Mary Vukich was diagnosed with Multifocal Astrocytoma on October 8, 1999. The MRI revealed 6 brain tumors deep inside her brain. They were diffuse and inoperable. Mary was offered conventional chemotherapy, Vincristine and Carboplatinum, with side effects too numerous to list and a life ending prognosis.
Mary started injections of Antineoplastons in Houston, Texas on November 11, 1999. On December 17, 1999, the MRI revealed a 19.2% shrinkage. On January 17, 2000, the MRI revealed a 41.7% shrinkage, which was total shrinkage of all six tumors. On April 12, 2000, the MRI revealed a partial remission. Her neurology team in Cleveland described her MRI as “Excellent.” On August 12, 2000, Mary discontinued IV form of Antineoplastons and started on Antineoplaston capsules.
Mary had noticeable paralysis on her left side during treatment. Her brother Joshua, age 12, provided her with physical therapy to prevent muscle atrophy. Mary has recovered her full strength on her left side, which amazed her Cleveland doctors.
On October 8, 2001, the latest PET and MRI were performed. The MRI showed spots around the optic nerve but the PET scan revealed no hypermetabolic cancerous activity. Dr. Burzynski announced to the family that Mary was free of malignant tumors. Mary is currently approaching complete remission with what is described as scar tissue where the tumor once resided.
Mary is a dancer and performed for a European film crew and the Burzynski Clinic staff in Houston on November 7, 2001. Mary’s brother Joshua performed with Mary, lifting her up in the air in a circular motion while Mary smiled profusely. Mary has performed publicly and has plans to be a professional dancer, artist, and massage therapist.
Mark, Karen, Joshua, and Mary Vukich thank the living God and Jesus the Christ for shepherding them to Dr. Stanislaw Burzynski. We thank Dr. Burzynski and his family for carrying on all these years. We pray for the living God to bless the Burzynski family and the entire staff at the Burzynski Clinic.
Mary’s story is archived on the Akron Beacon Journal web-site at www.ohio.com or you may call the Akron Beacon Journal toll free at 1-877-409-0357 to receive directions on how to find her story. The date of her front-page story was posted on February 11, 2001.
Mary speaks a little polish as she is 25% polish. She tells Dr. Burzynski in polish, “I Love You Like a Father!”
For those who are familiar with Thomas Navarro’s story, Mary is mourning his loss. Mary met Thomas 2 years ago, the week she started her treatment.
Mary cannot be reconciled with the fact that Thomas was prevented from the same treatment that she received in 1999.
Mary knows Thomas is home with Jesus Christ but as she puts it, “Why?” “Why daddy couldn’t Thomas get the treatment?” Our deepest sympathy to the Navarro family.
Family finds hope for cure with maverick oncologist
Copyright © 2001 The Seattle Times Company
By Tracy Wheeler
Knight Ridder Newspapers
AKRON, Ohio - Mary Vukich's first-grade homework had turned into an indecipherable blur. She could hold it at arm's length. She could hold it right up against her nose. Nothing but fuzzy, black shapes on a white page.
Certainly, she needed glasses.
So one Thursday morning in fall 1999, Mark and Karen Vukich took their 7-year-old daughter to an eye doctor. They left his office, though, not with a prescription for glasses but with an appointment for a brain scan early the next morning.
"You go from one day thinking that your child needs glasses," Karen Vukich said, "and then, boom."
There were six tumors tucked deep inside Mary's brain.
Like roots from a tree trunk, the cancer, pilocytic astrocytoma, had woven its way into her brain, one tumor growing into six, eliminating surgery as an option.
Cancer specialists at the Cleveland Clinic could offer only chemotherapy and a cloudy prognosis.
The Vukiches, both nurses, wanted a treatment that wouldn't make Mary nauseated or bald or damage her nerves, bone marrow or liver. They wanted a cure. They wanted hope.
And they found it in Houston in the clinic of a renegade oncologist, Dr. Stanislaw Burzynski, who has fought off the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the Texas Medical Board to treat patients with a unique cancer-fighting treatment that he discovered, developed and sells.
He calls it antineoplastons.
Every cancer contains two types of genes: an oncogene, which accelerates cancer growth, and a tumor-suppressor gene, which halts that acceleration.
"What we know," Burzynski said, "is that the antineoplastons work as molecular switches, to turn off the oncogene and turn on the tumor-suppressor genes."
