If Only I Had Known – Alternative Therapies for Recovery from Breast Cancer

This is a success story about recovery from breast cancer, and the journey taken to get there. My purpose in telling this story is to share information about the wonderful alternative and integrative therapies that are available to those diagnosed with cancer, and to empower you with insights and hope.

When I was diagnosed with early stage breast cancer, like millions of women the world over I was ill informed about the many options outside of mainstream medicine to treat, manage, and prevent it. Fear and ignorance propelled me to act quickly and follow a conventional path that included surgery, chemotherapy, radiation and hormonal treatments.

Conventional treatment was a grueling experience, and as it proceeded my doubts grew. After all, damaging my immune system with toxins like radiation and chemo – after it was already so weak that I got cancer in the first place – felt increasingly foolish to me. The growing sense of fatigue and debility compelled me to begin a search for alternative remedies to undo the damage caused by the conventional therapies.

I found those remedies in the integrative and alternative world. My personal experience and subsequent research over these last years have convinced me that relying solely on conventional interventions such as surgery, chemotherapy, radiation and hormonal treatments may not be sufficient or even necessary. Instead, other remedies from across the spectrum should be considered in managing a cancer diagnosis.

My journey to recovery and my wish to inform other women about the many gentler options for prevention and treatment of breast cancer that their doctor may not tell them about, planted the seeds for my book entitled If Only I Had Known: Integrative and Alternative Paths to Recovery from Breast Cancer, published in 2019. Much of the information in this book is relevant to other cancers, as many of the same inflammatory processes may contribute to those cancers.

Uncertainties in Cancer Treatment

The genesis of most cancers is unclear, making prevention and treatment outcomes uncertain. The size of a tumor has traditionally been regarded as an important marker in predicting the severity of a cancer outcome, but it’s increasingly believed that the particular biology of a tumor, rather than its size, will determine whether it will metastasize. (1)

Siddhartha Mukherjee, MD, oncologist, and Pulitzer prize-winning author says that while cancer and its treatment is seen as mostly uniform based on its location in the body, there are unlimited variations of cancer cells. Each tumor behaves differently, some mutating and even neutralizing chemo drugs (2,3). In relation to breast cancer in particular, there are between 50 and 80 genetic mutations, making a targeted treatment complex. Doctors are unable to keep up with rapidly changing scientific data, and often fall back on tried and true standard protocols that paint treatment from one patient to the next with the same brush (4).

Aside from a few cancers that are curable, such as testicular cancer, childhood leukemia, and some lymphomas, cancer is never really cured – it’s a management issue – one that needs to be approached on a systemic level. A cancer tumor typically takes 10 to 15 years to grow, so a person can take time to educate themselves about all options before deciding on a course of treatment after diagnosis.

For example, it’s important to change the soil in which the cancer grew, which includes an evaluation of diet, lifestyle, hormones, and attention to dental issues. Educating oneself about these will allow one to feel more control over a frightening experience, enhancing psychological health and contributing to a better outcome physically.

Standard Interventions and Cancer Treatments

MAMMOGRAPHY – Screening mammography is a mammogram done at regular intervals on a woman with no obvious signs of breast cancer. It was started in an effort to find early stage cancer, however is has not resulted in fewer advanced cancers nor has it had an impact on mortality. A 2014 Canadian study (Narod et al.) on screening, which included 50,000 women age 40-49, reported that the impact of mammography on mortality rates was insignificant, and that a woman’s chances of dying of breast cancer before 60, with or without screening, were equal. (5) Mammography may pick up benign lesions that, once found, are treated whether or not they are likely to spread. For example, before mammography screening, DCIS lesions (ductal carcinoma in situ), which some regard as stage 0 cancer, represented 3% of all cancers found. Now they account for 20-25% of screening detected breast cancers. (6)

The late Samuel Epstein, MD, renowned author and professor in the Department of Medicine at the University of Illinois, believed that most cancers were a result of exposure to carcinogens and therefore were preventable. He said that the practice of taking 2 films for each breast results in exposure to radiation that is 500 times the dose of a single chest X-ray. This increases the risk of breast cancer by 1% per year and 10% over a 10-year period. (7,8)

In summary, overdiagnosis, subsequent overtreatment of benign breast lesions, inability to pick up small tumors, along with squeezing, traumatizing, and irradiating the breast may all be reasons to reconsider screening mammography.

