Today's blog is from cancer survivor John Hagger, who writes a very moving and inspirational account about his experience with terminal cancer and the Gerson Therapy.
This is a story of my experience with the disease, malignant melanoma, a particularly virulent and fast spreading form of cancer. To be truthful, this is more an interim account of my experience with the Gerson Therapy after 12 months of the 2 year regime and an expression of the fundamental movements that have occurred in the deepest part of my life since having the original cancer diagnosis 21 months ago.
This work is dedicated to Lesley, my wife, to my dear family and friends who love me and have carried me through the darkest times, and supported me emotionally, physically and financially; to the compassionate and loving healers who continue to work with me and, of course, to the memory of Dr Max Gerson and his daughter Charlotte who continues his work uncompromisingly.
The Start of My Journey
The first sign was a mole at the top of my back on my right shoulder blade. It looked harmless enough, it even looked friendly, but I was totally unaware of the potential horrors of which this tiny mole was a symptom. I watched it grow over the months, glancing at it now and then in the mirror. At one point it started to itch. I had heard about these. I thought it was time I took it to the doctor.
I arranged a visit and casually called in on the way to work one morning. My GP had a reputation for being very laid back even a bit slapdash, so it really took me by surprise when she insisted that I do not leave her office until she had made an urgent appointment with the consultant at the local hospital.
The appointment was made for the very next day and I continued on my way to work. My thoughts were no longer on planning for forthcoming client meetings. Instead they had been superseded by this strange turn of events and I was now juggling with new and totally unexpected priorities. Even at this early stage I was beginning to feel that my foundations were being threatened. Things in other areas of my life at that time were far from harmonious. I had been experiencing serious business and personal financial problems for the previous 2 years and as a result I was facing bankruptcy. At home my marriage was close to collapse. I had been feeling a state of confusion and disconnectedness building in my life for some time and this new development, which carried an ominous aura was not altogether a surprise.
I arrived at the office and immediately checked that my sickness insurance policy was still in force. I was in the insurance business and it occurred to me that all of a sudden at that point in time my life was uninsurable at any price, at least until the results of the medical tests were available. The hours stretched out before me, waiting for my hospital appointment. The wait was interminable and my mind was fixed on nothing else.
When my appointment finally arrived I was shown into a room to await the doctor. I admit that I have little respect for the way medicine is distributed and I disagree with the medical philosophy of symptomatic treatment, so I was pleasantly surprised when I was greeted by a consultant with a friendly face and a warm approach. He did not have a big antique desk that separated us, instead he put his arm on my shoulder and called me John; we were both wearing exactly the same ties. I warmed to him.
After a close look at the mole he said he thought it looked malignant and before I knew it I was flat out with the upper part of my back numbed as a surgeon was carving a section out of me as if I were a Sunday roast.
The mole was whisked away to the laboratory leaving me in shock, feeling feeble and abused. I was going to have to wait a week for the result of the biopsy and I was being thrown back out into my life expected to make a lunch appointment and talk business sense while my mind was totally absorbed in matters of impending death.
The film “Love Story” came back to me in vivid remembrance, as I recalled how the woman played by Ali McGraw was carrying on her life as normal, and then, without warning, came the devastating prognosis. It gave me this vaguely romantic and unreal feeling of being special. The speed of this new turn of events left me reeling and without knowing my life had already changed.
The next seven days was the worst week of my life. I didn’t know whether I was about to die, had five years to live or that the whole thing was a false alarm. All the options and how I would deal with them went round and round in my mind ceaselessly. I kept remembering the words of the surgeon which were that if it was malignant and if it spreads to the lymphatic system the prognosis would be very poor.
