Madeleen Herreshoff's Integrative Approach

From Cancer Monthly April 2005:

Surviving Breast Cancer Using an Integrative Approach: Madeleen Herreshoff's Journey

In 1991, at the age of 49, Madeleen Herreshoff was diagnosed with aggressive poorly differentiated invasive breast cancer and told that without radiation, aggressive chemotherapy and 5 years of tamoxifen that she would be dead within 5 years.

She decided to say no to chemotherapy, yes to radiation, and took tamoxifen for 6 months only. Fourteen years after her diagnosis Madeleen is alive. She blended mainstream and alternative therapies creating her own personalized integrative approach.

Today, as Director and President of CANHELP she helps other cancer patients by providing treatment information and referrals.

Cancer Monthly) Madeleen can you give us some background about your diagnosis and prognosis?

MH) Yes, in 1991, when I was 49, I was diagnosed with aggressive poorly differentiated invasive breast cancer in my right breast. My diagnosis took place at the PolyClinic in Seattle, Washington, and it was confirmed by pathologists at the University of Washington.

In fact, the pathologist at the university, whom I knew through a friend, called me and said “Madeleen, this is a very aggressive tumor. I have seen a lot of breast cancer tumors, but rarely do I see one this aggressive. You need to go see the interdisciplinary cancer team here immediately and follow their recommendations.”

I did what she suggested. The interdisciplinary team, a surgeon, radiologist and oncologist at the University of Washington reviewed my case and I made an appointment with the oncologist to hear her recommendations.

My husband and I had to wait a long time in the waiting room, which, unfortunately, was right next to the chemo room where men and women were hooked up to IVs. We had a clear view of what was going on in there. Nurses were trying to make these cancer patients happy by talking cheerfully and passing out balloons.

We were not impressed.

Once in the oncologist office, the oncologist was adamant that I do radiation therapy for three months, followed by an aggressive chemotherapy protocol plus tamoxifen. She did not beat around the bush. She said that I had a very aggressive tumor and this is what I should do.

I tried to bargain with her about lesser therapies such as just radiation and tamoxifen. She would not hear of it and drew diagram after diagram on the board to impress us with the seriousness of the situation. I was trying to get her to think of other options because I was reluctant to do the chemo and she just looked me in the eye and said you will be dead in 5 years if you don’t do this entire protocol.

My husband and I left her office in tears. I swore I would not go back there.

Cancer Monthly) Why were you reluctant to do chemo?

MH) It was a feeling, perhaps partly fear. But I felt that if I did the chemo I would not survive. Ultimately, it was just intuition. I didn’t like the idea of radiation therapy either, but back in 1991 it was even more difficult to say “no” to orthodox therapies than it is today, and I just didn’t think that I could fight everybody.

So I reluctantly did radiation for 3 months for 5 days each week. The tamoxifen was prescribed for 5 years. I did it for 6 months. I was having serious side effects from the tamoxifen, so my oncologist and I agreed that I should stop taking it.

This was a more open-minded oncologist, not the one who had said I would be dead in 5 years if I didn’t do what she said.

Cancer Monthly) When did you start using alternative therapies?

MH) I immediately plunged into every book on alternative cancer treatments following my diagnosis. After I was finished with the radiation and tamoxifen, I went to a naturopathic doctor who had treated other cancer patients.

He first made sure that my bowels were moving, an important avenue for toxins to pass out the body quickly, and gave me enzymes. He added the Hoxsey formula, and anti-oxidants such as vitamins A, C, E, selenium and beta-carotene liquid, which made my hands turn yellow.

He told me to put turmeric in my diet, and cilantro for detoxification.

For the next 2-3 years I was feeling pretty good. I did have my mammograms every 6 months and at one point they said they thought they saw something again. So they went back into the same breast and it turned out to be scar tissue.

And then they thought they saw something in the other breast and they went in there and that was benign. But, in 1994 they did find a local recurrence of intraductal non-invasive cancer in the same breast.

Cancer Monthly) You had been doing various alternative therapies for a couple of years and all of a sudden you have a local recurrence. How did you feel? Did you think your alternative therapies were a waste of time?

MH) I felt I was not looking at the whole picture, that I was not considering my state-of mind.

Cancer Monthly) What did you decide to do about the recurrence?

MH) I decided to have a mastectomy because I felt emotionally I could no longer deal with the constant looking for cancer. I also worked on stress and the mind-body connection more than anything and I think that helped me tremendously.

