by Mary M. Alward
In the mid 1920’s, Rene Caisse worked as head nurse at the Sisters of Providence Hospital in a northern Ontario town. One day she noticed one of her nurses bathing an elderly woman who had a shriveled and shrunken breast. Upon asking the woman what had happened to her breast, this is what Rene heard:
“I came out from England nearly 30 years ago. I joined my husband who was prospecting in the wilds of northern Ontario. My right breast became sore and swollen, and very painful. My husband brought me to Toronto, and doctors told me I had advanced cancer and my breast must be removed at once. Before we left camp a very old Indian medicine man had told me I had cancer, but he could cure it. I decided I’d just as soon try his remedy as to have my breast removed. One of my friends had died from breast surgery. Besides, we had no money.”
The woman and her husband had returned to camp. The medicine man had shown her certain herbs to harvest. He told her how to dry them and make a tea, which she was to drink daily. When Nurse Caisse met the woman, she was in her late 70’s. The cancer had disappeared years before.
Nurse Caisse was very interested in the woman’s story. She wrote down the names of the herbs and the recipe on how to brew the tea. At that time, cancer was always fatal. Nurse Caisse wanted the recipe in case she was ever diagnosed with cancer.
A year after securing the recipe, Nurse Caisse visited an elderly doctor. While walking in the garden, he lifted a weed with his can. “If people would use this weed,” he said, “There would be very little cancer in the world. When he told Nurse Caisse the name of the weed, she realized it was one of the weeds in the recipe.
A short time later, Nurse Caisse was told her aunt, who lived in Brockville, had been diagnosed with stomach cancer. Nurse Caisse traveled to Brockville. She contacted her aunt’s doctor, Dr. R.O. Fisher of Toronto. Nurse Caisse had worked with Dr. Fisher and knew him well. She told Dr. Fisher about the recipe she had in her possession and asked him if she could administer it to her aunt while she was under his care. Because there was nothing he could medically do, Dr. Fisher agreed. Nurse Caisse walked into the countryside in search of the herbs she would need to brew the tea. After much difficulty, she found them. She brewed the tea and administered it to her aunt.
Nurse Caisse’s aunt lived 21 years after doctors gave up on her. The cancer never came back. Dr. Fisher asked Nurse Caisse if he could try the tea on hopeless cancer patients under his care. She agreed.
Other doctors heard about Nurse Caisse’s successful treatment with the herbal tea from Dr. Fisher. They contacted her for the remedy and were very impressed with the results. They signed a petition addressed to the Department of National Health and Welfare. They asked that Nurse Caisse be given a facility to conduct independent research. The petition was dated October 27, 1926. The response of the Department was to send two doctors to arrest Nurse Caisse for “practicing medicine without a license.” That was the beginning of 50 years of prosecution from both the government and the medical profession.
One of the doctors who investigated Nurse Caisse became interested in the herbal tea. Dr. W.C. Arnold arranged for her to do research on mice at Christie Street Hospital Laboratories in Toronto. The mice were injected with Rous Sarcoma. Nurse Caisse kept them alive 52 days longer than anyone else had been able to. In later experiments, she kept the mice alive for 72 days longer.
Nurse Caisse began to think about giving her tea a name. She decided on “Essiac – ” her last name spelled backwards.
Further experiments proved that Essiac could be administered by injection when the protein was eliminated. Doing this took away the side effects that patients had experienced during earlier treatment. The conclusion of the injections was not successful. The ingredients Nurse Caisse had removed were essential. They carried destroyed tissue out of the body and prevented infection.
About this time, Dr. Fisher contacted Nurse Caisse. He had a patient who was near death with cancer of the tongue and throat. He asked Nurse Caisse to inject Essiac into the patient’s tongue. Though frightened to experiment on a human, Nurse Caisse did as Dr. Fisher asked. The patient reacted violently to the injection. He had severe chills and his tongue swelled. The doctors had to hold his tongue down with a spatula for 20 minutes. The swelling began to subside and the chills disappeared. Though the cancer remained, it didn’t grow and the patient experienced no further pain.
While Nurse Caisse was conducting her experiments, she was nursing 12 hours a day. She did her research on breaks and in the evening. She gave up nursing so she would have more time for her patients and her research. Doctors were sending her patients who were terminal. She was treating on the average of 30 people per day.
Nurse Caisse felt she had great scientific evidence that Essiac had merit. She made an appointment with Dr. Frederick Banting.(discoverer of insulin) He read her findings and viewed photos of cancers that had been taken before and after Essiac. Though he didn’t feel she had a “cure” for cancer, he felt she had proof of beneficial treatment.