MASTECTOMY – The climate of fear among women that is induced by overdiagnosis and misdiagnosis has led to a surge in demand for mastectomies when lumpectomy might be sufficient. This rush may include also removing the healthy breast as a preventive measure. Yet many studies say this will not prevent recurrences or metastasis. Ann Partridge, MD, Harvard Medical School, says that if cancer returns it’s usually to the bones, lungs or brain, not the other breast. (9)

The surge in demand for mastectomies is a throwback to the 60’s. In the late 60’s and early 70’s, women became more vocal about their medical needs. At that time, routine radical mastectomies were re-evaluated as women increasingly refused these disfiguring procedures. In the 1970’s, Canadian oncologist Vera Peters challenged the surgical lobby, believing that radical mastectomies were not necessarily needed and that lumpectomy without radiation (with tumors less than 2 cm) may be just as effective. (10) Many of her ideas were eventually adopted by mainstream medicine. Additionally, some believe that there will be a better outcome if surgery is timed according to the menstrual cycle – that is, when estrogen is low and progesterone high. (11, 12)

RADIATION – Radiation is a carcinogen. It causes free radical damage and genetic mutation and doesn’t target the underlying cause. It can sit in your bones for life, giving you another cancer down the line. Radiation on the side of the heart can result in scarring, stiffening of the heart muscles, narrowed valves, and can cause heart disease later. (13) Distant recurrences are more concerning than local ones, however several studies have found that radiation after surgery did not reduce distant recurrences. Scandinavian researchers examined two groups of breast cancer patients, one which had undergone radiation, the other which had not. After 20 years there was no difference in survival rates found. (14,15)

CHEMOTHERAPY – which is derived from mustard gas, was picked up by the drug companies in the 40s. They capitalized on the fact that during the bombing campaigns in southern Italy during WW1, mustard gas decimated people’s immune systems, causing sickness and death. Chemotherapy can alter human DNA and cause collateral damage as it targets cellular growth, which includes normal growth as well as uncontrolled growth. Damage can also include ovarian failure, sexual dysfunction, hair loss, weight gain, and cardiac toxicity. (16)

According to research in the New England Journal of Medicine many women undergo chemo for breast cancer to lower their chances of the cancer recurring. But for the majority of women the cancer is unlikely to reoccur regardless of the presence or absence of chemotherapy, and the chemo will help only a fraction of women. (17) Some statistics say there is only 2% survival benefit over 5-10 years; other statistics give marginally more. A 2018 study in that same journal reported that in early stage breast cancer, chemo provides no benefit in 83% of cases. (18)

MAGNETIC RESONANCE IMAGING – The detrimental effects of exposure to magnetic fields with MRI are unclear. The contrast dye gadolinium, which is used in breast MRI’s, is a neurotoxin that remains in the tissue and is not released as previously thought. (19)

Following treatment, when a conventional doctor says there is no evidence of disease (NED) this refers only to one point in time and therefore may not fully reflect the state of disease. Cancer cells that may not show up on a scan could have escaped and spread to other organs, yet doctors are unable to predict who will have a metastasis (23).

Preventing Breast Cancer Safely

THERMOGRAPHYis an accurate, non-invasive tool that works as a safe early warning system. It can flag changes in the breast 8 to 10 years before other detection methods. (20, 21,22) Cancer cells divide rapidly and require increased blood flow which generates heat. A thermogram uses an infrared camera to pick up these thermovascular changes in the breast, which may indicate that an inflammation is underway, a possible precursor to a tumor.

DIETARY RECOMMENDATIONS – Naturopath and breast cancer expert Dr. Sat Dharam Kaur, ND says that a plant-based diet which includes cruciferous vegetables will aid in converting estrone to estriol, thereby helping to balance the liver in favor of the good estriol. The appetite of cancer cells for sugar is three times that of a normal cell, so a sugar-free diet is crucial as sugar feeds cancer. Low glycemic foods are important, as well as hard fruits such as apples and pears that are broken down into glucose at a slower rate than some other fruits. Dr. Alvin Pettle, MD believes that fish is important to include as it contains essential fatty acids not found in vegetables.

HERBS AND VITAMINS – Turmeric is an anti-inflammatory herb, and when combined with black pepper, absorption is enhanced; this herb is therefore a powerful ally for breast cancer prevention. Red meat and dairy are acidifying, and cancer thrives in an acid environment. One exception is unsweetened organic kefir, which serves as a probiotic and is good for the liver and gut. Drinking the equivalent of ½ one’s body weight in water will help cleanse the liver, and milk thistle and dandelion also aid in this process.

