The Body Can Beat Terminal Cancer — Sometimes | Health & Med...http://discovermagazine.com/2007/sep/the-body-can-stave-off-termi...1 of 612/9/2008 6:56 AMPrint this pageThe Body Can Beat Terminal Cancer — Sometimes08.21.2007They should be dead. But a tiny number of people conquer lethal diseases. by Jeanne Lenzer John Matzke was just 30 years old when he was told that he had only 18 months to live. At 6 feet 4 inches tall, with blueeyes and broad shoulders, Matzke cut an impressive figure. He’d been a football player at Dartmouth College, where hestudied geology. That was also where he met his wife, Lyn, who worked in town. In 1973, Matzke and Lyn moved toWisconsin to run a small homestead, where they grew organic vegetables and raised chickens and a pig. Just sevenweeks after the birth of his first son, in 1974, Matzke noticed a lump in his armpit. A biopsy showed that the lump wasmalignant melanoma, a particularly fatal form of skin cancer. He would have that tumor and then a few others removed by surgeons.Painting by Benjamin AdcroftBy 1984, the cancer had spread to his lung. Having served in the Army’s Fifth Armored Division in Ulm, Germany, Matzkewent to the Veterans Administration hospital in White River Junction, Vermont, to see his oncologist, Joseph F.O’Donnell. Knowing that his patient’s chances of surviving the cancer were slim—and would only lessen with eachpassing day—O’Donnell urged him to undergo immediate treatment. The oncologist told Matzke that once melanomainvades an internal organ like the lung, the invariable outcome is death—usually within months—without immediatetreatment. Even with treatment, his outlook was guarded. Only half of all melanoma patients with lung metastases arealive 30 months after surgery.But Matzke didn’t follow his doctor’s recommendation. Instead, he took a month off to strengthen his body for thetreatment that he knew would most likely be a grueling ordeal. He went on long hikes in the mountains, he ate healthyfoods, and he meditated. He also spent a lot of time picturing himself healthy and visualizing good strong blood cellsdestroying the cancer in his body.Matzke later flew back to Vermont, where O’Donnell repeated the chest X-ray to document the size and location of thetumor before starting treatment. But instead of the large cancerous lesion in Matzke’s lung, he saw . . . nothing. O’Donnellrecalls, “When John came back a month later, it was remarkable—the tumor on his chest X-ray was gone. Gone, gone,gone.”Call it remarkable, call it miraculous—such spontaneous remissions are as fascinating to physicians and scientists asthey are rare. Doctors would like to understand cases like Matzke’s, who was given just 18 months to live but wouldsurvive another 18 years. And although a recurrence of the cancer—this time in his brain—would eventually claim his lifeon November 8, 1991, the fact that his lung tumor disappeared completely begs for an explanation.
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