All about my circuitous navigation, after being diagnosed with breast cancer, through conventional Western medicine, alternatives to conventional Western medicine, and the ensuing mind/body/spirit explorations and epiphanies (plus numerous digressions).
Alternative Treatments and Self-Medication: A Page Reprinted from the ANNIEAPPLESEED PROJECT
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SMART AND INFORMED SELF MEDICATION: OMG, AFTER ALL ITS MY BODY
my work with cancer clients I have become more and more aware that many
of them are resorting to self-medication for various reasons. Some
cancer patients are self-medicating due to finances, others due to not
getting what they need from the experts, or due to an unwillingness to
travel far and wide to doctors and clinics.
more possible now with the vast amount of information and resources
available on the Internet. The Internet provides access to peer-sharing
information on Listserves, to organizations that provide in-depth
resources for the cancer patient's particular cancer, to stories/blogs
from many survivors sharing their experiences and more.
focuses on bringing awareness to the rapidly increasing phenomenon of
self-medication and touches on how cancer patients can empower
themselves to be "smart" and "informed" in their treatment decision
process, taking into account their particular style of risk-taking.
SMART AND INFORMED SELF MEDICATION: OMG, AFTER ALL ITS MY BODY
name is Madeleen Herreshoff and I am the Director of CANHELP Inc, a
cancer treatment information and referral service founded in 1983.
am really going to enjoy introducing this acronym OMG. If you are an
active person on the Internet and if you are younger than I am, you
will probably already know OMG.
I learned OMG and other funny
words like LOL three years ago when I started to look into BHRT
(Bioidentical Hormone Replacement Therapy) on the Internet where I
entered the amazing world of list serves and blogs. OMG, oh my God,
this was an eye opener.
There is more information and experience
being shared on these listserves and blogs than you can absorb. Some
are excellent, and of course some are foolish.
I have been a
cancer advocate for the last twelve years and during these 12 years I
have talked nearly daily with cancer clients of all walks of life, of
all ages, with every cancer and at every stage of disease.
myself have walked the cancer road twice and am a walking-one breasted
woman. Tomorrow at Lynne Farrow’s talk “The Perfect Storm Theory of
Breast Cancer“, you can see my one and only breast on screen showing
how iodine helped “disappear” a cyst after just 6 months of
self-medication. As an aside, shortly after my mastectomy in 1994, a
Dutch niece of mine, who is a photographer and lives in Amsterdam,
asked if she could photograph my one breast with a tulip over the fresh
I was exhibited in such fashion in a well-known gallery in Amsterdam. My one breast is famous! LOL (laughingoutloud).
I have taken a hiatus from working with cancer clients in order to
re-evaluate my priorities. One of my new projects is writing a book
based on my working with cancer clients for the past twelve years. My
talk today focuses on pulling the ghost out of the closet on a
This movement has been going on more
or less silently in fear of having the medical world respond with
DANGER, DANGER, DANGER, BIG C or worse in fear that they will try to
stop us from self-medicating. I just read that the big pharmaceutical
company Wyeth has been lobbying the FDA to put a stop to the
compounding of bio-identical hormones for women. So this fear is
certainly not unfounded.
We all know what it feels like to be disempowered and for the cancer client it can be devastating.
the time I was contemplating writing a book on self medication, I saw a
beautiful movie called “Gypsy Caravan” with the subtitle “You cannot go
Straight, when the Road Bends”, a Romani proverb. Wonderfully simple
But we all know when you have cancer nothing appears
simple and direct. Your world turns upside down and all of a sudden you
have to learn everything about your particular disease and treatments
in as short a period as possible. Typically, we get overwhelmed with
information, even when hiring companies like mine, CANHELP or Cancer
Decisions run by Ralph Moss and others.
In an effort to address
this big problem (we all know cancer patients need to be less
overwhelmed not more), I started offering private consultations to my
clients a year ago to alleviate this sense of being overwhelmed. Up
until then, most of my information was supplied in individualized
reports with limited telephone support.
As I spoke with cancer
clients more intimately over time, they confided that they were often
self-medicating and finding it very difficult to share with their
doctor what they exactly were doing.
