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Cancer Hoaxes, Hackers and Hucksters

There’s no magic bullet according to this cancer survivor and magician, but plenty of misdirection.
PUBLISHED June 29, 2016
Khevin Barnes is a Male Breast Cancer survivor, magician and speaker. He is currently writing, composing and producing a comedy stage musical about Male Breast Cancer Awareness. He travels wherever he is invited to speak to (and do a little magic for) men and women about breast cancer.
Magic tricks and illusions invite us to suspend our disbelief in the impossible — if even for a moment.

I’ve been a stage magician for most of my life. I started performing professionally in 1978 when I was 28 years old and have made my living through magical performances for 35 years. Over the course of my career I’ve fooled thousands of people; millions if you count my television work.

The truth is, it’s not all that difficult to fool folks. But trickery in the name of entertainment is a harmless sort of deception. After all, an audience watching a magician at work expects to be fooled.

In fact, they demand it.

Gypsies and snake oil pitchmen, hucksters and scoundrels have been around for a very long time. Rip-off artists abound and now internet phishing, hacking and viruses have the whole world to prey upon. It would appear that no human condition or circumstance exists without some degree of fraud and trickery woven in, and the business of cancer is no different.

As a guy who gets paid to deceive others, I have a built-in “fraud meter” that reminds me to ask questions — lots of questions — especially when something seems too good to be true. I’m a skeptic because I know how easy it is to be fooled.

Cancer creates havoc in our lives, not only in survivors but in our families, spouses and partners, neighbors and friends. All who know us are affected in some way by our disease. And it’s this very transient and unstable element that attracts the tricksters.

There are many ideas and theories surrounding cancer prevention, detection and treatment and yet we still know so little about it.

My first wife died of ovarian cancer at the age of 47 after a long and difficult series of surgeries, procedures and clinical trials. During the three years she struggled with her disease, we were both involved in a large cancer support group. What I remember most was the degree to which other cancer survivors were willing to go in their quest for a cure. My intention in writing about this is not to single out any particular advertised cure, but to make note of the fact that they are abundant and they are waiting to cash in on the emotions and fears of those who strive simply and honestly to extend their lives.

I recall feeling a great degree of sadness upon hearing the stories of those who were willing to fly off to another country, life savings in hand, to test out some promising possibility which had little to offer in the way of certified results other than multiple provocative pages on the internet.

I certainly don’t fault my cancer friends for any of this. After all, the hope is of course that some of these therapies just might work. “Why not me?” we might ask. “Why not this time?” If my own cancer returns I will certainly look at every possibility to eradicate it. But I will ask questions. And then I will ask again.

The truth is that there may be a cure one day. Some types of cancer are curable today, but we have a long way to go for other cancers. Fortunately, as with most any business, the cancer industry is rich with good and caring people who are passionate about their work. But not everybody lives up to their resume.

I’m not blindly impressed nor swayed by anyone’s credentials. I know the PhD certificate hanging on so many walls implies that a person is an expert in their chosen fields and of course, in most cases, it’s well deserved. But not always, and that’s where diligence and inquisition become our best insurance.

And really, I’m not just a pessimist and I don’t doubt everyone. But I question everyone and I question everything about my cancer. There’s no magic cure out there but there is a trick to surviving. If it sounds too good to be true, there’s a good chance it belongs in some wizard's book of alchemy, between the chapters of miracle diets and the snake oil elixers.
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