Finally after this week of endless days and nights contemplating life and death and everything in between I was sitting with the consultant who spoke to me softly and sympathetically but in a somewhat resigned manner. The mole was a malignant melanoma with a depth of 2.5mm. Everything will be OK, try to be positive and continue life as normal. He told me I was a borderline case, if I had left it any longer it would have been much worse but it would have been much worse. borderline case, if I had left it any longer it would have been much worse. I was in a bare room with my wife, Lesley, oblivious to our surroundings we tried to come to terms with the diagnosis and to understand what it meant to us. My feelings at this time were hard to understand; I wasn’t sick but I had just been told that I had a life threatening illness. I could walk out of the hospital as well as any man, I could go to work, I could carry on canoeing (my passion) but I was to understand that at any time this disease could, without further warning, take over and very quickly finish me off.
Responding to the Diagnosis
During the months that followed I built up a library of cancer books trying to get a more rounded understanding of the disease. I avoided the orthodox medical literature as I couldn’t find any hope there. I remember breaking out into a cold sweat in the medical section of Milton Keynes Central Library. Instead I concentrated on nutritional and mind-body books, which offered more hope if only because they helped me to believe that there was something that I could do about my condition.
I started to understand that despite the doom and gloom presented by conventional doctors and the overwhelming fear of the disease experienced by just about everyone I spoke to, cancer is a constitutional disease affecting the whole of the body. It is therefore common sense to treat the whole of the body rather than to concentrate on the tumour which, after all, is just the symptom.
I also spoke to a homeopathic doctor friend who suggested that the Gerson Therapy had particularly good results with melanoma. He went on to tell me that, in his opinion, for someone to get cancer they had to be broken down not only physically but also emotionally and spiritually. His parting words were that I should treat it with respect. This was a loaded phone conversation leaving me in no doubt that I had work to do.
Changing My Lifestyle
My life was changing. I would wake in the morning feeling fresh and happy with my new lifestyle but despite this, the knowledge of its possible existence in my body never left me. I lived in fear of metastases.
Nine months later I noticed an annoying lingering cough and when I visited the gym for my twice weekly workouts my performance was down on normal. In spite of my attempts at health a little lump appeared in my right armpit. Just where they said it might. It was about the size of an almond, sitting there: solid, painless and defiant.
After all my efforts I couldn’t believe that this was it. A week later after taking fluid from the lump by needle aspiration, my soft and sympathetic friend at the hospital gave me the news in an even more resigned manner than before. The cancer had metastasised to the lymphatic system and there was no effective treatment. In his words I had months not years to live.
Earlier, when my doctor friend had told me about the Gerson Therapy I had investigated it, reading Beata Bishop’s book 'A Time to Heal', but because I felt well and in control, I was not interested at the time in such a regimented approach. I knew, however, that Gerson was my contingency plan and the time had arrived to call on it.
In my investigations I had also learned about the Debra Stappard Trust which loaned juicers and water purifiers to people doing Gerson therapy saving them the purchase price of about £1500. It was time to pay a visit to the Trust at the home of Colin and Sheila Compton, who by coincidence, lived a few miles away on a farm at the foot of Box Hill in the North Downs of Surrey.
Colin and Sheila’s daughter Debra had died of melanoma. Despite her dying, her experience on Gerson Therapy was positive enough for her parents to now work tirelessly to spread a deeper understanding of cancer and its treatment with alternative therapies. Sadly, Debra, it was felt, started with the therapy at a point where her body was too depleted for her immune system to fully recover.
This is where the magic began.
Embarking on the Gerson Therapy
This “chance” meeting with Eileen was so important to me as it somehow saved me from total desperation; we had an alternative which made scientific sense. After the initial, dazed, "Where am I?" feeling it was a matter of the practical preparations for Mexico, not least the fact that a 3-week stay was likely to cost £10,000 and we had nothing. We booked the flight and the hospital, I gave up my job thankfully (I’m sure I would never have quit as a life assurance salesman otherwise) and I felt like I was formally closing the doors on my old life never again to return.
