Alternative Cancer Treatment Works for Billy Best
Yankee Classic from January/February 2005
It is early evening, and in the basement of Saint Joseph the Worker Roman Catholic Church on Maquan Street in Hanson, Massachusetts, a small group of people sits around a table, discussing their cancers. Phyllis, a fragile-looking woman in her forties, is a newcomer to the group. Her lymphoma has returned. She is here hoping to learn something new. Next to her is a young man in a hooded sweatshirt, hands stuffed into the pockets. His black hair and dark skin hint at his Native American roots. His name is Billy Best, a name that has meaning here. Everyone faces Billy, who does not speak until he’s asked a question, and then it spills, a rush of hopeful words.
This is a scene being enacted in so many churches, halls, and living rooms around the globe. If nothing else, cancer is global and knows no boundaries. Here is no different from anywhere else. Except that here they have Billy. And because of him, they have a new kind of hope.
Phyllis has recently begun drinking Essiac tea as part of her regimen. “My family thinks I’m nuts and ooh, do they hate the smell of that stuff! I’m in the kitchen there, mixing up a batch,” and she makes the motions of stirring a big pot. “I call it my witches’ brew!”
Everyone laughs and nods. Yeah, that’s what I call it too, some mutter.
She has come to ask Billy about 714X, another esoteric remedy. It will require her to inject herself once a day in the lower abdomen, and she is apprehensive. She wants to hear from Billy how to do it.
“I never had any trouble,” he says. “Once you find the right spot, it’s easy.”
Again, everyone nods and says things like, Yeah, you’ll see, it’s really not hard.
But is it painful? She wants to know.
“I don’t know, you get used to it, I guess,” Billy says. “Sure beats the alternative!”
Billy’s mother, Sue, is the only one here who does not have or has not had cancer. On the table in front of her, Sue has a bottle of Essiac, nothing like what one expects of a tea. Packaged as it is in a green, round-shouldered bottle with an old-fashioned-looking label, the substance has the quaint appearance of a folk remedy. Alongside the Essiac are copies of newspaper articles and books about Essiac and 714X.
Neither of these substances, while legal in Canada, is approved by the Food and Drug Administration in the United States. Technically, what Sue Best is doing here this evening is illegal. However, most everyone who comes to the Bests, who operate under the umbrella of Best Enterprises, does so after trying many other treatments. Sue considers herself a conduit, a passage through which these people can pass if they need to. “A lot of people who use these alternatives have tried just about everything else. It would look pretty sad if they [the authorities] started hassling them at this point in their lives.”
As for the money, a bottle of Essiac costs about $40, and 21 days’ worth of 714X goes for $300–not much when compared with the many thousands of dollars involved in conventional cancer treatments. However, insurance companies all steer clear of paying for Essiac and 714X.
The meeting lasts an hour. What strikes a visitor is that these cancer patients all have full heads of hair. They appear to be healthy, even vigorous. On this evening Billy speaks mostly to Phyllis, though everyone else listens intently as he tells her how to do the injections, the kinds of things to eat (no red meat, no caffeine, whole grains), and the importance of vitamins. He speaks with the assurance of someone well educated in the topic. There is a reluctance to break, but at last the members rise and climb the steps out into the parking lot. Phyllis hugs Billy like a brother.
“Good luck,” he says.
“Thank you so much,” she says. “See you next week!”
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