The story of the 17-year-old with melanoma being forced to undergo chemotherapy: Urban legend?

My recent update of my ongoing discussion of the Abraham Cherrix case reminded me that there's a bit of alarming e-mail being sent out and forwarded far and wide. If you read it, at first glance, you will think it sounds utterly horrifying, the Abraham Cherrix and Katie Wernecke cases all rolled up into one and then placed on steroids to the point that even a maven of evidence-based medicine would have to take pause--if the story were true.

The source of the e-mail seems to be the Natural Solutions Foundation/Health Freedom USA, given all the "donate" buttons in the webpage to which I tracked this story down with a little bit of Googling, a site called Democracy in Action. Here's how the story starts:

Dear Health Freedom Fighters:

There is a developing story from California that involves a mother with a 17 year old child who HAD melanoma. The mother, chose to go against her allopathic (conventional) doctor's orders (to have surgery and chemotherapy) - and instead try advanced natural medicine first - since she understood that supporting the body's ability to heal is more effective than destroying it as chemotherapy does.

Not surprisingly this approach worked! This young man is now CANCER FREE!! However, the allopathic doctor is insisting that the child must have chemotheray as well as surgery, which the mother refuses to have her child undergo. Interestingly, doctor, the allopathic doctor's unnecessary treatments will be compensated by the insurer or state, while the holistic strategies that actually worked are not eligible for coverage.

The Department of Child Services was called and her son was taken away from her and put in foster care. The DCS claimed she failed to properly care for her child. Note here: the advanced methods which worked are being defined as "child abuse" while the doctor's assault (which is what we call touching someone against their will) is supported by the power of the state. Is this Health Freedom?

Wow! It sounds horrific, doesn't it? But it's even worse than that, as the e-mail continues:

Next, the mother was put in jail for 5 days in maximum security and suffered injuries in the neck and arm from jailers. Her child is still in foster care, where he was forcibly vaccinated. Disgusted yet? It gets worse...

Yes, what could be worse than forcing an adolescent to undergo chemotherapy when he doesn't want to? Forcibly vaccinating him, of course! In the minds of these idiotic "health freedom warriors," there can be nothing worse than that! Obviously, I'm being sarcastic here, but, as you might imagine, this story set my skeptical antennae a-twitching for a number of reasons. Some of the reasons don't require specific knowledge of cancer. The most obvious of these reasons is that the mother who was supposedly put in maximum security prison is not named, nor are there enough details given about the case to allow a reader to verify any of its details from a source other than a duplicate of this particular post. Other obvious red flags are the detail about the mother being placed, not just in prison, but in maximum security prison, the part about the forced vaccination, and the child being 17 years old.

No, what set my skeptical antennae into full twitch was the description of the alleged cancer patient as having melanoma. Certainly surgery is part of the treatment of melanoma. Indeed it's the main part of the treatment of melanoma. Chemotherapy, on the other hand, is not used for melanoma very often. There's a reason for that, and it's because chemotherapy just isn't all that effective against melanoma. Indeed, we sometimes say that melanoma tends to almost laugh at chemotherapy and radiation. Chemotherapy is only usually tried in cases of stage IV metastatic disease, where the standard regimens tend to have a response rate of less than 20%. As far as adjuvant therapy (therapy given after surgery to try to decrease recurrent rates), biologic therapy is the mainstay, usually in the form of high dose interferon-α or interleukin-2 (IL-2), these days almost always the former. Interferon does have significant toxicity, but it is not considered chemotherapy. It is biological therapy. Either way, whoever wrote this e-mail would have done well to do a little perusal of to find a more plausible tumor for such a "jackboot chemotherapy"-style "health freedom" scare story than melanoma.

Even though this story is totally implausible right from the get-go, let's peruse a bit more of it, shall we? It's very amusing as an example of an urban legend:

The case is pending in Dependency Court in Orange County where the Judge is soon to rule whether her son will be ordered to have surgery and chemotherapy.

This 17 year old near-adult does NOT want to undergo chemotherapy or surgery and was forcefully vaccinated while in state custody. We support this brave young man and his clear thinking mother in their struggle to preserve his freedom. In doing so, they are struggling to preserve ours.