Every day for the next two weeks I filled a full page of things we had to do in preparation, which included sorting out the long standing damp problem in our house and getting a new kitchen fitted; the thought of doing the therapy on a jumble of rickety old cupboards without proper worksurfaces just could not be considered. I was beginning to realise that the therapy alone was going to be a major challenge without even thinking about the other implications of having cancer, so it was important to remove all possible other obstacles at the outset.
We went to the solicitors to make wills, made arrangements for the children, sorted out a temporary home for the dog, arranged passports and currency and tried to tie up some last minute business deals to hopefully give us a bit of cash on our return. We also fitted in taking the dog to his first bull terrier show. He unfortunately came last but Matthew, our son, did win first prize in the raffle – a big Easter egg.
Once family and friends heard of our problems, cheques started arriving and during those two weeks we received enough money to cover our trip. We received cards and letters bringing warm wishes from all sorts of people some who I haven’t heard from for years. It was a very special time and a very emotional one, especially when I stopped and sat down to give my feelings a chance to catch up with what was going on. It wasn’t at all how I would have expected it to be, not that I ever had expected it, but it all seemed so normal.
Off To Mexico
As the departure date was approaching I was pushing myself harder and harder to get everything done just as I was used to doing, but now it was different; I had always had the reserves of energy, now something was definitely missing. My passport photo taken a couple of days before leaving was a shock and is now a vivid reminder of how I felt during those few days.
At the airport we said a tearful farewell to our two teenage children and we were soon in the air leaving the fruits of many days planning and organising well behind us. It had all been very different to the preparation for say, moving home or going on holiday, although the actions were no different; they belied the true purpose, they were an excuse, the true feelings lurking under the surface were too powerful to appraise.
As we took our seats on the aeroplane I became aware that there were only me and Lesley left and we sat quietly and softly stroked each other and cried.
As soon as we arrived at the hospital we were swept up and thrown headlong into the rapids of the Gerson system, which is a regimented regime of endless juices, coffee enemas, cooked meals and medications. I realise that this in itself has its own therapeutic effects, but more of that later. I was introduced to my doctor, a glamorous lady around thirty in tightly fitting denim jeans and a white coat left open flapping as she walked. Dr Bravo greeted me with a big warm smile and in her Spanish American accent took my case history and officially got me started; as soon as she left another Mexican lady arrived “joos” she cried as she knocked at the door. I got to know her quite well, as I saw her 13 times a day. Another knock at the door, a nurse introduced herself and wanted to know my “vital signs”, which turned out to be temperature, pulse and blood pressure. This happened 3 times a day and on top of this I was having daily visits for ozone therapy, “liver sharts” (intramuscular crude liver injections).
Someone came to clean the room, another to refill the fruit plate, the herb tea, the coffee for enemas and then our coordinator to keep us in touch with the various lectures and other happenings and to generally help to make our stay as trouble free as possible. It was like Victoria station sometimes, as they trooped in and out, occasionally having to queue outside waiting for a space.
After a few days at the hospital I started to feel my energy draining from me to the point where just getting around became difficult, I had to use the lift to go up one short flight of stairs and I thought it was a good job I hadn’t gone to Mexico to sight see. I was exhausted all the time. The food became a lot less appetising, particularly on the mornings of every other day when we had to get up at 5am for 2 desert spoons of caster oil. In spite of it being cold-pressed and free from additives I find caster oil to be one of the nastiest experiences of my life, although its cleansing effects are something to be experienced. It is repulsive, similar, I would imagine to drinking engine oil. Once swallowed (it's best warmed, not quite so claggy) it takes between 4 and 5 hours to pass through the body during which time its safer to stay horizontal! Unlike other organic matter the body doesn’t absorb the oil and seems to want to be rid of it as soon as possible. A caster oil and coffee enema is taken after 5 hours and then the whole lot is eliminated. This is gruesome but it is quickly followed by a wonderful experience of mental clarity and physical cleanliness.
