One of the “feel-good” stories from the first round of the NCAA basketball tournament (aka, “March Madness”) last week was the upset victory of the 12th-seeded, Liberty University Flames over the 5th-seeded, Mississippi State Bulldogs. Liberty is the largest evangelical university in the country (if you include their online students), and this was their first-ever NCAA tournament win in basketball. So there was a lot to celebrate. Even the commentators seemed to get wrapped up in the upset. Who doesn’t love an underdog?
In the coverage of the Liberty win and their subsequent game against Virginia Tech (which Liberty lost), the commentators discussed an emotional situation on the Liberty bench where Associate Head Coach Brad Soucie (shown above) was at work. For most of the season Coach Soucie’s wife, Kendra, has been battling breast cancer, and she had made the journey out to San Jose to support the team. The game announcers were, rightfully, very sympathetic with the difficult situation and how the family was handling it. They mentioned that the Soucie’s had decided to forego chemotherapy and surgery and to opt for “natural” treatment options.
I don’t know the details of this situation so it may seem unwise for me to comment, but I do so out of genuine concern for my brothers and sisters dealing with the horrors of cancer. I write as someone who has a PhD in cell biology and who has taught at the university level for over 22 years. I write as person, who has had a grandparent and both parents battle cancer. I write as someone who has been fighting leukemia for six years. Please, do not deprive yourself of the gift of scientific medicine that God has given us!
Yes, cancer is still the second leading cause of death next to heart disease. Yes, there are a lot of people who will get cancer, who will not be successfully treated. Yes, sometimes the treatments themselves are difficult to endure and cause additional pain and suffering. Yes, there is a time, when the fight has been lost or is no longer worth fighting and one should stop treatment. But modern medicine has increased the survival times for many types of cancer. The current, 5-year survival rate for a breast cancer patient whose disease is contained in the breast when discovered is 99% with the use of modern, scientific medicine (i.e, surgery, chemotherapy, radiation, and newer, targeted therapies). The average 5-year survival rate for women with invasive cancer (cancer that has spread into lymph nodes outside the breast) is now 85% - again, with the use of modern medicine. There has been a significant improvement in the last 40 years. Modern medicine has made breast cancer highly treatable and highly survivable – if it is treated properly and promptly.
The Soucie family appears to be bypassing treatment options that have been shown to work at a high-level for almost all types of breast cancer and, instead, is relying on treatment methods that have not been shown to work at all. In general the “natural” treatment options, which involve special diets, enemas, and dietary supplements, only work in the anecdotal world of feel-good stories. There are no large-scale, controlled studies that demonstrate the efficacy of these alternative approaches. Every alternative treatment that I have investigated – from magnets, to coffee enemas, to acupuncture, to vitamins, and many others – have absolutely no legitimate scientific foundation. If you want to try the anti-cancer properties of magnets or special diets, go ahead, but please do not forgo the treatments of modern medicine. The longer a person waits to attack the cancer, the greater the odds that it will spread to remote areas of the body. Breast cancer that has spread into other organs has a 5-year survival rate of only 27%.
The Soucie family is relying heavily on prayer, which is commendable. We should join them in praying for Mrs. Soucie’s healing and for strength and grace for their family. We should also urge them and others like them to avail themselves of the tools of medicine that the God to whom they are praying has so graciously given us. God made human beings in His image and gave us a mandate to harness the power of His good creation (Genesis 1:28). The result is that we now have treatment options that were unimaginable to our ancestors. To say that we are trusting God to heal us while at the same time refusing to use the methods that God has given to heal us is folly. John Calvin helpfully reminds us in his Institutes of the Christian Religion: “… the mind of man, though fallen and perverted from its wholeness, is nevertheless clothed and ornamented with God’s excellent gifts. If we regard the Spirit of God as the sole fountain of truth, we shall neither reject the truth itself, nor despise it where it shall appear unless we wish to dishonor the Spirit of God.”
Mrs. Soucie is a mother of three children. If she treats her cancer properly, she is likely to be able to serve God and her family for many years to come. If she decides not to treat her cancer but rather pursues the false promises of the natural healers, she runs the risk that her life will be cut short unnecessarily. If you know someone, who is considering going down this path, please encourage them to locate the best cancer center or doctor they can find for their particular disease. There are many new, targeted therapies that are coming out every year. The only reason that I am alive today is because I had access to new, scientifically-tested treatments for my disease. God is doing a great work through the field of medicine. It’s far from perfect. The world is still fallen and will be until Jesus comes again. Let’s not add senseless and preventable deaths to the trials we already face in this life.