My Journey - Surviving Cancer
With Alternative Medicine
Six years ago I was operated on for colon cancer. I was told I would die
without chemotherapy. I felt strongly that I would die with chemotherapy.
I have since used acupuncture, mushrooms and herbs to recover.
I am currently very healthy and cancer-free.
In April of 2001, during a workshop on Facial Diagnosis at EarthSong Herbals in Massachusetts, William LeSassier looked at the pouches on the sides of my mouth and stated with great authority, “You have something seriously wrong with your large intestine and need to get it checked immediately.” William saved my life.
I am a professional herbalist and psychotherapist, and have worked with people with cancer for many years. My experience as a healer has taught me to seek information from without and to make decisions from within.
I contacted my doctor for a blood test. This led to a colonoscopy in early May. The colonoscopy found a mass “of malignant appearance.” Ironically, the colonoscopist said he had never seen such a clean colon—it was perfect except for the two-inch tumor. I attribute the cleanliness of my colon to years of herbal therapies, and I attribute the tumor to a lot of early childhood trauma and, more recently, several years of physical and emotional stress. After the colonoscopy, my husband, Bill, directed my attention to the word “malignant.” No one in my family had cancer, I told him. We all got heart disease.
Unsure what I would do were it malignant, I sent emails out to members of the herbal community seeking help. I was still at my computer when herbalist David Winston of Herbalists and Alchemists sent a return.
“Red clover is useful, you might think of adding turmeric and violet for intestinal tumors,” David wrote. “Your idea of trying alternatives, then checking for response and considering surgery if it doesn’t respond, is very sensible.” My partner at our Boston School of Herbal Energetics, Kwah Wa’Adabi, made wonderful reishi-and-chaga mushroom potions for me. I practiced yoga, as I have done since I was 17, and tried to stay calm.
The colonoscopy results came back on May 14. The tumor was malignant. My doctor, Dawn Osborne, informed me that it was eating through the wall of the colon. I decided on surgery, reasoning that it was an ancient art and clean. My cancer was relatively easy to heal from. I met with
Dr. Dana Fugelso at Beth Israel Hospital in Boston who smiled as she assured me that I would have only a four-inch scar because her hands are small. I was also assured that I would not need chemotherapy or radiation. Dr. Fugelso said she would “cut wide.”
I entered into surgery with headphones and healing mantras. I gave a slip of paper to Dr. Fugelso and the anesthesiologist that said: “As I am going under the anesthesia please say, ‘This operation will remove your cancer, leaving your colon healthy. You will bleed little during and after surgery.
Afterwards you will feel comfortable and will heal very well.’ After saying these statements, please put on my earphones and start my tape. Toward the end of surgery, please remove my earphones and say, ‘Your operation is successful. You will now heal rapidly. Your colon will rejoin and your incision will heal effortlessly. Your entire digestive tract will begin to function normally rapidly.’” They had no problem fulfilling my wishes.
Surgery was on May 22. I had asked my family, the herbal community, and other friends to pray for me as I went under anesthesia in the morning. I felt that I was on a soft pink cloud. My strength returned rapidly after the surgery and I looked forward to going home. I was stunned when Dr. Fugelso came into my room and told me that three out of twelve of my lymph nodes were infected. I needed chemotherapy. The ordeal was not over.
I continued to recover in the hospital while receiving wonderful telephone calls and visits from family and friends. Flowers filled my room like a jungle. On May 27, my younger brother, John, strode purposely into my hospital room and said, “I can’t stand the smell of hospitals. I’m getting you out of here.” He did. John cooked me gorgeous meals at home and held me as I shook with the memory of the surgery. My daughter Courtney came to help. Friends and family surrounded me, there to help with love and faith, healing circles and precious crystals.
I went to see oncologist Dr. Keith Stuart at Beth Israel to talk about chemotherapy. Dr. Stuart said that I would die without chemo, and had a 40% chance of living with it. He estimated that the tumor had been growing for five to 10 years. He told me that the chemicals used were standard for colon cancer. He also said that they were much gentler than those used for breast and other cancers.
Side effects included diarrhea, some nausea and teary eyes, but I’d keep my hair.
Coming from a poker-playing family, the 40% odds didn’t seem that great—but then again, the alternative sounded worse. I dearly wanted to become a grandmother. Surgery had been surprisingly easy and allopathy was treating me well. I agreed to 18 rounds of treatment in the following six months. I went in for my first treatment on June 18, and met briefly with Dr. Stuart. He pushed a button on his computer to print the orders for the treatment. Nothing happened. He tried another printer. Still nothing. This was a message that I didn’t heed until later. We went down to the chemo room without the orders. The nurse prepped me, reassuring me that the chemicals would enter through the streams of my veins, travel to the rivers and then to the ocean of my heart. While this explanation calmed many patients, it was horribly frightening to me. I was allowing my body to become a toxic dump. I persevered. The IV was terribly cold and I felt trapped.