It's a treatment hailed as a miracle by many of his patients - 6,000 since 1977 - who have fought off cancer of the brain, breast, cervix, colon, uterus, stomach, lungs and bladder.
But it is also a treatment under heavy suspicion.
The FDA said Burzynski offers no proof that his medicine works. The National Cancer Institute said government-sponsored laboratory testing of antineoplastons has shown no cancer-fighting effect. The Cancer Letter, an industry bulletin, found that Burzynski's own studies were "so flawed" the data were "meaningless."
And the Mayo Clinic, in a 1999 trial, found that the antineoplastons had no effect on the cancer of any patient.
None of that swayed the Vukiches. What mattered to them were the testimonials from Burzynski's patients, who had beaten cancer through these experimental antineoplastons.
"We chose this treatment for no other reason than that it offered the chance of a cure," Karen Vukich said.
It was Oct. 8, 1999, when the brain scan revealed Mary's tumors. Though astrocytoma is a slow-growing cancer, the tumors already had grown deep into her brain, creating enough pressure to blur Mary's vision.
The doctors wanted to start chemo right away. The Vukiches said no.
As registered nurses - Karen at the Cleveland Clinic and Mark at a nursing home - they know what chemotherapy does to a person's quality of life.
Beyond that, they didn't expect that treatment would work for Mary.
Chemotherapy attacks the fastest-growing cells in the body, which for most cancer patients are the cancer cells. Mary's cancer, however, was growing slowly. In her body, normal cells would be killed along with the cancerous ones.
"Where does that lead you?" Mark Vukich asked. "To misery and suffering. We were really prepared to take her anywhere else. Out of the country. Mexico. If we had to stay out of the U.S. until she died, we would have."
Dr. Bruce Cohen, Mary's doctor and the head of pediatric neurology at the Cleveland Clinic, said chemotherapy would have offered a chance but no guarantees.
"With standard therapy, it's really difficult to say because these tumors have their own minds," Cohen said. "With astrocytoma, in general, 60 percent are alive at 20 years. Some die within five years. It's difficult to predict.
"It's like a tank: You can usually outrun a tank, but if you can't, it can crush you."
The Vukiches weren't going to get into a footrace with the tank. Karen scoured medical books. Mark trolled the Internet.
They began to consider the cancer clinics of Mexico, where diet, "detoxification," Laetrile, shark cartilage and a slew of other well-worn, unproven alternative treatments abound.
Then they found Burzynski and his antineoplastons. By Nov. 9, 1999, Mary and her mother were on their way to Houston to begin treatment. Cohen didn't fully support the Vukiches' decision. But he also didn't fight it.
"As a physician, I can't give my blessing to unproven therapies outside of mainstream medicine," he said. "But if I thought it was the wrong thing to do, if I thought they were abusing the child by doing this, if I thought this doctor was nothing more than a quack, I'd be obligated to report them to family services. But they made this decision based on unproven but scientifically sound methods."
With another type of cancer, the doctor might have felt differently. Depending on the cancer, "you could be risking your child's life by doing this," he said.
Cohen knew of several cases of astrocytoma that had responded to antineoplastons.
"I've heard of about seven or eight or nine," Cohen said. "But I don't know if he (Burzynski) treated eight and got eight responses or treated 100 and got eight responses. I haven't seen the information published in a (medical) journal."
That's because it hasn't been.
For more than a decade, Burzynski has been stalked by criticism that his clinical trials are sloppy and meaningless, making them unlikely to be published in the strict world of medical journals.
The journal Mayo Clinic Proceedings presented the most recent published data on antineoplastons. The study was conducted by the Mayo Clinic, and the results were unfavorable, finding that none of the nine cancer patients treated showed measurable improvement.
Burzynski, though, charged that the study was purposely flawed because the Mayo researchers used only half the antineoplaston dose that was needed.
"Obviously, if it's so low, you know you won't get good results," Burzynski said. "These guys knew it."
The Mayo Clinic's response: The dosage plan was acceptable to Burzynski before the trial began; his opposition came only after the results were in.
Burzynski's own findings are much different from the Mayo Clinic's.
In a 1999 study, he reviewed the cases of 36 brain-tumor patients treated at his clinic. Of those, 16 had complete or partial responses.
