Dr. Nasha Winters is a Radical Remission survivor of stage 4 ovarian cancer. Diagnosed at the early age of 19, her doctors told her that chemo and surgery wouldn’t help her advanced cancer, so she was forced to explore alternative methods. 25 years later, she has no evidence of active disease. Here is her story in her own words:
“At 19 years old (in 1991), I was given an expiration date of 3-6 months – and that was WITH treatment! I was filled with ascites, metastatic lesions, crippled in extreme pain and nausea, had infections simmering, severe malnourishment, and muscle wasting. The diagnosis was Stage 4 ovarian cancer. No one could look me in the eye when they expressed their condolences, and they told me that nothing I could do would change this outcome. Though my doctors were willing to begin treatment, they also gave me the contact info for hospice because they thought, in the state I was in, chemo and surgery would only hasten my inevitable demise.
It had taken countless doctors over six months to stop making assumptions and defaulting to writing scripts from A (anxiolytics) to Z (Zithromax). Finally, I was blessed with an ER doctor who allowed me the time to share the chronology of my symptoms and truly listen; he performed a proper physical exam, ran more comprehensive labs, and a variety of scans. But by then, it was too late.
The ER doctor literally cried when he told me what he had found. Ironically, I found myself comforting him, as I was the same age as his daughter. In hindsight, as a clinician, I understand why my diagnosis evaded so many — advanced cancer in a young woman was not a common finding in those days; sadly, however, 25 years later, I have since met many more young cancer patients.
Uninsured, out of options, before the internet, and long before “Dr. Google,” it was up to me to find hope, since no one else had any. It also pushed me to go deep within myself to find an inner strength and will to live that simply hadn’t existed for me before. The diagnosis of terminal cancer suddenly shook me awake and asked me point-blank if I wanted to live or die. At that point in my life, I wasn’t sure.
Along with my unfortunate epigenetics (I didn’t know the specifics of those until 2013), I was also blessed (or cursed?) with extreme stubbornness and a belief that I would NOT be a statistic. Perhaps it was my age and naiveté, but at that time in my life I embodied the old adage of, “For those who say it can’t be done, get out of the way of those doing it.” Leaving no stone unturned, a 3-month “going-out-fighting” attitude has me now sharing this story with you today, nearly 25 years later.
It was grim. After my “probable diagnosis” in the ER, I was referred to an OB/GYN to establish the primary cancer, and was also referred to an oncologist and surgeon. I had a biopsy right away and they removed over a liter of fluid from my abdomen and noted lesions on my liver and a grapefruit-sized tumor on my ovary. My CA125 was over 10,000. The results [of the biopsy] showed a mixed presentation (that’s all they told me back then), though current data would most likely call it MMMT (malignant mixed mullerian tumor). They told me that it was a very aggressive type of cancer, and that even with surgery and chemo, I’d be lucky to live 3-6 months, as it had already spread to my liver and lymph nodes throughout my abdomen. Two separate oncologists reviewed my case and could only offer chemo as palliative care — very toxic palliative care.
I could write literally hundreds of chapters of how from that point forward I found things that worked, things that didn’t work, got better, got worse, got scared, and eventually, got calm.
It wasn’t until a few years ago that my CA125 even dropped into the “normal” range — after removing a root canal tooth that had given me grief since I was 14 years old, after I had quit all grains (as I had Celiac and other autoimmune patterns), and after I had done some deeper emotional work. I have been lucky enough to have a colleague/friend who is a gynecologist in Arizona who monitors me, so I have done a few CT scans (3 since the original MRI, and 2 other MRIs that have left my kidney function devastated from gadolinium poisoning). At first, the scans showed [cancer] progression, but things have been stable as of the last scan nearly 5 years ago. I still have what appear to be stable lesions on my liver, but no more ascites, and the tumor is now more like a scar on my right ovary.
