Russell Means says he’s beating throat cancer

October 21, 2011 by  
Filed under Culture

Activist credits radiation, Indian teas and prayers with helping him recover

By TOM LAWRENCE The Daily Republic

American Indian activist Russell Means says he has cancer on the run and is more than 80 percent recovered. “I’m going to defeat this death sentence,” he said Thursday. Means, who turns 72 on Nov. 10, was diagnosed with throat cancer this summer. The prognosis was grim, he said, with estimates that he had a short time to live.

In July, his throat was almost completely blocked by a massive tumor and he could not talk or eat and had trouble breathing. He was given days to live, he said. But now, he is feeling stronger every day.

Means said a combination of a radiation treatment and American Indian traditional medicines have helped him recover.

“I’m doing much better,” he said in a telephone interview from his temporary home in Scottsdale, Ariz.

Means’ voice, muffled by the tumor this summer, has grown stronger and did not weaken during a 30-minute interview. His doctor told him the tumor has dramatically dissipated.

“In his words,” Means said, referencing his doctor, “he’s flabbergasted at my speedy recovery.”

Means is undergoing TomoTherapy at Sunridge Medical Center in Scottsdale. A staffer confirmed the center is treating Means but declined to comment on his health.

Sunridge’s website says TomoTherapy is “used to precisely direct radiation to treat tumors that are in hard-toreach areas and are, therefore, not able to be surgically removed, or tumors which have not responded to conventional treatments such as chemotherapy. … Unlike traditional radiation therapies which use more broadly targeted radiation and can only target tumors from a few directions, Tomotherapy delivers precise and powerful doses of radiation to the tumor from 360 degrees. This reduces radiation exposure to the healthy tissue surrounding the tumors, often dramatically.”

Means’ oncologist said his cancer is 80 percent cured, Means said, and he is 95 percent healthy.

Means said he is also drinking teas made from indigenous plants, a form of cancer cure that he said Indians have known for eons.

“I hope they arrest me for smuggling it in,” Means said. “I would love to be busted for bringing in an American Indian cancer cure.”

Means said his doctor said in the only two comparable cases he has seen, the people with the cancer were smokers, and he hasn’t smoked for 25 years.

“And I wasn’t a heavy smoker,” he said. “It’s a huge mystery.”

His recovery has come at a cost. He lost 61 pounds and his once-sturdy 6-foot-1 frame now carries 164 pounds.

“I’m staying steady, I’m eating OK,” Means said.

The treatment has cost $1,000 a day, plus $1,000 a month in living expenses. Means said Medicare has covered some of the costs, as has private insurance. He has also accepted donations, which can be made to the Russell Means Healing Fund via his website,, under Current Events, or at www.russellmeansfreedom. com, where he has posted a video asking for support and donations.

His wife Pearl has been a source of strength, Means said.

“She saved my life. I wouldn’t be here without her,” he said. “She is the most important thing ever. At least in my life.”

Pearl Means said Russell has bounced back from this apparent death sentence.

“He’s doing phenomenally well,” she said.

Pearl said she was hoping the couple might be able to take things easier in a few years, but her husband seems eager to get back to work.

“I don’t think there’s any retirement in his future,” she said with a laugh.

Russell Means said one positive part of his battle with cancer has been the outpouring of support from friends and admirers around the world.

He said he has received emails and letters containing kind words and prayers from every corner of the planet and from people of all faiths and religions.

“Cancer cannot beat the prayers of the world,” Means said. “It’s very gratifying.”

He said he also enjoyed reading and hearing eulogies for him and recommends it to others. Far too many kind words are said when the person being spoken of is no longer around to hear them, he said.

Means said he feels ready to take on a new series of challenges when he returns to his home in Porcupine, a small town in southwest South Dakota on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation.

He has twice sought the tribal presidency, losing a contested election in 1974 amid reports of fraud and voter intimidation by then-OST President Dick Wilson and his allies, and again in 2004.

Means has also sought national office. He sought the 1988 presidential nomination of the Libertarian Party, losing to Texas Rep. Ron Paul, who is now running for president as a Republican.

In 2007, Means was among a group of people who traveled to Washington, D.C., to announce the formation of The Republic of Lakotah, which he said is based on the 1851 Treaty of Fort Laramie and includes land in South and North Dakota, Nebraska, Wyoming and Montana.

Means’ autobiography, “Where White Men Fear to Tread,” was published in 1995, and Means said he has recently finished a book on American Indian thought and philosophy and is writing another book on his role in the American Indian Movement. AIM is popularly known for its 1973 standoff with federal authorities at Wounded Knee.

He said he remains proud of his work in AIM and other efforts for Indians.

“I have zero regrets for my life,” Means said. “I am very proud of what I have managed to produce in my life.”

He said acting roles are lining up for him as well, as studios have inquired about his availability for work.

Means has appeared in several movies and TV shows, including “The Last of the Mohicans,” “Natural Born Killers” and “Curb Your Enthusiasm.”

American Indian activist Russell Means speaks during a protest against Lewis and Clark re-enactors in 2004 at American Creek Campground in Chamberlain. Means said Thursday that he is going to “defeat” a recent cancer diagnosis after it was originally believed he had a short time to live.

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