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Don Factor – Netting Hill, West London

I was told I had only six months to live.  But 17 years later I am alive and kicking thanks to vitamins, cyanide and (ouch!) coffee enemas

Daily Mail April 15, 2003

When 68 year old Don Factor, son of cosmetics tycoon Max Factor, discovered he had one of the most aggressive forms of cancer, he dicided to pursue unorthodox methods to beat it—despite being told that he would probably not see out the end of the year. Don, a writer and artist, is married to Anna, a painter, and they live in Netting Hill, West London. Here, he tells LUCY MAYHEW of his battle with the disease.

THERE are survival studies in cancer — at Stage One there’s hope; at Stage Two there is an outside chance of remission. When exten­sive cancer was detected in my lung, liver and spine in 1986,1 was at Stage Four, where survival rates are almost zero.

My only warnings were lower back pain — which I put down to sitting at the computer for too long — and a kind of chronic dyspepsia, or constantly feeling yucky.

My wife, Anna, persuaded me to go to our GP in the Cotswolds where we then lived, even though I thought I just had a tummy bug. He recom­mended that I saw a Harley Street specialist in London immediately.

He said Sir John Batten was top in his field but I didn’t ask what field that was. My mind had silently raised the dreaded ‘C’ word — cancer — but I didn’t want to put it into words.

I went to see Sir John a couple of days later. He put me through some invasive and extremely nasty tests. I had a colonoscopy, an examination of my small intestine and, worst of all, a liver biopsy — removing a sample of tissue by syringe—which was more like being hit in the belly by a mortar shell.

Afterwards, I was warned not to move much or walk for 24 hours for fear of bleeding. •   Three days later Sir John called me.  He apologised over the phone — actually all he did was apologise. Over and over, he kept saying: ‘I’m terribly sorry.’

Then he revealed that I had small cell carcinoma of the lung — with secondary tumours on my liver. I was told: ‘We could give you chemotherapy, giving a 50:50 chance.

I realised that I wasn’t being given any options to live.

I felt as though a huge hole had opened and I was tumbling down into it. I was only 51 and this was panic time.

BUT it was a case of getting through tears and shock, and then acknowledging that something must be done.

I smoked my last ever Marlboro cigarette. Before the diagnosis I had smoked 40 a day, so in a way I was getting my comeuppance. But I knew I would not accept this death sentence.

Anna and I had been interested in alternative health for years but I always felt they worked best used alongside orthodox treatments.

We had once attended an impressive lecture by Dr Ernesto Contreras, the founder of the Oasis of Hope, a Mexican clinic that practiced an alternative regime called Metabolic Therapy.

Ernesto had worked as a pathol­ogist at Boston General Hospital, Massachusetts. This was in the early Fifties, when they were doing the first studies using chemother­apy on children with leukaemia.

The chemotherapy agent was derived from mustard gas and the doctors couldn’t tell whether the children were dying from leukaemia or the treatment.

Ernesto became so disillusioned he returned to Mexico to dedicate his life to investigating less brutal treatments, leading to the developement of his metabolic Therapy.  His theory is to build the patient up—make them as healthy as possible so they can fight tumour growth with their own immune system.

The treatment includes an intra­venous drip of vitamins, with massive doses of vitamin C, minerals and other compounds, daily injections of a substance called laetrile (vitamin B17) and pancreatic enzymes — plus coffee enemas for, thankfully, only the first five days to detoxify the body.

Coffee enemas help to stimulate the flow of bile from the liver, which prompts the body to de-toxify.

Just a week after my diagnosis, we flew to the clinic in Playas de Tijuana, Mexico. By the time I arrived, another tumour had emerged in the vertebrae that links to the sciatic nerves which run from the spine to the little toe. This caused excruciating pain.

Although the cost of the Meta­bolic Therapy was about $20,000 (about £12,750), it was consider­ably less than private orthodox treatment in the U.S. or the UK.

Dr Ernesto Contreras was to be my physician. He looked at my medical records and ordered some more tests.

There were 20 or 30 patients being treated and he explained that success rates were about 30 per cent — all for people who had previously been labelled untreatable or terminal.

An important feature of the treatment at the Oasis of Hope is that you bring along a companion. Anna’s encouragement was vital, especially at the start when I was in so much pain and was losing a lot of weight. I was hospitalised for just under four weeks.

There has been substantial controversy around the intra­venous and oral use of laetrile — a compound found in apricot kernels.

LAETRILE (vitamin B17) contains a cyanide com­pound. People panic when they hear that, thinking of poison. But research shows that the cyanide compound is unlocked only when it comes into contact with an enzyme occurring in abnormal amounts at cancer cell sites, destroying them.

But there is still a dearth of controlled clinical studies, primarily because it is an unpatentable substance — mean­ing no one is prepared to foot the bill for research.

Of course, B17 alone is not a magic formula, it’s a valuable component of a wide-ranging therapy. For years it was dismissed as a hocus-pocus formula, but I believe it’s begin­ning to gain recognition under the name of Amygdalin.

My surgeon Dr Francisco Contreras, Ernesto’s son, performed one operation on me to insert a catheter which would feed the compounds and chemother­apy directly into my liver.

I was so ill, the doctors decided to give me chemotherapy on my liver, plus a week of radiation on my spine. Conventional medicine is used at the clinic, but always as part of a larger context.

Initially, I lived with constant pain and was incredibly bloated. Apparently, they had never treated anyone who was so riddled with cancer. But I had a defiant spirit, and they later told Anna and me that if it hadn’t been for that enthusiasm they would have sent me home immediately.

However, sometimes I did feel ready to give up. Luckily, I was visited by a psychologist who had worked with the terminally ill. He said I needn’t feel guilty for having dark thoughts. So I accepted them as a natural feature of healing.

I also made peace with my 16-year-old daughter and 13 year-old son from my first marriage, who I used to visit only once or twice a year. I told them I loved them and said if they had any hard feelings about me having left home, they needed to talk about them because if I died the feelings would be much harder to deal with.   Having done that I felt magically better.  I even asked the doctor to run a test on me that evening because I felt I had gone into remission — that was after just one week. I was asked to wait another week when tests did show that the tumours were shrinking.

My father lent me his apartment in Palm Springs, and for a further three months, I drove back to Mexico for my monthly chemotherapy.

They said I could go back to Britain if I could find an oncologist willing to use their compounds and procedures. I took a mass of bottles back to Cheltenham General Hospital where they continued my treatment.

AFTER about four sessions, a scan showed no sign of active growth, just scar tissue in my liver. Three years later, at a check-up in Mexico, the doctor said: ‘As a rule, we don’t say cured. But in your case, it seems pointless to keep writing “in remission”.’

Ninety-nine per cent of cancer sufferers in my condition do not recover. Yet not a single doctor here showed any curiosity as to why I survived.

There seems to be a cynicism about Ernesto’s programme. Metabolic Therapy is seen as a fringe treatment and most medical people don’t like to discuss regimes that deviate from accepted medical practices for fear of upsetting the apple cart.

Establishment oncologists say: ‘If we can’t fix it, nobody can.’ I’m living proof that somebody can.

Updated on May 31, 2023

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