MIDDLEBURY, Ind. — Every year, thousands of US citizens travel to Mexico for cancer treatment, because clinics there offer non-toxic therapies and the cost is much less expensive, says TMD Unlimited, a medical tourism corporation. When Tom Teeter was diagnosed with Chronic Lymphocytic Leukemia (CLL), he went to three different Mexican clinics, and had good experiences and bad. In telling their story, the Teeters hope to help other cancer patients taking this journey.

Tom Teeter was diagnosed with CLL in 2007. Tom had retired from the military after serving in Desert Storm, and then worked for years for the Mishawaka, Indiana utility company. He was due to retire again in just one month. Tom’s doctors told him he did not need treatment, but they recommended CT and PET scans every 3 months.

Tom’s fiance, Jacquie, went to his next doctor appointment to ask questions and understand his illness. She asked the doctor why he was ordering so many scans as her research told her that scans can cause leukemia. In some countries, scans are forbidden for children because of this risk. When she asked about Tom’s enlarged spleen and lymph nodes, the doctor told her not to worry, he did not need treatment and would live another 30 years. So they went on with their lives, and got married.

“Tom is such a great dad to Sarah and Spencer,” Jacquie says. Sarah is 12, a girly-girl who loves animals and is active in 4-H. She loves birds and she adopted an abused cat and loved him back to health. She loves cooking, arts and crafts, and she wants to be a veterinarian.

Fifteen year old Spencer has Asperger’s, an autism spectrum disorder. According to Jacquie, he needs physical therapy and counseling to help him cope with being “different.” Spencer likes motorcycles and roller coasters, Legos and video games. “When Tom came into our lives, Spencer blossomed. With Tom’s patience and encouragement, Spencer’s development has improved so much his doctors and therapists are amazed.”

The Teeters home school their children, which made it easy for them to travel as a family to find help for Tom.

While camping in February 2008, Tom became ill, and Jacquie took him to a nearby hospital. He was jaundiced, and needed a transfusion. An MRI showed his spleen was twice the normal size. Tom had one round of chemo and immediately became violently ill. Another specialist in Indianapolis told Tom one should never have chemo with his type of CLL.

Frustrated because the doctors could not agree on treatment and because Tom was getting weaker, the family traveled to meet with an herbalist in Florida who sold them expensive supplements and claimed he could cure Tom’s cancer. As Tom’s condition deteriorated, Jacquie called the herbalist, who just recommended even higher doses of his supplements. Tom’s white count began to climb to dangerous levels.

Disenchanted with conventional medicine and knowing Tom needed more than vitamins and herbs, they began researching Mexican cancer clinics. Even though their families were against seeking alternative treatments, they packed their children into a van and drove to a clinic in Hermosillo, in Sonora, Mexico, hoping for a miracle. When they reached the clinic, they found none of the treatments promised were even available. This clinic did biofeedback testing, used a Rife light and sold Miracle Minerals, all available in the United States. The clinic had arranged a rental apartment for the Teeters that was a 40 minute drive from the clinic. Exhausted, they took the key and directions and set out to find the lodging.

On the way they stopped at a Wal-Mart for groceries. As they left the store, they heard the parking attendant blow his whistle and a small white truck pulled out of the parking space next to their van and sped away. When they reached their vehicle, they discovered they had been robbed. Their computer, passports, children’s games, credit cards and check books, cell phones and traveler’s checks were gone. They had lost everything, including the money to pay for Tom’s treatment.

It took almost half an hour before they could get anyone to call the police. The store manager insisted the parking attendant was not employed by Wal-Mart; he just showed up every day in uniform to work for tips. Finally the manager offered his phone so the couple could call the clinic.

The clinic owner met the Teeters at the police station and brought his secretary to translate. When it became apparent that there would be no help from the police, he took the family to his home and let Jacquie use his computer to notify their banks of the theft. They had purchased Mexican auto insurance, but that only covers accidents, not theft.

Most of their funds were in traveler’s checks. When they called about the theft, the company treated them like criminals. “They said we had to prove we had been able to purchase the checks. They said they would investigate to see if we had criminal records. They actually told us they suspected we had arranged the theft. They treated us like criminals,” Jacquie recalled. “For days we argued with them over the phone. Believe me, the hassle was appalling. You know those commercials that say your checks will be quickly replaced if stolen – not true!”

They went to the American Embassy, who told the Teeters they could replace Jacquie and Tom’s passports, but the children would have to be made wards of Mexico until they could produce birth certificates (which were stolen) to prove they were their children. The adults could leave, but they couldn’t take their kids.