For years following my diagnosis and quest for a “cure,” I carried this burden almost alone, like a dirty little secret. I intuitively knew that telling others would not help and would also hinder any chance I had to survive. The few occasions I shared my experience with others, I was met with pity, disbelief, and judgment. I knew one thing for sure; I did NOT (nor do I now) want to be labeled as a “cancer patient.” Even this past week, I had an annual exam with a new practitioner in another state, as I am traveling a lot and didn’t want to miss my annual check-up. In sharing my medical history, it always creates a riff….. (What, no mammogram? You still have your ovaries?) She gave me a look of disdain, where only moments before we had been laughing about the scratches on my thighs from my new kitties. Her attitude was either one of writing me off as stupid, or one of complete disbelief — despite the fact I am alive with all my parts intact, 25 years later.
Naturopathic Medical school offered me a safe haven of exploring my own health and healing, nutrition, lifestyle, supplements, IV protocols, laboratory assessment, mind/body healing, homeopathy and hands-on care by amazing practitioners who listened with their whole being to what my body was trying to say, while I learned from them, and applied it to myself first before practicing it on others. I believe it made me the doctor I am today. I credit my hunger for knowledge and connections to my mentors for offering up more pieces to the puzzle that ultimately made me whole again.
People always ask me, “What is the ONE thing you did that saved your life, or someone else’s?”
It is easy to be seduced by the idea that any one of these individuals found a miracle in a single treatment. Instead, they approached their cancer process, as I did, by exploring ALL parts of their mind, body, spirit, diet, and lifestyle that needed attention.
It is also easy to become the cancer diagnosis. That is something I fought tooth and nail initially, which I now understand served me well but can be done in a more loving and gentle way. There is a delicate balance here – you see, we ALL have cancer cells. There is no such thing as being “cancer-free”; however, these cells are listening intently and waiting for our cues. When they “hear” fear, they use it as fuel (the sympathetic nervous system is a driver for metastasis). When these cells are put under the spotlight day in and day out, they have no impetus to go into quiescence. When they are simply ignored, they will work harder to make themselves heard.
However, if these cells are deeply listened to, understood (with labs, diaries, dietary interventions, molecular profiling, tissue assays, epigenetic testing, etc.) and given the tools necessary to metabolically bring them back to a place of balance (with things such as an oxidative therapy, therapeutic diet, stress reduction, and the resolution of nutrient deficiencies)—then one can survive and thrive.
Take for instance this enigma: most of my patients told me they were “healthy” until diagnosed with cancer. And yet, I can’t think of a single case where that is true. Once a thorough medical and family history, laboratory assessment going above and beyond a simple CBC, CMP and cancer marker, a diet and lifestyle questionnaire, and discussion about what brings them joy and gives them purpose — there-in lays the clues of where cancer began and where we begin on their healing journey.
Simply put, most folks land in a place of complacency and/or disconnect from self. Cancer will take root in half of all U.S. men and 1 in 2.4 U.S. women in their lifetimes. And yet, it is always a shock when one is diagnosed—in fact, one would say that the real medical emergency with cancer is the diagnosis.
I liken it to the ultimate wake-up call. How you choose to respond to that call may have the greatest impact on your outcome than any treatment you choose. My own brush with death 25 years ago has me carrying a few valuable tools I strive to apply to others and myself:
o Being present in any given moment
o Truly Listening (to yourself as well as others!)
o Connecting with the inner strength
o Being stubborn and refusing to be a statistic
o Finding purpose
o Being a detective in your own physiology and psychology
o Truly embracing life, even in the last moments
Through the years, I have found as a clinician that sharing my personal story does not really help people; rather, it often triggers them. It makes them question me and my choices, as well as their own. Even my recent Pap smear and pelvic ultrasound brought the hackles up of a nurse practitioner who simply couldn’t “hear” my story and trust that there could be another way.
I am only beginning to share my story now, in the last few years. Perhaps I feel it is safe to say I am in a good place? Would I ever say I am cured? No, and neither would labs or scans. I think I am healthy and always striving for balance. I know that tending to my terrain and not to the tumor has been key to my survival. And perhaps the real point of me sharing now is that so many others have stepped forward on this site, sharing their own miracles, and creating a safe-haven for others to do the same!
EDITOR’S NOTE: To learn more about Nasha, visit her site.
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