I went into psychoanalysis to find out “why me”, and “what did I need to change in my life to prevent another cancer occurrence”. I changed my career. I added meditation into my routine and joined a Tibetan Buddhist group and later changed over to a Zen group.

Cancer Monthly) Do you think stress helped lead to the cancer?

MH) I had been under a lot of stress prior to my initial diagnosis. I had a high-powered job in Hawaii with very difficult interpersonal dynamics. So, yes, I think it did in that case.

I think the local recurrence was due to my having very close surgical margins at the time of lumpectomy. Radiation was supposed to take care of. It obviously did not. Since then I have studied the literature which shows that close surgical margins are predictive of re-occurrence.

Had I known that then, I would have insisted on a wider resection.

Cancer Monthly) What was your prognosis after the mastectomy?

MH) Both the surgeon and oncologist said that I would not need any additional therapy. I was not so sure and I intensified my alternative therapies because I felt a recurrence was still possible.

In 1996 I joined the staff of CANHELP as their primary researcher. I started meeting alternative cancer doctors and one I liked particularly was Dr. Chu Fong in New York, now passed away, a compassionate oncologist and original thinker, who ran the Revici Center.

On his recommendation, I added Viscum Album (mistletoe) to my supplement collection, Wobenzyms, special enzymes from Germany, drank Essiac tea, took more Hoxsey, used castor oil packs on my liver to detoxify, applied Unguentum lymphaticum cream on any nodes (when swollen), did parasite cleanses, a liver cleanse, and a gallbladder cleanse (where I passed more than 100 stones).

Many of these things I still do off and on.

Cancer Monthly) Did you change your diet after you were diagnosed?

MH) Yes. I was a vegetarian for 10 years before I was diagnosed. After my diagnosis I began eating more cruciferous vegetables. These vegetables provide a number of advantages including helping to balance hormones.

In general, fresh, organic vegetables are important, but when it comes to a primary raw food diet, it depends on the person. According to Chinese medicine, for advanced cancer patients, raw foods can put too much of a burden on the spleen.

I strongly believe in the Gerson philosophy of drinking a lot of fresh juices, such as carrot and green juices. I also think flax seeds are very important. Dr. Johanna Budwig, a highly respected German biochemist, created a diet consisting of cottage cheese and flax seeds.

I think there are many benefits from this diet and it helps people in many different ways. Dr. Budwig recommended her flax seed diet to cancer patients and found that their tumors regressed. Flax seeds can help regulate the bowels. Flax seeds are also estrogenic and may compete with estrogen receptors.

I have recently gone off flax seeds, because I began a new bio-identical hormone replacement therapy (BHRT) as proposed by author T.S. Wiley in her book Sex, Lies and Menopause. I believe this will give me additional protection from cancer.

Cancer Monthly) After your mastectomy, the doctors said you would be fine so how do you determine if all the alternative approaches you used provided any value?

MH) My original oncologist said I would be dead in 5 years because I did not take her advice. I have outlived that prognosis. It’s now 14 years from my original diagnosis. I strongly believe that to carry on with my life after orthodox treatment as if nothing had happened, would have been short-sighted.

I know from the work I do, that many cancer patients have recurrences and die. Immediately after treatment the immune system is down and if there are any residual cancer cells in the body they will have an opportunity to grow. So alternative therapies and reducing stress levels are extremely important to make sure the immune system is working at top-level at all times.

It becomes a way of life and I feel I continue to reap the benefits from that lifestyle.

Cancer Monthly) Are there doctors who can help a patient create a truly integrative approach to treating their cancer in the way you combined both orthodox and alternative approaches?

MH) Truly integrative care has a long way to go. There is no consistency. The different disciplines on the orthodox and alternative side have to listen to each other and coordinate together.

For example, it may be inappropriate to take large amounts of Vitamin C while undergoing therapies that are designed to kill cancer cells by creating free radicals.

But that does not mean that one should not take large doses of Vitamin C after cell-killing therapies. In other words, I believe in using therapies consecutively. The other problem is that there are no long-term studies on survival or recurrence rates from integrative approaches.

Today, it’s left up to the cancer patient to figure all this out. The patient has to perform the research and find the best multi-modality approaches.

At CANHELP we help patients collect and sort through these challenges by providing cancer treatment information, referrals, and follow-up support.

Cancer Monthly) Do you have any recommendations for patients on how to work with their orthodox doctors?

MH) If you go to a radiologist they are going to recommend radiation therapy. If you go to an oncologist they will recommend chemotherapy. A surgeon will advise surgery.

