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ss triple helix - winter 2003,  From Medicine to Miracle - How My Faith Overcame Cancer (Book Review)

From Medicine to Miracle - How My Faith Overcame Cancer (Book Review)

From Medicine to Miracle - How My Faith Overcame Cancer - Dr Mary Self and Rod Chaytor - Harper Collins, 2001. - £17.99 Pb 259 pp - ISBN 0 00711 563 6

As a teenager, Mary Self developed a rare tumour of her leg, subsequently shown to be a mesenchymal chondrosarcoma. She had an above-knee amputation. Sixteen years later, when she might reasonably have thought she was cured, she was unfortunate enough to develop a lung metastasis. This was successfully removed by surgery, while raising new doubts about her prognosis. Later that year, she developed pelvic pain. CT and isotope scanning now revealed a shadow on her pelvic bone. Her doctors assumed it was a further metastasis, giving her a very poor prognosis. Subsequent scanning, however, showed that the shadow had decreased in size. Over the next few months, it disappeared completely. An estimated 10,000 people around the world had been encouraged to pray for her healing. Their prayers, it seems, were answered though not, it should be said, in the instantaneous manner of New Testament miracles.

Dr Self told her surgeon that she believed it was a miracle. He replied, 'I will buy that.' He is quoted on the dust cover as saying, 'I have been a consultant for eleven years and have not seen a case like it.' The book does not report his further comments, which were quoted at the end of a doublepage feature in the Daily Mirror in December 1999, written by the book's coauthor, Rod Chaytor. There he recorded the surgeon as saying: 'She is saying it is a miracle. I am saying it is unexplained. It is important to say we do not have proof this was a metastasis in the pelvis. Everyone assumed it was on the basis of the scans.'

A biopsy had in fact been performed. The book describes her meeting with this surgeon to be told the result (p239) but obfuscates the issue, leading the reader to believe that it was malignant. She states, 'It has been confirmed three times now' (p240). In the Daily Mirror article, however, Mr Chaytor reported that the biopsy did not confirm a metastasis and that the specialist believed the scans 'weren't completely consistent' with a secondary. Why did he not include these statements in the book? The answer, it seems, is that they undermine the whole story.

This reviewer was invited by BBC TV to comment on her case. I accepted on the condition that Dr Self gave me written permission to clarify these details with her surgeon. There is no substitute for having direct access to the medical evidence when investigating such claims. Despite three requests, she did not agree and the interview was cancelled.

I found the book tiresome reading. It describes the endless roller-coaster ride of her emotions, with overwhelming despair, rather than faith, at every set back. More disappointing was the failure to be open and straightforward about the truth.

Reviewed by
Peter May

General Practitioner in Southampton

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