Decisions, decisions, decisions

Not Smart Enough for College (71)

It was nearly 50 years ago when Van moved to the small town where I was living and working. His small apartment was close to my home, and he attended the same church that my family and I attended, and I developed a friendship with him. We were about the same age, so it was easy to talk with him and compare our life experiences.


At the time I met him he had recently been discharged from the United States Army due to a malignant brain tumor that was discovered while he was stationed in Germany. The army surgeons operated and did what they could for Van but due to the complications from surgery, chemotherapy, and the other treatments he was left with a leg and arm that were slightly impaired. In addition, the medicine he was taking caused his teeth to loosen, so he had to be very careful, or he might have lost them. As he was struggling with all these health problems, his wife left him. He was alone to face his challenges by himself.


The doctors at the Veterans Hospital in Salt Lake City monitored him very closely and prescribed medicine that was keeping the cancer in remission and allowed him to live as normal a life as possible. Van knew that his condition was terminal, but his positive attitude allowed him to enjoy what life he had left. He kept a small hope alive that he would somehow be able to defeat this insidious disease that was sapping his strength and life away.


I will never forget the day Van called and asked if he could come over and talk with me because he had some good news. When we met later that day, I was appalled and angry at the story he shared with me. Earlier that day he visited an unscrupulous doctor (who was not an MD) and had no training to treat cancer. This man told Van that he could cure him and that his medical doctors were only interested in making money, so they hid the cure from him. My friend was excited and full of hope and optimism that finally he had found someone who could really help him.


I listened as he spoke with excitement and gratitude for finding someone that could cure him and give him hope. The more I listened to Van, the more angry I became. When he finally asked me what I thought, I said three words, “Don’t do it!”


Of course, I couldn’t stop with just that response, so I went on something like this, “Van, the medical doctors have succeeded in helping you keep this disease in remission and under control. We both know that what they are doing is not a cure, but they are providing you with an extension of your life where you can have some quality time left. This man is not qualified to treat your condition and if you stop taking the medicine the medical doctors have prescribed for you, you may end up losing your life sooner than otherwise expected. You will not be cured by this man.”


Van decided that he would modify the medicine prescribed by his doctors and use the herbal treatment this man provided. Within three months Van died in the Salt Lake Veterans Hospital. The fact is, he would have died eventually but I find it disturbing that he died so quickly after following the treatment regimen of this man.


One of the most important life skills I taught during my years as a professor in the college of health was how to determine the quality of a research study and the validity of its claims. This was the primary focus of a whole semester course, so I can’t go into all the details here, but a few valuable guidelines for choosing wisely are: 1. Research deep and wide so you gather the best information available, 2. Talk to and listen to those who have put in the time and effort to gain expert knowledge and experience, and 3. Weigh all options with the greatest clarity you can bring to the situation. For me, when in doubt, I listen to the best science available. Hallmarks of good scientific inquiry are that it provides full disclosure, and its conclusions are in constant flux as new data comes to light. 


Every time we are faced with a dilemma, we have multiple options from which to choose. During the current pandemic, each of us has many potentially life altering decisions to make and to help our children make. With so many mistruths being spread, I hope we take the time to make careful and well thought out choices and consider how those choices impact not only ourselves but all those around us. As the author John Donne so beautifully reminded us, “No man is an island.” 


Happy Failing Forward, 


Calvert and Anne

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