Jason Vale History of a survivor

The beginning
Mr. Vale grew up in Whitestone, Queens. He excelled on the handball court, in neighborhood pool halls, and on the drums in his church band. But his real forte was as an arm-wrestler. He captured city, state, national and world titles throughout the 1980s and ’90s. He also beat cancer. Twice, doctors told him that he had fatal tumors. And twice, he survived. The second time, he refused radiation and chemotherapy in lieu of an alternative treatment consisting of eating apricot seeds.

The cure and the consecuences

The seeds have laetrile, which some people consider an alternative cancer-fighting agent — and the government considers a fraud. A government-financed medical study by major cancer researchers in the 1980s determined that laetrile had no therapeutic benefit for patients. A 1982 study published in the New England Journal of Medicine found that 90 percent of the patients’ cancers became worse within three months after treatment started and fewer than 20 percent of the patients were still alive after a year.

But Mr. Vale used his platform as an athlete to promote the seeds as “the answer to cancer,” and also began selling them online. He was one of the early Internet spammers, sending millions of e-mail advertisements. Federal Food and Drug Administration officials warn that not only are the seeds not a cancer cure, but that they may contain harmful amounts of cyanide.

Agency officials accused Mr. Vale of profiting from desperate cancer victims, and in 2000 got a court injunction to stop him from selling the seeds as a cure. Mr. Vale changed his marketing and had relatives handle the seeds, but he was arrested and, in 2003, convicted of criminal contempt of the injunction and sentenced to five years at the Federal Correctional Institution at Fort Dix in New Jersey.