Dr. Glenn Warner, an oncologist whose unorthodox methods rankled the medical establishment and earned him a devoted following of cancer survivors, died Saturday (Nov. 11).
He was 81.
A gentle physician who preferred to treat cancer with stress management, meditation and immune-system stimulants rather than with chemotherapy and radiation, Dr. Warner's approach so upset the medical community that in July 1996 the state Medical Quality Assurance Commission revoked his license.
The agency ruled that Warner had been negligent in treating cancer in at least six patients, including a 45-year-old woman who the commission said would likely have beaten her breast cancer had Warner not decided to limit her surgery.
Losing his license broke Dr. Warner's heart, his friends and family said yesterday.
"It was a hell of a thing for someone who dedicated his whole life to getting people better from one of the world's worst scourges," said Patrick McGrady, a medical writer who helped Dr. Warner run his Northwest Oncology Clinic.
Dr. Warner had been hospitalized at Swedish Medical Center in Seattle recently for ill health and was leaving the hospital Saturday when he went into cardiac arrest.
Before his license was revoked, Dr. Warner was seeing about 1,500 cancer patients a year at the clinic, which he had opened in Seattle in 1979.
"He saved my life," said Lois Berry, 81, who was diagnosed with breast cancer in 1969.
Berry has never had conventional treatment for her cancer, which metastasized to her bones in 1973. And like legions of Warner's patients, she credits his holistic approach to treatment for the fact that she is still alive.
"He was the most wonderful, caring, loving, religious man I've ever known," Berry said. "The medical community couldn't stand it because he didn't practice medicine the way everybody else did. He was way ahead of everybody. He always treated the whole person."
Dr. Warner's career in medicine began in 1948, when he graduated from George Washington University Medical School in Washington, D.C.
A native of Orting, Pierce County, Dr. Warner first trained as a pathologist at Swedish and then completed his residency at the hospital's Tumor Institute. In 1963, he began work at Swedish as a radiation therapist.
In the 1960s, Dr. Warner became taken with scientific evidence that the body's own defenses could be used to fight cancer. In the medical lexicon, the practice of boosting those defenses to help a patient battle cancer is known as immunology.
Dr. Warner started the immunologic-oncology division at the Tumor Institute and did research on immunology in cooperation with Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle before striking out on his own to start the clinic.
Although branded a maverick by the medical establishment, Dr. Warner did prescribe traditional treatments such as chemotherapy, but only sparingly. He believed people's immune systems are strong enough to overcome cancer, if they can be harnessed effectively.
To that end, Dr. Warner suggested patients modify their diets, exercise regularly, explore their spirituality and take immune-system stimulants.
His daughter, Anne Miller of Redmond, said her father was devastated by the loss of his license and the unsuccessful court battle that followed.
"His patients were like family to him," she said. "He worked his whole life to help people. It was something that was very hard on him. It's hard to put it in words. Basically, it broke his heart."
Berry, who lives on Mercer Island, has written a book about her struggle with cancer titled "Cancer Saved My Life." She also has been at work on a book about Dr. Warner and "the outrageous way the medical community treated him."
In the acknowledgments of her book, published online, Berry wrote: "To Dr. Glenn Warner, my oncologist and friend. His love and devotion to his patients is unparalleled. His medical expertise was responsible for my surviving cancer. His belief in treating not only the disease but also the whole person changed my life and started me on the road to wellness."
Dr. Warner is survived by his wife of 56 years, Helen; his son, Allyn Warner of Los Angeles; his daughter, Ann Miller, and son-in-law, Tom Miller, of Redmond; his grandchildren, Chris and Mieka Miller, of Redmond; and his sister, Eileen Parker of Bellingham.
A service for Dr. Warner will be held Thursday at 1 p.m. at the Washington Cathedral Church, 12300 Redmond-Woodinville Road N.E., Redmond. Memorials may be made to Northwest Oncology Foundation, P.O. Box 3726, Bellevue, WA 98009.
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