Patient's dramatic story fuels UK media interest In the Hoxsey Therapy

by Peter Chowka

(May 15, 2000) A sensational, full-page feature article in The Mirror, a popular British daily tabloid newspaper, has ignited interest in the Hoxsey Therapy as a potentially effective alternative treatment for late stage cancer in the UK. The subject of the article, a terminal cancer patient in Wales, and his supporters have asked that the controversial, non-toxic North American therapy be made available to English citizens by the country's National Health Service (NHS).

"The Herb of Hope — Remedy gives cancer victim Peter a new lease on life," reads the Mirror's page-spanning headline on April 25. The subject of the report is Peter McCarron, 36, who until recently worked in a tire shop in the town of Bagillt. "Two months ago," the story begins, "cancer victim Peter McCarron could hardly move. He was so ill doctors told him he had no more than four months to live. But yesterday the father of three played happily with his stepson Luke at his fifth birthday party. Peter's new lease on life is thanks to a [sic] herbal remedy [the Hoxsey Therapy] — issued by the Biomedical Centre in Tijuana, Mexico — he discovered by chance."

The Hoxsey Therapy

The Hoxsey Therapy is the oldest alternative cancer treatment in continuous use in North America — and one of the most controversial. During the first half of the twentieth century it was popular and widely available in the United States. However, by 1960, federal and state authorities had pressured the therapy's key proponents, Harry Hoxsey and Mildred Nelson, RN, to close the Hoxsey Clinic in Dallas, TX. In 1963 Nelson relocated the Hoxsey treatment center south of the border and it has been available since then at the Bio-Medical Center in Tijuana, Mexico.

Bio-Medical Center ("Hoxsey Clinic") Tijuana; photo: Bio-Medical Center

The centerpiece of the Hoxsey Therapy is a tincture, or "liquid medicine," consisting of approximately a dozen herbs native to North America, all of them with reported therapeutic action according to experts like botanical medicine authority James Duke, PhD. Although it has never been subjected to a large-scale objective clinical trial, the Hoxsey Therapy has had vocal, word of mouth support from many thousands of cancer patients who have provided extensive anecdotal documentation of its efficacy over the years.

Recently, mainstream interest in the treatment has been growing as well. Earlier this year, a pre-publication draft of a study of the Bio-Medical Center and another alternative cancer facility (the Livingston Clinic in San Diego, CA, founded by the late Virginia Livingston-Wheeler, MD), conducted by the University of Texas at Houston's Center for Alternative Medicine Research, was being circulated for review. The study was funded by a grant from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) through the National Center for Complementary Alternative Medicine (NCCAM) and the National Cancer Institute (NCI). It examined a series of Bio-Medical patient records from the first quarter of 1992.

According to the study, at a point five years after a new group of Bio-Medical Center cancer patients began their treatment in 1992, 11.4 percent of them were alive, 34.9 percent were deceased, and 42.9 percent were lost to follow-up. These results are conservative, but — in contrast to the dismal outcome of most standard forms of cancer therapy on late stage patients — seem promising. The study's authors conclude, "Given the widespread use of both clinics, [and] intriguing anecdotal reports at both sites . . . we recommend prospective monitoring systems to provide reliable information on the clinical outcomes associated with these treatments."

Over the years, individual cases of dramatic recoveries from cancer by patients using the Hoxsey Therapy have been reported, by word of mouth and in the popular press. A number of these positive clinical histories are documented in the independent documentary feature film, Hoxsey: Quacks Who Cure Cancer, a.k.a., How Healing Becomes a Crime (1987, Realidad Productions, Santa Fe, NM).

Peter McCarron

The story of Peter McCarron is not atypical of many Hoxsey patients: told by his conventional doctors to prepare for death he learned about the Hoxsey Therapy by word of mouth, and has experienced positive initial response to the herbal treatment. It is somewhat unusual that McCarron himself has yet to actually visit the Bio-Medical Center, which is over 6,000 miles from where he lives.

In a telephone interview on May 13, 2000, speaking from his home in Bagillt on the West coast of Britain, McCarron sounded upbeat: "I'm OK at the moment — no problems." Asked if he felt that the Hoxsey Therapy had helped him, he said, "Oh, yes it has. A great deal!

"I was first diagnosed in Dec. '97 with colon cancer," McCarron recalled. "I was only thirty-four at the time — actually it was two weeks before my thirty-fourth birthday. In Feb. '98 I went in for surgery. They removed the bowel and I ended up with a permanent colostomy. But when [the surgeon] had me open, he saw that it [cancer] went to my liver. I went in for a liver operation in March ['98]. They cut me open but couldn't actually do the operation because I had three [malignant] bits the size of golf balls. I had one piece right by the vascular vein. So they couldn't do it. He said 'We have done this operation before but they've [patients] only lasted a couple of months and died because there'd been no support around the vein. It'd just ruptured.' So he stitched me back up. I went on chemotherapy for three months. And it shrunk all the cancer. The piece that was doing the damage by the vein, it was just like a scar where it had been. So they burned that piece and cut the other three pieces out."

I asked McCarron what kind of prognosis he was given at that point — for example, if he was told by the British doctors that they could save his life.

