Video: Suzanne Somers: ‘I saw my death’

  1. Closed captioning of: Suzanne Somers: ‘I saw my death’

    >>> last november actress suzanne somers was diagnosed with full-body cancer . she highlights that experience in her newest book, "knockout," suzanne, good morning. my goodness. how long were you misdiagnosed? how long were you led to believe you had full body cancer ?

    >>> i was in the hospital for six days, confirmed by six doctors that i had full-body cancer and that when i refused chemotherapy i was told to get my things in order. it was really a very heavy experience. i mean in a way i have experienced what most people don't in that i saw my death and i started thinking about who i would give what to and how i'd prepare my family.

    >> this after having been properly diagnosed -- or having been diagnosed with breast cancer back in 2000 . you had that fear again. it was like a terrible moment. but then you discovered you did not have full body cancer and that really propelled you to write this book. you're on a mission with this book. what is that mission?

    >> when i was lying in the hospital thinking that it was the worst -- i'm a very upbeat, positive person. so it's just it was so many people confirming it, i said to my husband, you know, i've been keeping a file on doctors who are curing cancer . so i can get out of here. i said i don't know if they can do it with someone like me who was full body cancer . i know they're oshg working on tumors. if i get out of here, take me to houston or to new york, or to nevada, there are these doctors out there doing incredible work. and so when it turned out to be a misdiagnosis, they cut open my next, went in, took a piece of my lung, one of the so-called tumors around my heart, turned out it was not cancer at all. i spent the last year interviewing these doctors and their patients and so what nok "knockout" is is options. when you've diagnosed with cancer , you've been there twice now. you're only given standard of care . what i wanted to explore was, what if someone wanted to go alternative? what if somebody wanted to go integrative? what if somebody wanted to go nutritional. what if somebody wanted to go full-out standard of care . one of the interesting things about full-out chemotherapy, there are things you can take to make it less harsh, to make it more effective. i myself would only go alternative around when you read the patient testimonials, they're living with stage four and stage three cancers, pancreatic cancer . this is a book to me of hope. i wish this had been available when i had cancer .

    >> that said, and with all due respect, you know that many of the doctors and -- who you interview for this book are very controversial. in fact, there are records of controversy. i think it's probably fair, we really should tell our viewers about that, that one of them, the texas medical board tried to revoke his medical license . he was also investigated four times by the federal grand jury and was finally indicted by a fourth grand jury . and also another doctor was actually arrested in 2005 for prescribing human growth hormone to a government official who posed as a patient. so this kind of stuff might make people think, look, why are you giving attention, shining a light on doctors who are controversial about a subject that's so important?

    >> yeah, but what you have to understand, dr. brzezinski was sued by the fda . he fought the fda and won. dr. brzezinski is an incredible doctor. he escaped the ire curtain in poland. he discovered patients who have cancer across the board are always missing a certain peptide in their liver that controls cell multiplication. he's dwoesed his life to replicating that. he side. he's put that back. ep's completed phase two clinical trials in compliance with the fda . he has patients who have the worst brain tumors , he's having 50%, 60% response rate .

    >> he's lucky to have you speaking for him. these doctors are being interviewed in this book. but some of the things that you're saying in this book is that people with certain kinds of cancer really don't need chemotherapy. don't need radiation. this would go against what the american medical association says.

    >> i think what we have to look at. war on cancer according to the "new york times" is an abysmal failure.

    >> you call it a big business . a $2 billion a year business.

    >> right.

    >> are you suggesting that that's something that they're trying to --

    >> the death rate has only dropped 5% in 55 years. what other protocol would you access --

    >> i always run out of time with you. thank you.

    >>

updated 10/19/2009 6:24:07 PM ET 2009-10-19T22:24:07

Suzanne Somers is at it again.

Less than a year after the former sitcom actress frustrated mainstream doctors (and cheered some fans) by touting bioidentical hormones on "The Oprah Winfrey Show," she's back with a new book. This one's on an even more emotional topic: Cancer treatment. Specifically, she argues against what she sees as the vast and often pointless use of chemotherapy.

Somers, who has rejected chemo herself, seems to relish the fight.

"Cancer's an epidemic," said the 63-year-old actress in an interview in a Manhattan hotel a day before Tuesday's release of "Knockout," her 19th book. "And yet we keep going back to the same old pot, because it's all we've got. Well, this is a book about options.

"I'm 'us'," Somers adds. "I'm not them. I've been on the other side of the bed. And it's powerful to have information."

The American Cancer Society is concerned.

"I am very afraid that people are going to listen to her message and follow what she says and be harmed by it," says Dr. Otis Brawley, the organization's chief medical officer. "We use current treatments because they've been proven to prolong life. They've gone through a logical, scientific method of evaluation. I don't know if Suzanne Somers even knows there IS a logical, scientific method."