It sounds obvious, but most people go to medical professionals wanting all the other questions answered too. What about vitamins? What about enzymes? By virtue of their training and experience, an oncologist is not going to answer questions about vitamin supplements in an objective and comprehensive way.

So people really need to be aware of whom they are seeing and what kind of answers they should expect. If you go in there and think they are only going to give me a little bit of chemo and let me do alternatives; it’s just not the way it’s going to be. Therefore, it is critical for cancer patients to look at all their options up front.

Because once you decide to do one thing you cannot reverse it. I cannot put my right breast back on my body. It’s gone. I cannot change the side effects of radiation that I am still dealing with after all these years.

That’s what I did then and I have to still live with my decisions for as long as I live.

Madeleen Herreshoff is Director and President of CANHELP, Inc., a cancer treatment information and referral service located in Port Gamble, WA, ( She has served as a Breast Cancer Advocate/Consumer Reviewer for Breast Cancer Scientific Review panels at the U.S. Army Breast Cancer Research Program in Washington, DC, and the National Action Plan on Breast Cancer (NAPBC) in Bethesda, MD.


Alternative Therapies & Breast Cancer: Steven Johnson, D.O., The Foxhollow Clinic

Mrs.Herreshoff is a remarkable person. Her perseverance and journey serves testimony to the power of the human spirit and that healing is always about the “whole person” and not the disease alone. Her story has something in common with other breast cancer patients I have treated.

Namely, that she took responsibility for her own illness and pursued levels of change on many different levels of mind, body and spirit. This is a powerful prescription for healing.

I agree with the approaches utilized here and who can argue with success. Tamoxifen is a difficult choice for many women. It can certainly help prevent reoccurrence of tumor and metastasis but can also have severe side effects for many individuals. Often we will look at the person’s estrogen profile in addition to hormone receptors.

Specialized functional testing can sometimes be helpful in determining if the estrogen profile is leaning towards tumor promotion. This can help a practitioner to decide if an estrogen antagonist like Indole-3- carbinole (from cruciferates) might be appropriate. Often I will start with this treatment and progress to flax seeds as the period of tumor-free survival increases.

This test may also help determine how long a patient stays on Tamoxifen as the side effects increase with duration. Sometimes the full 5 years of treatment may not be necessary.

The use of antioxidants in this case was likely very helpful in light of the radiation treatment. While it may be important to avoid intensive antioxidant treatment during radiation or chemotherapy a follow-up treatment orally or intravenously can be very important to repair damaged breast tissue and possibly prevent reoccurrence of tumor.

In this case the vitamin A and Beta-carotene may have been approaching a maximal level. Too high a dose of fat soluable vitamin can become toxic and damage healthy cells and it is good to have the supervision of an experienced practitioner. I think the detoxification process was also important in this case.

It is also important to sometimes consider testing for heavy metals and nutritional deficiencies. Heavy metals such as cadmium, nickel and mercury can be carcinogenic or effect immune regulation. Lack of certain nutrients such as B vitamins, glutathione and certain amino acids can deter the livers ability to package toxins for removal.

In some cases I have seen detoxification treatments worsen the patients condition, which was not the case here. The liver is key in any treatment of cancer. According to many traditions of holistic healing liver is the seat of our vitality “chi” or “etheric” processes. These are the up building processes in the body, which repair and heal us.

I think this is why good diet programs and liver support become so helpful in facilitating the healing of cancer. Many herbs, vitamins and homeopathic medicines are excellent treatments when applied appropriately.

I also believe mistletoe (mostly known as Viscum album, Iscador or Iscar) was important in this treatment. Many people don’t know that mistletoe is a wonderful adjuvant treatment with chemotherapy and radiation.

A recent cohort study in a respected German medical journal involving over 1, 400 patients confirmed that mistletoe treatment significantly reduced the side effects of conventional chemo-radiation treatments, reduced disease related side effects and prolonged survival. Thus mistletoe can be given in conjunction with conventional treatments or alone. It is given by injection and sometimes intravenously.

As people have come to our clinic from around the country for mistletoe treatments we have found similar results especially if the mistletoe is monitored and dosed carefully. This is also true for many other cancers. We have seen this now in hundreds of cases. It is important to separate Vitamin C treatments from mistletoe as it may compromise its effect. This has often reduced the efficacy of the treatment.

Also, too many immune modulating medicines together can suppress immune function and compromise an effective treatment. This is becoming a more common problem. We have found that Thymus extracts and proteolytic enzymes like wobenzymes may facilitate the effect of mistletoe and other treatments.

