Deborah Childs lost the love of her life to cancer-or so the death certificate states. But Deborah is convinced that 17 months of unrelenting chemo and radiotherapy was more lethal than the disease
Cancer is a remorseless disease, and medicine reserves its heaviest artillery for it. But the war-as medicine characterizes its approach to cancer-is almost as bad for the immediate family as it is for the patient. They can only stand by and watch their loved ones suffer the life-destroying effects of chemotherapy and radiotherapy.
It's a familiar story shared by far too many households, and for most of us the story stays with them. But Deborah Childs is an author and ghostwriter-Deborah has written several best-sellers supposedly written by a celebrity-and she was so appalled by what happened to her boyfriend, William Sutton, at the hands of medicine that she has told his story, and hers, in a book.
The story begins in 1996 when William came to Deborah's home in Richmond, Virginia, to paint her house. One of Deborah's friends had recommended him as an honest and diligent painter. Both were in unhappy marriages at the time-Deborah is the mother of two boys-but it truly was a case of love at first sight. "I immediately felt we were twin souls," she said. "I felt very sad and lost when he finished painting my house."
The relationship developed over the following months as Deborah got to know William better. With doctors in his family, William's approach to medicine was fairly conventional, whereas Deborah was always interested in seeking out alternatives that she thought were more holistic.
This wasn't a concern until the end of 2005 when William suddenly noticed a bad swelling around his neck. "He didn't say anything to me at the time, but he had it quietly checked out, and he had a biopsy."
The results were devastating: William had stage IV lymphoma, and doctors started chemotherapy almost immediately. The drugs took their toll-William lost 30 lbs in a matter of weeks-but they also did their job, according to the oncologists, who assured William that the cancer hadn't spread to his organs and that his lymph nodes were clear.
But the cancer had spread. It was in his colon, and William was rushed back into hospital for another course of chemotherapy. Again the oncologists were triumphant; William was given the all-clear and was even described as an "exceptional example."
The doctors said he could continue with the chemo, but as he was clear of cancer, he wouldn't have to. Not surprisingly, William decided to stop the treatment.
"This news gave William so much heart. He wanted to tell everyone about his treatment and how nobody need fear cancer," Deborah recalls.
She remembers at the time convincing William to go with her to see a gastroenterologist. "I thought if anyone would know about diet and better nutrition, it would be a gastroenterologist." But his advice wasn't just bad, it was tantamount to a suicidal diet: he advised William to get his strength back by eating plenty of sugar.
"I was appalled. Didn't he read even the basic literature about how cancer feeds off sugar? The doctor said he didn't have time to read and left it at that."
Although weakened by his second bout of chemotherapy, William turned up every day to run his painter and decorator business. It was a brave face because he was sleeping more and not able to move around as easily as he could before.
Then, one day, William suffered a seizure. A brain scan showed there were nine tumours in his brain. The oncologist blamed William for stopping the chemotherapy, even though it had been a choice offered him. This time the cancer was back with a vengeance, and Deborah wanted to find out about any alternatives that William might try. "The doctor just screamed at me and said every alternative was just quackery and fraud. He walked out of the room and we never saw him again."
William underwent whole-brain radiotherapy-a procedure that sometimes lasted for eight hours-yet nobody told either him or Deborah that the treatment could prolong his life by only four months at best and that it came with a high risk of permanent injury.
William was treated as an outpatient and he continued to try to work between radiotherapy sessions, but his legs were in such pain that he simply couldn't do it. He developed a blood clot that travelled to his lungs, and he lived with that for three days before undergoing more radiation.
Finally, in September 2007-just 17 months after he first detected a lump-William died at the age of 53. Deborah was in the room, but was never allowed to be alone with him. Just half an hour before he died, Deborah promised him she would write a book about what had happened to him.
"William was a gift to the world, and he was so wonderful that I believe the next world wanted him," says Deborah.
Without William, Deborah is left with a great sense of loss and anger about a system that never saw William as a person, but just another case. "William was frightened about the cancer, but he also trusted the doctors and medicine. He always wanted to be a good patient, do what they wanted, and never ruffle feathers.
"But in the end the treatment killed William; it wasn't the cancer. He never had a chance, not with that ignorant system."
Deborah Childs' book, A Dose of Reality: Losing William to the Big Business of Cancer in America, won the Global Ebook Gold Award in 2011, and is available from Amazon in the UK and US.