Dr. Banting wanted Nurse Caisse to apply to the University of Toronto to research Essiac further. She declined on the grounds that she would have to give them all of her research, along with the Essiac recipe. This would allow them to decline her application and research the formula themselves. She felt they may archive the formula and it would be forgotten. Nurse Caisse wanted to establish an actual Essiac practice. She had, by this time, found if the herbs were brewed properly, there were no side effects. It could do patients no harm and could definitely lengthen the lives of cancer patients. Dr. Banting agreed with Nurse Caisse’s decision.
Nurse Caisse could not afford to continue living in Toronto after she gave up nursing. She didn’t charge her patients for the Essiac treatment and lived on contributions they donated. She moved to Timmins, Ontario. Dr. J.A. McInnis asked her to treat his terminally ill patients. Being a dedicated medical professional, she agreed. The results of these treatments were successful.
Nurse Caisse rented a house and moved to Peterborough, Ontario. As soon as she’d moved, the College of Physicians and Surgeons issued a warrant for her arrest. The charge – “practicing medicine without a license.” Upon talking to Nurse Caisse and her patients, the investigator decided not to issue the warrant.
Nurse Caisse wrote to The Honorable Dr. J.A. Faulkner, Canada’s Minister of Health to ask for a hearing. The hearing was granted. Twelve patients and five doctors attended the hearing. Dr. Faulkner ruled that Nurse Caisse could continue to administer Essiac as long as she had written diagnoses from the patient’s doctor and didn’t charge for her services. Nurse Caisse didn’t realize the prosecution and opposition that would confront her.
Nurse Caisse never claimed that Essiac was a cure for cancer. Many of the doctors who sent patients to her did. The patients claimed they had been cured. Nurse Caisse’s goal was to control cancer and alleviate pain. She treated patients for 25 years with injections and Essiac Tea. She administered all treatment under the observation of doctors.
A few days after Dr. Faulkner ruled that Nurse Caisse could continue to administer Essiac, Dr. Albert Bastedo of Bracebridge, Ontario contacted her. He had sent a patient to Nurse Caisse who suffered from bowel cancer. The results of the Essiac treatment amazed him. He had gone before the Bracebridge Town Council and asked that the British Lion Hotel building be used as a cancer clinic. The Mayor and Town Council were enthusiastic. They wanted Nurse Caisse to open the clinic immediately. From 1934 to 1942, she paid $1.00 per month to rent the building. She treated thousands of people. Some came in ambulances, not able to sit up. After a few treatments, they were able to walk into the clinic unaided.
Nurse Caisse had faith that when she had enough proof that Essiac was a successful treatment for cancer it would be recognized. Her hopes were never realized. It would make the medical profession look bad if an unknown nurse from northern Ontario could find a cure for cancer when they couldn’t.
When Nurse Caisse opened her clinic in Bracebridge, she learned her mother was seriously ill. Doctors had diagnosed her with having gallstones. They felt surgery would be fatal because the 72 year old woman had heart problems. Nurse Caisse doubted that the diagnosis was correct. She called in Dr. Roscoe Graham, who was known around the world. His diagnosis – cancer of the liver. Nurse Caisse’s mother had only days to live.
Nurse Caisse began administering Essiac to her mother. She gave it daily for 10 days. When her mother improved, she reduced the treatment to three times a week, then two and finally once. Her mother recovered from the nodular mass. She passed away at age 90. Her heart had worn out. She had experienced 18 years of life after the cancer diagnosis. Nurse Caisse gave all the credit to the Essiac treatment.
Dr. John Wolfer invited Nurse Caisse to come to Chicago to treat patients. The patients selected for treatment were all terminal or hopeless. He was surprised when she agreed. She traveled to Chicago each Thursday and was observed by five doctors. Dr. Leonardo, a surgical specialist from Rochester, was amazed at the results of the treatments.
In 1938, a petition went before Canada’s Minister of Health. It requested a Bill be passed in Parliament to legalize Essiac. The Bill was presented to the 2nd Session of the 20th Legislation in 1938. Fifty-five thousand signatures were on the petition. The Bill was voted down by only three votes. Nurse Caisse later learned that the Canadian Medical Association had debated the case with the Legislature before her hearing. She closed her clinic in Bracebridge, but reopened when the Minister of Health send an urgent request.
For many years Nurse Caisse battled the medical profession in order to get Essiac legalized. All attempts failed.
Before her death, Nurse Caisse gave her Essiac formula to a dear friend who was a doctor. Today it can be purchased in health food stores across Canada and the United States.
Nurse Caisse died on December 26, 1978. She was 90 years old. A bronze statue by Huntsville sculptor, Brenda Wainman-Goulet was erected in Bracebridge, Ontario.