We will be reporting on the result of a court decision as it unfolds, perhaps as early as later today. The mother will also be sharing her story in a follow-up email shortly. At this moment, she has been barred by the court from discussing her case publicly. Not only is her son's Health Freedom under assault in this case, so is her Freedom of Speech.

Please forward this email widely. If a Civil Rights Attorney would be willing to advise in this matter, please reply via email.

First off, there does not appear to be any such thing as a "Dependency Court" in Orange County, California. There's Family Court, but apparently no Dependency Court. A bunch of Googling on my part failed to find a case that is anything like this one anywhere, much less in Orange County, California. (If anyone out there lives in Southern California and knows of any story that can be independently corroborated that even remotely resembles this one, feel free to post it.)

Not surprisingly, the idiot wing of the blogosphere is credulously parroting this obviously highly dubious story, as can be seen here, here, and here (although this last one is refreshing in that a few commenters express skepticism about the story). Oh, well, no one ever accused bloggers of exercising much in the way of critical thinking, other than a small portion of it. Of course, that's the reason that this e-mail finishes off with an appeal (you knew it was coming, didn't you?):

The family is in desperate need of support and legal assistance. The Natural Solutions Foundation is taking this threat to our collective Health Freedom and our Freedom of Speech very seriously. The Foundation will continue to assist and are building a network of natural physicians, Constitutional lawyers and other experts to be ready to act as "amicus curiae" - Friends of the Court - in similar cases. If you can help us fund or staff our Health Freedom Posse, please reply via email. Remember that your donations key to these battles!

Of course! This e-mail is meant as a fundraiser. Never mind we still have no evidence that this story is anything more than a figment of someone's imagination. It's also not enough to ask for just money. This rant also has to have a political point as well:

We agree strongly with Dr. Ron Paul's recent statement, "The government should never have the power to require immunizations or vaccinations." If you haven't done so, please sign the petition: Support Ron Paul's Health Freedom Protection Act, H.R. 2117 and forward to all your family and friends to do the same!

Please do what you can to support the Natural Solution Foundation's efforts by making a generous donation. Your generous support makes this and all of our other outreach efforts possible.

Ron Paul's "Health Freedom Act"? Why am I not surprised? The Health Freedom Protection Act, HR 2117 loosens standards for what sorts of health claims can be made to sell supplements, and the Access to Medical Treatment Act, H.R. 746 would have the effect of legalizing a great deal of quackery under the cover of (what else?) "health freedom. Its thinly disguised real purpose is to prevent government interference with non-evidence-based medicine. Not surprisingly these bills are being supported by quacks and supporters of alternative medicine.

This "e-mail" is a beautiful example of what appears to be an urban legend. It has echos in the stories of Abraham Cherrix, Katie Wernecke, and a number of other cases in which the government tried to step in to save a child from being subjected to quackery by his or her parents. Whenever you see a story like this, particularly if no names or details are given that allow you to independently verify the story, be very skeptical. Indeed, even in cases where names are given, remember that even that is not a guarantee that the story is true. Indeed, even if a story like this is in an apparently reputable source, it is not ironclad evidence that it is not an urban legend, as I discovered to my embarrassment very early in the history of this blog.

Finally, if the story is being used to raise money or push a political agenda, that is perhaps the biggest red flag of all. Consider such stories false until proven true. That's what I do these days, especially in the blogosphere, and I haven't been burned nearly as badly in a very long time.


  1. The story of the 17-year-old with melanoma being forced to undergo chemotherapy: Urban legend?
  2. Thomas Cowles twisting in the wind defending the "cancer boy" urban legend
  3. An update on the youth who "cured himself" of melanoma, Chad Jessop
  4. One last update (for now) on the youth who "cured himself" of melanoma, Chad Jessop
  5. "I have seen the light! The Chad Jessop melanoma story happened. Really."
  6. Lee Woodard on the Chad Jessop melanoma story: "Why would I promote a hoax?"


