antineoplastons. Apparently after spending over 30,000 here I found out that the Antineoplastons are only reserved for brain cancer patients who have already undergone chemo radiation. FDA put this restriction on the Burzynski Clinic, so any other cancer patients are BASICALLY ONLY GETTING THE TRADITIOINAL ALLOPATHIC TREATMENTS OF SYNTHETIC ANTINEOPLASON PILLS THAT DID NOTHING FOR ME.

All of these patients are dead. This is what we are dealing with here. This is why reporters need to do a better job of checking the public record before they endorse a shameless quack.

Registered Nurse Ariel Dye also volunteered her services to help McKenzie. She was the one who, instead of the patient, went down to Houston to learn how to use the ANP pumps and administer the drugs. I suspect that patients being trained to administer the drugs themselves may have contributed to the huge number of overdoses observed by the FDA and that this was a fix to the protocol the FDA demanded that Burzynski never got around to doing. He only had 15 years, after all. In November, we hear about Nurse Dye’s experience at the Clinic. She is scathing:

“I went out there and watched the nurse teach a layperson how to work off a central line. It was nothing,” said Dye, who is an IV-certified RN. “It was crazy to me that they charged this.”

“I got little to no instruction saying (things like) if there are major reactions, this is what you’re going to do in this case, in that case,” she said. “They made it seem like it was this big training program they put me through, but they lied and were looking to make money.”

Dr. Bennett came around fully by this point:

“His claims have no merit. He has never tested any of it realistically,” said Bennett.

On day 2 of the treatment, McKenzie feels pretty good, her grandfather reports. But not long thereafter, a few weeks after the start of ANP treatment, we learn that McKenzie is suffering from side effects of ANP:

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On July 27th, we see that the disease is progressing unabated, which is what you would expect if she were put on snake-oil, and what we have seen so many times:

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At about this time, Burzynski was whacked with a 200-page list of charges against him by the Texas Medical Board. This development was announced at The Amazing Meeting, the premier conference on science in the public interest:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yJGIxDou9v0

In response to this action by the TMB, Fosters.com printed an article “Do Not Take Her Hope Away,” which was entirely irresponsible. For instance, they mentioned Dr. Bennett but not his opinion of the clinic. They did not mention that the tumor had continued to grow, as was to be expected. In fact, by July 31st, we hear how ineffective antineoplastons had been:

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In late September, April Guilmet tells us what has happened:

The ANP treatments cost the family about $15,000 per month.“She had crippling headaches and her blood counts got very low,” [McKenzie’s grandfather] said. “At full dosage, her body just couldn’t handle it.”

[McKenzie] went off ANP in mid-August, he said. Since then, her family has been researching other treatment options. She is currently on a regimen of gene-targeted drugs prescribed by doctors at Dana Farber. The family departed for University of Chicago on Sunday, where they will meet with another team of physicians.

The tragedy of fringe medicine is that her tumor might well have been treated by something with a chance of working instead of antineoplaston. To all the reporters who wondered, “What’s the harm in in treating someone with a terminal illness with….whatever they want?” I refer them to the energy, money, and precious time squandered on this course of treatment.

By September 28th, the family is in Chicago pursuing experimental treatment, and Burzynski is, blessedly, out of the picture.

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They are cutting into the brain stem which is usually a surgical no-go zone (and is why so many of Burzynski patients haven’t had biopsies to confirm radiological diagnoses).

McKenzie died at home on 23 Oct 2014. A radiant light went with her, and hundreds of people McKenzie had touched saw her off.

Screen Shot 2014-10-29 at 1.13.25 AM

To think that all of these powerful people were following McKenzie’s story and for want of critical commentary of the treatment in the media, McKenzie suffered for it.

I think Telegraph reporter David Brooks offered a fair summary of McKenzie’s ordeal in his write up after the funeral, “Alternative Methods are Not Safe Bets,” and he concluded:

It’s hard for an outsider not to feel sympathy for a desperate family struggling to save a loved one.

