Negotiating Disease

Negotiating Disease: Power and Cancer Care, 1900-1950

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    Negotiating Disease
    Book Description:

    Her detailed analysis of popular beliefs and behaviours reveals the compelling logic of personal decisions about health and healing. Experience and expectation, not fear and ignorance, shaped the health care choices of both cancer sufferers and the "healthy" public. A close examination of three unconventional practitioners in Ontario demonstrates the importance and vitality of alternative medicine. By presenting treatment options that were congenial and plausible to cancer sufferers, these healers contested the authority of conventional medicine. An investigation of government cancer care policy, particularly the activities of Ontario's Commission for the Investigation of Cancer Remedies, exposes the difficulties of defining legitimate health care and the limits of state support for the medical profession.

    eISBN: 978-0-7735-6935-5
    Subjects: Health Sciences

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Introduction: Framing a Response to Disease
    (pp. xi-2)

    Cancer, in all its various manifestations, has been among the most lethal and feared diseases of the twentieth century. Indeed, in many respects it is a quintessentially “modern” affliction: although previous generations endured the ravages of cancer, they more often succumbed to contagious than to neoplastic diseases. After the turn of the century, however, improvements in sanitation, public health, and medical care vanquished many infectious agents, leaving the population open to the depredations of chronic disease. Since the 1920s, cancer has consistently claimed more lives in North America each year than any other illness except heart disease. Moreover, few maladies...

  5. 1 Health Begins at Home: Lay Perceptions of Illness, Disease, and Doctors
    (pp. 3-35)

    In 1924, Beatrix Leacock, wife of famed humourist Stephen Leacock, found herself in the grip of constant fatigue.¹ Although distressed by her malaise, neither Beatrix nor her family was alarmed about her health; they assumed that she was simply tired rather than really ill. Consequently, instead of urging his wife to see a doctor, Stephen arranged for her and their small son to winter in the Bahamas in the hope that a vacation would restore her vitality. When she returned to Montreal in the spring of 1925, however, Beatrix felt no better. By then she was losing weight and her...

  6. 2 The Problem of Cancer: Doctors, Scientists, and the Dread Disease
    (pp. 36-59)

    In 1924, the same year that Beatrix Leacock began to feel unwell, William Victor Johnston started to practice medicine in a small rural community in southwestern Ontario, not far from the shores of Lake Huron.¹ He had completed his medical degree at the University of Toronto the previous spring, but like other physicians of his generation, he found that his formal training had given him only a rudimentary appreciation of disease and its management. Consequently, he spent the year following his graduation in the offices of two seasoned doctors, learning to diagnose and treat illnesses using a limited repertoire of...

  7. 3 The Contours of Legitimate Medicine: Doctors, Alternative Practitioners, and Cancer
    (pp. 60-88)

    In 1932, an Ontario woman, M.S., learned that she had cancer.¹ Surgeons removed the diseased tissue from her colon in October, leaving her with a permanent colostomy – an artificial opening in the abdomen for evacuation of the bowels. Although the operation went well, M.S. was back in her doctor’s office a few months later complaining of renewed pain. His examination revealed that the disease had spread to her vagina and he advised her to have radiation therapy. In September 1933, a radiation specialist at Toronto General Hospital implanted radium needles in the lesion for five days, then administered a series...

  8. 4 Cancer Patients Take Care: Sufferers, Healers, and Illness Experiences
    (pp. 89-118)

    In 1931, five years after Beatrix Leacock consulted a physician about her ill health, another Ontario women, M.A.M., learned that she also had breast cancer.¹ Though about the same age and suffering from the same affliction, these two woman had vastly different experiences with the disease and its treatment. Bothered by a collection of vague complaints, Beatrix delayed consultation with a physician, hoping to regain her health and strength with rest. In contrast, M.A.M. hurried to a doctor after discovering a single, ominous symptom – a lump in her left breast. Beatrix arrived too late for treatment; her cancer had advanced...

  9. 5 Negotiating a Response to Disease: Politics and Cancer
    (pp. 119-146)

    Throughout the 1920s and 30s, as alternative remedies for cancer became more numerous and more popular, the medical profession pressured legislators to curb the activities of “quacks.” In 1927, Toronto’s medical officer of health argued that “it would be difficult to conceive of anything more criminal or more deserving of action on the part of our … legislators than the advertising in ‘cancer cures.’”¹ Although the government sympathized with the profession, lay enthusiasm for alternative treatments generally dissuaded officials from taking decisive action against unconventional practitioners. In 1935, for example, the Department of Health refused Rene Caisse’s application for a...

  10. Conclusion: Authority, Legitimacy, and the Problem of Cancer
    (pp. 147-162)

    In January 1952, Dorothy Morrow of Portage La Prairie, Manitoba, wrote a letter toChatelainemagazine, describing her experiences with cancer and conventional care.¹ Three years earlier, as the Western world recovered from the ravages of war, Morrow had begun her battle with cancer. Suffering severe, repeated bouts of vaginal bleeding, she apparently heeded the warnings of educational literature and consulted her physician. Rather than conducting a thorough examination, however, the doctor brushed off her complaints as nothing more serious than the symptoms of menopause. He consequently sent her on her way with “a prescription for a huge bottle of...

  11. Notes
    (pp. 163-208)
  12. Bibliography
    (pp. 209-232)
  13. Index
    (pp. 233-238)