I discovered that my
clients were calling me to get empowered for what they are doing or
wanting to do. They want to learn to listen to their bodies rather than
get care primarily based on the experts‘ opinions or statistical
Thus, one day, it hit me that these clients were part of a fairly new and clandestine self medication movement. OMG
are various reasons for this phenomenon. One may be financial reasons,
another dissatisfaction with their doctors treatment/protocol. As
cancer patients are getting better educated about what treatments,
are out there, they learn to manage their
health journey more closely. They have figured out how to order a lot
of the supplements or nutraceuticals recommended by their doctor on the
Internet and often find ways to get them cheaper. They can even order
supplements that may be impossible to obtain here in the U.S. from
overseas or travel across the border for them. Cancer patients are
getting VERY savvy about these possibilities and readily share this
information with their fellow cancer patients, who are interested in
looking outside the box.
This new breed of cancer patients feel
it is their birthright to self medicate. I read an article in the New
York Times some years ago about the increasing phenomenon of yuppies
getting their pharmaceuticals from overseas, but in the case of cancer
or for that matter in the world of hormones, the age group looking to
self medicate spans across the board, from twenty year olds to eighty
Allow me to backtrack here to my own cancer journey.
In 1991 I was diagnosed with a poorly differentiated aggressive
invasive breast cancer I had surgery, radiation, but refused
chemotherapy, even though the doctors told me I would be dead in 5 yrs
if I refused.
My friends set me down and with the best of
intentions told me about so and so who did chemo and survived, “did I
not want to do this for my young son“, “chemo is not so bad” and
“didn’t I want to live“? My husband was the only one who said: “You
think about what you want to do and I will support you, no matter what.“
I had not had him, I am not sure I could have gone against the fear
mongers. This was 1991 and going against the advice of the doctor was
not any way as prevalent as it is today.
I realized that if I
wanted to see my young son go to college some day, I had to do what I
thought was best for me, not what the doctors thought was best. But I
knew I had to put something else in place to prove the University
multi-task team wrong. I learned about alternative therapies, good
food, avoiding estrogens, plastics, endocrine disrupters, etc.
May of 2008 it will be 17 yrs since my first occurrence of breast
cancer. I did have a local recurrence and a mastectomy three years
later. At that point, I intensified my alternative treatments and
learned in the process how to self-medicate.
So how did I know
how to Self Medicate? By educating myself, by seeing a variety of
doctors, conventional and alternative, joining an Internet breast
cancer list serve Amazon and yes by trial and error. AND over time I
learned to pay attention to how I felt or what my body was telling me.
I changed, added to or subtracted from my protocol . Yes, I made
mistakes. I “wasted” a lot of time and money going into dead-end roads,
not realizing that “You cannot go Straight, when the Road Bends.”
these dead-ends taught me a lot. They taught me that my choices were
often based on the FEAR factor, which rarely resulted into a good
outcome. FEAR is our biggest obstacle, esp FEAR OF CANCER or as they
call it in our case the BIG C! Not only can FEAR lead us into making
wrong choices but it can also stymie us.
I can’t tell you how
many times my cancer clients who have all the information they need to
act, get completely stuck and unable to make a step forward, because of
thoughts or beliefs such as “my doctor told me not to do anything else
than his/her protocol” or “what IF“ and “how do I know it’s the right
thing to do?” OMG, is right. Ultimately, nobody knows for sure what the
right thing to do is, no matter which direction you take; conventional
or alternative treatments both come with RISKS.
My friends and
clients have survived and died in both camps. The best the cancer
client can do is “to do the next thing” after having done the research
and checked in with their body.
After all its YOUR body! When I
ask my cancer clients what they really WANT to do, the answer is often
different than what the logical mind is telling him/her. So the big
question here is how do you bridge what cancer treatments you SHOULD do
and which treatments you WANT to do. First, lets take a quick look at
how the medical establishment is curing cancer.
Lets face it we
are losing the war on cancer. Nixon declared a war on breast cancer and
other cancers in 1971. And here we are mind you 37 yrs later, in 2008
and we are still hard at it to provide a cure for most cancers.
long as I see my friends and family members struggle and die from this
disease, I am not impressed with our war on cancer. As a matter of
fact, “war on cancer” is a very ill-conceived notion. We need to be
focusing on how to heal from cancer.
Over 1.4 million new cancer
rates and 560,000 deaths of cancer were projected to occur in 2007,
showing a continuing increase in the incidence rate by 0.3% per year in
women. OMG! Doesn’t sound to me that those numbers may save our
children, especially not my granddaughter or for that matter African
Americans who still carry the highest burden of cancer.
us who have seen our mothers and fathers or dear friends struggle with
cancer, do not want to suffer from multiple courses of chemotherapy
and/or radiation. With increased access to information, cancer patients
are getting smarter and are actively seeking other routes towards
healing and they are learning how to self-medicate.
those who self medicate feel it has saved their life, esp those who
have gone from doctor to doctor, clinic to clinic for help without
So what exactly does self medication look like?
