Chinese actress Xu Ting died from cancer on September 7th at the age of 26; however, Chinese netizens are wondering how much of a part traditional Chinese medicine also played in the young woman’s tragic death.
In July, Xu revealed to her 300,000 fans on Weibo that she had been diagosed with lymphoma. “No matter how long I live, I want to enjoy every day happily,” Xu wrote in her post.
In that spirit, Xu decided not to undergo chemotherapy, the typical procedure used to treat lymphoma, reasoning that it would be too painful and could even result in a quicker death, adding that she didn’t want to “let chemotherapy torment me to the point where there’s no beauty and talent left,” The Nanfang reports.
Instead, Xu opted for traditional Chinese medicine, conceding that it might not cure her cancer. On July 24th, she posted pictures of herself receiving cupping therapy from a traditional Chinese medicine “master” she had chosen to treat her. In that post, Xu admits that, “frankly, traditional Chinese medicine is also painful.”
Underneath, the Weibo post, Xu’s fan’s urged her to reconsider, writing that she was being “cheated” and that “the kind of illness [you have] can only be cured by Western medicine, not Chinese medicine.”
Xu received daily TCM sessions that included standard treatments like cupping, acupuncture, back scratching, blood letting and jiusha (揪痧) — a folk remedy that involves repeatedly pinching the neck, throat and back to increase blood flow.
However, none of these procedures produced results and Xu grew gradually weaker. According to Sina, Xu’s sister became fed up and publicly accused the TCM “master” of being a “fraud.” In August, she was able to convince her sister to start chemotherapy.
Unfortunately, by that time Xu’s immune system had become too weakened and it was too late. Her last Weibo post came on August 18th. She talked about the incredible pain she was under and wished that it would go away.
For critics of traditional Chinese medicine, Xu’s death comes as yet another warning of dangerous practices that are based more on superstition than science. TCM’s defenders say that the young woman’s death can not be blamed on traditional Chinese medicine. After all, she could have just as well have died receiving chemotherapy — not to mention other kinds of experimental cancer treatments. People’s Daily even published an editorial by Dr. Feng Li, Head of the Traditional Chinese Medicine Department at the Chinese Academy of Medical Sciences in Beijing, who writes that traditional Chinese medicine should not be blamed for Xu’s death:
Is it that TCM is bad at treating tumors? Regardless of whether it’s Western medicine or TCM, malignant tumors are not something that can simply be treated using a single method. They require a synthesized approach, combining both eastern and western methodology.
For example, while western approaches like radiology, chemotherapy, and surgery are effective in shrinking the tumor. TCM is effective in reducing symptoms such as nausea, vomiting, edema, and pain that comes with western treatment. Moreover, after the tumor is under control, TCM helps to repair the immune system, accelerate the body’s recovery, and minimize the chance of the tumor returning. It’s irrational to blindly reject one treatment in complete favor of another. No medical professional would say with certainty that TCM or western medicine is superior. They both have their own advantages and shortcomings. Each case requires specifically tailored treatment according to the stage and pathology.
Therefore, in treating malignant tumors, solely relying on acupuncture and fire cupping is not enough. It’s not that acupuncture and fire cupping are useless. Rather, the treatment was used on the incorrect area.
This incident reflects the mindset of some patients when considering treatment options. Some fear the agony and suffering felt by those undergoing chemo and radiation therapy. Out of a psychological fear, they choose to completely pursue the less painful option offered by Traditional Chinese Medicine. Some even feel that TCM has mystical powers, able to cure any illness.
Additionally, public dissemination of the popular science behind treating tumors is insufficient. After contracting an illness, many feel lost and will desperately seek out any doctor that presents a solution. This is a situation we all need to hereafter avoid and correct.
I recommend that once patients discover their illness, they go to a regulated, prestigious hospital and seek medical advice. On a national level, there needs to be an increase in regulation and supervision so that patients can receive a standardized level of treatment.
Throughout her experience with cancer, Xu stayed optimistic and used her platform to help others in need. When fans wrote in with words of encouragement, she redirected them to other cancer patients that she had met that needed more help than her. She also donated money to children suffering from cancer and tried to encourage them to remain positive. “I believe without a doubt that if we can go forward without fear and with optimism and bravery, then we can make a miracle happen,” she wrote.
[Images via Weibo / Shanghai Daily]