This treatment, together with 5 coffee enemas daily, starts the long haul of ridding the body of harmful and toxic waste products left building up after years of abuse and mismanagement. This part of the regime was a revelation to me. For the previous 9 months I had been sticking to a strict purification programme and I had assumed the elimination of toxins was happening automatically, but this first week in Mexico was so intense, such a massive assault on my system, that I realised that I hadn’t really even scratched the surface.
Changes Start To Happen
Towards the end of this first week I looked in the mirror in amazement, as I noticed that my eyes were turning blue - it was as if the murky greeny brown was clearing to reveal the true blue colour underneath. It is said that the iris tells a detailed story about the health of their owners and I was sure that this was evidence of my body rejoicing at the prospect of this super spring clean.
The fact that I had a life threatening illness was sinking in, a disease that continues to confound the finest of the world's medical brains, incurable by conventional means and that if I was going to recover I would have to draw on a source of very powerful healing to arrest and reverse this cancer process which, without treatment, kills its victims between 2 and 6 months after it travels to the lymphatic system, so I am led to believe.
The days passed and we became more and more absorbed in the therapy. Daily lectures explained the theory while my own experiences of the healing reactions or “flare ups” provided the practical. I was into the second week when I became aware that far from shrinking and disappearing, as I was led to expect, my malignant lymph node was getting progressively bigger. The bigger it got the more worried I became until it grew to the size of a small apple. Seventeen days after I arrived at the hospital it was so painful, so hot and swollen, that I didn’t know how to relax or get comfortable. The clay packs that the doctor recommended for drawing out toxins and easing the pain were no longer effective. I was depressed even though Dr Bravo seemed to be taking it in her stride. I didn’t believe that this was a sign that the treatment was effective, from where I was sitting it seemed very much like this was a typical progression of the disease.
Then suddenly in the middle of the night it changed. It was still painful, but in a different way, almost like a bruised pain and the heat started to subside. It felt like the pressure had been released and then I experienced a tremendous feeling of euphoria. I had to get up and walk about, I couldn’t possibly sleep, I had this joyful feeling welling up inside me that made me want to laugh. I went up on the roof and watched the stars in the warm night and then looked down into the dusty Mexican streets and watched the town close down for the night; the last few pedestrians walking home alone, hands in pockets, heads down, I loved them all.
I woke up the next morning, still feeling bruised and saw that all round the area of my armpit was black and blue, the pain had spread down my side, round my back and along my arm. I knew that I had just experienced some of that healing power that I so desperately needed. I phoned home immediately, joyfully telling my anxious family and friends that the therapy was working. With more confidence I stood back and watched, as an observer, as these healing reactions, strange and unusual to orthodox medicine continued.
Our three weeks at the hospital soon passed and we left amid emotional farewells and good wishes armed with flasks full of juice, bags of food, and a huge packing case of medications, enough for the first year. On top of this an enema bucket and coffee for 2 enemas, which I was going to have to negotiate wedged into an aircraft toilet. I was totally unprepared for this journey. In my debilitated state a 10 hour plane trip with all the associated hassles was a horrible experience, eased only marginally by the assistance of a porter and wheelchair.
Continuing Gerson At Home
There I was in the early stages of cancer secondaries, having rejected a meeting with a learned and well respected cancer specialist at Westminster Hospital in favour of a Mexican clinic in a dusty backstreet in Tijuana, where the plumbing was suspect and none of the nurses or domestic staff could speak a word of English. I was at home feeling sick, exhausted, depressed and I hated the food, which on a nutritional therapy is unfortunate! My own doctors were unable to help, my symptoms were outside their field of reference for the normal cancer patient. Besides, I was feeling so fragile that I didn’t want to risk the precious little security offered by my friends in Mexico to the gross destructive hands of the establishment, I was going it alone.
My world had been turned upside down and inside out but I had been given the basis on which I was to build a new and healthy body; the 13 juices, 5 enemas and 3 cooked meals were tiring and tedious but it gave my carers a channel for positive energy. Compare this to visiting a loved one in hospital, sitting helplessly at their bedside as they are struggling to come to terms with their diagnosis, lying in a toxic stupour midway through a course of chemotherapy.