The picture is going to be very different for each individual. I have
clients who medicate themselves primarily without doctors other than
follow-up diagnostics. This type of client, so to speak, never steps
outside of his/her house for therapies, orders supplements up from the
Internet, brews special fruit drinks, eats special diets, tries
innovative alternative therapies, detoxes, injects, and manages to
I know an 84 yr old man, who was diagnosed at the age
of eighty with a pancreatic cancer mass wrapping around his spleen and
into his stomach. At first he refused to do anything about his large
The prestigious University surgeon gave him 6
weeks to 3 months to live. But his son talked him into getting a report
from CANHELP, did his own research as well and put together a protocol
they could do at home including high dose German enzymes called
Wobenzyms, mushrooms, the Budwig diet, Poly-erga, making their own
turmeric pills as well as other supplements.
After 9 months on
this protocol he felt so much better that he decided to have a CT scan.
The scan showed that the mass had shrunk significantly with some
residual left. 12 months later another scan showed he was clean. In May
he will be 85 and, being an architect, he is busy designing a small,
energy efficient house.
To this day he is still doing some
modified anti-cancer protocol. He is believer of the Wobenzyms or
Wo-begones as he calls them.
Other cancer clients consult with
many unconventional doctors and follow the protocol carefully until it
looks like it is not working or too costly. Then they gleen from their
protocols what’s best for them. I am sure you are aware that it can be
very costly to go to unconventional doctors because insurance may not
cover their care or they will prescribe nutraceuticals, intravenous
therapies and other lotions and potions which easily can cost the
cancer patient $200- 300/week.
One of the therapies I often
recommend for lung cancer clients is the Sun Soup, which costs $650 for
a month supply. When you add that to other nutraceuticals, therapies
etc. the cancer client is easily out $1,000/month on supplements alone.
Not everyone can do that or not for long.
So lets take a case of
one of my cancer clients who wants to take the Sun Soup, which is based
on mushrooms, soybeans and other ingredients, and after 3 months he or
she can no longer afford it. We all know that most of the time any
cancer treatment needs to be taken longer than 3 months in the hope to
shrink a tumor or avoid a recurrence. So some of my clients look for a
substitute cheaper herbal soup with similar ingredients from companies
such as Avena Botanicals, although not peer-reviewed like the Sun Soup.
not all self-medicators are poor or have limited funds. There is
another cancer person who does have money, but who had become
profoundly dissatisfied with the medical establishment‘s care for
cancer, not making improvements or getting inadequate support for what
the person wants to explore, even if this is within the medical world.
of my clients are so good at gathering information from list serves,
cancer advocates, cancer treatments centers, cancer doctors, friends,
support groups that it has become a way of life for them.
CANHELP’s clients, Julie, was diagnosed in her late thirties with
advanced breast cancer, and consulted with me four years ago. She did
not want to do any conventional treatments, no surgery, chemo or
radiation for her 6 cm breast tumor with possible lymph node
I am not a doctor and do not tell my clients what
to do and I generally do not to try to talk them out of their
decisions, esp if they feel very strongly. I will explain possible
risks, but NEVER EVER will I threaten them with the big C.
woman has been one of my most diligent clients, following up with each
referral I passed on to her.. She self-injected BCG vaccines, Coley’s
toxins, causing fevers and sweats, detoxed daily with coffee enemas,
drank lotions and potions, traveled to see, among others, Dr. Block in
Illinois, Dr. Brodie in Nevada, Dr. Chan in Vancouver, Dr. Munoz in
Mexico, Dr. McClelland in San Diego, and Dr. Wilcox in Alabama.
took away information from each one and incorporated it into her own
protocol. She had signed up for the Amazon list serve which has a huge
following among alternative breast cancer patients. Julie worked
really, really hard, to reduce her 6cm tumor burden in her breast, but
the mass kept on growing and earlier in 2007 it approached 10 cm, and
looked ready to burst out of her breast.
She was coughing off
and on from pleural effusion and had some bone involvement. I and
others encouraged her to look into a course of low-dose chemotherapy
with Dr. Ben Chue of the Seattle Cancer Treatment and Wellness Center.
