Alternative Cancer Treatment Works for Billy Best
Within two and a half months, Billy’s cancer was gone.
714X stands for the seventh letter of the alphabet (G) and the 14th letter of the alphabet (N), which are the initials of Gaston Naessens, a French-born biologist. The “X,” the 24th letter of the alphabet, denotes Naessens’ birth year–1924. 714X is, basically, a substance derived from camphor, nitrogen, and mineral salts.
Unlike many medicinals, 714X is injected not intramuscularly or intravenously but intralymphatically–into the lymph system, via a lymph node in the groin. Instead of attacking the tumor, the substance is designed to support the immune system, which is why it is said to be effective in other immunodeficiency diseases such as AIDS.
Essiac is an herbal infusion, originally formulated by a Canadian nurse named Rene Caisse in the 1920s from a recipe passed down by an Ojibwa medicine man. The “tea” contains burdock root, sheep sorrel, slippery elm bark, and Indian rhubarb root, a brew unlike any kind of tea we are familiar with. Even those who swear by its efficacy admit it is vile smelling and difficult to swallow. But many have used it. And lived. Like Naessens, Caisse gave her substance a name that bore her likeness. Essiac is Caisse spelled backward.
Initially dismissed as quackery, both 714X and Essiac have established themselves in that murky periphery of mainstream medicine as having had some success, enough to puzzle and intrigue American doctors. Though Naessens and Caisse claimed they saw people healed, both were arrested at one time or another in connection with this “practice of medicine” for which neither was authorized.
The business of cancer treatment is fraught with potential fraud because of the position of the buyer. Anyone seeking a cure is, right out of the gate, in a somewhat desperate situation. In addition, most people seeking help have little or no background in medicine, so they may have difficulty understanding the way various treatments work. Those who consent to treatments–traditional or alternative–must take much of what happens to them on faith.
Billy’s logic was not incorrect when he concluded that his aunt Judy had been made very sick by the treatments she had been given, and then she died anyway. Anyone who submits to standard chemotherapy does so because it is the most accepted treatment available. But before undergoing treatments, cancer patients sign consent forms that point out that the treatments may have no effect on their disease and acknowledge that the treatment itself could cause illness or death.
What was exceptional about Billy’s remission was the fact he had received so much publicity. He was one patient among millions until he ran away. Once a fugitive, Billy became something of a celebrity. The question of what happened to Billy Best is a broad one that operates on many layers. His story made the newspapers again, this time with his cancer gone after using these four elusive elements–Essiac tea, 714X, healthy eating, and prayer. The news spurred many ill people to turn to the Bests for help. A girl who lived in the nearby town of Duxbury came to them, near death.
Her name is Katie Hartley and, like Billy, she had been treated at Dana-Farber. She was 8 years old at the time, and, like Billy, Katie is alive today, 17 years old and healthy. These two cases gained enough publicity that the doctors at Dana-Farber began studying 714X in late 1999. Dana-Farber then asked the National Cancer Institute (NCI) to review a number of cases of cancer patients who said they had seen success with 714X.
In 2004, NCI announced that due to insufficient data, it would not pursue research of the compound as an alternative treatment for cancer.
“That was frustrating after the long wait,” Sue Best admits. “But I still have hope. It’s the right thing. It should happen and so I feel that eventually it will happen.”
NCI’s decision was discouraging for Billy, as well, but it hasn’t altered the fact that his life changed dramatically as a result of his decision to run away that day in October, more than 10 years ago. The futures of the cancer patients who gather weekly in the basement of Saint Joseph the Worker remain tenuous, as is anyone’s who suffers from this disease. It’s just that these patients have taken a different path.
The Bests’ work promoting the forbidden Canadian substances continues, sometimes thwarted by customs and other agents. “The boxes are now ripped open at the border, and sometimes they arrive with just a few bottles left in the box. This never used to happen, but things are getting tighter now, after 9/11,” Billy says. “I’m scared now. I’m very scared.”
Today, Billy is a healthy, handsome man of 26. He moves around from job to job–bartender, ski bum, auto mechanic–but his life’s mission seems to have been preordained. Recently, I sat with him in the kitchen of his parents’ modest home. While Billy ate a cabbage leaf stuffed with tofu and rice, we talked about how the last decade had unfolded. Perhaps the most moving experience for him was not his own healing but the healing of Katie Hartley, who came to him in what were supposed to have been the last days of her life.