Cancer and hope

by Listener Archive / 25 June, 2011
I believe a good diet and exercise are good for everyone, as is doing your best to eliminate stress and having a positive attitude. But do these factors affect your cancer survival rate?

My mother ate a healthy organic diet and exercised all her life. She died from an aggressive cancer. After being diagnosed with cancer, my sister, like Rob Cameron (“Eat, pray, heal”, June 18), went to the Gawler Institute. She followed all the advice, including taking megadoses of intravenous vitamin C. She also died. When I was diagnosed with cancer, I decided to go for the surgery, chemotherapy and radiotherapy. So far, I’m doing well.

There is too much we don’t know about cancer. The problem with some alternative treatments, like those offered at the Gawler Institute, is that they can give hope, then cruelly dash it. We read about those who win, not those who lose.

When I was diagnosed with an aggressive cancer, the first thing I did was pray. I also believe it’s important to have hope, but having hope in something that may let you down isn’t such a great idea. I suspect being at peace gives you health benefits like those claimed for meditation. What you do with whatever time you have left is what really matters: forgiving those who have wronged you, asking forgiveness from those you have wronged and trying to contribute something positive to the world around you.

To date, there is no way of approaching cancer that is guaranteed to bring you health and long life. In fact, who lives and who dies often seems quite random. Living the life you have, to the best of your ability, seems to bring the greatest joy.
(Name and address withheld)

Rob Cameron is using meditation and visualisation to help his recovery. The idea that a person’s mind can change his or her reaction to an illness is widely viewed with scepticism. Which is odd, because this belief is at the centre of all medical research. No trial is considered valid if it does not allow for the placebo effect. And what is the placebo effect? It is the improvement in condition of people who have received a treatment that does nothing. In short, they get better because they expect to get better. This is not just people reporting that they feel better; it is measurable physio­logical changes.

If people can do this unconsciously, why shouldn’t they do it consciously? If reliable techniques could be developed, it would be a perfect addition to the available treatment options – free of cost and free of side effects. I am intrigued by the apparent lack of research into this potentially powerful force. I suspect it is because there is no money in it for drug companies, and therefore no funding for research. If there is a less cynical reason, I’d be glad to hear it.
John McCormick
(Mt Eden, Auckland)

USING 1080

Last year we tramped up the Blue Grey River, near the Lewis Pass, for two days and the only bird we heard, apart from a few robins on the bush edge as we left the farmland, was a distant kakariki. We went over a saddle and down into the Rough Creek catchment. Long before we reached the bush we could hear birds, and all the way down to the highway there was not a moment without bird song from many different species.
I wrote to the Department of Conservation as I was curious, and its reply was that 1080 had never been used in the Blue Grey catchment, apart from the Animal Health Board’s 1080 near the bush edges. Rough Creek had, however, had extensive 1080 drops and DoC was pleased with the way the bird life had bounced back.

Many of my friends who never go into the bush stridently protest against the use of 1080, basing their information on the Graf brothers’ video and their belief that “1080 poisons our water”. My experiences tell me 1080 needs to be continued if we want any bird life to remain in our forests (“Fight or flight”, June 18).
River Howe
(Golden Bay)

I don’t like 1080. But I dislike possums, rats and stoats even more. Until we have something better, bring on the 1080.
Chris Ogilvie

Writer Rebecca Macfie says “although insects are susceptible to 1080, their populations bounce back within a few days of exposure”. What biological process could be responsible for such a rapid recovery? Forest insects are not like bacteria, they do not reproduce continuously at all times of the year and many have larval stages that take months or years to complete. Perhaps she (or the report she references) is confusing reinvasion of small experimental plots with population growth. Small-scale redistribution is not the same as population recovery from a large-scale poison drop and “a few days” seems like optimistic hyperbole.

Such claims weaken the arguments, and there are others in the report by the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment, such as “the leaves of our plants do not contain poisons to deter browsing mammals”. Perhaps Jan Wright might like to try a meal of horopito leaves. I won’t suggest she try tutu, because that’s toxic. But perhaps picking some onga onga or sitting on an aciphylla might convince her that not all New Zealand plants are defenceless.

A wide range of native plants are unpalatable to at least some mammalian herbivores and some are a hazard to naive exotic species. How, where and when these plant defences evolved is an interesting question, but to deny these facts does not enhance the debate on 1080. Any hunter will be well aware of palatable and unpalatable native plants, so we shouldn’t be surprised if they are sceptical of other claims in the report.
Ian Henderson
(Palmerston North)


In response to Jayne Hunter (Letters, June 18), I feel the need to defend my profession. First, I am an HR professional. It is a fairly new discipline, and one of the “soft” sciences, so is likely to attract young females. I have worked in male-dominated industries throughout my career and do not have difficulties relating to older men. Perhaps, instead, it is men of a certain age who do not respond well to young females telling them how they should be doing things?

Second, I’d be interested to know how someone can tell your age from your CV if you do not include your date of birth – a common practice these days. Most people don’t include experience that goes back further than 10 years, and many have gone back to university later in life, so have very recent qualifications. Short of engaging a fortune-teller to tell me the age of my applicants, I’m not sure how I could routinely cull all the over-50s.
Finally, some professional advice. No hiring manager is going to employ someone, regardless of age, who a) failed to provide the correct application paperwork; and b) had to have his wife call up to do battle for him.
Tracy White
(Hataitai, Wellington)


“Licensed to kill” (June 11) got me thinking back to when I was a teenager learning to drive. By then I had clocked up thousands of kilometres cycling around Christchurch. My bike was my main form of transport from primary school and I valued the independence.