But we should give more weight to a medical establishment that has doubled the human lifespan, that has created a huge, complicated system of peer review, double-blind tests, treatment protocols which is far from perfect but has done more for your health and mine than has a millennium of hopes and dreams.

Brooks apparently interviewed some of McKenzie’s family in the aftermath:

The treatment over the summer accomplished nothing except making McKenzie sicker for a while, and cost McKenzie’s family and supporters many thousands of dollars, even though it was stopped quickly because of side effects, said McKenzie’s grandfather […] .

But [McKenzie’s grandfather] who says the total cost was “less than $25,000,” thinks the effort was worthwhile and might have succeeded if so many obstacles hadn’t been placed in its path […].

Most frightening is the lesson that the grandfather has apparently taken away from this. According to Brooks:

If somebody else he knew was diagnosed with DIPG, he’d recommend going to Burzynski.

The lack of regret is eerily similar to sentiments of the families of Burzynski patients going back decades. For example, in 1982, The Windsor Star reported that a family member still believed in the treatment “with all my heart” but her sister-in-law Deanne had arrived too late for the six weeks of antineoplaston treatment to be effective.

I hope that when the Texas Medical Board drags Burzynski to stand before a judge in Austin on June 15 the press remembers that treating this issue as a human interest story, such as we have seen in the case of McKenzie L., perpetuates misery and magnifies suffering.

Burzynski Patients, Legal Threats, and a False DMCA Takedown Notice

Over the last few days, I (Bob) have been contacted by a handful of parents whose stories are on The OTHER Burzynski Patient Group. I have received two legal threats. First was an email from a father who ended his angry email: “I suggest you take down the personal blog that I wrote about my son […].” (The story, by the way, was by any measure the most horrifying illustration of alternative medicine’s predatory nature I have ever encountered.) I replied that I do not take stories down. Ever. He repeated the threat:

I expect it taken down – PERIOD – or you’ll be hearing from MY lawyer …

You have absolutely NO right to republish my blog …

Just try me – you can look up my current company [website] to see that I’ve been building another successful business and I’ll gladly use ALL the resources I have to fight this unlawful use of my personal story.

You have NO idea who you’re messing with!!

The second threat came and went while I slept. On the morning of March 3rd I received an email from my host, WordPress, which read in part:

We have received a DMCA notice (https://www.eff.org/issues/bloggers/legal/liability/IP#dmca) for material published on your WordPress.com site.

Normally this would mean that we’d have to disable access to the material. However, because we believe that this instance falls under fair use protections, we will not be removing it at this time. (emphasis added)

Section 107 of US copyright law identifies various purposes for which the reproduction of a particular work may be considered fair, such as criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching, scholarship, and research. You can learn more about that here:

http://www.copyright.gov/title17

http://www.copyright.gov/fls/fl102.html

While we believe that your use of the material is protected (we have fought for our users in similar cases in the past –http://en.blog.wordpress.com/2013/11/21/striking-back-against-censorship/), please keep in mind that the complainant may choose to continue to pursue this matter, perhaps directly with you. If you would prefer, you are still able to delete the content from your site yourself.

The question of whether or not I will take down posts is a non-starter. I have tried very hard to balance patient privacy and responsibly publishing information that I believe is in the public interest while also citing my sources. That so few patients have contacted me over the course of the last few years (and despite the fact that TOBPG appeared in a feature-length Burzynski-themed infomercial by Eric Merola) suggests that I have largely succeeded.

The night before the DMCA notice arrived, the following comment appeared in the comments of the “About TOBPG” page:

I just want to thank you so much for this site. My best pal is two years into a most likely fatal cancer diagnosis. As the traditional treatments have failed to cure her, we are searching far and wide for the next possible step, and Burzynski’s name came up. Seeing the facts laid out on your site (and others) made it so easy to understand that this is nothing more than quackery. Thanks for helping us avoid what could have been a horrible misstep.

The site and all the stories stay.

I have retained counsel, Ken White of Brown White & Osborne LLC, who writes at @Popehat and who represents me pro bono on First Amendment and free speech issues.