Cathie Grout had always assumed that the best way to treat cancer was to attack it as quickly as possible with chemotherapy, radiation or surgery—or a combination of all three. So when she was diagnosed with a type of blood cancer shortly before her 45th birthday, after noticing a balloon-like bulge in her belly, she was surprised to hear her doctor’s advice was quite the opposite: do nothing.
“I fully expected to be told that there was not a moment to lose and that treatment would commence immediately,” said Cathie, who is now 62. But that was not the case.
Cathie had lymphoma—cancer of the lymphatic system—but was told she needed more tests to determine what form of lymphoma she had and the type of treatment she would need.
Chemo- and radiotherapy were the most likely options, as Cathie’s tumors were too close to her vital organs to remove surgically. Nonetheless, doctors needed to assess how aggressive Cathie’s cancer was to work out the doses necessary—a process that would take about five weeks.
In the meantime, ‘watchful waiting’ was all that was required—something that Cathie found hard to accept. “My consultant had to use all her considerable powers of persuasion to convince me I was not going to die during those five weeks without treatment.”
Little did Cathie know then, she would not receive any conventional treatment whatsoever—despite having five tumors in her stomach—and, just over a year later, she would be completely cancer-free.
Cathie—originally from France but now living in Helensburgh, near Glasgow, Scotland, with her husband, Ian—fully intended to have chemotherapy, radiotherapy or whatever treatment her consultant, Dr Clarke, recommended once her test results were in. But she knew she couldn’t just sit back and wait. “I had to do something or I’d go crazy,” Cathie said, “so I started to look at how I could help myself.”
Cathie admits she didn’t know much about alternative therapies at the time, although she had recently started training to be a reflexologist as a possible “escape route” from her stressful job as a teacher. Cathie began to wonder whether reflexology—a system of massage based on the idea that there are specific points on the feet, hands and head linked to every other part of the body—might be a useful therapy for her cancer and asked her course teacher whether she thought it would help. “She told me it would make my immune system stronger,” said Cathie.
Convinced it was worth a shot, Cathie got in touch with local reflexologist Graham Milne, “a fountain of knowledge,” who had been practicing for over 10 years—and wasn’t shy about sharing his views on Cathie’s proposed chemotherapy. “Thanks to Graham,” Cathie said, “I started to think that chemo was not the best thing for me to do.”
But Graham, concerned about taking full responsibility for Cathie’s health, suggested she see a naturopath he knew who had experience in successfully treating conditions like Cathie’s. But much to their surprise, the naturopath—shocked by the size of Cathie’s tumors—said he couldn’t help her. “He actually advised me to go ahead with the chemo,” Cathie said.
Disappointed but still eager to do something, Cathie went back to Graham, who then agreed to take her on as a patient. He scheduled her for reflexology sessions three times a week, each one followed by Reiki, a therapy in which the practitioner is said to channel energy into the patient to promote healing and restore wellbeing.
“From my first session with Graham, I started to feel better,” Cathie recalls.
Chemo no hero
Encouraged by the noticeable changes in her mind and body, Cathie began to consider alternatives to the conventional chemotherapy route. By this point, Cathie had discovered she had a slow-growing form of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma that, even with chemo, was unlikely to ever be cured. “Dr Clarke told me chemo could control the cancer but not cure it, and I’d need to have the treatment for the rest of my life.”
That wasn’t good enough for Cathie. “I wanted it out of me completely,” she said.
Not having access to the internet in those days, Cathie decided to read as many books as she could on alternative cancer treatments, and devoured more than 30 in the space of two weeks. One in particular stood out: The Breuss Cancer Cure: Advice for the Prevention and Natural Treatment of Cancer, Leukemia and Other Seemingly Incurable Diseases by Rudolph Breuss (Alive Books, 2007).
Recommended to her by Graham, the book outlines various juice-fasting programs to “nourish the body but starve cancer.” There was nothing specific on lymphoma, but Cathie felt that Breuss’ approach to treating leukemia would be helpful.
“Basically you eat a normal diet, preferably organic, but cut out red meat and pork,” said Cathie. And, crucially, the program includes special vegetable juices and herbal teas designed to support and detoxify the body.
This nutritional approach to treating cancer “made perfect sense” to Cathie, but she decided to run it past Dr Clarke first. “I don’t think you’ll achieve anything through diet alone,” she told Cathie, but agreed to monitor her to make sure it wasn’t doing her harm.
Feeling more in control of her health and her life, Cathie, who had by now quit her teaching job, threw herself wholeheartedly into Breuss’ anticancer regime. But finding it hard to source the bottled vegetable juices Breuss recommended, Cathie soon bought a blender and started making her own fresh juices.
“I was drinking six to eight juices a day,” says Cathie, “It was a full-time job!”
Cathie also incorporated aspects of other alternative cancer programs she’d read about. She gave up sugar and artificial sweeteners (no mean feat considering she had previously lived on “comfort foods” like biscuits and cakes, and “two liters a day of diet Orangina”—a carbonated drink laden with aspartame), and cut out alcohol and all processed foods too.
Alongside this “clean eating,” Cathie also started to meditate and use visualization techniques after reading up on the “amazing power of the mind to heal” in books like Getting Well Again by O. Carl Simonton (Bantam USA, 1980).
“I envisioned a TV screen in my head showing a cartoon of my white ‘killer’ cells as piranha fish, eating my cancer cells with great relish,” said Cathie. “It helped a lot. It even had a sound to it. I could hear the piranhas gobbling up the cancer cells and going ‘yum, yum, yum.’ ”
Positive self-talk, or ‘affirmations,’ became part of Cathie’s daily routine. “Every time I saw my reflection, I’d say to myself: ‘My immune system is very strong, you know.’ And I believed every word of it.”
