KILLED BY HOMEOPATHY? Good HealthFor Many, Prince Charles Included, Use of Alternative Medicine Has Huge Virtues. That's What Bob's Wife Thought after She Got Breast Cancer. Now Read His Anguished, Horrifying Account of the Price She Paid

Article excerpt

Byline: GILL SWAIN

A RECENT report in The Lancet concluded that homeopathy was ineffective. Julia de Vaatt died a year ago from breast cancer after rejecting conventional medical treatment in favour of alternative remedies.

Here her husband Bob, 58, a former IT consultant turned novelist from West London, tells GILL SWAIN why he believes these are not merely useless, but dangerous in the way they encourage false hope.

BY THE time Julia told me she'd found a lump in her breast she'd already had a biopsy. The results had arrived that morning: it was malignant. Naturally, we were extremely upset. She was only 47 and still the girl with the wonderful smile who had bewitched me the instant we met in a London pub 12 years previously.

We married within five months, had two children and, the usual ups and downs, had been very happy.

At her next appointment, she was told she needed an immediate lumpectomy followed by chemotherapy, but she was already against it.

She had heard horror stories that once the knife goes in, cancer spreads.

It's an old wives' tale, but a commonly held view. I pleaded with her to have the operation for the sake of our son and daughter, then aged six and 11, and she could take complementary remedies later.

But she was adamant, so I thought I had to support her in whatever she wanted to do.

She told me that a homeopath, the wife of a business associate of mine, had had a lumpectomy two years before, but said if she could have her time again she would not have had surgery.

She believed homeopathy cured everything and, it seems to me, convinced Julia, too.

As I looked into homeopathy I developed a grudging acceptance that there might be something to it. It seemed to work on the same principle as a flu jab and the disagreement between homeopaths and the medical establishment lay in the degree of dilution of the active ingredient.

Julia could be obstinate and I never felt I could force her to do anything.

She didn't even waver when her GP banged on our door after discovering she had refused surgery. The doctor was so exasperated that she told Julia she'd be dead in five years.

But Julia went ahead and consulted the homeopath, who had a practice in West London, once a week. After she died, I found drawers stuffed with packets and bottles of little white pills, all of which looked exactly the same but were marked liver, spleen, kidney, and so on.

There never seemed to be any tangible benefits from the homeopathy, which is probably why Julia started trying more extreme treatments.

Before long she was consulting a second homeopath, a follower of a famous Indian guru Sai Baba, who called herself Mrs Sai. She operated from a terraced house in West London.

Every Saturday I drove to the house to collect phials of pills, costing [pounds sterling]7 each. After spending several thousand pounds over three years, I got so frustrated I asked the practitioner when we might expect a cure.

SHE replied: 'Your wife is already cured. She doesn't have cancer any more.'

When I told Julia this, she was so furious she threw out everything connected with Sai Baba.

By far the most useless, and most expensive, therapy was Vita Fons II water which she ordered from a company based in Taunton, Somerset, at a cost of [pounds sterling]18 for 85ml, which I worked out as about [pounds sterling]210 a litre.

She would order it once or twice a month with other products such as talcum powder, skin cream and even rooting powder and seed dressing for plants.

There was no list of ingredients and they all cleverly state they have no medical properties - the water even clearly states 'this is water'.

The accompanying literature says the products have been 'encoded with numinous development', whatever that means, and that the preparations 'achieve their effect by arousing awareness of an inherent perfection. …