n 1922 nurse Rene Caisse worked in the surgery ward in an Ontario hospital where she found an elderly woman patient with a strangely scarred breast. The woman explained to nurse Caisse that thirty years earlier doctors told her she had advanced breast cancer and would need to have the breast removed. She declined the surgery. A Native American friend in Ontario had offered to treat the woman’s cancer with herbal medicine, and she decided to accept. The man, an Ojibway herbalist, gave her the herb recipe and showed her how to make a brew of it. She drank the tea daily, and her tumors shrank and then disappeared. She was still totally cancer free two decades later as she spoke with nurse Caisse in the Ontario hospital. Caisse obtained the recipe for herself thinking she could use it if she ever had cancer. Shortly afterward, Caisse’s aunt was diagnosed with advanced stomach cancer and given six months to live. Caisse asked the physician, Dr. R. O. Fisher, for permission to try the tea on her aunt, and he consented. Her aunt drank the herbal brew daily for two months and recovered. She lived for twenty years more. Dr. Fisher and nurse Caisse began treating cancer patients who had been diagnosed as terminal by their doctors, and many of them improved dramatically. Caisse and Fisher modified the combination of herbs somewhat, and Caisse named the concoction “Essiac,” which is her name spelled backward. Through the years, Caisse treated thousands of cases. The vast majority were brought to her for treatment after surgery, radiation, and chemotherapy had failed, and the patients were pronounced incurable. One example is Annie Bonar. She was diagnosed with uterine and bowel cancer, which had spread after radium treatments. Her arm had swollen to double its size, turning black. The night before the arm was to be amputated, Bonar opted for Essiac therapy instead. During four months of the herbal treatment, she went from 90 to 150 pounds, and her arm returned to normal. A series of exams revealed she was cancer free. The Royal Cancer Commission of Canada listed her case as “recovery due to radiation.” Concerned that Caisse was practicing medicine without a license, Canadian officials, along with many in the medical community, attempted to censor her work. This ultimately had a braking effect on her treatments, but she never stopped helping those who came to her until her death in 1978. Caisse also had numerous lucrative offers for the formula, but always feared a large company would take it over, and that Essiac would then become less freely available to the people who needed it most. Indeed, Dr. Frederick Banting, discoverer of insulin, wanted to test Essiac after learning that one of Caisse’s patients had not only been cured of her cancer, but of her insulin-dependent diabetes as well. Under Essiac therapy, her cancerous bowel tumor had became larger and harder at first, although it soon softened, got smaller, and ultimately disappeared. The woman’s diabetes also disappeared. Dr. Banting thought the Essiac healed the pancreas as well, and thus had potential to treat diabetes. He wanted to test the substance in his lab, but he also wanted Caisse to close her clinic while tests were run. She refused, and the tests on diabetes never took place. Essiac is not a cure-all according to Dr. Jim Chan, N.D., despite evidence that it seems more effective than chemotherapy, radiation, and surgery in treating various cancers. Chan obtained Essiac in 1991 from the Resperin Corp. of Toronto for cancer patients through the emergency drug release program and maintains that it is “not 100 percent effective.” An individual’s lifestyle, the kind of carcinoma involved, and the time at which he or she starts taking Essiac are factors. Still, Chan has had a high success rate with those who have had the least amount of radiation or chemotherapy, and most had begun the Essiac alternative in late stages of their cancer illness. In 1959 Rene Caisse introduced her Essiac formula to Dr. Charles Brusch, M.D., physician to president John F. Kennedy. She started a series of treatments on terminal cancer patients and laboratory mice at the Brusch Medical Center in Cambridge, Massachusetts where she was supervised by eighteen doctors. As reported by Sheila Fraser and Caroll Allen in Homaker’s Magazine, “Dr. Charles McClure, supervisor of research, and Dr. Charles Brusch concluded after three months [that] ‘On mice [Essiac] has been shown to cause a decided recession of the mass, and a definite change in cell formation. Clinically, on patients suffering from pathologically proven cancer, it reduces pain and causes a recession in the growth; patients have gained weight and shown an improvement in their general health. This, after only three months’ tests and the proof