More broadly, Brawley is concerned that in the United States, celebrities or sports stars feel they can use their fame to dispense medical advice. "There's a tendency to oversimplify medical messages," he says. "Well, oversimplification can kill."

Though she may be one of the most visible, Somers is hardly the only celebrity who's advocated alternative treatments recently.

Unproven Remedies Celebrities
AP
This undated photo released by Crown shows the book cover for Suzanne Somers' new book "Knockout."

Celebrity-endorsed health tips
Radio host Don Imus says he's eating habanero peppers and taking Japanese soy supplements to help treat his prostate cancer. The late Farrah Fawcett underwent a mix of traditional and alternative treatments, and made a poignant plea for supporting alternative methods in her film, "Farrah's Story." Actress Jenny McCarthy advocates a special dietary regime, supplements, metal detox and delayed vaccines to treat autism.

The issue goes beyond alternative medicine. Tennis great John McEnroe has been advocating widespread screening for prostate cancer, which Brawley and others say is not necessarily wise.

And comedian Bill Maher has made no secret of his disdain for flu shots, questioning why you'd let someone "stick a disease into your arm." He also said pregnant women shouldn't get the new swine flu vaccine, contradicting U.S. health officials who say pregnant women especially need it because they are at high risk for flu complications.

While it's hard to imagine a comedian like Maher influencing public health decisions, there have been cases where celebrities have been seen to influence the public, says Barron Lerner, a doctor who's looked at celebrity illnesses through history.

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He recalls how some desperately ill cancer patients took their cues from Steve McQueen, the rugged actor who turned to unorthodox cancer treatment in 1980. When conventional medicine failed to halt his mesothelioma, a cancer of the lung lining, McQueen traveled to Mexico, where he was treated with everything from coffee enemas to laetrile, the now debunked remedy involving apricot pits.

"It's difficult to quantify his influence, but there was a lot of traffic to Mexico of end-stage cancer patients after his death," says Lerner, author of "When Illness Goes Public."

Though his alternative treatments didn't work, the actor, who embodied a sense of rebellion and individualism, gave voice to an emerging feeling that mainstream medicine might not be enough, Lerner says.

Fast forward to the 21st century, where Somers, who played the ditzy blonde in TV's "Three's Company," has written a series of books making that point. In "Ageless," she argued that doctors don't understand women's bodies, especially those going through menopause.

With so-called "bioidentical" hormones — compounds that are custom-mixed by special pharmacies — Somers argued that women can restore youthfulness and vitality, energy and vigor, not to mention their sex drive.

The problem, for many doctors: These custom-compounded products are not approved by the Food and Drug Administration.

Oprah's support
Somers, whose hormone regimen involves creams, injections and some 60 supplements daily, got a huge boost earlier this year from Oprah Winfrey. "Many people write Suzanne off as a quackadoo," Winfrey said when Somers appeared on her show. "But she just might be a pioneer."

Yet Winfrey's tacit support of Somers gave her some of the worst press of her career. "Crazy Talk," Newsweek headlined an article on the talk show host earlier this year. Another headline, on Salon.com: "Oprah's Bad Medicine."

Winfrey responded in a statement that her viewers know that "the medical information presented on the show is just that — information — not an endorsement or prescription." But many doctors feel Winfrey has more of a responsibility to her viewers.

"Oprah, how could you? That's all I can say," says Dr. Nanette Santoro, a hormone specialist at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York.

Somers is now hoping for a return invitation to Winfrey's hugely influential stage to discuss her cancer book. Her theories on chemotherapy did get one bit of attention she could have done without, though: The actress had to apologize recently when her offhand comment that chemo had likely killed actor Patrick Swayze, rather than his pancreatic cancer, made tabloid headlines.

"I shouldn't have said anything," Somers says now. "I apologized to his family. But she adds: "We all know that chemotherapy does nothing for pancreatic cancer."

In fact, Somers does view chemotherapy as effective for some cancers, but not for the most common, including lung and breast cancer. Diagnosed with breast cancer a decade ago, she had a lumpectomy and radiation, but declined chemotherapy, as she did more recently when briefly misdiagnosed with pervasive cancer.

One criticism sure to come up with Somers' cancer book is its reliance on several doctors who have controversial histories, including Dr. Stanislaw Burzynski in Houston, who has devised his own alternative cancer treatments and has had protracted legal battles with the FDA.

But Somers defends him passionately, as she does the other doctors interviewed in her book. As for herself, she says, she is at ease with her role as celebrity health guru.

"Celebrities are easy to pick on," Somers says. "But I don't have an agenda. I'm just a passionate lay person. And I'm using my celebrity to do something good for people."

Copyright 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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