Carl George opts for 'natural' treatments after terminal diagnosis
3 years after given 3 months to live, St. John's man says natural supplements may not be for everyone
A St. John's man is being awarded for his work in natural therapies, after continuing to speak with terminally ill patients three years after he was given three months to live. But a medical doctor is cautioning people to always consider traditional treatments first.
Carl George is being given a humanitarian outreach award by a group known as the World Organization of Natural Medicine.
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George says he lived a healthy lifestyle as a teacher, yoga instructor and personal trainer — opening a business called Healthy Living after he retired.
The longer I'm alive the harder it is to argue with me.- Carl George
But three years ago he was in a crash that injured his back, shoulder and hand and after a few months, when the pain wouldn't go away, he went back to his doctor.
"When they did just a quick biopsy they found [I] had cancer and they sent my reports all across Canada and they said, 'This is the bad one, no one walks away from it.'"
George was diagnosed with Stage 4 carcinoma and had surgery to remove his prostate, but was told there wasn't much doctors could do and was told he likely had just three months to live.
Doctors registered him for palliative care and was offered a mixture of drugs and treatments with painful side effects, but George dismissed those and opted for a "natural" treatment option.
'That's not the answer I'm looking for'
He and his wife did some research and sold their rental properties to cover the nearly $100,000 cost to date, for holistic treatments and supplements — up to 200 capsules a day, costing around $1,400 each month.
"My wife and myself agreed that we'll spend everything. We had a couple rentals and that, rather [be] alive with no rentals than pass away with two," said George." We said if that takes all our resources, we're OK with that."
Whenever we talk about the sort of natural cures, we don't have the evidence.- Dr. Peter Lin
Now, three years after his terminal diagnosis, George said his latest visit to the doctor shows his cancer has reduced by 75 per cent.
He's now started speaking to other people given a terminal diagnosis, telling his story.
"If I died that would mean my life is a lie, all this motivational speaking about being positive and taking care of yourself, that's wouldn't be my legacy so dying wasn't even on the table," he said.
"All these physicians around the country telling me this and I'm thinking, thank you very much but no, that's not the answer I'm looking for."
While George said he's the first to say a holistic approach isn't the best option for every person, he added things have obviously worked out well for him.
"I'm here. No matter how brilliant you are, how can you argue with me? I've been given a gift, like I could retire now go down on a beach somewhere and lap it up in the rays, but is that what this was all about?" he said.
"I don't see this as keeping Carl alive — the longer I'm alive the harder it is to argue with me."
'We don't have the evidence'
CBC Radio's house doctor Peter Lin says stories like George's are always welcome and doctors are pleased to be proven wrong when it comes to someone's life expectancy.
However, Lin said on average, physicians are giving an average expectation when looking at a terminally ill patient's life expectancy.
Lin added when it comes to so-called "natural remedies," doctors are unable to provide actual scientific data for what works and what doesn't — and getting to that point is a long and complicated process.
"In the medical field and scientific field, the chemotherapy radiation and surgery had to go through these studies where half the people got whatever we were doing normally and half the people got the new chemotherapy or new radiation idea or the new surgery," he said.
"And then we actually had to show that the new thing was better than what we were doing, so that's the problem whenever we talk about the sort of natural cures, we don't have the evidence."
Study it as if you're a doctor almost looking at this because in the end it's going to be stuff that we're doing to your body.- Dr. Peter Lin
Lin said like George's case, it's also important to keep in regular touch with your physician to ensure everything is OK and there are no complications or developments.
In addition, Lin said doctors want to caution their patients against paying large costs for natural remedies that may not help at all, and could even complicate things.
"There are some places that I've heard of where people go down to Mexico, they get this stuff shot into them, they have no clue what it is, they pay $5,000 and then I'm not sure whether they're just going after something just to get a bit of hope without a whole lot of science," said Lin.
"Even if there is no other treatment, I want people to kind of look at things and say has this worked in other people, what are the side effects, what are the benefits.
"In other words, study it as if you're a doctor almost looking at this because in the end it's going to be stuff that we're doing to your body so we want to make sure it's a good thing."
Lin added everyone, including doctors and patients, is working toward the same goal: keeping the patient as healthy as possible, for as long as possible.
With files from Bob Sharpe