Julie turned herself inside and out to come to terms with the proposed
poisonous therapy. She felt she had failed. However, she wanted to live
and if her past experience taught her anything, she knew she had to be
She knew deep inside that you cannot go Straight
when the Road Bends. She went through three courses of low-dose
chemotherapy lasting 9 months! And it was not an easy road for her, her
legs had edema, her feet turned purple from neuropathy, her energy and
mood dropped upsettingly low.
But no matter what, she continued
everything she had been doing alternatively at the same time as her
chemo protocol. She detoxed with coffee enemas, colonics, did high dose
intravenous vitamin C once or twice a week, Meyers cocktails,
hyperbaric oxygen therapy, sodium bicarbonate and more. One part of
her, stayed true to what she believed in and it paid off. And Julie is
now very much alive, her 10 inch tumor is gone and her cancer markers
keep going down down and is now well within the normal range. She looks
great, she has her courage again and she is my miracle woman!
I love you Julie. Stand up Julie and lets give her a big applause!
So the title of my talk is “Smart and Informed Self Medication”. How then can we be smart and informed about self medication?
of all you need to know you are not alone. There are quite of few of us
who are doing it. There is support for you out there. Here are some
guidelines to consider:
Get educated and informed. Enlist
services like CANHELP, CANCERDECISIONS, Annie Apple Seed Project,
BreastCancerChoices, CancerMontly etc. Be aware that you may get
overloaded. Don’t be afraid to ask for help from friends to research
information. My cancer clients’ consumption of information varies
Don’t spend hours on the computer. Take your time to absorb the information and do not believe everything you read or hear.
time to evaluate a new or proposed therapy. I try to approach each new
therapy, conventional or unconventional, with an open mind. A new fad
can hit the Internet and everyone is exited and wants to know where and
how they can do it.
There are always high-risk taking cancer
people out there and they will be the first to jump in. I watch and
listen and see what the overall results are. Often the fad is gone as
fast as it has arrived.
Find cancer advocates and coaches who do not work from the FEAR model, who can support you when you are unsure and confused.
be afraid to switch when it looks like a therapy is failing. I tend to
use 3 months as my critical marker, if the cancer is growing, switch.
Remember there is always another bend in the road, when the present
road peters out.
Function in “Your Style of Risk” as Michael
Lerner from Commonweal in Bolinas, Ca (where they have a wonderful
cancer retreat program that I highly recommend) recently said at a
conference I went to. There is no way to take risk out of the equation
of cancer care.
Some of us are high risk takers, some of us are
low risk takers and others consider themselves “no risk” takers by
playing it safe and follow the doctors‘ advice. However I seriously
doubt there is such a thing as “no risk” with cancer treatments. If
there was no risk we would not be dying of cancer, what was it, 550,000
people this year? Bottomline, don’t take anything for granted, not your
life, not cancer treatments.
Check in with your body regularly, find out of how your choice of treatment resonates with your heart.
rely merely on pills, lotions and potions. Know that we have an
internal capacity to heal and learn to trust your intuition. You know
more than you think. Remember you have been programmed by our medical
system to be powerless when it comes to cancer treatment choices.
your progress no matter what you are doing. Get a doctor to order tests
or discover how you can get diagnostic tests without a doctor such as
CanaryClub, LEF, Zava labs etc. You can order up your own cancer blood
Find new ways to work towards equilibrium and
wholeness. Do your best not to let your treatments run your life. Play
music, draw, garden, walk, breathe deeply, and rest. I am sponsoring a
teleconference at the end of this month on Spiritual PhytoEssencing
with Dr. Bruce Berkowsky, who creates special blends that can
facilitate this movement toward wholeness.
I myself have known
for years about Dr. berkowsky’s work from the time he worked with the
late Dr. Aldrick Chu Fong, aqn oncologist from New York, but it wasn’t
until recently that I learned the power of his blends and flower
elixxirs. Go to my website http://www.canhelp.com and find out more
about Dr. Berkowsky!
To summarize, cancer is a process we learn
to live with so hopefully we can one day live without it. Seeing it as
a process of healing gives us tools as to how best cope with it. As in
any process there is no right or wrong path laid out for us. Scientists
do this all the time, they start with a hypothesis based on their best
guesses and them move forward from that, if their hypothesis is proven
wrong, they tinker with their initial hypothesis or abandon it for a
new one, perhaps surprisingly different from the first path.
aware that "we cannot go straight, when the road bends." Self
medication may well an integral part of this journey towards healing.
Call (800) 565-1732 email:firstname.lastname@example.org
the past 20 years, CANHELP has reached out to thousands of people,
helping them find the best alternative cancer therapies as well as
innovative cancer therapies worldwide.