Doctor's views offend family of cancer boy

BATTLING ON: Renea Pidduck with her son Phoenix Stafford, 9, of Nelson, who has Ewing's sarcoma of the spinal cord.
BATTLING ON: Renea Pidduck with her son Phoenix Stafford, 9, of Nelson, who has Ewing's sarcoma of the spinal cord.

The Nelson family of a 9-year-old battling a rare form of cancer say they have been hurt by comments from a Picton GP criticising their decision to seek alternative treatment.

Picton GP John Welch said this week the use of alternative medicine to treat Phoenix Stafford, who was told last month chemotherapy could do nothing more for the tumour on his spine, was a waste of money.

The family is now being helped by Mapua GP Tim Ewer, and they have been raising funds for the last month to pay for specialised blood tests and possible future treatment.

Phoenix's mother Renea Pidduck said the family had been devastated by the comments.

"It's been really hard to read this. [Dr Welch] is entitled to his opinion, but it is an opinion, and this has got nothing to do with him. I don't want to fight or be negative, but this is a life we're talking about.

"What am I supposed to do? Bring my son home and watch him die? I'm allowed to try."

The appeal has raised about $23,000 so far, boosted this week by a $10,000 donation from a business in Hong Kong.

"We haven't asked for donations for any old thing, it's for treatment. No-one had to give money.

"It's a charity account. It can't be accessed by an eftpos card, or an everyday account. We have to sign for it," Ms Pidduck said.

The only transaction on the account was for the $6000 to pay for the cancer sensitivity blood tests, she said.

Ms Pidduck also wanted to make clear vitamins were only being used to boost Phoenix's immune system following the chemotherapy and "the amount of drugs within his system".

They were using a detox and nutritional supplements, at a cost of about $180 for three months' supply, but these had not come from Dr Ewer, and were paid for by the family, she said.

The family were also in contact with a pediatrician each week and had fortnightly video conferences with the oncologists at Christchurch Hospital.

Ms Pidduck said they trusted Dr Ewer.

"We went to him because he had a good reputation – he didn't come to us saying he could help."

The family were still waiting to hear whether the drugs identified as potentially helpful by the blood tests could be administered by the Christchurch Hospital cancer ward, she said.

"I hope [Phoenix] won't have to go overseas ... but if they won't do it in New Zealand of course I will take him over there."

Dr Welch, who has previously written columns on alternative medicine for the New Zealand Skeptics Society, said he did not want to be seen as attacking the family.

However, he was concerned they could be being exploited, and that public money could be used for treatment that would not work.

"I appreciate what they're going through and I'm certainly thinking about them. My issue is more with doctors exploiting people like that by selling them a lot of stuff that's not going to work.

"If it worked, we'd all be using it."

Dr Ewer said he did not receive any commission or "kickbacks" from the lab or the tests, nor did he supply nutrients at a profit.

"All people do is pay for my time. I'm not interested in making money out of these things.

"Phoenix is a wonderful kid. We're just trying to get the best for him, without making it a battle of personalities."

The blood tests were done at a lab in Greece, which specialised in growing cancer cells from blood samples, and then testing those cells against commonly used chemotheraputic agents and natural agents, and scoring their efficacy.

"It identifies what treatment or combination of treatments are likely to be useful.

"It is still controversial in that this is a new science. It is stuff that is yet to be fully verified, but certainly in the case studies done so far, results seem to improve.

"It is one opportunity that might be still available to Phoenix, and I think that's a reasonable thing to do."

The results had been sent to oncologists at Christchurch Hospital to see if they would be willing to administer the recommended medication, he said.

"But what tends to happen in chemotherapy is there are set protocols ... in terms of which cancers get which drugs ... and they stick to them rather than individualise."

The Nelson Mail