Breast Cancer - A Case of Medicine Without Compassion

Chris Teo, Ph.D.

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Andi is child number ten in a family of eight brothers and two sisters. She is not married. In September 2004, at the age of forty-eight, Andi found a lump in her left breast. A lumpectomy was done by a surgeon in a hospital in Jakarta, Indonesia. She then came to Penang to undergo eight cycles of chemotherapy. After this treatment, Andi was asked to go for radiotherapy besides taking tamoxifen. She declined both and came to see us on 15 March. On the day of her visit, she presented with bloatedness of her stomach and numbness of both feet.

One month on the herbs, all these symptoms disappeared. In June 2005, a blood test showed elevated ALT and AST (165 and 114, respectively) indicating something was amiss with her liver. Andi was put on liver herbs and within two months, her liver function values were restored to normalcy (ALT = 52, AST = 29). Andi discontinued taking the liver herbs. On 25 January 2006, her ALT was again elevated, at 59. On 6 April 2006, her liver function values remained elevated (ALT = 57, AST = 52). Andi resumed with the liver herbs. On 9 May 2007, Andi’s liver function values were back to normalcy ((AST = 10, ALT = 17). All other blood parameters were within normal limits. Her CEA was at 1.0 and CA 15.3 = 10.5, ESR = 5 and platelet count = 170.

On 11 May 2007, I talked to Andi and the transcript of our conversation is as follows:

Question: Did you take the liver herbs “religiously"?

Andi: Yes, I took Capsule A and B as long as I had the supply. When I ran short of supply, I did not take the capsules. As for the Liver-P, I was not very regular. Sometimes, I took it, sometimes I didn’t.

Q: After the lumpectomy in Jakarta, why did you come to Penang for chemotherapy? Did you know anyone here?

A: No, I did not know anyone here. I just followed other Indonesian patients who came here for treatment. I came to Penang because I was not happy with the doctor who asked me to go for chemotherapy. You see, I was operated on by a famous doctor in Jakarta. He is also the owner of the hospital. He is the one who asked me to go for chemotherapy after the lumpectomy. My brothers and I went to discuss the follow up treatment with him. We asked him how much the chemo-treatment cost and what drugs would be used. He was very nasty and rude. He told me: “Why do you want to know so much. Even if I tell you, you don’t understand. As for the cost, there are many types of drugs. If you are rich you use expensive drugs, and if you have less money, you use less expensive drugs. If you don’t have money, then don’t do chemotherapy at all. " I was very unhappy with his reply. So I decided to come to Penang for chemotherapy.

Q: How long did you stay here for the chemo-treatment?

A: I flew in and went to the hospital as soon as possible. It took about 4 hours for the injection to finish. The next day I flew back to Jakarta. I did this every three weeks until I was done with the eight cycles.

Q: Was the chemo-treatment a pleasant experience?

A: No. I lost my hair completely after the first cycle of chemo. My stomach felt bloated. I had to take 16 tablets of Dexamethasone twice a day. After the injection, I was alright but after I flew home I started to have the side effects which lasted about a week after each treatment.


Patients who have undergone chemotherapy may sometimes end up with derailed liver function values. Your doctors may tell you that this is a temporary set back after chemotherapy. Given a bit of time, the values return to normal. So, there is no need to take herbs. This is not the case with Andi. Without the liver herbs, Andi’s liver function values remained high. Would that lead to liver problems later? One lesson we can learn from this case is that liver herbs don’t harm your liver! The herbs make the liver function better.

Andi’s experience with her surgeon cum owner of the hospital is most tragic. A statement frequently uttered, “Some people go into medicine for the money. " This is one example of what the statement means. Some practitioners lack the compassion required of this noble profession. Some of them are just plain rude and arrogant, and they don’t know how to show love and care to their patients.

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