The diagnosis was a death sentence. The large oozing tumor on Esther’s back was metastatic melanoma, an incurable form of cancer. Surgery for the 92-year-old artist who still worked at her easel hunched over in her chair was not an option.
Dr. Sam Chester, her husband, was told to make her comfortable and arrange for hospice. The end was near. But while Esther died within several months it wasn’t from melanoma. The tumor shrank. Pictures of it show the transformation that took place over three weeks. By the third week all that was left was scar tissue.
Now Chester, who is 99, has spearheaded a study being undertaken by the Brown University Oncology Group and Rhode Island and Miriam Hospitals to see whether the prescription Chester gave Esther can cure others. The study that Chester will help underwrite with $50,000 will examine the effect of low dose naltrexone (LDN) on melanoma, prostate and renal cancers.
Chester told the story this past Saturday of how he learned of LDN from the living room of his modest Cranston home.
Esther died earlier this year, but she is very much a part of the house. Her paintings of musical instruments bursting with color crowd the walls. During the course of the interview there’s a knock on the door and Anne Siesel, Warwick School Department curriculum director, joins the conversation. She returns a picture of Esther she borrowed for a program for an April 24 Esther Chester Memorial Concert at the Robert Shapiro Cultural Arts Center at Toll Gate High School. Siesel quickly goes over the program highlighting that Sam will perform on his violin the song he composed for Esther. The concert starts at 7 p.m. The concert includes a lineup of musicians, many who have known and performed with Sam, as well as the Toll Gate Jazz Band and Chorale and the Winman Junior High School Chorale. The concert is free and open to the public.
Talk of the concert doesn’t distract Chester from his story.
“Money has no value unless it serves a good purpose,” he says of his investment in the medical study to be done over four weeks and involving 25 people who have one of the three forms of cancer.
Chester’s money comes from his early career in business and his passion for medical research from his second career at Rhode Island Hospital. After graduating from Providence College, Chester went to work in a relative’s wire company. It turned out to be lucrative and, as he says, “I was fortunate enough to retire at the early age of 45.”
He then pursued his love for research.
One of his first successes came at a lab at Rhode Island Hospital, where they had been injecting mice with lymphatic leukemia cells. Once introduced, the leukemia grew quickly and the mouse died within a matter of weeks. Chester found a cure by administering a drug that stimulated antibodies to fight the leukemia.
Chester went on to develop ways to measure the antigens released by a tumor as well as those by the body in response to the tumor. Prior tests had only detected the antigens from the tumor, but to be effective, Chester said, antigens from the body also had to be considered – one was checked against the other. Those measurements proved critical to Chester’s development of several blood tests used for detecting cancers, including one still used today to detect colon cancer.
When told that Esther’s melanoma was untreatable, Chester thought of his friend Dr. Anthony Duva. He said after being diagnosed with prostate cancer three years ago, Duva started self-administered LDN. The results were encouraging; PSA tests changed dramatically and signs of the cancer disappeared.
Chester learned what he could about naltrexone that had been developed to help opiate addicts to break their addictions. He found an abundance of testimony on the effects of low doses of the drug on a number of cancers, and he immediately recognized the drug’s effectiveness in stimulating the body’s immune cells.
As he explains, naltrexone especially in low dosages and administered in the evening between meals is not a “specific” medication designed to target a specific disease, but serves to activate the immune system.
He bought naltrexone, which is available at pharmacies in doses of 50mg and then had it broken down into 5mg capsules. The cost per unit is minimal, well below $1. That cost is one reason why Chester believes LDN is not commonly being used to fight cancers. The patent for naltrexone has expired and, as he says, “There’s no money in it for the drug companies.”
Chester knows he’s not the only person working to evaluate the effects of LDN. He has seen plenty of anecdotal information and heard and read stories like those of Esther.
“The big problem is you don’t have the data to show that it is working,” he said.
And the reason, he said, the money isn’t being spent to gather that data is because if the drug is proven to be effective, there’s no money to be made on its sale.
LDN has also been identified as a drug to help those with AIDS and Chester talks of establishing trials on its use in Africa. It’s another avenue he is exploring.
“You have to do something that helps,” he says. “If I can help somebody that means more to me than anything else.”
Chester doesn’t want to create false hope, nor is he one to say LDN is a cure for certain types of cancer. In the case of Esther, he says, “I just took a shot and it worked.”
Chester is hopeful the treatment will work for others.
“It’s very exciting because of what it can do for people,” he said.