"At the time, yes. And I was clear [of cancer] for [the next] 18-19 months. In February of this year when I had a scan, it [the cancer] had come back in half of the liver. My oncologist just said, 'We can do nothing for you.' I asked, 'Well, can you give me chemotherapy?' She said, 'No, we can't because if we do, it'll just shorten your life.' I said, 'Well, it's a chance I've got to take.' And she just refused me point blank. She said, 'No, we can't give it to you. We won't give it to you.'

"My wife heard about the Hoxsey treatment from a friend of a friend. She went up on a Thursday and had a talk with him. A week later she flew to Tijuana to get it — to get the treatments. I was too ill to travel."

McCarron's wife Dawn and his father-in-law Roy Dunleavy brought a supply of the Hoxsey medication back to England and McCarron immediately started taking it. As he began the treatment, "My blood level — it's called bilirubin, which tests your liver function — that was 374. It should have been between seven and seventeen. After four days of being on the treatment, it had gone down to 331. I had another blood test two weeks after that. It had gone down to 136." According to McCarron, the local medical people said, "'There's no way it will go below one hundred.' I had another blood test two weeks [later], which is my last one — that's two weeks ago. And it had actually gone down to forty-six."

These test results seem promising. But how does McCarron feel now, as opposed to last February before he started taking the Hoxsey treatment? In February, he recalled, "I'd get up out of bed in the morning, and all I'd do — I'd just lie on the settee. I'd stay there all day. I had no energy, I just wanted to sleep. I couldn't be bothered to do anything. I was in quite a bit of pain. And the depression was just awful."

Q: In general, you're feeling better now?

McCarron: "The pain has settled down quite a lot. Now I'm up and about, doing things about the house and in the garden. I'm doing a bit of mechanical work on my car. It's just marvelous. You do get your down days, though."

Q: How did The Mirror get on to the story?

McCarron: "The Evening-Leader [a local paper], it was, which started it - a bit of a story to raise money. They did a bit of a write up on the Hoxsey treatments. And then The Mirror got in touch. The papers are interested in this." McCarron and his friends have contacted their local Member of Parliament, David Hanson, an influential cabinet minister in Prime Minister Tony Blair's government, and asked him to support making the Hoxsey Therapy available under the country's compulsory National Health Service. According to McCarron, Hanson has not yet taken a position on the issue.

"My father in law did a little bit of a videotape" in Tijuana, McCarron said. "[The Bio-Medical Center physician said] 'I'm not just your doctor, I'm your friend.' You feel welcomed just by watching the way they are."

Dawn McCarron

In a telephone conversation on May 14, Dawn McCarron, 28, said, "I'd never been further [from England] than Spain. The [Bio-]medical center was lovely, really clean and everybody was just really polite. We brought all of Peter's medical records with us including the scans. They looked at them there and decided what to give him. His doctor [at Bio-Medical] said he was positive that he would see Peter in three months himself."

I asked Dawn McCarron if Peter's conventional doctors in England had commented on his apparent improvement since he began taking the Hoxsey Therapy in March. "The doctor — he can't say, 'Oh, I think it's working.' They just won't say that. They just say it's obviously something happening. To be honest, they just haven't said much about it."

Q: Does Peter's doctor in the UK know that he's taking the Hoxsey Therapy? Has the doctor expressed an opinion?

Dawn McCarron: "He just says, you know, that whatever we do it's up to us, at the end of the day. He doesn't say much about it."

Q: He doesn't have a problem with it?

Dawn McCarron: "He doesn't have a problem with it, no. He just says it's obviously something's working. He won't actually say, 'Oh, that [Hoxsey] definitely cured him.'"

Q: Are the doctors in the UK still saying there is nothing more they can do for Peter?

Dawn McCarron: "We haven't even been to see any more doctors [other than for tests]. We don't go. No. Because we would go in before and they would just tell him how [much] worse [Peter's cancer] was getting. So we've just stopped going."

Peter McCarron expressed the conviction that part of the answer to recovering from terminal illness is one's mental outlook. "A lot of it's in the mind. There's no sense lying down and dying now. You've got to be very positive. If you say you're going to beat it, you're going to beat it." He and his family have already become part of the informal, far-flung, mutual support network of Hoxsey patients, who share information about the treatment by word of mouth as well as advice about overcoming cancer. The network functions like an independent, autonomous, long distance support group. For decades, this patient network, in lieu of advertising or self-promotion (which the Bio-Medical Center has never done), has kept interest in the Hoxsey Therapy alive. "We do get quite a few calls [now] from people who have got cancer," Peter McCarron said. "A lot of them don't know anything about [Hoxsey]. They're asking about the treatments. We have sent quite a few people over to them [Bio-Medical Center] now - about four or five people. And I'm definitely going myself — the last week of June, first week of July."

Peter McCarron is deriving considerable support from his family. His children, for example: "They're all positive. Like my little lad, the youngest — he's just turned five. He understands everything. He used to come with me to the hospital when I was having the chemotherapy. He'd sit there, watching everything I was going through. Every Tuesday morning he'd say, 'Come on, Dad, time for your chemo.' And I couldn't have a better wife than Dawn. If it wasn't for her, I would have been dead now. She's the backbone of everything."

Peter McCarron concluded our conversation on May 13 by observing, "If you'd have seen me five weeks, six weeks, ago, you'd have just looked at me and said 'No.' Because you couldn't see my eyes. They were a luminous yellow. My whole body was yellow. You'd just say 'No way, no hope.'

"People who look at me now say, 'It's not the same person!' They're just amazed. They can't get over it, how well I look."