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Dr. Sanjoy Kumar Pal
 
     

My Introduction To Cancer

Kolkata, September 1997

At this juncture, I first came across the name of Dr. Ashim Chatterjee who happens to reside near our house in Kolkata. I was informed that he is a homeopath and claimed to have cured many cancer patients. At first it seems absurd to me, as I have been nurtured in a world of conventional medicine and science. My father is a dermatologist and I have done my post-doctoral research from Sanjay Gandhi Postgraduate Institute of Medical Sciences (SGPGIMS), Lucknow. The scientific dogma inculcated within me was not in favour to accept homeopathy as science and its remedial values against cancer. However, after some persuasion from my family, I finally accept to meet him.

My first meeting with Dr. Chatterjee changed the direction of my life. He was a very humble, soft spoken and simple looking person. He lacked the aura of a doctor who has cured many cancer patients. After we were introduced the first question that I asked him was whether he thinks that homeopathy works for cancer. I was surprised by his answer……he promptly said no. This was the first time I heard any homeopathic doctor telling that homeopathy does not work. He then explained that the homeopathy we know i.e. medicine diluted infinitely [high potency] have very limited effect on cancer. However, there is another group of homeopathic medicine called mother tincture or very concentrated form of homeopathic medicine derived from many important medicinal plants, animals and human materials/parts that works well in cancer treatment.

My next question to Dr. Chatterjee was how he discovered this homeopathic therapy popularly known as ‘Psorinum’ therapy? He informed that he also turned to cancer research after he lost his sister because of malignancy. His quest if homeopathy works for cancer has brought him to the present position. He first tried high potency [high dilution] homeopathic medicines in terminal cancer patients without any success. Later, when he switched his attention to mother tinctures, he found that many terminal cancers patients were actually responded to his therapy. Over a prolonged period he research on many important homeopathic medicines viz. Psorinum, Chelidonium majus, Carduus marianus, Hydrastic canadensis, Aconite, Belladonna, Baryta carbonica, Conium maculatum, Carbo animals, Bryonia alba, Medorrhinum, Thuja occidentalis, Cholesterinum, Lycopodium clavatum, Berberis valgaris, Calendula officinalis, Hamamelis virginiana, Symphytum officianale, Syzygium jambolanum, Gelsemium, Cantharides, Sulphur, Arsenicum album, Cauticum etc. However, he got very good anti-cancer response when he combined snake venom derived homeopathic medicine like Crotalus horridus, Lachesis and Naja in his anti-cancer therapy. Dr. Chatterjee’s idea of treating cancer was simple. Use of medicine that can strengthen liver function, kidney function, can reduce pain and importantly stop malignant cells from growing and spreading. His idea really made sense. Use of snake venom as medicine is known to man for centuries.

Contrary to my expectation, Dr. Chatterjee was not very keen to discuss about his success stories. It is a common practice with all doctors of alternative medicine to boost about their success. He informed that in a small proportion of cancer patients he has observed complete remission of disease. However, at this point he is not keen to discuss those cases with me as he is not sure if his therapy will also work for my father-in-law, which is the most important issue. However, he agreed to give me the clinical records of patients who responded to his therapy and also take me to their residence so that I can meet them in person. After examining my father-in-law and going through all the clinical records, Dr. Chatterjee informed us that curative therapy is not possible only he could be offered palliative treatment. More importantly, he did not make any promise and advise us to continue all the conventional medicines that were prescribed. He informed that his homeopathic therapy can go along with allopathic medicines. And he assured that there will be no drug-drug interaction or adverse side effects of his homeopathic medicines. Dr. Chatterjee behaved more like a conventional doctor rather than a homeopath. He was well conversant with modern oncology.

At first we were apprehensive and sceptic about the alternative cancer therapy. However, as weeks passed by, tremendous clinical improvement was noted and Mr. Das was back to normal. As we did not have many options left so we religiously followed the advice and medication of Dr. Chatterjee. His disease progression definitely stopped, even the oncologist who was treating him was surprised with his clinical progress. In the mean time, I visited many patients who responded to the Psorinum therapy and was amazed to see complete regression of cancer in some patients without any adverse side effects. As at that point I had limited knowledge of clinical cancer, so I took the help of my father to verify each case treated with Psorinum therapy. He too agreed that the homeopathic therapy was indeed effective in cancer regression. The next thing I did was to quit my job/business in Bhopal and join Dr. Chatterjee to study and gather more information about this therapy. And I also joined the Indian Board of Alternative Medicine, Kolkata to study alternative medicine.  For next 2-3 years I followed Dr. Chatterjee where ever he went, interacted with patients he treated and recorded all the details of his treatment outcome. I even visited Tata Memorial Hospital, Mumbai to follow-up patients along with him.  Over the years associating with Dr. Chatterjee I could understand the importance of complementary and alternative in cancer treatment, common problems of cancer patients and that not all complementary and alternative medicine / therapy are an attractive nuisance or quackery.

