Before I start, let me clarify that I believe that miracles do exist and that God does break through natural boundaries. But after years of research, I am convinced that popular Christian healers are taking advantage of people who want to believe in them and I have discovered that their healing cures are no better than other forms of healing from other religions and philosophies. I also see that more people are harmed than helped by these popular healers.
So while researching healing and cancer, I found one story often cited on the internet, in articles and in books used to illustrate how powerful the mind is. The story is all about a patient (Mr. Wright) who, under the care of a certain doctor, was given medicine in 1957 that made a cancerous tumor the size of an orange completely disappear. But here is the interesting part of the story – it wasn’t the medicine that dissolved the tumor, but it was the man’s misguided belief in what turned out to be a worthless medicine. As long as he believed in the medicine and the authority of his doctor who gave him the medicine, the tumor slowly disappeared.
But after discovering the medicine held no properties to address his tumor, the man relapsed and the tumor ended up killing him two days after he was convinced he had believed a lie.
Now I realize that a positive attitude and attacking cancer with healthier living has been proven to help some people’s cancer to go into remission (at least there seems to be a connection), but something about the story of Mr. Wright didn’t seem right. So, I decided to dig into the story and get to the bottom of it.
MARKS OF MAKE-BELIEVE
For the first few hours of research, I thought I would not be able to find the genesis of this story and that it would be nothing more than an urban-legend-like/fake-news-like tales passed on to feed the hunger of the “mind over medicine” fans. During those hours, the more I searched, the more I was siding with a legendary beginning to this tale. I was beginning to conclude this was one big fake story:
- I could not find the source of the story. One mark of an urban legend is that most of the stories claim to happen to a friend of a friend. For example: After a trip to Mexico, my brother’s friend went to a dentist because he had a large sore on the inside of his back molar. When the dentist poked the sore, dozens of baby roaches poured out into his mouth. One of the signs this is not true is that it happened to a friend of a friend. If I talk to my brother’s friend, however, I will find out that it really happened to a friend of his friend. And if I talk to that person, I will hear the same thing. I will never find the source. Mr. Wright’s story seemed not to have had a real source, even though books and articles used the story.
- Secondly, no one using the story to prove their point gave reference to the source of the story, which would suggest there was no real source.
- Thirdly, the story seemed too good to be true. When a gun toting fanatic walked into a restaurant in Washington D.C., he was convinced he would find a secret underground vault filled with Hillary Clinton’s child slaves. He hated Clinton so much that he bought the story that she kidnapped children and sold them as sex slaves. Where he heard this story is a mystery to me, but not the story itself. This type of story is common the political world because such stories justify fears and hates groups hold onto, but this story for the Clinton haters would be too good to be true, because it would provide the proof that Mrs. Clinton was incredibly evil. Mr. Wright’s disappearing tumor seemed too good to be true for a group that wants to believe that modern medicine is superseded by the power of the mind.
- Fourthly, some of the articles emphasized that the story was true…”this is true,” a writer would say, making sure the readers didn’t realize that there was no real source mentioned or referred to.
- Fifthly, the stories varied from one writing to another. Variation of a story is expected with any popular story because people adjust and exaggerate certain parts of stories to fit their purposes for writing or for telling the stories. One of the common variations in Wright’s story was the purpose of the drug involved. One writer said it was only used on and successful with horses; another writer stated that the drug was being tested in a controlled study on others in the hospital already. One writer wrote that Mr. Wright had to demand being included in the trial, whereas other writers said he was asked to be in the trial.
Another variation is in the doctor’s name. One article called him Dr. West and another said it was Dr. Klopfer. With all the variations, I knew the story was evolving but, even stories that have the earmarks of urban legend type of evolution can come from a real beginning that started it all. So I continued to search.
THE ORIGIN OF THE STORY
A breakthrough came when I searched the names of the doctors and found one of them led me closer to the source. It turns out that Wikipedia mentioned that Dr. Bruno Klopfer wrote an article “Psychological Variables in Human Cancer”, Journal of Projective Techniques, Vol.21, No.4, (December 1957), in which he described Dr. Wright’s condition and response to a bogus medicine called “Krebiozen.” None of the books or the articles until then provided this information.
Finding out who the originator of this story was, I wanted to know who he was and if he was legit. Wikipedia told me that he studied under Karl Jung (impressive), did research at Columbia University (equally impressive), and finally appointed Clinical Professor of Psychology at the University of California in Los Angeles. All of these titles told me that I should believe the story of the disappearing tumor and in at least one case, the mind (or more clearly, the placebo effect) was able to reduce the size of tumors and may even be able to destroy them entirely. However, even being closer to the source and being impressed with the doctor’s position, I still had my doubts. I suppose the biggest problem I had was that even though I was close to the source, the article Dr. Klopfer wrote seems to be nowhere to be found.
