By Louis Heyse-Moore, M.D., Well Being Journal, Vol. 23, No. 6
The referral seemed quite straightforward: a request for home support for a woman with advanced, metastatic cancer. I noted from information given that she had a huge tumor filling perhaps a third of her abdomen, along with widespread secondary tumors. From previous experience with patients with a similar story, I thought she would be very ill and might need admission to the hospice soon. I rang the doorbell of her maisonette. A slim, fit-looking woman in her early fifties answered the door. I explained who I was and asked if I might see the patient. “Oh, that’s me,” she said. I was nonplussed—I had expected someone much sicker. However, we sat down and went through the history of her illness and the hospital investigations she’d had, including a biopsy, which proved the diagnosis. It was when I examined her that I began to think something strange was going on. Where there had been a massive tumor, there was now almost nothing to feel.
I explained to her what I had found—or rather not found. I was in the strange position of telling someone who had been informed she was dying that this was not the case. I had to choose my words carefully. I didn’t want to build her hopes up too much before further tests had clarified what was happening. I ended by saying, rather obviously, that she didn’t need palliative care and that I would speak to her general practitioner. She remained very calm throughout our meeting, almost as though she knew what I would say. When I spoke to her general practitioner later that day, I suggested rerunning her tests. He referred her back to the hospital, and the further investigations showed that her metastases had disappeared and that her abdominal tumor had shrunk right down. They followed her with serial scans, which showed a continuing reduction in the size of the mass. Eventually, they did a further biopsy, which showed only scar tissue.
I went back to see her to talk over these results. She didn’t have any explanation for what had happened. In fact, she was politely reluctant to talk about it. I knew that her spirituality was very important to her, and I wondered if she had experienced something that she preferred to keep private. She did say, however, that one day during her illness she knew she was going to be all right. A year later, I went back to see her. She remained well and, when I examined her, there was no sign of any recurrence. Her hospital medical team wrote her case up in a medical journal as an example of spontaneous regression of cancer.
For full article and author bio, see Vol. 23, No. 6, November/December 2014 (available in print or digital format).