With no money and no passports, they were stranded. The clinic director’s sister was gracious enough to provide sleeping quarters and food. Tom began treatment, but he only got worse. When his lymph nodes enlarged and his white count shot up, Jacquie asked why this was happening, and was told if they were going to question the treatment they would stop treating Tom. Finally, Jacquie’s ex-husband gathered duplicate birth certificates and sent them to Hermosillo, and they were able to get back home. They drove for days, slept in the van and ate only once a day.

Back home, they went to work to replenish their nest egg, and began a quest to find the right treatment facility. They knew that chemo was not an answer. They both have a strong belief in helping the body to heal itself.

The couple heard about a clinic across from Del Rio, Texas. The clinic has a snazzy website with lots of video testimonials. At this clinic they would stay on the Texas side of the border, and the clinic would send a van to take them back and forth every day. The clinic claimed a very high success rate, and they were not too expensive. And so they borrowed a travel trailer and headed for the Texas border.

“There were about 40 patients at the clinic, and one doctor. The doctor spoke passable English, but the nurses spoke almost no English at all. The staff was hostile and the place was dirty, but at least they were doing treatments,” Jacquie remembers. “And they were full of American patients, which was encouraging. However, Tom never received an exam of any kind, and along with the rest of the patients we were ‘herded’ from one treatment to the next – IVs, local hyperthermia and photo dynamic therapy. I was alarmed because the nurses would not wear gloves, and they would go from patient to patient stabbing veins trying to insert an IV, and bloody cotton balls and needles were left about.”

“I saw nurses picking their noses, then picking up a needle to put in an IV. If we didn’t remind the nurses what treatments we needed, we just didn’t get them. When we asked to speak to the American doctor that owns the place, we were told he didn’t talk with patients. And we were told if we complained, we would be dismissed. We had already paid for our treatment and that would not be refunded. They scared patients into being compliant and docile.”

According to their web site, the treatments were supposed to be all natural. “I checked the ingredients on the ‘elixir’ label, and found it contained real chemo agents,” Jacquie said. “I asked the Mexican doctor about it and she just shrugged.” But they were encouraged because several patients seemed to be getting better – and some were sent home cancer free. Within a matter of weeks, they started to hear that the patients who were “cured” had scans when they went home, and found that their cancers were not gone, they were spreading.

When Tom’s tumors started to grow at an alarming rate, they were told that as tumors die, they swell up with water and grow. No matter how much they wanted to believe in this place, they couldn’t believe that cancer grows as it dies – and it appeared that everyone’s cancer seemed to be spreading. “In my opinion, this clinic preys on frightened cancer patients – they take your money and give you lies,” Jacquie says.

Many patients were discouraged and were looking into other clinics. The Teeters kept hearing about a place in a small beachfront community in Baja that was having good results. They decided to try one last time to find help. They drove to San Diego, and the clinic offered to pick them up and give them a tour.

“The difference between this clinic and the ones we had visited before was like night and day,” Jacquie remembers. “This place was spotless. They only take four patients at a time, they have 6 doctors and a full nursing staff, and the entire medical staff speaks English. They are all about personal attention and nurturing care.”

They met with Dr. Antonio Jimenez, who is from New Jersey. He reviewed Tom’s records, examined him, ran a battery of tests and suggested a treatment plan. “The doctor was wonderful and gave us real hope. Our room overlooked the ocean. And the food was terrific. We got to walk on the beach every day. We felt pampered and treated like family,” Jacquie says.

Tom was given whole body hyperthermia, a natural cancer vaccine and stem cells. “A plastic surgeon removed Tom’s own stem cells from his belly fat. When you use your own stem cells, there is no chance of rejection,” Jacquie explained.

“Tom is feeling better and his tumors are shrinking,” Jacquie reports. “The Hope4Cancer Institute was an answer to our prayers. Even the children responded to the love and attention we received here. We were treated like family. We have been lonely and afraid. Suddenly we had an abundance of hugs and smiles.”

The Teeters say they wanted to tell their story both to warn others and to encourage patients seeking alternative treatment. “Our message is to always tour a clinic before making a decision. Talk with the patients. If you can’t speak to a doctor and tour the clinic, consider that a warning sign.”

“We learned our lesson about choosing a clinic,” Jacquie warns. “Don’t judge a clinic by its website or by the claims made by the clinic. You have to see the place yourself, and you must feel comfortable with your doctor. I am so glad that we didn’t give up. There are good clinics and bad clinics, in Mexico as in the states. We wanted natural treatments and we never lost our faith that the right place was out there. We’re just sorry we didn’t do our homework first.”

Jacquie Teeter and her husband Tom are from northern Indiana.

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