Another ‘treatment’ Cathie found of great help was going for long walks outdoors in nature. Not only was it beneficial in terms of exercise, but it also helped Cathie de-stress and “reconnect with life.”
This new way of eating, drinking and thinking was by no means simple. “I had to turn my life upside down,” said Cathie. But she was spurred on by her regular check-ups with Dr Clarke who, within a few weeks, said she could feel Cathie’s tumors “softening” and, later, even shrinking in size.
Much to Cathie’s delight, these apparent improvements were confirmed by scans. Cathie’s first one, a computed tomography (CT) scan in May 1998, revealed “extensive intra-abdominal adenopathy” or, in Cathie’s words, “tumors in my belly, lots of them.”
Both of Cathie’s kidneys were also surrounded by similar “adenopathy,” and there were several small cysts on her liver.
Just two months later, though, an ultrasound scan showed that Cathie’s largest tumors seemed to be “somewhat smaller,” and there was no sign of any cysts on her liver.
These results so impressed Dr Clarke that she told Cathie there was no rush to have chemo, as whatever Cathie was doing seemed to be working. But it didn’t really matter what Dr Clarke said by this stage. “There was no chance of me going ahead with the chemo,” Cathie said.
By the time of Cathie’s third scan—another CT scan in September ’98—Cathie had been on her anticancer regime for about five months. This time, the results were remarkable: Cathie’s tumors had reduced by 75 percent. “If we had achieved these results with chemotherapy, we would be really chuffed,” Dr Clarke told Cathie.
Then, just over a year after her initial diagnosis, the results of an ultrasound gave Cathie the news she was longing to hear: “no adenopathy.” Cathy was cancer-free.
An alternative ending
Eighteen years later, Cathie is still clear of the cancer she was told couldn’t be cured, and she now helps others deal with disease naturally as a qualified alternative therapist. She holds workshops on vegetable juicing and the importance of a healthy diet, and has even written a book about her experience.
Would Cathie’s cancer have gone away on its own? Maybe. Medicine even has a name for it: spontaneous remission. But Cathie, who watched her father, aunt and uncle all die of cancer, firmly believes that the positive changes she made to her diet, lifestyle and mental attitude are the reasons she’s still here today.
Cathie’s anticancer action plan
- Reflexology three times a week
- Reiki three times a week
A ‘clean,’ organic diet: no refined sugars, artificial sweeteners, food additives, alcohol, processed foods, red meat or pork
- Six to eight glasses of fresh vegetable juices a day
- Herbal teas several times a day
- Daily walks outdoors in nature
- Meditation twice a day
- Positive visualizations and affirmations several times a day
What is non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma?
The disease that killed Jackie Kennedy Onassis, non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma (NHL) is a type of cancer that develops in the lymphatic system, part of the immune system. Infection-fighting white blood cells called ‘lymphocytes’ start to multiply abnormally and, over time, accumulate and form tumors. The most common site for this to happen is in the lymph nodes, although NHL can begin almost anywhere in the body, including the stomach, small bowel, skin, tonsils and thyroid gland. And because lymphocytes travel all over the body, the disease can spread.
There are many different types of NHL, but generally, they can be divided into two categories: high-grade or aggressive NHL and low-grade or indolent NHL. As the names suggest, high-grade NHL is when the cancer develops quickly and aggressively, whereas low-grade NHL means the cancer is slow-growing.
As Cathie discovered, being diagnosed with a low-grade tumor is not necessarily the lesser of two evils. “I was told the aggressive form was actually far easier to treat,” said Cathie. Indeed, as the UK NHS website notes: “Low-grade tumors do not necessarily require immediate medical treatment, but are harder to completely cure. High-grade lymphomas need to be treated straightaway, but tend to respond much better to treatment and can often be cured.”
In any case, conventional ‘cures’—typically chemo- and radiotherapy—can have devastating effects on the body. Luckily for Cathie, the type of NHL she had meant she had time to think about alternatives and, with the guidance of her doctor, to try more holistic approaches.
Cathie believes the visualization techniques she used played a big part in her healing. As well as the “cartoon” image of her cancer cells being eaten by piranhas, she’d also think about the ingredients that went into the vegetable juices she was drinking several times a day and vividly imagine the positive effects they were having on her body and her cancer.
Also known as ‘guided imagery,’ this technique of using mental images to create a desired physical outcome actually has some impressive evidence behind it. In cancer patients, it’s been found to improve stress, anxiety and depression as well as some of the side-effects of chemotherapy.1
Some studies even suggest that guided imagery can directly affect the immune system. Researchers at the Oregon Health and Science University in Portland found that breast-cancer patients using guided imagery for eight weeks increased their natural-killer cells—specialized immune-system cells that play a major role in tumor rejection. However, this increase was not maintained three months after the treatment ended, suggesting that the technique needs to be practiced over the long term for positive results.2
Research also shows that a person’s ability to generate mental images and become absorbed in them as if they were real is a useful predictor of success with guided imagery.3
Cathie Grout’s book, Why Rabbits Don’t Get Lymphoma: Kissing My Cancer Goodbye (Antony Rowe Publishing, 2009), is available on Amazon for $9.97.
Useful contacts and resources
Reflexology Association of America (US): reflexology-usa.org
Association of Reflexologists (UK): www.aor.org.uk
The Breuss Cancer Cure: Advice for the Prevention and Natural Treatment of Cancer, Leukemia and Other Seemingly Incurable Diseases by Rudolph Breuss (Alive Books, 2007)
Juicing for Life: A Guide to the Benefits of Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Juicing by Cherie Calbom and Maureen B. Keane (Avery, 1991)
Getting Well Again by O. Carl Simonton, Stephanie Matthews Simonton and James L. Creighton (Bantam USA, 1980)