Diagnosis to Recovery
A breast cancer survivor’s search for best treatment
A newly released study provided good news for at least some breast cancer patients who dread the effects of chemotherapy treatment.
The study, published in the New England Journal of Medicine, concluded that a genetic test may be able to determine whether women with early stage breast cancer can skip chemotherapy and instead rely on hormone therapy.
Diana Warren, a breast cancer survivor, finds the study’s results heartening.
"I think it’s always important for cancer patients to explore all the options that might be available for their care," says Warren, 76, co-author with her daughter Jamie Beardsley of the book Say No to Radiation and Conventional Chemo: Winning My Battle Against Stage 2 Breast Cancer (www.
Under different circumstances from the women in the study, Warren reached her own decision about foregoing radiation and standard chemotherapy soon after her diagnosis. She decided she was unwilling to continue to subject herself to the "grueling, horrible" ordeal of chemotherapy. Among her concerns were the extreme nausea, hair loss and other side effects, along with the fact that traditional chemotherapy, which kills cancer cells, can’t differentiate between good cells and bad.
Her decision launched her into a search for effective natural, non-toxic alternatives and landed her at the door of Dr. James W. Forsythe (www.drforsythe.com), who recommended a genetic test to determine the best treatment for her.
The test was pricey — in Warren’s case, $3,000 — but she agreed and Forsythe sent a blood sample to a genetic research center in Greece.
Once the results came back, she started a treatment that involved a lengthy list of supplements and low-dose Insulin Potentiation Therapy (IPT), which uses a combination of insulin and a chemotherapy drug.
"IPT is a kinder and gentler way to treat cancer with fewer negative side effects," Forsythe says.
IPT is controversial, though, and because it’s considered an unproven therapy, patients usually pay full out-of-pocket expenses because it’s typically not covered by health insurance.
"It certainly has its critics," Warren says, "but my experience was that the procedure is done carefully and methodically."
More than 200,000 women are diagnosed with breast cancer each year in the United States, and more than 40,000 women die from the disease, according to the Centers for Disease Control. Each October, Breast Cancer Awareness Month is observed to bring attention to the disease and to raise money for research.
As a breast cancer patient, Warren says she learned a few things from her experience that are worth sharing.
• Educate yourself. Warren says it’s important for patients to educate themselves and do their own research, scouring the Internet and books to find out what alternatives there are beyond the standard care.
"Also, have an open mind and don’t be afraid to go to other doctors for opinions," she says. "If you have to pay out of your own pocketbook for opinions that are not supported by health insurance, then do it."
• Ask questions. As the patient, you need to understand what’s happening with your
body and also about the treatment plans, Warren says. What are the side effects? What are the survival rates? Are there alternative treatments?
"Never be afraid to ask something or question why certain treatments are being used," she says. "It doesn’t hurt to ask ‘why’ a lot."
• Find a physician you are comfortable with. Often, individuals and society as a whole put doctors on a pedestal, Warren says. "Look for doctors who don’t treat you like a number," she says. "Make sure they listen to you."
Forsythe says when patients are diagnosed with cancer, they often deal with a flood of emotions, such as anger, confusion, fear, self-pity and denial. It is through this fog that they often are trying to understand and make decisions about their treatment options.
"Diana had the courage to take charge of her situation and make the decisions that proved right for her," he says.