  1. Legendary Legend or Mysterious Mystery?


  1. Dear Health Freedom Fighters (September 12, 2007)
  2. The Gary Null Show 9/13/2007 (The relevant segment is at approximately the 11:45 minute mark.)
  3. Mother Jailed, Put On Trial for Curing Her Son of Melanoma (October 3, 2007)
  4. Mother Jailed, Put On Trial for Curing Her Son of Melanoma (published in the Los Angeles Free Press on 11/12/2007, PDF here)

More like this

I'm rather amused. No, I'm very amused. Yesterday, as you may recall, I discussed a seemingly alarming e-mail that's going around about a 17-year-old boy with melanoma whom the State of California had allegedly removed from the custody of his mother because she and he had wanted to use "advanced…
About a month and a half ago, I discussed an e-mail that was being propagated far and wide that described the case of the mother of a 17 year old male who, or so the e-mail claimed, cured her son of stage IV melanoma using "natural means" and was supposedly thrown in maximum security prison by the…
Ever since I started blogging about a story about a youth named Chad Jessop who, it was claimed, developed melanoma and cured himself of it with "natural" remedies, with the result that his mother was supposedly brought before the Orange County Superior Court and his mother thrown in maximum…
I hadn't intended to write about this again, at least not for a while, but curiosity got the better of me. About a month and a half ago, I discussed a highly dubious story that was going around by e-mail about a 17-year-old boy with melanoma whose mother supposedly "cured" him with "natural"…

These cases always sadden me - it's fine to be stupid, but when your stupidity actively involves killing your own children... Also, the fact that the parents always act so indignant makes me feel slightly nauseous.

WOW, they found a natural cure for melanoma and they won't share it. My husband is stage iv and we would love to know what powerful woo they used. Especially since it didn't require any surgery. Maybe it was that foot bath thing...

Why not forward it on to Snopes? He lives in So. Cal. and this is something he should include anyway.

I live between LA and OC and I haven't heard of this, but then, I don't get much local news.

I can hear it now... "No, it isn't true, but it could be."

By Robster, FCD (not verified) on 18 Sep 2007 #permalink

This story is not fake. If you are in contact with Abraham Cherrix, you would know that it is indeed a REAL situation. The mother AND son have been in contact with Abraham and his mother. There are now 4 attorneys on this case. I wrote this story and you really have no business "debunking" a story because of your "gut feelings". This piece is shameful!

I wrote this story and you really have no business "debunking" a story because of your "gut feelings".

Cue some 'respectful insolence' in five...four...three...

I don't know about the veracity of this case, but there does seem to be a Dependency Court in California. My googling certainly turned up lots of references to it, e.g.

On the other hand, you follow that "Thomas Cowles" link and you're going to get a real eyeful about the evils of Codex. Wow.

"This story is not fake."

Really? No case with similar facts is recounted in any CA state or federal appellate court (reported or unreported cases), trial court, or administrative agency opinion during the past 5 years. No case with similar facts has been recounted in any non-advocacy site blog or any legal site blog I've located (and the subject matter of some of those sites is such that they would be expected to report a case with the facts alleged in the article).

As far as CA's authority to enforce mandatory vaccination laws, see Jacobson v. Massachusetts, 197 U.S. 11 (1905) (upholding state mandatory vaccination laws, as reasonable protection of public health and safety, against a parental challenge).

In looking into this matter I also found that once again Dr. Geier from offering any opinion in the areas of epidemiology, neurology, or toxicology in a case in which plaintiff alleged that thimerosal can contribute to the development of autism or that there is a genetically vulnerable sub-population of children whose ability to excrete mercury is impaired, resulting in an increased risk of autism from exposure to a thimerosal-containing product. Redfoot v. B.F. Ascher & Co., 2007 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 40002 N.D. CA. June 1, 2007) (granting summary judgment to defendant).

Additionally, I found WaPo article describing research on why urban legends are so hard to kill off, and their spread isn't stopped by disseminating the facts. See, "Persistence of Myths Could Alter Public Policy Approach" (Sep. 7, 2007), on-line at…

While there may be some truth to the story, its accuracy is highly questionable since it's main source is from someone who clearly is trying to solicit money, and so has an obvious motive to, at least, "juice up" the facts, if not engage in creative writing. Allegations are easy. Proof is hard.

I notice that you still have not given us any verifiable details.

If that is because you want to protect the privacy of the family, that is fine, just give us the name of *one* of the attorneys involved to check out the facts.

"Health Freedom." I kind of like that. I think anyone who wants it should have the right to be free of health so long as it's an informed choice.

I can't wait until all the "Health Freedom Warriors" have all the freedom from health they want, so long as they're promptly quarantined before their "health freedom" spreads to the general population.


