I would like to introduce you to Dr Stanislaw Burzynski, through the lens of my perception. I am a difficult patient/observer; I ask ‘too’ many questions and demand ‘too’ many answers. This attribute is only enhanced when the patient is my loved one. My mother’s cancer returned. Her initial diagnosis was heralded as a miracle, breast cancer found smaller than 2 mm. But in the world of cancer this is a boulder, but in the world of mammograms in dense young tissue it is a miracle. The tumor was removed, no other lymph nodes were found malignant, but chemo and radiation where still recommended. I threw a temper tantrum but I did not have the arsenal of information then that I have today to fight the peer pressure applied by family, community and the culture of cancer to keep my mother from doing what she was being told to do by the well-meaning doctors in (rural South Dakota). Where we still use teams of horses to do the chores, there is a large population of Amish here.
So when she relapsed 4 years later with colon cancer I was better prepared. A friend of hers even gave her a book, that I highly recommend, How to Outsmart Your Cancer by Tanya Pierce Harding. Dr Burzynski was in this book. She asked me to read it and long story short we piled into the car and headed south. Texas is a world away from South Dakota. My mother grew up in a town of 500. Houston traffic unhinged her, not helping the anxiety from having cancer rear its ugly head again. We did not know exactly how long we would stay or what kind of decisions would be made in Houston but we did feel that it was worth a try. Now at this time I was reading medical school oncology books for fun.
We got off track a couple of times with directions and maps arriving in TX close to midnight, after two days of driving with one pit stop in Kansas, exhausted and unsure. The first appointment was early the next morning. Road construction was everywhere but the staff at the clinic was incredibly patient with directions and redirections. We finally made it to the clinic. The building was not flashy; the parking lot was filled with average vehicles, no glaring reserved parking for the doctor’s shiny cars. Burzynski had one floor of this 4 or 5 story building and I am probably wrong but I want to say he was on the third floor. The building was clean. It was just a normal building, nothing fancy. Stepping out of the elevator into the waiting room we were greeted by the same surroundings, nothing fancy, just functional, no expensive paintings adorning the walls but actual letters and drawings from patients hung in the room and an incredibly friendly staff behind the desk invited you to relax on the comfortable sofas, the amount of waiting time in this room was no different from any other oncology office, yet it was different.
Normally when you visit the doctor’s office no one asks, “What are you here for?” There is an unwritten law against it. No one wants to know what is wrong with you, especially a complete stranger; just talking about it could create the viral nature of what I have or what you have. This cultural law does not exist in the Burzynski waiting room. You are all comrades in the real war on cancer. You become family, you share addresses, you share treatments, you share. The good days are shared along with the bad ones. You become personally invested in each other and the waiting room is not something that is dreaded, it becomes something looked forward to, like having a reunion with the best support group you could ever have. I have been in countless waiting rooms as a patient and as a medical provider. I have never been in a waiting room like this and the funniest part was it just happened naturally. The staff came to work happy and the patients arrived happy. Have you ever seen this in any other oncology waiting room, my experience in them is more morgue-ish not optimistic, the optimism is normally forced and so are the smiles, this is not the case in the Burzynski clinic. I am in no way saying that the information is all flowered, bad information is talked about it is just done with honesty and with no misleading statements, they shoot from the hip.
The doctor visit is at least 30 minutes and I mean that an actual doctor sits down with you and talks to you for the entire time having intimate knowledge about your specific case. I asked so many questions that team of doctors that treated my mother began arriving to her daily appointments with studies and books for me to borrow, directions to a 50% off book store and lists of other books to read. I have read the Burzynski studies; I read the doctors suggested readings. One of the docs in particular tried to seduce me into finishing medical school to join them. I was honored by this but my situation and path of education did not follow this outcome. This team of doctors, and I mean team in every sense of the word, took the time to answer every question and they made sure that not only did I understand exactly what was going on but most importantly that my mother understood.
The attitudes and atmosphere in this clinic was more valuable than a fresh coat of paint and leather furniture. It was clean in every since and refreshing. Not only are there doctor appointments, but there are appointments with the nutrionalist, psychologist and financial assistance. They actually work with your insurance company; they want you to get the assistance you need. Now this clinic is not ‘cheap’, yet when you compare it to 30,000 dollar, or more, single chemo treatment it is, financially and physically.
I was amazed that these doctors had retained the ‘I want to save the world’ innocent attitude that many embark into medical school with; this attitude is normally eroded through school and the reality of being a doctor with patients that are not engaged in their health. Dr Burzynski is there, he is there everyday, you can hear him in the hallways, and you will have appointments with him, but not everyday, maybe every week, this is not gyp in treatment, his team is well equipped and invested in each patients recovery. None of the doctors are flashy, no flashy watches, no flashy suits, no flashy offices with diplomas hanging everywhere. The patient rooms and meeting rooms are more like mini conference rooms designed for comfort and conscientious conversation.
Dr Burzynski’s voice is easily discernible; he retains his audible notes of his homeland’s intonations. His smile is genuine and he is secure in his Hippocratic Oath of to do no harm. There are days when you wonder if his naturally curly hair has met a comb, his presence is like that of one who can never stop multitasking, yet when he sits down in the room with you, he knows your chart inside out and you are his focus. He is harried man, thanks to the FDA, yet humble and soothing to all he comes into contact with. I have to admit the first time I saw the Burzynski movie I was startled at his expressed anger, this was a side of him that we did not see. He is a man, he is a human, and he has gone through hell to take care of his patients that he genuinely cares about and for.
Here is my disclaimer; this is from memory of treatment in 2006, written in 2012. Memory is faulty, yet the constant memory of the Burzynski clinic is overwhelmingly pleasant, even though I was sequestered in a hotel room for a month with my mother, now I love my mom, but you try spending 30 days straight in a hotel room with anyone in this situation and well emotions are raw. I must say that this could have gone bad but it did not, it strengthened my path of education and my relationship with my mother. I must say that I have been pit bull defensive about Dr Burzynski since then and I get angry when he is called a quack. This man is not a pretender, his treatment worked for my mother; she had immediate and drastic improvement along with everyone else we watched come through those elevator doors into the waiting room of sharing.