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Dr. Etienne Callebout: The Doctor Who Never Gave Up

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“You never fail until you stop trying.” ~ Albert Einstein

I dedicate this heartfelt memorial to a dear friend, mentor, teacher, colleague, and warrior, Dr. Etienne Callebout, who departed this world peacefully in his sleep on January 8th, 2022. To me, he was always Etienne. Never one to bask in the glory of titles, Etienne’s title was simply a permit to practice medicine not to be confused with a symbol of achievement in a field where you learned to accept that the more you know, the more you don’t know. 

I met Etienne 20 years ago through a patient I consulted to. I was immediately impressed by his striking brilliance and genuine humility. As a young physician, Etienne had experienced the painful loss of his father to pancreatic cancer and dedicated himself to finding solutions for cancer patients.

Etienne divided his week between seeing patients and exploring new medical breakthroughs and therapies. He traveled around the world to learn about new treatments to help his patients. His commitment to their well-being demonstrated the most profound compassion and love I have ever seen in a physician. 

When I visited London, we would meet at the end of his workday and spend hours together sharing new knowledge and insights. Etienne thrived on knowledge and generously shared it. He enriched me with an understanding of gene and neurotransmitter derangements underlying the cancer process, and I updated him on breakthroughs in off-label discoveries and drug repurposing. I was privileged to collaborate with Etienne in the care of quite a number of advanced cancer patients. Together, we devised a successful protocol for Stage IV breast cancer patients that combined chemotherapy and nutraceuticals. 

Etienne’s brilliance may have been a genetic gift, but it was fuelled by his insatiable quest for knowledge. Contrary to contemporary medical practice that compartmentalizes our bodies into numerous “specialties”, Etienne sought the complete picture. Like an artist painting a masterpiece on canvas, he created a masterpiece of information that painted a concise portrait of a patient’s health. 

Almost all Etienne’s patients were Stage IV cancer patients. Invariably, they came to him once they had exhausted all standard therapies. That his advice and treatment returned so many to good health is a testament to his incredible accomplishments. 

Etienne’s brain never stopped thinking, and his heart never stopped giving. His approach of exploring every avenue to heal his patients nurtured vigorous treatment programs that demanded the ultimate dedication from his patients. His programs could involve the daily consumption of 200 or more pills, and I frequently raised this topic with him. Etienne candidly acknowledged that this was a result of his fear. He explained that it stemmed from the constant anxiety that he might miss something in his quest to heal his patients. This endless quest proved to be the guiding light that helped so many and exemplified Etienne’s personality. He never gave up.

While lecturing at a medical conference in Thailand 10 years ago, Etienne fell and suffered a brain hemorrhage that left him paralyzed. For most people, this would have been a catastrophic and irreversible event. When Etienne woke up, he immediately began thinking and investigating every avenue to return to a normal life. Amazingly, he succeeded! 

I was overwhelmed with emotion when we met in London two years later. When I saw him step out of a taxi supported only by a cane, I felt as though I had witnessed a miracle. Perhaps I had. Within a short time, Etienne returned to his world travels on his quest for knowledge. He was unstoppable. 

Etienne was my friend, mentor, and inspiration. His medical brilliance will be sorely missed. So will his humbleness, genuineness, wonderful sense of humor, and above all, his selfless dedication to improving the health of humankind. 

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  1. H. Handler

    Thank you for writing this. I had the honor of meeting Dr. Callebout in my quest to heal my father’s Stage IV colon cancer (thanks to your recommendation) and to this day I benefit from what I learned. Like you said, he had the humility, charm, brilliance and sense of humor that made up the perfect recipe for a model healer. To this day I benefit from what I learned. Healers like him are so rare – a shame, the world needs more.

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