When Kim Tinkham wrote to Oprah that she was going to heal herself after she was diagnosed with breast cancer, Oprah invited her to the show. She died yesterday, of a cancer she once thought was no longer there.
Two days before her fiftieth birthday, in February 2007, Kim Tinkham was diagnosed with stage three breast cancer. People with stage three breast cancer have a tumour that is at least 2 to 5 cm and/or the cancer has spread to the lymph nodes and maybe even to tissues surrounding the tumour, such as muscles or skin, but not yet to more distant parts of the body.
Stage three breast cancer is a serious condition and it must be treated as soon as possible. Standard treatment consists of surgery (partial or complete mastectomy) and chemotherapy, possibly augmented with radiation therapy. Kim's oncologist recommended immediate surgery (within a month), followed by chemotherapy and possibly radiation therapy. In other words, he or she recommended the standard treatment, as he or she should have.
Kim didn't like the proposed treatment. For good reason. The treatment is painful, thoroughly unpleasant and that's not even taking into account that the perspective of losing a breast is not something most women are looking forward to. To make things even worse, the 5-year relative survival rate for female breast cancers in women her age is 59.2%. This means that -in spite of the less-than-pleasant treatment- the probability of dying before the 5 years after diagnosis are over, remains pretty high. For comparison, this is 20.5% for stage 4, 86.7% for stage 2, 98.3% for stage 1 and 100% for stage 0. These numbers are clear enough: early diagnosis dramatically increases ones chances for survival, which is why treatment is such an urgent affair.1
Instead of blindly accepting the diagnosis, Kim decided to go for a second opinion. The second opinion was the same as the first. So, she went for a third opinion. Again, diagnosis and proposed treatment were the same. At this stage, she was mad because of the lack of options. She wanted someone to offer her options. That's understandable. However, different options come with a different price. While the general mechanisms of many cancers are relatively well understood, this does not mean that we already have good treatments for them.
She consulted a total of four doctors, and all told her the same thing, namely that we don't know the cause of her cancer and that there is a treatment in the form of urgent surgery followed by chemotherapy and/or radiation therapy.
We find Kim on the couch with Oprah in March 2007, a bit more than a month after she was diagnosed. Oprah had invited her after she had written a letter in which she said she had decided to heal herself, inspired by "The Secret", a book and film by Rhonda Byrne, that promotes positive thinking. While there is nothing wrong with being positive, "The Secret" goes much further than that and claims, for example, on the subject of health:
The placebo effect is a powerful phenomenon. When patients think and truly believe the tablet is a cure, they will receive what they believe, and they will be cured.2
This is a recurrent claim in the world of alternology: you have to really want it, really believe it, or it won't work. This means that if the alternological treatment doesn't work, it is not the fault of the practitioner, but the fault of the patient.
Oprah asked Kim to read part of a letter she sent her:
I watched The Secret for the first time back in 2006. Shortly after The Secret aired on Oprah, I was diagnosed with breast cancer. I was shocked, but most of all, I became mad. Not because I had cancer, but because most of the doctors that I've spoken to -three so far- have all said that surgery was absolutely necessary within the next month. I would have to undergo a partial radical mastectomy of the right breast, followed by treatment. After much thought, I've decided to heal myself.
Oprah made some sort attempt to dissuade her from doing that and suggested she combine genuine medical treatment with her application of The Secret. Oprah on the subject of medicine:
I think it is irresponsible on your part, not to take advantage of that.
Kim then explains that she is "not just doing The Secret". She is making her own choices, just like Oprah said. She chose not to have immediate surgery and consulted with lots of doctors and alternative therapists. So doing, she found a doctor who wanted to work with her.
This doctor did not think it is necessary to take medication or radiation at this time. However, she is being looked at. She is using nutrition, supplements, changing her way of thinking to heal herself. She asked this doctor for six months to do what she wants to do, and hopes that this will at least shrink her tumour so that a lumpectomy could be done instead of removing her breast.
Oprah asks her what she would choose: her breast or her life. Kim answers that she chooses her life, and that it is not about holding on to the breast but to her right for choice. Says Oprah: "That I respect".
A few years later, we find Kim on another couch. This time with Robert O. Young, author of the bestselling book The pH Miracle.
Kim tells Robert Young that she had a question from day one, the first question she asked her first doctor: "What caused this? [breast cancer]". She would ask the first person who could tell her what caused the cancer how to get rid of it. None of the doctors she asked could give her the answer, but they all knew how to get rid of it.
During the talk, she explains how she used Google to find information and "do research" as she calls it.
Kim explains that Robert Young told her that there is no such thing as cancer. That hit home with her, because somewhere in her head she knew this to be true. Robert Young:
If you have cancer of the breast, it is really a cancerous condition of the breast. [...]
The cancer or the cancerous condition is the result of a metabolic or dietary acids that are being eliminated into the fatty tissue.
This made a lot of sense to Kim because it was so simple. No chemotherapy, radiation or surgery were necessary. Says Kim:
I don't know how anyone thinks that they can cure a disease by giving you something that wasn't the reason for the disease in the first place. Cancer, you don't get cancer because you have a lack of chemo or radiation.
She says that Robert Young told her that latent tissue acidosis is the cause of all disease.
When Robert Young asks her about what happened to her symptoms, such as hot flashes, sore joints, lack of sleep, hair falling out, skin changing when she started the pH Miracle Diet, alkalizing her body. Kim says that it all went away, some in less than a week, others in less than a month.
Kim then explains that she was diagnosed on 5 February 2007 and that she came to Robert Young on 4 November of the same year and that there were no signs of cancer in her blood stream. This means nothing, since cancer markers are less than reliable and must be complemented by other tests.
Young concludes: Health or disease is a consequence of your lifestyle and dietary choice.
Robert Young, "Dr." Young as he likes to call himself, is not a doctor at all. Furthermore, all his degrees have been granted by non-accredited correspondence schools. Furthermore, Robert Young makes claims that are either blatantly false or unsupported by the medical and scientific community. One example: "In 1994, Dr. Young discovered the biological transformation of red blood cells into bacteria and bacteria to red blood cells."
Young has been in trouble with the law several times for illegally practicing medicine.
In short, Kim Tankham's refusal to accept reality, her wish to get answers where honest doctors could not give any, drove her straight into the arms of someone who told her all she wanted to hear. In a way, this is a perfect application of "The Secret" as mentioned above. Unfortunately, there is no evidence that "The Secret" has any value, and the same is true for the curative powers of the alkaline diet.
With proper treatment, and if the diagnosis she mentioned is correct, she had a bit more than one chance in 2 that she would survive at least five years. Her ignorance and her desire to be told what she wanted to hear, reduced that probability to about 0, a virtual certainty that she would die, as indeed she did.
1Ries LAG, Young JL, Keel GE, Eisner MP, Lin YD, Horner M-J (editors). SEER Survival Monograph: Cancer Survival Among Adults: U.S. SEER Program, 1988-2001, Patient and Tumor Characteristics. National Cancer Institute, SEER Program, NIH Pub. No. 07-6215, Bethesda, MD, 2007, Cancer of the female breast, Pages 101-110
2Rhonda Byrne, The Secret, Beyond Words Publishing, 2006, Page 126