"We can cure cancer that's not treatable by other means," he said, pointing to results such as these.
Burzynski is widely criticized for his one-man approach. He identified, developed, administers, sells and studies antineoplastons, with none of the usual involvement from pharmaceutical companies and none of the usual partnerships with other researchers.
And his fees to patients are steep. For intravenous treatments, the cost is about $7,200 a month. Pills cost about $2,500 per month. And insurance doesn't usually cover any of that cost.
Burzynski dismisses criticism, saying he has 130 medical doctors on his staff who work closely with the patients. And his current research - 500 patients in 72 antineoplaston trials - is being monitored by the FDA per federal-court order.
"In dealing with deadly tumors, you can't cheat," Burzynski said. "Patients either live or die."
Antineoplastons are actually peptides - strings of amino acids - that occur naturally in the body. As a medical student in the 1960s, Burzynski noticed that these peptides were plentiful in healthy patients but almost nonexistent in cancer patients. He came up with the theory that if antineoplastons were replenished in cancer patients, their bodies would be given the ability to fight off cancer.
The side effects are minimal, with the most common being elevated sodium levels, which can lead to brain swelling, a potentially life-threatening problem for those with brain cancer. It's a side effect, though, that can be avoided by drinking a gallon of water a day.
High doses of steroids are prescribed to almost all brain-cancer patients to keep brain swelling down. Those steroids, in turn, lead to extreme weight gain.
When she was diagnosed with cancer, Mary Vukich weighed 45 pounds. During her eight months of steroid treatment, her weight soared to 81 pounds. Not only were the antineoplastons being pumped into her 24 hours a day, via a permanent intravenous tube near her collarbone, but the steroids were going in through the IV, too.
Before all this, Mary had been a typical little girl.
She rode horses, played the violin and took ballet lessons.
After she returned from Houston on Dec. 2, 1999, most of those activities stopped. She was fatigued. She was lugging around a 7-pound pump 24 hours a day.
The payoff, though, was immediate. Within two weeks, her tumors had shrunk by 19 percent, and a month later by 41 percent.
The trend was encouraging, but didn't excite conventional oncologists, who need to see a tumor shrink by 50 percent to be considered a "partial response."
Then last March, the shrinking seemed to stop.
Cohen and his colleagues at the Cleveland Clinic worried that the cancer was coming back. Burzynski saw it differently, telling the Vukiches that he suspected the cancer debris was dissipating, giving the illusion that the tumor hadn't shrunk.
The brain scan on April 12 was shocking. Where the once-overwhelming white masses had confirmed the cancer's presence, there were now just shadows.
"You can see, it's basically gone," Mark Vukich said, holding up a copy of the brain scan. "It's unbelievable."
Burzynski said Mary is now "in complete remission." Some residual cancer cells remain, he said, but her last scan in November showed no metabolic activity.
"It was absolutely a good decision," Cohen said of the Vukiches' choice to see Burzynski. "If the same response had come from conventional chemotherapy, we would have been thrilled."
Mary is still taking the antineoplastons - 48 pills each day. She'll continue to take them at a cost of about $2,500 per month until no residual tumors remain. The steroids, though, are gone, and Mary's weight is back to normal.
And just recently, another brain scan at the Cleveland Clinic showed that the cancer continues to be erased.
"It's one thing to expect a cure," Karen Vukich said. "It's another to see it."
Update - May 25, 2005
Mary is now 12 years old and a beautiful young lady. To look at her, one would never think 'cancer patient'. She is vibrant, healthy and active. She has no deficits other than the impaired vision that alerted us to her brain tumors. Every day that I get out of bed I look at her and think how blessed we were that Dr. Burzynski perservered!! Mary was off of antineoplastons for 1 year and off of AminoCare for 2 months this past April when her MRI showed a tiny but suspicious spot. We did not waste any time and immediately put her back on oral antineoplastons. She takes (4) A pills and (4) B pills six times a day. The spot is gone and she has every indication of a long and healthy life. We hope that she will finish this course of meds this fall. She has taken it all in stride and continues to inspire everyone she talks to! Also, I don't know if I mentioned that Mary's left side was paralyzed (L hemiparesis) during her treatment in 1999 and is fully recovered now-we were told that might never comeback. I hope that other patients find that inspiring as well. Mary dances on pointe in ballet. Please feel free to contact us any time of the day or night if we can help.