Although it requires further study proteolytic enzymes may affect the protective tumor coat so as to make it more vulnerable to conventional and alternative treatments.

I am so impressed with the evolution of Mrs. Herreshoffs mind-body awareness. In my experience individuals dealing with cancer who can gain insight into their unique patterns of thinking and dealing with stress and effect change are the most successful survivors.

So often women with breast cancer seem blocked by resentment or sorrow related to a lack of nurturing or care in an important relationship. This is a hard thing to speak about and yet when a person finds their sense of personal integrity and worth again many changes in response to treatment and overall health seem to occur.

This has become such a reality in my experience that I now see expressive therapy as an integral part of any treatment. Art therapy, cranial sacral therapy, heart math, biography review, and acupressure, counseling and other emotional release techniques can all be very helpful. The key is to find the one or two treatments that a person best find a connection.

Hopefully these open the door to person’s own meditative and contemplative capacities to facilitate healing. These can often be the substitution antidepressants so often given to the cancer patient.

Movement therapies such as eurythmy, chi-quong and Yoga can also be very useful in supporting the expression of the individual person.

In my many years of supporting patients with cancer it is very clear to me that healing is a partnership of mind, body and soul and of healer, patient and a higher spirit we need to respect and nurture.

I am very thankful to Mrs. Herreshoff that her example can gives us all the hope and courage to heal.

- Steven Johnson, D.O.

Dr. Johnson graduated from the founding school of osteopathy (Kirksville College of Osteopathic Medicine) and completed his internal medicine residency as chief resident at Memorial Hospital of the University of Massachusetts.

For the last 12 years Dr. Johnson has lectured and taught extensively the field of Integrative Medicine and Complementary Medicine. He serves as Medical Director of the Foxhollow Clinic and is board certified in Holistic Medicine by the American Holistic Physicians Association.

The Foxhollow Clinic is an internationally recognized residential clinic bridging allopathic and holistic modalities of therapeutic practice to treat a wide array of acute and chronic diseases.

Learning from Exceptional Outcomes: David Simon, M.D., The Chopra Center for Well Being

This heroic woman’s story highlights that fact that statistics apply to groups not individuals. We regularly tell our patients at the Chopra Center that they can accept the diagnosis but not the prognosis. Statistically speaking, Madeleen’s course is amazing.

But, what is often forgotten is that regardless of the health challenge, there are always people whose illness does not unfold as it is “supposed to.” Rather than ignoring these exceptional outcomes, we should be learning from them.

Our medical system views people as collections of molecules and illness as a deviation in these molecules. For example, modern medicine sees heartburn as the expression of too many hydrochloric acid molecules; therefore, treatments that block acid production are given. Depression is viewed as insufficient neurochemical molecules, so an antidepressant is prescribed to increase serotonin levels.

In a similar way, cancer is viewed as the result of molecular mutations in specific genes; therefore, the modern medical approach is to attack these abnormal molecules with potent chemotherapy drugs or radiation.

This molecular approach to illness clearly has substantial benefits. However, we limit healing opportunities if we fail to recognize that people are multidimensional, multifaceted beings, who possess a powerful inner pharmacy.

What can be done to awaken the inner pharmacy? Pay attention to your thoughts, feelings, and choices. You can access the inner pharmacy through the doors of your senses, consciously choosing what you hear, how you’re touched, what you see, what you eat, and what you smell.

Through healing sounds, sensations, sights, tastes, and aromas, you can consciously participate in your healing journey.

The modern field of psychoneuroimmunology (PNI) gives credence to the belief that your immune cells are listening to your inner dialogue. If the thoughts in your mind are fear based, your immune cells perform their tasks of protecting you from inner and outer threats les effectively.

Learn to quiet your mind in meditation, get enough rest, and participate in yoga classes to activate your natural healing system. Eat a well rounded, nutrient-rich diet with abundant fresh vegetables, fruits, and whole grains. Get a daily dose of nourishing sounds from nature, therapeutic touch, and inspiring images.

Allow yourself to feel and express your emotions. Despite the seriousness of the situation, indulge in a good belly laugh everyday, which has been shown to enhance immune function for twenty-four hours.

Find a healthcare provider who will work with you in partnership, utilizing the best of medical technology along with support for your active participation in your healing journey.

We can engage our minds, hearts, and souls in support of our body’s quest to return to wholeness.

- David Simon, M.D.

Source: Cancer Wire Monthly April 2005

Madeleen was a speaker at the First Annual Evidence-based Complementary and Alternative Cancer Therapies conference held by The Annie Appleseed Project in January 2008

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