Vulnerability In Cancer Survivorship And Looking For A ‘Cure’

October 23, 2020
Shira Zwebner
Shira Zwebner

A native New Yorker, Shira Kallus Zwebner is a communications consultant and writer living with her husband and three children in Jerusalem, Israel. Diagnosed in 2017 with diffuse large B-cell lymphoma, she's fighting her cancer battle and blogging about the journey at hipstermomblog.com

Miracle cures, juice cleanses, even ancient supplements, cancer patients and some survivors often fall victim to people who prey on our vulnerabilities from cancer.

Two weeks after finishing treatment, with the after-effects of more than 8 months of chemotherapy still coursing through my veins, I drove an hour away from my city to meet with a nutritionist. She had come "highly recommended" and I yearned for someone to help my body heal from cancer, from the poison in it that killed my cancer. I was desperate to keep myself in remission and was willing to pay, do and try anything. Even in cancer debt, I was willing to shell out more than $500 that I didn’t have if it meant I would stay cancer-free.

I brought my medical records with me, the new set of blood test results she requested and my bag full of medication and supplements. We sat together for over an hour while she created a new wellness program for me, which included supplements, daily juices, exercise, and naps.

Ha! With a full-time job and three children under the age of 9, daily naps were never going to happen.

Then she reached over her cluttered desk and took my hands, looked deep into my eyes, and promised me she would be there for me no matter what. I walked out of her office and drove straight to an appliance store to spend another $300 on a top of the line juicer that I couldn't afford, hopeful that I had found my answers. The following day, I emailed her with a question and never heard from her again.

Sadly, she was not the first person to take my money and disappear; over the past two and a half years I have fallen victim to people who preyed on my cancer vulnerabilities. I’ve met with homeopaths who promised to keep me in remission, while charging exorbitant monthly fees, and hired personal trainers who said they specialized in working with past cancer patients, but then created workout programs that left me limping and in pain. COVID-19 has just exacerbated these vulnerabilities while increasing the number of people savvy enough to prey on our fears.

Living in Israel, I have gone through two official COVID-19 lockdowns, the most recent one currently in the first stages of lifting. For the past month, over the Jewish high holiday season, our movements were restricted. Shops and restaurants were all closed, with some offering food deliveries. Families were told they couldn’t get together for holiday meals, while all beaches and nature parks were closed to the public. We couldn't walk more than 1 kilometer from our homes while gyms and other exercise facilities were shuttered. Schools were closed and children reverted to distance learning, while offices of non-essential workers were closed and many parents were forced to work from home. And during this lockdown, I had my fall scans which included an abdominal ultrasound and blood work. My ultrasound was clear but my blood work wasn’t, and as a lymphoma survivor, the results shook me to my core.

Depressed and scared about my blood test results, and the upcoming follow up tests, I spent a lot of time on social media. On Facebook and Instagram, I was bombarded by people and brands peddling their wares, services and miracle cures. This doctor has a nine-day liver cleanse that looked promising, while that wellness guru offered a 30-day meditation package that promised to “calm, relax and heal” me.

Then I saw a Facebook post from a local photographer who specialized in boudoir sessions, who was offering a 30-minute lockdown special that looked promising. I was desperate to do anything that would make me feel better, so I got in touch to ask for more information. I soon realized it wasn't for me, but she kept following up with me. I was weak and tried to be kind, I kept telling her I would think about it. She followed up again and I told her that while it sounded so great, I just wasn't comfortable with my body. She responded that lots of people found it empowering, that the session would do wonders for my self-confidence. She used all the right words, said all the things I needed, and wanted, to hear.

So, I agreed.

I sent her payment, booked a session and days later canceled. I never rescheduled and, unsurprisingly, she never followed up with me.

When I realized that I essentially paid this woman to leave me alone, I surrendered my credit cards to my husband. Sadly, the only way to avoid falling victim is to completely disconnect. I take ownership of my weaknesses; no one forced me to sign up, pay for, or make appointments with any of these people. They just didn’t make it easier for me to say no either.

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