I felt well enough at the end of the two-hour treatment to drive home, stop along the way for some grocery shopping, read after dinner and go to sleep. I woke up four hours later in terrible agony, with nausea and head pain so great that I couldn’t move. My journal records these symptoms as still being terrible five days later. They persisted for another week while I stayed in bed trying not to move. My daughter Maia came from San Francisco. Buoyed by her love and energy, I began to recover.
I called Dr. Stuart to tell him I was ending the chemotherapy. He was surprised that I didn’t ask him for pills to prevent the nausea and headaches. I said counteractive medication was not what I wanted. He was disappointed in my decision, but told me that I could resume whenever I felt better.
What made me choose to stop chemotherapy and seek effective alternative means? I was certainly no stranger to the horror stories of chemotherapy. How could something that felt so deathly and destroyed my immune system heal me? I believed strongly that faith in the cure was the most important factor in healing. I knew I had great faith in herbs and acupuncture. And a quiet inner voice said that my quality of life was the most important thing to me and would be lost with chemo.
I began to research alternatives to chemotherapy. Margi Flint of EarthSong Herbals sent me a packet of shiitake, milk thistle and eleuthro. And the name of Bo In Lee from the New Life Health Center in Jamaica Plain, Massachusetts, kept coming up in my research. A woman from my peer supervision group said that her father had received excellent care of his colon cancer from Bo In Lee.
My first appointment with Master Lee was on July 9, and I worked with him for over a year. We began with appointments five days a week. By September I was down to two days a week, and by February once a week, then once every two weeks as I became stronger and healthier. He gave me acupuncture treatments to points on my temples, right for the small intestine, left for the colon. I received antioxidant supplements and Master Lee’s own mix of herbal tea, which contained reishi, seaweed, licorice and I’m not sure what else. I found a wonderful company who supplied me with mushroom extracts: PSP, cloud mushroom and more reishi. For fresh mushrooms, I turned to Woodland Essence in upstate New York, who make a wonderful five-mushroom tincture of hemlock reishi, shiitake, turkey tails, chaga and maitake.
Why did I get cancer? Perhaps the cause was a physiological imbalance in my right hipbone and a missing layer of muscle on the gluteus maximus. These are in close proximity to my ascending colon. I also had chronic appendicitis as a child, never removed because the white count was incorrect. Perhaps it was because I was sexually molested as a child in a bathroom and always wanted to poop “later.”
Are there other reasons? Master Lee was distressed that I had been a vegetarian and off-and-on vegan since the age of 19 (I was 54 at this time). He categorized patients as animal types and diagnosed me as a “lion” who needed red meat. It was true that I had been anemic most of my life. I tended toward heavy foods like brown rice and heavy breads, and always battled a sweet tooth. Since working with Master Lee, I began eating more protein, although I still can’t eat a lot of red meat.
I am now cancer-free. I had a colonoscopy in January 2004 that was clear. I joked with the technician that I should be charged less with only four feet of colon instead of five. The colonoscopist was great and laughed. I change my protocol and regimen every now and then. Cancer is very clever and one needs to switch things as one would with a virus. I eat lots of yogurt, which helps with colon cancer, and I take a probiotic bifidopolis supplement.
All of this would be meaningless without a word about love and the heart. I am eternally grateful to everyone in the herbal community who carried me in their hearts and minds. In addition to the loving telephone calls, cards and conversations, I received many gifts of herbs, tinctures and salves from many people. I felt surrounded by loving energy in my home on the East Coast.
However, as I thought about my life and what was truly important when I was faced with death, I realized that I missed my family and the West Coast where I grew up. I did not want to die in Boston, or live there either. I wanted to bring those I loved in the East to the West with me! I returned to California in September 2002 with my dog and cats. I returned to the redwoods and the Pacific, as well as my family of origin. I had been homesick for 35 years, first in Vermont and then in Boston. I have found my place in the midst of the incredible beauty of Mendocino County. This was the gift of the cancer, and I am deeply grateful for the lesson.
Here in the small town of Philo, I live amid the redwoods on my land and grow medicinal herbs and vegetables. I counsel those who have cancer and wish to heal with alternative medicine. I also teach yoga. Clients come for herbal and art therapy consults, and students for classes at the Philo School of Herbal Energetics. My work on the Coast in Fort Bragg lets me “do good” by serving the elderly and disabled three days a week. My oldest daughter just married and I have become a grandmother of a very beautiful girl named Mikaela. My youngest daughter just graduated from a graduate program in ceramics. My new life is a miracle and full of joy.
For more information on Mary Pat Palmer, her Philo Pharm of organic herbs, fruits and vegetables, and her Philo School of Herbal Energetics, please visit her website at www.herbalenergetics.com.
Note: It is vital that you work with a health practitioner if you have cancer. Do not take herbs or other supplements without professional advice.