When I started reviewing the old clinical records of treated cancer patients by Dr. Chatterjee I discovered that many important documents are either missing, scattered or not properly preserved in the record. As a clinician Dr. Chatterjee was so busy that it was very difficult for him to keep a track of all the patients. Moreover, he did not have any junior assistant to work with him. As a scientist, I do understand the importance of sequential arrangement of each clinical document of a particular patient in a Case Record File (CRF). So I developed my own CRF to monitor each patient. The next thing that I experienced working in the clinics was that desperate patients and their care givers are ready to cooperate and do what ever Dr. Chatterjee advised. Before any patient was given the homeopathic therapy the baseline reports of complete blood count examination, liver function test, kidney function test, X-ray and CT scan etc. was collected. In some patients review of the biopsy slides was also done. However, there were many instances when marked response of the alternative therapy was observed and we wanted to repeat CT scan / MRI scan or a repeat biopsy for objective documentation of the response, the patients or the caregivers’ often plainly refused to oblige. Some reasons behind this were i.) Investigation advised was expensive, ii.) Discomfort to the patient, iii.) Patient doing well so why it is required. We could collect the desired data/records from broad-minded and well to do patients who responded to this therapy. Collecting data outside a hospital was a challenging job and a painstakingly slow process. As we did not provide any cash incentives to patients, hence, we could not force any patients to undergo any expensive investigation/tests. Moreover, Dr. Chatterjee was once assaulted by the grieving family members of a deceased cancer patient when he asked of the clinical reports of the departed patients. The doctor-patients relationship in India is very complex, as long as the patient is in a distressed condition, doctor is important. The situation alters when the patient recovers, they quickly understand that they are cancer survivors and important for the doctor. If you are a doctor from alternative medicine not only the patients, but also the conventional doctors will take you for granted.  

From Dr. Chatterjee, I understood the complexities of management of terminal cancer patients. In palliative cancer care the tumour is not the first target; the well being of the patients is the prime important factor. In terminal cancer patients blood transfusion, enema, pleural & abdominal paracentesis have to be done repeatedly. The problem in a developing country is that because of financial constraints most of these procedures had to be managed at the residence of the patients. When Dr. Chatterjee started his research with mother tinctures, his success rate did not improve much despite the fact that many patients actually responding to the therapy. The chief reason was that these patients could not be provided with the conventional supportive care when required. He faced a very tough time to convince the oncology forum that his homeopathic approach actually works. However, his years of dedicated clinical research and positive results convinced some oncologists and conventional clinicians to join and help him. He considers that this was the turning point for his success. With the team of conventional doctors/surgeons supporting and helping him when ever required did make all the difference. For management of terminal cancer patients it is the team work which is important and the homeopathic therapy comes next. First, the clinical condition of patient has to be stabilized following which the cancer treatment can be done.

Dr. Chatterjee was against any form of advertisement. The reason was very simple he cannot manage any patients outside Kolkata. In terminal cancer patient treatment scenario can change drastically in a short period of time. Depending on the clinical condition of the patients the dose of the medicines had to be titrated and adjusted from time to time. Many instances, if a patient becomes refractory/or poorly responded to certain homeopathic medicines, new sets of medicines were tried. All his critical patients needed to be follow-up on regular basis mostly at their residence. So from the early morning he kept on visiting them along with me. A very strange feature about him was that his residence was his clinic. He never had any chamber, all his patients was invited in his living room and he treated them as guest chatting with them for hours and offering them snacks and tea. Madam Ranjana Chatterjee diligently provided all the refreshments when ever required. She was also in-charge of providing the medicines to all patients.

After about two years working with Dr. Chatterjee, I could gather enough clinical data/records from freshly treated and old patients that a research report can be written. At this juncture we received an invitation to present our findings and publish an article in an ‘International Cancer Conference,’ to be held at Delhi. Initially, our clinical team (doctors of conventional medicine) was very excited about the matter. However, their enthusiasm vanished soon and all were very afraid to know that I will be presenting the paper. I am not a clinician and all feared that if anything went wrong then all could be in deep trouble and some can even lose their jobs. Moreover, there are instances where quack doctors were punished and put behind the bars because of medical malpractice. What if the ethical part of the research is questioned? Or some technical question asked? Dr. Chatterjee did not receive any grants/funding or permission from any governmental agency. What ever he did was spending money from his own pocket. So our team members started avoiding us, though all of them agreed that this alternative approach was very effective in palliative care. But, felt very uncomfortable to admit this fact in front of an oncology forum. The typical ego of an allopathic doctor dominated their mind. How can I be associated with alternative medicine and what will my peers of conventional medicine think about me. Even today for many educated people alternative medicine is simple quackery.