Miss Caisse has to show of the many patients she has benefited in the past 25 years, has convinced the doctors at the Brusch Medical Center that Essiac has merit in the treatment of cancer. The doctors do not say that Essiac is a cure, but they do say it is of benefit. It is non-toxic, and is administered both orally and by intra muscular injection.'” Rene Caisse would not reveal her formula to the medical world because, as she said, they would not assure her they would use it in the treatment of cancer clinically. She reasoned that “if they did not know what I was using, they could not be in a position to condemn it. I have therefore kept my own counsel.” This, she felt, led to labs working with the Brusch Center to stop processing their material. The American Medical Association had forbidden its members to refer patients to unknown remedies, patients stopped being referred, and work at the clinic ended. In 1990, Dr Charles Brusch wrote, “Many years have gone by since I first experienced the use of Essiac with my patients. . .suffering from many varied forms of cancer. . . . Rene [Caisse] worked with me and together we refined and perfected her formula. . . . “Remarkably beneficial results were obtained even on those cases at the ‘end of the road’ where it proved to prolong life and the ‘quality’ of that life. “In some cases, if the tumor didn’t disappear, it could be surgically removed after Essiac with less risk of metastasis resulting in new outbreaks. Hemorrhage has been rapidly brought under control in many difficult cases, open lesions of lip and breast responded to treatment, and patients with cancer of the stomach have returned to normal activity among many other remembered cases. Also, intestinal burns from radiation were healed and damage replaced, and it was found to greatly improve whatever the condition. . . .I endorse this therapy even today, for I have in fact cured my own cancer, the original site of which was the lower bowel, through Essiac alone.” (From a notarized letter, April 6, 1990.) Nurse Caisse signed over the rights to her Essiac formula to the Resperin Corp. and Dr. Brusch in 1978, before she died at the age of 90. Brusch turned his version of the formulation over to Elaine Alexander of Vancouver, British Columbia, and it is now marketed by a Canadian company called Flora, Inc. The basic formula consists of four herbs: burdock root (Arctium lappa), Turkey rhubarb (Rheum palmatum), sheep sorrel (Rumex acetosella), and slippery elm (Ulmus fulva). According to herbalist Barbara Mowbray, burdock root has been used for centuries. Eaten as spring greens, it stimulates production of bile and helps liver function. As a first-year root, dug in autumn, it is used as a blood purifier. It is renowned for reducing the pain and swelling of arthritis. An extract of the root contains inulin, which the body converts to insulin, helpful to diabetics. Burdock root has many other qualities, but perhaps the most germane is its reputation for tumor regression, for which it has long been used in macrobiotic diets. Turkey rhubarb, used as stems, now finds its way into puddings and pies. The root stock is both laxative and astringent, depending upon the dose. It is effective for diarrhea and known to work in removing debris from and cleansing the bowels. In Chinese medicine, it is used to treat fevers and has been used to treat chronic liver problems. Liver toxicity is often found in cancer patients. Sheep sorrel has been used to treat scurvy, to strengthen the heart, and to cool the liver. The fresh leaves contain a number of acids, which makes them a delicacy in fresh salads. Sheep sorrel is respected as a diuretic and as a treatment for blood disorders, as well as assisting with skin problems. A decoction can be used internally or externally. Also, Rene Caisse, in her fifty years of working with cancer patients, observed it to be effective in breaking down tumors. The inner bark of slippery elm is used to heal wounds and is known for the blanketing effect it has on the mucous membranes of the digestive system. It is soothing for sore throats, and coats the intestinal tract, producing speculation that its role in the Essiac formula is to protect the body when toxins are released. It is nutritive as well-in fact, each of these four herbs are rich in vitamins and minerals-and was used by Native Americans for food when none other was available. Despite the beneficial qualities of these herbs individually, herbalists assert that the yet-to-be-determined synergistic combination of the herbs in a brew seems to be what gives Essiac its potency. For more in-depth information about them, see Sheila Fraser Snow’s excellent new book, The Essence of Essiac ($25 check or MO to: Snow, Box 396, Port Carling, Ontario, Canada P0B 1J0).