Despite the initial desperation, after two months at home things were beginning to look up. While I was still sleeping most of the time, my faithful companions had hammered the routine into shape and as the summer approached our supply of organic fruit and vegetables became more varied and the days were getting warmer. Each day in the shower I felt the lump in my right armpit, which did seem to be getting smaller. The weeks went by and yes, I could confirm it was definitely getting smaller, I was cautiously overjoyed.
The positive progress continued as I was looking and feeling better and sleeping less. I started to regain some of the weight I had lost and my appetite increased. After 11 weeks on the therapy the lump in my right axilla disappeared completely. It had been 9 weeks since the inflammatory reaction in Mexico.
The visible symptom had disappeared and although a positive sign I knew it wasn’t a cure. The underlying problem still existed and it was going to take another 20 months or so to fully restore my immune system to prevent a recurrence. The drachonian regime had to continue.
It is now 12 months since starting on Gerson therapy, 13 months since malignant melanoma metastasised to my lymphatic system, a condition that the medical world say is irreversible and will lead to death in a very short time, certainly within a year. Well, I haven’t died and nor have I spent this year seeing an endless succession of consultants, oncologists, registrars and nurses all talking sympathetically but not actually coming up with the goods. Nor have I had to surrender the responsibility for my own life to become a victim of the system to be ministered to by the doctor god. I have clear precise direction and clear undrugged perception.
The Gerson therapy has put the responsibility on my shoulders and to those of my loving family and friends. Under strict supervision, albeit from Mexico I am managing the disease myself. I don’t however have any guarantees of success and, if the army of opinion is correct, I will, without further warning, suffer an ugly death after manifesting widespread malignant tumours. This opinion carries with it the full force of the medical establishment with all of their highly paid specialists, their research laboratories and their many many years of investigation costing billions. I find it impossible to be immune to the fears of their expert prognosis.
Fear for the Future
Despite the miraculous (in the words of my GP) disappearance of the malignant lymph tumour and my textbook (in the words of the Gerson physician) signs of recovery, and now with a wider understanding of the disease and the personal experience of the power of healing I still have an irrational fear of failure. It feels like I not only have the obstacle of overcoming the disease but I am also fighting the statistics laid down by this powerful body of negativity all generated from this great fear of cancer. I believe that this fear, coupled with the toxic suppressive drugs and other destructive treatments, forgetting the disease, together greatly reduce the cancer sufferer’s chances of survival.
Apart from this underlying worry the days pass fairly uneventfully, every day like the one before. In my busy, previous life I could never have envisaged living, scheduled to such a tight routine without a break for two months, without tearing my hair out, let alone two years. Nevertheless the endless regime carries me through it and in a way, gives a certain security at a time when I feel insecure and a protection when I feel vulnerable. I avoid involvement in anything that is likely to jeopardise me getting my next juice or enema on time.
After the initial excitement I see very few people and have withdrawn from the world into a safe environment of utter simplicity. From time to time it gets boring but I do get to enjoy doing the things I never had time to do before: trying to understand the computer, reading and learning to play the blues.
Against this background of mundanity I am faced with myself, my thoughts, my illness without any stimulants into which I can escape, but despite the confrontation this is where a healing happens. The most important part of it all is I’m discovering myself. Sometimes I look forward to a time when I will be able to stop this preoccupation with myself and be able to consider a life without cancer but I know that, in the future, thoughts of this time now will always be the most precious.
This year has been the most enlightening of my life, the way my illness has aggressively forced me to pull out of everything, retreat behind the line, examine my condition and then go whole heartedly, with all the energy I have got left for survival. What I did not realise, at the time, was that I was going to be getting a lot more than just survival, this was my reset button, the cancer was actually healing my life or at least offering me the opportunity. In this situation I have found it is possible to turn the attention away from disease and death and towards health and life.