The next major hurdle for the Delhi trip that I encounter was from Dr. Chatterjee himself. He was not ready to publish the names of all the medicines that are used in his therapy. He feared that if he gives the details of the medicines then any other homeopath can just copy it. There was no way that his ideas that took him almost 15 -20 years to perfect could be protected. As homeopathic medicines are not patentable, the disclosure can lead to serious consequences, he may lose clientele and his position. I respected his feelings and did not mention much about the medicine in the article. Though I knew that it would be hard to convince the scientific community that how can a single homeopathic medicine evoke such a strong anti-cancer response. Finally, when the research article was completed and was ready for submission none of our co-author (members of the clinical team) was ready to sign the declaration form that they don’t have any objection to be a co-author in this article. As conventional doctors played an important role in the whole research process so ignoring them wasn’t a good idea. Dr. Chatterjee was a bit upset and confused about this development. So, I assured all that I am will to take the entire responsibility in event of any adversary. As it was completely my wish to take Dr. Chatterjee to the conference. In Delhi, I wished that Dr. Chatterjee to do all the talking and present the paper. But, as he hasn’t attended any international conference before so he was very nervous to speak. Hence, I had to present the paper. Few questions were asked which we promptly replied. Thereafter, we received lots of encouragement from the international scientific community present at the conference.

After returning back from Delhi, Dr. Chatterjee was very happy as his research work was finally appreciated in an international oncology forum. I have been the catalytic agent behind the whole process, so I too received tremendous appreciation from the well wishers of Dr. Chatterjee. This increased attention that I was receiving was not taken-up well by our other team members. Their association with Dr. Chatterjee was much longer than me. And all the hard work was actually done by them. I just came from no where and taking all the credits. Question was then raised that why I am doing this research and for whom? I am not getting any financial remuneration from Dr. Chatterjee, so why I am still associating with him. Do I have some hidden agenda like grabbing the knowledge from Dr. Chatterjee and sharing the same with some pharmaceutical company? Many awkward questions were then posed to me that made me very uncomfortable. I realized that it was time for me to leave. Dr. Chatterjee can do well without me, but it will be very difficult for him to manage his patients without the support of these conventional doctors.  

When I left Kolkata in 2000 and rejoined SGPGIMS my work on Psorinum did not stop. I wrote about this alternative cancer therapy in Lancet Oncology. And much to the displeasure of Dr. Chatterjee submitted few cases of cancer where marked regression of the disease was observed to the Office of the Cancer Complementary and Alternative Medicine (OCCAM), NIH, USA and initiated the Best Case Series Presentation (BCSP) process. My intention was to attract the attention of international scientific community. I think I was quite successful at that. After the second round of case submission to OCCAM by Dr. Aradeep (Son of Dr. Chatterjee), Dr. Jeffrey D White (Director, OCCAM-NIH), visited the clinic of Dr. Chatterjee to see the actual scenario himself. I hope that the ‘Oral Oncology Conference’, the Lancet article and the BCSP submission really turned-on the international attention for this alternative cancer therapy. In SGPGIMS with the research funding from Indian Council of Medical Research, I started to study other alternative cancer therapies. Virtually, in every major cites of India there is some renowned cancer specialist from alternative medicine. However, very little is known about them in scientific world. In Lucknow, I studied an alternative cancer therapy called ‘HUMA’ and in 2005 submitted few cancer cases of complete & partial regression to OCCAM for BCSP. Later, when I shifted to Dehradun, I repeated the same for Vaidya Balendu Prakash in 2009.

Finally, I feel nostalgic to relive those three years in Kolkata while writing this article. I like to acknowledge few individuals viz. Prof. Subir Dutta, Prof. Dipankar Dasgupta of Tata Memorial Hospital, Prof. RS Bhakta, Prof. Anup Mazumdar and Dr. Satyapriya De Sarkar all from Kolkata who took keen interest in alternative cancer therapy Psorinum and believed that this therapy will work for cancer. In Lucknow Dr. Hina Fatima, Prof. G Choudhuri, Prof. Rajen Saxena and Prof. M L Bhatt helped me immensely with my research work on HUMA. Without the financial help from my dad Dr. D N Pal and my late father-in-law Mr. Brojen Das my research study in Kolkata would not have been possible. Also the constant encouragement of wife Sanghita during my challenging times needs a special mention.

 Memories of Kolkata