THE ETHICS OF MEDICINE RESEARCH
Several years ago I taught Medical Ethics in a local University. In my studies at that time, I discovered a commonly used trick among researchers and developers. In order to get the money needed to continue research, companies and researchers often falsify their findings, believing that further funds will help them to prove their theories right and thus pay off in the end for investors and for researchers. But this is a tricky deal with the devil, for while it pays off for many (it paid off for Steve Jobs on several occasions), it can backfire if further research does not produce the expected results.
One South Korean researcher, Woo Suk Hwang (in 2004-2005) became a celebrity in South Korea for cloning from embryonic cells because he was convinced he could with enough money. After being awarded the finances he needed, he was unable to produce his expected findings and went from the country’s hero to his country’s shame. “He lost his university position and his two important papers on embryonic stem cell research had to be retracted from the journal Science (http://stemcellbioethics.wikischolars.columbia.edu/The+Cloning+Scandal+of+Hwang+Woo-Suk).”
This led me to question: Could Dr. Klopfer have created the story of the disappearing tumor in order to impress his peers and the Journal of Projective Techniques’ readers? Or was he an eye witness to the amazing power of the human body? I wondered if reading the original article would help me answer these questions, but because I couldn’t find the original, I could not conclude either way.
ANOTHER CASE FROM MEDICAL JOURNALS
I am still not convinced Dr. Klopfer really saw a tumor dissolve so quickly and so easily. Dr. Klopfer was writing a book and needed illustrations to prove his point. Although his credentials are awesome, I cannot honor people who are popular or educated on the basis of their popularity or position. I am afraid that I would have to see it or learn more about it in order to believe it.
The story of the disappearing tumor still sounds too urban legend-like for me to accept it without further proof.
There is another story that likewise moves through generations of story tellers. Dr. Mason (1951) treated a teen with arms covered in warts. “Most of the boy’s body — everything but his face, neck, and chest — was covered in a “black horny layer” of skin that Mason said ‘felt as hard as a normal finger-nail, and was so inelastic that any attempt at bending resulted in a crack in the surface, which would then ooze blood-stained serum (http://www.radiolab.org/story/299045-hypnotist-and-warts/).'”
Dr. Mason used hypnosis (the placebo effect was not yet well known in 1951) and told the boy that one of his arms would clear up in two weeks. The first time I heard about this case, a national radio claimed that his arm completely cleared up, but after research, I discovered that most of his arm cleared up.
The doctor was told by his peers that what happened to the boy was considered impossible, the doctor was unable to help the teen any further. The doctor blamed his inability to further healing to his lack of belief in hypnosis after finding out that what he did was impossible.
Why do I believe this story and not Dr. Klopfer’s? Dr. Klopfer’s story is too good. It fits too well within the framework of his book. There are no contradictions or failures in Dr. Klopfer’s story. It is all too black and white. Dr. Mason however fails in further attempts to help the person.
Another reason I accept Dr. Mason’s story is because I can get to the source, see the pictures and read from his experience first hand, as Dr. Mason worked with other doctors and filled out an official report with pictures and statistics which can be read by all (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2021155/pdf/brmedj03456-0026.pdf).
All in all, I conclude that the disappearing tumor story may be true, but I don’t have enough evidence to buy it and use it for further investigation.
WHY WAS I SO INTERESTED IN THIS CASE?
I wrote this article because it demonstrates how important research is in the area of healing. A lot of people pass on stories and testimonies because such stories make people feel good, support opinions, “glorify God,” and so on. However, even true stories change with each retelling, so in order to get to the bottom of each story, it is important to research.
Many stories have no known source. I cannot accept any of these stories to help me understand what is real and what is not – even when they support what I want to believe.
I wanted to find the source of this story because it could help me understand a question that I still have: Can faith healing, popular healers, other religions, acupuncture and the placebo effect shrink tumors? I have elsewhere argued that faith healers and popular healing ministries depend upon the placebo effect to produce some real cures and a lot of temporary feelings and relief of symptoms.
I argued that real cures in popular ministries, like the placebo effect are limited to functional diseases. I have argued that if these ministries really witnessed miracles, then (like in Jesus’ ministry) structural diseases would be cured as well as functional. As of yet, I have not seen or read any legitimate testimony to verify structural healing under popular healers.
By definition, tumors are structural, but I have a gut feeling that cancer and tumors can (in rare cases) be cured by the placebo effect, and therefore in rare cases by popular healers. I just want better proof to build my case, and I am unable to use the evidence of Dr. Klopfer and Mr. Wright to help me in this quest.