Just saying "this story is true and I know it! Nya nya nya!" isn't going to convince anyone here. Give us some facts, links or whatever so that we can verify it.

This story is not fake. If you are in contact with Abraham Cherrix, you would know that it is indeed a REAL situation. The mother AND son have been in contact with Abraham and his mother. There are now 4 attorneys on this case.

But you can't give us, you know, enough information to verify their existence ourselves? Are the people in hiding or something, unwilling to trust anyone with their identity but other 17-year-olds with cancer?

Running your cursor over Thomas Cowles shows a link to

I guess somebody knows how to use HTTP_REFERRER tracking? Meh

A press conference was held outside the courthouse on Sep 6th. The atty present was Christopher Taylor. An article appeared in 2 local newspapers prior to that date. I have not been able to find them online. Most networks were present at the press conference but the judge ordered a gag order, so they would no longer be able to run the story. The issue is the Freedom to choose. Most don't realize that ALL chemo melonoma treatments are experimental and have a 94% failure rate. If it were you, would want the State to force you to have treatment under those odds?

Seems like they mistyped and meant to say Juvenile Dependency Court, as is mentioned here: All of the cases at a juvenile court are confidential, so it's possible something similar to the email happened. Of course, no telling how they've spun the info.

Thomas, experimental treatments aren't standard of care, so the state can't force that on anyone. The facts given in the email don't add up.

your correct. That facts don't add up, which is why they are fighting to stop the treatment. What's worse is the Dr. in question has the same attitude as the writer of the blog article and some who have commented. If you do not chose to participate in what THEY deem necessary you must be a Jehova's Witness, voodoo science or participating in quackery. Then they DEMAND a court to do what THEY think is best. They are in a minority camp that think the government has authority over your own body. It's a sad state of affairs... And remember the "boy" is 17 and can make his own decisions. He's not a 5 year old. Even HIS rights cannot be abridged by an activist doctor.

A press conference was held outside the courthouse on Sep 6th. The atty present was Christopher Taylor. An article appeared in 2 local newspapers prior to that date. I have not been able to find them online.

Well maybe we can help. What courthouse? What local newspapers?

Incidentally, did you attend this press conference or read these local newspaper articles yourself? Or did you just hear about them?

Most networks were present at the press conference but the judge ordered a gag order, so they would no longer be able to run the story.

I don't think a gag order can do that.

In the United States, a court can only order parties to a case not to comment on it; a court has no authority to stop unrelated reporters from reporting on a case. Most statutes which restrict what may be reported have generally been found unconstitutional and void.

Seems like they mistyped and meant to say Juvenile Dependency Court, as is mentioned here: All of the cases at a juvenile court are confidential, so it's possible something similar to the email happened.

So, Shiritai, just to be clear, that link there is for Orange County, Florida. The "Health Freedom USA" e-mail forward specifies that the events occurred in Orange County, California.

Also, as I'm reading the page there, even in Florida, the "confidential" nature of the juvenile court (as described by the statutes that page references) concerns access to public records. That is, the cases are confidential in that media or other third parties would not be able to get access to court records. But this would of course in no way prevent anyone from reporting on any aspect of the case other than court records, for example a press conference on the steps of a courthouse. This doesn't tell us how things work in California, of course, but I'd be shocked if things were much different...

Oh, sorry for the brain fart. That's what I get for not paying close enough attention. I checked out California's Orange County courts this time, and they also have a Juvenile Dependency Court, though they use that phrase rarely, usually just calling them dependency cases. Indeed, it's strange that they the email calls it dependency court rather than juvenile dependency court, or even the juvenile court, since as Orac pointed out, there is no "dependency court." And as for the confidentiality, I was just explaining why there's no court records available for that.

If this case is in any way true, they probably wouldn't want any reporters asking questions, since then someone might interview the doctor, and find out that the info in the email is crap. Since someone's come here and vouched for the email, there might be a grain of truth to this. Though, I have no idea how many supporters other hoax emails had.

Dang, I'm an idiot again. I forgot that Thomas is healthfreedom. Nevermind, no grain of truth, just a hoax. Arg.

OK, I see.