uring the clinical trials of Essiac conducted by Resperin in 1978, Ed Zalesky, a participant who was 63 at the time, had been diagnosed with cancer of the small intestine. Four feet of “gut” had been taken out but cancer was still left. “They said I had six months without radiation and two years with radiation.” He is now (1993) running the Canadian Museum of Flight seven days a week. He is critical of Essiac’s detractors: “Why can’t the people who administer cancer funds give it a fair trial? It isn’t going to hurt anyone, and the medical profession should stop playing God and allow us cancer patients to use the treatment of our choice.” In his article, “Essiac: A Remarkable Canadian Indian Remedy for Cancer,” author Richard Walters writes, “One wonders where are the controlled clinical trials of Essiac today for desperate patients who might benefit from it?” He goes on to note that Dr. E. Bruce Hendrick, M.D., chief of neurosurgery at the University of Toronto’s Hospital for Sick Children urges “a scientific clinical trial” of Essiac. Walters cites recent evidence that patients with “surgically treated tumors of the central nervous system, after taking an Essiac regimen, had ‘escaped from the conventional methods of therapy, including both radiation and chemotherapy.'” Walters goes on to note that Dr. Emma Carson, a Los Angeles physician who spent 24 days inspecting nurse Caisse’s Bracebridge clinic in its heyday in 1937 reached similar conclusions. Originally skeptical and planning to stay only a couple of days, she scrutinized the clinical records and examinations of more than 400 patients. Her conclusion? “The vast majority of Miss Caisse’s patients are brought to her for treatment after surgery, radium, X-rays, emplastrums, etc., have failed to be helpful, and the patients are pronounced incurable. Really the progress obtainable and the actual results from ‘Essiac’ treatments and the rapidity of repair [were] absolutely marvelous and must be seen to convincingly confirm belief.” She went on to say, “Several prominent physicians and surgeons who are quite familiar with the indisputable results obtained in response to Essiac treatments [have] conceded to me that the Rene M. Caisse Essiac Treatment for cancer is the most humane, satisfactory and frequently successful remedy for the annihilation of cancer that they had found at that time.”
he Essiac formula Rene Caisse gave to the Resperin Corporation is so simple and natural it deserves the grace of Edna St. Vincent Millay’s magical lines: “And all the loveliest things there be / Come simply, so, it seems to me.” With the abundance of evidence available, why is Essiac not given more study? Is it because the herbs used are so readily available, the formula so simple that no one would make money producing it? Or, is Essiac’s efficacy argued away using the logic of the placebo effect? The argument says that terminal cancer patients are so desperate they are ready to believe anything, and that their belief in the treatment rather than the treatment itself actually effects a cure. But if that is the case with Essiac, then the same argument could be made about chemotherapy or radiation. Patients who live do so despite the destruction of their immune systems by these treatments. If the placebo effect controls the outcome of both types of treatment, wouldn’t patients rather spend $50 to $500 on herbs and maintain their immune systems than spend their life savings on drugs that actually wreak havoc on the whole body and have an extremely low success rate? Supporters of Rene Caisse and Essiac gathered 55,000 signatures in 1938 for a petition supporting a bill to allow her to continue to treat cancer patients with Essiac, free from the constant threat of arrest. The signatories included many doctors, as well as Caisse’s patients and their families. The bill to legalize Essiac as a remedy for terminal cancer patients failed by three votes to pass in the Ontario Parliament. Rene Caisse learned years later that the College of Physicians and Surgeons had told members of Parliament that the College would “take a sincere look and give [Caisse] a fair hearing” if the bill were defeated. So Parliament failed to legalize Essiac, and people may well wonder what ever happened to that “sincere look.” Where is the fair hearing that was promised? Recently Dr. Gary Glum, a Los Angeles chiropractor, completed several years research of nurse Caisse’s experiences with Essiac. He wrote a biography of Caisse titled Calling of an Angel (1988). He was given a formula for Essiac by Mary Macpherson, a close friend of nurse Caisse, and he published the formula in his book. Many people have used this formula and have been healed of cancers, including leukemia. Anecdotal evidence indicates people have also used the formula for treating many immune deficiencies, and others drink it daily as a preventive, as did Rene Caisse herself, testifying they feel better overall, indeed with more energy and verve for life. Aside from its potential for treating various cancers, Essiac seems also to be a strong preventive and relieves pain in cancer patients. Gary Glum’s wife found that Essiac normalized her thyroid gland, and she was able to stop taking her two grains of thyroid, which she had been on since the sixth grade. Rene Caisse also found that Essiac would heal stomach ulcers within three to four weeks, and, best of all, evidence so far shows the formula to be nontoxic when taken in no more than three 2-ounce doses during a 24-hour period. Despite the lack of clinical proof and, indeed, of interest from most in the medical community, Essiac is growing in popularity. If it didn’t have any merit, one would think it would have lost its appeal by now. Could it actually work? Surely some foundation, pharmaceutical company, or government agency somewhere ought to be willing to find out.
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