As a result of my cycling, I had already negotiated the dangers of the road for some time before I got behind the wheel of a car. The roads were safer for cyclists back then (I still regularly cycle today). Even so, over the years I learnt first-hand the dangers of using the roads alongside tonnes of moving metal.

Being a commuter cyclist was good training – training most of today’s teenagers (and drivers in general) simply do not have. It continues to make me a better, more defensive driver. Maybe it would be useful to see it as an important part of learning to drive a car.
Chrys Horn

It is unclear to me why we do not raise the licensing age for driving a car to at least 18. Teenagers below that age could get licensed to ride motorcycles, scooters, tractors and farm machinery – anything that gets them working or from A to B. I’m certain the road toll would fall, and not just because of the limited number of passengers you can cram onto a two-wheeled vehicle. And since under-18s do not vote, politicians don’t need to kowtow to constituents; additionally, Gen Y voter participation is low anyway (although taking away or restricting the right to kill themselves and others on the road might touch a nerve).

The Government wants to catch up with OECD standards where we don’t already meet or exceed them; therefore, denying drivers under the age of 18 the right to drive cars would be a cheap and effective way of falling in line with those norms, while simultaneously lowering the number of sons, daughters and friends killed on the roads.
Gunhild Litwin
(Palmerston North)

Parents have known for generations that teen brains are different. But our teen brains are no different to those of teenagers in the UK, Holland, Germany, so why are their tolls lower?

A major reason is that they take licence testing seriously. In Germany you will not pass unless you’ve had professional instruction. You have to pass on high-speed driving as well as general-driving ability. You have to know basic vehicle maintenance. Even then you probably won’t pass first time and all this will cost thousands of dollars. This is why German drivers value their licences and take pride in their driving ability.

In New Zealand, you learn with Mum or Dad, who probably haven’t been tested since they were 15, and you learn all their bad habits. Then you’ll be licence-tested by a private contractor who stands to lose his bonus if he gets too many complaints. And who complains the most? People who fail their test.

The other difference between New Zealand and Europe is that their teens cannot afford to drive 200kW Japanese pseudo-rally cars. Compulsory insurance, the very thing our Government says wouldn’t work, makes it far too expensive to contemplate anything other than a shopping basket. Why are our kids allowed to buy such lethal vehicles?

Then we have the enforcement of learner and restricted licence provisions. Ever seen a police officer outside the school gates checking teen drivers as they leave? No. Police are down the road with a laser gun, ticketing Mum or Dad for being 5km/h over the limit – usually after all the kids have left the vicinity.

New Zealand needs to take all road safety functions away from the New Zealand Transport Agency. Then we constitute the NZ Road Transport Safety Board and ban all employees from even talking to Monash University. Instead, we send them to study road-safety initiatives in Europe.

While we’re at it, we raise the drinking age to 21 and the driving age to 18, and make any offence while on a restricted or learner licence subject to a full retest when they are eventually allowed to drive again.
Lou Girardin
(Stoke, Nelson)


The article about Pharmac’s role does not do enough to show the strong power it has in New Zealand (“Hard to swallow”, June 11). It is correctly stated that a 12-month course of Herceptin was funded after the change of government in 2008, but not by Pharmac. The Government had to bypass Pharmac and have the 12-month course funded by the local district health boards.

So, even the new prime minister could not tell this government organisation what to do. Since July 1, 2010, Pharmac has funded a 12-month course of Herceptin. Pharmac is not answerable to the Commerce Commission or the Fair Trading Act. Is this right for New Zealanders?
Pharmac seems like a great organisation until you or someone in your family needs a drug to keep them alive or greatly improve their quality of life, which Pharmac won’t fund but all other OECD countries will.
Joc Oliver
(Pt Chevalier, Auckland)

Losing or weakening Pharmac would indeed be a bitter and expensive pill for New Zealand to swallow. As a practising doctor with both New Zealand and US citizenship and some knowledge of both medical systems, I consider Pharmac one of the best parts of the New Zealand health system. The fact that at least 25 US senators have written to President Obama regarding national drug-buying agencies like Pharmac is merely a reflection of how beholden American politicians are to the drug industry (their biggest source of campaign funds). It will not be out of any interest in New Zealanders’ health.

All New Zealanders have access to the vast majority of modern drugs at a fraction of the cost Americans pay for them (if they can afford them at all). As Trade Minister Tim Groser says, the remit of Pharmac is to approve subsidies. For the US to complain about that is as ludicrous as if New Zealand complained because the US failed to subsidise lamb from New Zealand for its citizens. The US has never been in favour of free trade. Australia’s trade gap with the US is now far worse than before their free-trade agreement was signed. (Excluding, of course, sugar.) The political power of US agribusiness makes it unlikely the US will open its markets to New Zealand’s farm produce. No agreement with the US will be worth the sacrifice of any part of Pharmac.
Paul Corwin


Poor old omnivorous Bill Ralston has his dental terminology mixed up (Life, June 18). Human omnivores have pointed canine teeth, not pointed incisors, unless he is thinking of upper-class Mayans or Congolese pygmies, who file their incisors to a sharp point. Or has Bill been doing some dental mutilation on himself?
Carl Watson


There’s more than one way to skin a cat (The Black Page, May 28). The interviewing styles of Sean Plunket and Geoff Robinson are quite different but equally effective. Although the “bit of mongrel” technique succeeds in extracting information, I have often experienced a delightful sense of impending doom when listening to Robinson’s more subtle style. His congenial approach lulls interviewees into a false sense of security, and before they know it, the information they were reluctant to reveal is … well, revealed. Tough subjects fall for it every time.
Fiona Corcoran

We got the bird back, so why not Sean?
Nigel Hutchinson
(Double Cove)
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