Although I'll admit I was initially quite skeptical, I'm increasingly inclined to believe that the basic outline of the story is true, especially in light of Thomas Cowles' last comments and assuming the facts he's offered check out.

Yes, it does sound implausible, but I've seen things almost this strange, so I know that implausible doesn't mean impossible.

As I see it, the issue here transcends treatment preferences or even medicine, "evidence-based," "alternative" or any other label that might come to mind. I think it's fine that there can be differences of opinion about the treatment course a person should pursue. But being able to impose by force of the state a course of treatment against someone's will, well that's a different matter. (Although a 17 year old obviously wouldn't be expected to have the accumulated perspective and wisdom of someone older, certainly he should have some say in the matter.)

No, this is about basic freedom, not medicine, per se. If we're going to live in a free society, we have to accept that others may sometimes not make the same choices we would in similar circumstances. That goes for matters of religion, education, diet, hobbies, and, yes, even medical treatment, even when the stakes are quite high--even life and death.

Debate endlessly and passionately, render opinions and shout them from the rooftops. Offer advice. Plead the strongest case one can muster. But in the end, let the person who has to live--or not--with the consequences of the decision be the one with the right to make the decision, even if that scrawny, immature, reckless teenager doesn't do what we think he should.

Yes, I recognize that there may be rare instances in which the person with the most at stake may not be competent to make decisions on his/her behalf, but such uncommon cases shouldn't alter the strong presumption that each individual is competent to make such decisions absent some compellingly strong evidence to the contrary, and unpopular choices wouldn't ipso facto constitute evidence of incompetence.

By Save Your (not verified) on 18 Sep 2007 #permalink

What "facts" did Mr. Cowles offer?

In particular, I'd like something more credible than Mr. Cowles' word that the boy in question cured his melanoma with "advanced natural medicine."

"What "facts" did Mr. Cowles offer?"

Should have said "purported" facts. Obviously, they're not facts if they can't be verified. But he offered enough extra particulars that he can either be exposed as a rather bold and reckless liar or someone whose story may have some factual, real basis.

To wit:

>The name of the attorney, Christopher Taylor. (Is there an attorney in the area by that name? Can it be verified that he is/was on the case? This one tidbit alone is probably enough to disprove it if there's no such attorney in the area and/or if there is and he has no knowledge of the case. If the attorney checks out, he should easily be able to identify the two local papers who published articles about the case.)

>Articles in two local papers prior to September 6. (How many local papers could there be? Probably only a handful. My guess is that except for the Orange County Register and the LA Times, the rest of the local papers will be small operations with small staffs who will easily be able to recall articles of relatively recent vintage dealing with such an incendiary issue. If the 2 papers had been the Orange County Register and/or LA Times, he no doubt would have cited them by name, so it's doubtful they published articles about this. It's entirely plausible that he wouldn't recall the names of more obscure rags if he's not a resident or otherwise not familiar with the area.)

Of course, it would be nice if Mr. Cowles would drop by again and offer a few more details to make the verification process even easier, but even if he doesn't, his provision of the name of the attorney alone is probably sufficient to nail him if he's a liar. If the whole thing's a hoax, he'd have to be pretty stupid to drop by this blog and make it so easy to be exposed. (Yes, yes, it's quite possible he could be both stupid and a liar, I know.)

By Save Your (not verified) on 18 Sep 2007 #permalink

According to the CA Bar Assoc. there are seven attorneys listed with the name Christopher Taylor, two of whom are listed in Orange County (Santa Ana and Lake Forrest). One of them works for the OC Public Defender, the other (I suppose) in private practice.

By Stephen D. Moore (not verified) on 18 Sep 2007 #permalink

Meh. If you want to check, here's the Christopher Taylor lawyers in California:…
Sorry for the long link. I don't know anything about html.
But the whole thing makes no sense. Wouldn't the mom hire a lawyer before she's sent to jail? Why would the judge order surgery if the kid doesn't have cancer? What made Cowles decide to shun reason?

I did an L.A. Times search. No Christopher Taylor came up going back to August.
Of course it's possible the local paper wasn't the Times, or for some reason they didn't mention the lawyer. I tried the OC Register too. Nothing.

Perhaps Mr. Cowles could provide a link for us?

I've posted a summary of what's happened so far with this to the webforum.

If anything comes of it, I'll summarize it here.