By Art Mantell
As I enter the twilight zone of life, I can’t help but wonder: what if the major news story of my career had ended positively instead of disastrously negative.
I could have ended up as a famous author of a world-wide best-seller entitled, The Cancer Killers. I could have been a media celebrity and honoured by my envious news peers.
It was the mid-60s; I was a line reporter for the Ottawa Journal. The managing editor called me into his office and told me a crackpot was calling with a cure for cancer, so check it out.
A routine call about cancer cures were a dime a dozen those days, I thought, as I phoned a Dr, Victor M. Mirkovitch, a chemistry PhD working for the federal government. He was no ordinary crackpot; he claimed his original research had come up with a cure for cancer.
He wanted a public test to prove it worked on live patients and then, and only then, would he unveil it to the world. His was the direct opposite to how health research was governed in Canada.
The next months flew by, filled with clandestine meetings with the Yugoslav chemistry PhD and his 30-year-old son (with the same name and degree), as well as representatives of first local, then national support groups of cancer victims.
The Mirkovitch’s claimed to have created an anti-cancer hormone that would rid the world of this fearsome killer. They asked only that they be allowed to test it on living cancer victims before revealing what ACH (as it was to be called) was composed of.
Testing of an unknown drug on living patients? ‘Never!’ became the united stand of the various Canadian health authorities.
The Mirkovitches were equally firm: “We won’t tell until we can prove it works on live patients.” The battle was on. The Mirkovitches took their case to the public, and I was their sole pipeline to the media. Only the Journal paid any attention at the start. The Ottawa Citizen and other papers ignored the issue until it got too big to ignore.
For me it was a time of after-hour secret meetings between rapidly- growing ACH support groups and the Mirkovitches to put forward their claim for live testing. I became involved – not the sign of an impartial reporter.
Once, in the Parliament Hill office of the greatest power broker in the governing Liberal party, I pleaded their case to Sen. Keith Davy – to no apparent avail. Months went by as the ACH side held firm and the health officials demanded they tell all first.
The Mirkovitches needed a terminal cancer patient and a doctor willing to apply ACH. Eventually their support groups managed to find a doctor in Montreal and an 11-year-old boy terminally ill with cancer.
Then everything hung in the balance; the scene shifted in great secrecy to Montreal. If ACH saved the boy’s life, the Mirkovitches were Nobel Prize bound, and I would be riding their coattails to fame and glory.
The boy died. So did the story. So did my claim to fame. The doctors disappeared from public view, the support groups dissolved instantly. I went back to my suddenly-boring life as a run of the mill reporter.
But what if?