Dr. Kaur encourages supplementation to strengthen the immune system to both prevent cancer and manage cancer cells that may still be circulating in the blood after treatment. Some of her many recommendations include:

  • 3,000 to 4,000 IU’s vitamin D3 daily to decrease breast cancer risk by 60%,
  • 4,000 mg. vitamin C daily to draw out heavy metals which tax the immune system;
  • Indole carbinole 3 and DIM which contains the active ingredient in cruciferous vegetables,
  • the antioxidant NAC,
  • daily ground flax seeds to aid the liver in flushing out toxins (24).
  • Melatonin taken nightly can roll back the biological clock and strengthen the immune system.

TESTING – Blood testing for stickiness and clumping with fibrinogen and fibrin d-dimer levels is important as elevated levels may indicate metastasis is more likely. C-reactive protein levels measure inflammation. The ION profile blood and urine test is an excellent total metabolic and nutritional screen that will pick up deficiencies that routine blood or urine tests will miss. Iron levels should remain low – keep ferritin around 90. Iodine should be monitored as there is a link between iodine and breast cancer, and tumor markers CEA and CA-15-3 should be checked annually. (25)

BIO-IDENTICAL HORMONES – Hormone imbalances can contribute to breast cancer. Managing imbalances with bio-identical hormones, not synthetic ones, can aid prevention, according to Dr. Alvin Pettle, MD. Contrary to what many people believe, there are no contraindications for using estriol with an estrogen positive cancer. (26,27) Estrogen is comprised of estrone and estradiol which promote growth, and estriol which stops growth. Dr. Pettle recommends Myomins, natural aromatese inhibitors with no side effects. They detox the liver of estradiol and estrone so that the tumour which is dependent on estrogen gets smaller. Estriol is the good estrogen and when in balance, it is protective, as is progesterone which keeps estrogen in check.

In the 1970’s, a physician named Henry Lemon demonstrated the importance of estriol in managing and preventing cancer. He followed 28 women with breast cancer and metastasis to the bone who had been told to go home and die. 37% had a total remission because estriol was blocking the cancer rather than feeding it. (28)

According to Dr. Pettle, we all have cancer cells circulating in our bodies, but DHEA, the master hormone, mops them up. So we need to keep DHEA elevated. But by the time you are between 30 and 50 years old DHEA is depleted, which means your cortisol is too high, and you have no immunity left. To remedy this, DHEA drops administered under the tongue will elevate DHEA and bring down cortisol levels. (29)

HEALTHY TEETH AND GUMS – Biological dentistry involves minimizing the use of toxic chemicals in the mouth as these can contribute to illness. Metals used in the mouth can cause extra stress on the cardiovascular, neurological or immune systems (30). Dental amalgam (those silver fillings in your mouth) contain 50% mercury. They off-gas for life. Some studies say amalgam is the number one source of mercury exposure in humans, exceeding any residue we ingest from fish. (31)

Studies have found that when people with amalgam fillings chew food, they have 20 times more mercury in their mouths than those without amalgam fillings. (32, 33) Root canals are controversial. Many articles report they are impossible to properly clean out so they remain chronically infected. (34, 35, 36) The meridians that connect a particular tooth to other organs in the body can become blocked due to chronic infection, and the associated organ then becomes ill. A smorgasbord of metals from the mouth have been found in breast tissue. (37)

Conclusion

There are many practitioners around the world doing amazing things with cancer treatment, so you need never feel that your options are limited to the harsh and relatively narrow range presented by conventional medicine. Educating ourselves about the many options, and choosing those that make sense to us, is crucial in having a better outcome, both psychologically and physically. Taking charge in this way has allowed me to feel a sense of control over a disease whose uncertainties surrounding its management can feel confusing and overwhelming

I have learned that for most cancers, there is no single intervention that alone will turn our medical fates around. Whatever route to health you choose, the body needs help to alter the environment in which the cancer thrived in the first place. This means bolstering an ailing immune system. Nontoxic alternative therapies can aid in that process. After completing a course of conventional treatment, I myself followed an alternative path to health and I believe this was instrumental in the sense of robust health and well being that I enjoy today.

The information contained in this article and the journey Aviva took back to health is drawn from her book : Aviva Mayers. If Only I Had Known: Integrative and Alternative Paths to Recovery from Breast Cancer. Victoria, B.C.: Friesen Press, 2019.

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Aviva Mayers was born in the UK, raised in Canada, and has worked as a clinical social worker in Canada, the UK, the US , and Norway. She trained as a psychoanalyst in New York, and subsequently pursued a doctorate at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology. Aviva now lives in Toronto where as a psychoanalyst she offers psychotherapy, psychoanalysis, and sex therapy to individuals and couples in her private practice. She feels her experience with breast cancer has taught her that if we take responsibility for our own health by informing ourselves and employing interventions that make sense to us, we can improve our health and transform our lives. Visit her website at: www.avivamayers.com or email: amayers@rogers.com

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