You'll try anything, says cancer patient
With a cancer that grim and two young children to raise, "you'll try anything," she explained.
Gaines started out as a victim of traditional care. A surgeon removing an ovarian cyst accidentally burst it, spilling its contents into her abdomen. A biopsy revealed it was cancerous.
Months later, tests showed 12 spots on her liver — too many to make surgery feasible. She searched the nation for someone willing to operate and tried anything else she could find.
"I grew these giant mushrooms and made tea from them," Gaines said. "I soaked my feet in this solution that turned them purple," for which her sister and a friend paid $2,500. "They got it from a guy named Ralph in Cheyenne, Wyoming."
Her acupuncturist tried a therapy.
"She would just hit on a gong, basically, and I would lie there and just absorb the vibrations. The idea was that that functions on your immune system," Gaines said. "What I liked about it was being able to picture something that might be helping on a level that wasn't chemical."
She drew the line when, as she lay in the hospital, bald from chemotherapy and shaking from low blood-cell counts, "my friend came in and said I've got to swim with dolphins. I almost smacked her across the room."
Finally, she found a Texas doctor testing cryosurgery — freezing small tumors. It turned out that only one of her 12 liver spots was cancer; the rest were tissue aberrations. He treated her and she had followup chemotherapy and other care.
Afterward, thinking about the things she had tried, "I felt a combination of silly and resentful and guilty," Gaines said. Cancer puts you "in a very dark place," she said. "You are a desperate person and you can't turn away from anything."
The experience led her to change careers. Fifteen years after finishing treatment, she now runs a patient advocacy and information service at the law school of the University of Wisconsin-Madison.