was told I had only six months to live. But
17 years later I am alive and kicking thanks to vitamins, cyanide and (ouch!)
Mail April 15, 2003
68 year old Don Factor, son of cosmetics tycoon Max Factor, discovered he had
one of the most aggressive forms of cancer, he dicided to pursue unorthodox
methods to beat it—despite being told that he would probably not see out the
end of the year. Don, a writer and artist, is married to Anna, a painter, and
they live in Netting Hill, West London. Here, he tells LUCY MAYHEW of his battle
with the disease.
are survival studies in cancer — at Stage One there's hope; at Stage Two there
is an outside chance of remission. When extensive cancer was detected in my
lung, liver and spine in 1986,1 was at Stage Four, where survival rates are
only warnings were lower back pain — which I put down to sitting at the
computer for too long — and a kind of chronic dyspepsia, or constantly feeling
wife, Anna, persuaded me to go to our GP in the Cotswolds where we then lived,
even though I thought I just had a tummy bug. He recommended that I saw a
Harley Street specialist in London immediately.
said Sir John Batten was top in his field but I didn't ask what field that was.
My mind had silently raised the dreaded 'C' word — cancer — but I didn't
want to put it into words.
went to see Sir John a couple of days later. He put me through some invasive and
extremely nasty tests. I had a colonoscopy, an examination of my small intestine
and, worst of all, a liver biopsy — removing a sample of tissue by
syringe—which was more like being hit in the belly by a mortar shell.
I was warned not to move much or walk for 24 hours for fear of bleeding. •
Three days later Sir John called me.
He apologised over the phone — actually all he did was apologise. Over
and over, he kept saying: 'I'm terribly sorry.'
he revealed that I had small cell carcinoma of the lung — with secondary
tumours on my liver. I was told: 'We could give you chemotherapy, giving a 50:50
realised that I wasn't being given any options to live.
felt as though a huge hole had opened and I was tumbling down into it. I was
only 51 and this was panic time.
it was a case of getting through tears and shock, and then acknowledging that
something must be done.
smoked my last ever Marlboro cigarette. Before the diagnosis I had smoked 40 a
day, so in a way I was getting my comeuppance. But I knew I would not accept
this death sentence.
and I had been interested in alternative health for years but I always felt they
worked best used alongside orthodox treatments.
had once attended an impressive lecture by Dr Ernesto Contreras, the founder of
the Oasis of Hope, a Mexican clinic that practiced an alternative regime called
had worked as a pathologist at Boston General Hospital, Massachusetts. This
was in the early Fifties, when they were doing the first studies using chemotherapy
on children with leukaemia.
chemotherapy agent was derived from mustard gas and the doctors couldn't tell
whether the children were dying from leukaemia or the treatment.
became so disillusioned he returned to Mexico to dedicate his life to
investigating less brutal treatments, leading to the developement of his
metabolic Therapy. His theory is to
build the patient up—make them as healthy as possible so they can fight tumour
growth with their own immune system.
treatment includes an intravenous drip of vitamins, with massive doses of
vitamin C, minerals and other compounds, daily injections of a substance called
laetrile (vitamin B17) and pancreatic enzymes — plus coffee enemas for,
thankfully, only the first five days to detoxify the body.
enemas help to stimulate the flow of bile from the liver, which prompts the body
a week after my diagnosis, we flew to the clinic in Playas de Tijuana, Mexico.
By the time I arrived, another tumour had emerged in the vertebrae that links to
the sciatic nerves which run from the spine to the little toe. This caused
the cost of the Metabolic Therapy was about $20,000 (about £12,750), it was
considerably less than private orthodox treatment in the U.S. or the UK.
Ernesto Contreras was to be my physician. He looked at my medical records and
ordered some more tests.
were 20 or 30 patients being treated and he explained that success rates were
about 30 per cent — all for people who had previously been labelled
untreatable or terminal.
important feature of the treatment at the Oasis of Hope is that you bring along
a companion. Anna's encouragement was vital, especially at the start when I was
in so much pain and was losing a lot of weight. I was hospitalised for just
under four weeks.
has been substantial controversy around the intravenous and oral use of
laetrile — a compound found in apricot kernels.
(vitamin B17) contains a cyanide compound. People panic when they hear that,
thinking of poison. But research shows that the cyanide compound is unlocked
only when it comes into contact with an enzyme occurring in abnormal amounts at
cancer cell sites, destroying them.
there is still a dearth of controlled clinical studies, primarily because it is
an unpatentable substance — meaning no one is prepared to foot the bill for
course, B17 alone is not a magic formula, it's a valuable component of a
wide-ranging therapy. For years it was dismissed as a hocus-pocus formula, but I
believe it's beginning to gain recognition under the name of Amygdalin.
surgeon Dr Francisco Contreras, Ernesto's son, performed one operation on me to
insert a catheter which would feed the compounds and chemotherapy directly
into my liver.
was so ill, the doctors decided to give me chemotherapy on my liver, plus a week
of radiation on my spine. Conventional medicine is used at the clinic, but
always as part of a larger context.
I lived with constant pain and was incredibly bloated. Apparently, they had
never treated anyone who was so riddled with cancer. But I had a defiant spirit,
and they later told Anna and me that if it hadn't been for that enthusiasm they
would have sent me home immediately.
sometimes I did feel ready to give up. Luckily, I was visited by a psychologist
who had worked with the terminally ill. He said I needn't feel guilty for having
dark thoughts. So I accepted them as a natural feature of healing.
also made peace with my 16-year-old daughter and 13 year-old son from my first
marriage, who I used to visit only once or twice a year. I told them I loved
them and said if they had any hard feelings about me having left home, they
needed to talk about them because if I died the feelings would be much harder to
deal with. Having done that I
felt magically better. I even asked
the doctor to run a test on me that evening because I felt I had gone into
remission — that was after just one week. I was asked to wait another week
when tests did show that the tumours were shrinking.
father lent me his apartment in Palm Springs, and for a further three months, I
drove back to Mexico for my monthly chemotherapy.
said I could go back to Britain if I could find an oncologist willing to use
their compounds and procedures. I took a mass of bottles back to Cheltenham
General Hospital where they continued my treatment.
about four sessions, a scan showed no sign of active growth, just scar tissue in
my liver. Three years later, at a check-up in Mexico, the doctor said: 'As a
rule, we don't say cured. But in your case, it seems pointless to keep writing
per cent of cancer sufferers in my condition do not recover. Yet not a single
doctor here showed any curiosity as to why I survived.
seems to be a cynicism about Ernesto's programme. Metabolic Therapy is seen as a
fringe treatment and most medical people don't like to discuss regimes that
deviate from accepted medical practices for fear of upsetting the apple cart.
oncologists say: 'If we can't fix it, nobody can.' I'm living proof that