The following is an edited transcript of a talk given at the Annual FACT Cancer/Nutrition Convention in Elizabeth, New Jersey.
Ruth Sackman, President of FACT: It gives me great pleasure to introduce Greg Hagerty who will discuss his recovery from Hodgkins Disease. I think you’ll find it a rather dramatic story.
Greg Hagerty: I suppose it is, though it doesn’t seem so dramatic to me. It all started about 10 years ago. I was an undergraduate, living a typical student lifestyle: lots of pressure, neglect, etc. I was tired. I developed a cough, high white blood count and a mass in my lung. After all the tests – transbronchial biopsy – which kept me in the hospital for 3 months – I was diagnosed with Hodgkins Disease.
With Hodgkins it’s really hard to argue with your doctor because they talk about such high cure rates with chemotherapy. There’s nothing you can really say. It seems like you’re totally crazy if you go against your doctor, so I went through chemo for 2 years. I finished school undergoing chemotherapy and my tumor disappeared which was nice.
So I tried to continue with my life for about 6 months. Then there was a recurrence and things got a little fuzzier. It was a lot more unclear as to what I was supposed to do.
But the doctors said there was still some hope. They suggested I go to Johns Hopkins and try out a new treatment, bone marrow transplant. ‘While it might not save my life, it had an 18% chance of success. Since then I was approached by my doctors saying bone marrow transplantation is much more effective these days. It now has a 30% chance of success.
But that didn’t sound very good to me. It took a long time for me to get from listening to my doctor to where I’m at now which is listening to Ruth and taking a lot more control over my life. I guess what it really boils down to is taking more responsibility. Although at the time people did talk about positive attitude and taking responsibility, etc., its still overwhelming. You just can’t do it all at once. What do you do especially when what you really should do is the opposite of what everyone thinks you should do? It takes a long time to figure things out.
The first step, I guess, was realizing that I had to try something different than what the doctors were offering. My mom was doing research and she said, look at this: “There’s work going on in the Bahamas, with a Dr. Burton.” Well, I pretty much threw the book at her. I threw the book across the room! How was I supposed to know what to do?
But finally I thought I’d give it a try. My doctor said he couldn’t recommend it. We decided to try it for a few months. It’s an immunology program. At first I hated the Bahamas. Being a cancer patient at the time I wasn’t really in the mood for hanging out on the beach. But now I love it and I can’t wait to go back there every 4 months or so for a “tune-up.” I spend most of the time out on the beach despite the fact that the sun’s not supposed to be good for you. Well, I guess you can’t do everything perfectly.
The idea of the Burton program is to boost your other immune system for fighting cancer. You give yourself injections of de-blocking proteins to try to get your immune system in sync. One of the first things people say when they’re considering the Burton program is, how could I inject myself with a needle? When you tell them you’ve got to do that 12 times a day, ifs like forget it! The thing is, you get used to it
I went for a blood test every morning to see what different levels of proteins were in my blood and then I got my shots for the day, generally 8-12 shots. They were pretty much spaced out, an hour apart in a couple of series. You just live by a watch for a long time. Fortunately, I’ve kind of graduated and I just know what time it is. I think in 1 hour intervals and I just give myself a couple of shots throughout the day.
I don’t remember what all the proteins are. One of them is to de-block the tumor, the idea being that cancer puts up a blocking protein around the tumor.
I did really well on that for a while, although the Burton program is like letting someone else take care of you. It’s great to be able to relax on the beach and eat all the garbage food that’s down there. You can drink if you want. “Just take your shots and Dr. Burton will cure you!”
Anyway, those proteins work to signal the body that, hey, there’s something wrong. A lot of cancer patients’ bodies – or in any chronic illness – just don’t respond to the idea that there’s something wrong. The body gets tired. The proteins seem to stimulate your body to keep fighting. It’s difficult for me to give a scientific description because it’s so mysterious. All I know is, it works for a lot of people.
The Burton patients, generally speaking, are still trying to be cured by someone else, though there’s more of an awareness about helping the body along and taking responsibility for the injections every day. Burton was trying to do research on immunotherapy; he wasn’t trying to provide a wholistic cure. So down there, they say, “Eat whatever you like.” Burton used to say, “Eat 6 eggs a day. Eat steak and all that”
They don’t pay attention to detox either. They’ve got all these people on ultra-high tumor kill and they expect the body to deal with it. That’s partly why it is tested and modulated everyday – because they don’t want to boost your immune system so high that you overload your liver and kidneys.
Eventually I found that I should pay more attention to my nutrition and detoxification. I started using a colema board, improving my diet I had my irises checked by Dr. Bernard Jensen. I found I needed a more intensive detoxification and selected the Gerson clinic in Mexico.
I thought it was just going to be for a week or two, just for detox, but I got involved in their program. It’s the kind of thing that once you start being aware, you realize that everything you put in your body matters. Gerson provided me with some structure, like drinking 10 carrot and apples juices a day with green juices (pressed greens) in between. Just about everything has a Granny Smith apple in it Lots of coffee enemas which I did for a couple of years until Ruth convinced me that that’s still a drug. And supplements, too.
It seems everyone is always focusing on immune stimulation. No one seems to pay attention to doing what’s really important which is keeping yourself in balance – eating right and detoxifying to get rid of the waste that’s produced. A lot of people get in a lot of trouble if their immune system gets working and they don’t take care of the detox.
The Gerson program is really pretty difficult to stay on. You definitely need help. It was great down there having someone make juices every hour, cook salt and fat-free food. I appreciated it while I was there and I appreciated it even more when I did it for 3 years for myself! Sometimes I hired high school students to come in to wash carrots, help me make my soup, make some juices.
The other thing about Gerson, it was interesting to see that you won’t drop dead if you don’t eat much animal protein. I was pretty much off protein for 2 years. Eventually I added a cup of yogurt a day. The body, of course, does need some oils, so you use some flaxseed oil. I guess an important principle for nutrition is that it’s good not to heat oil for cooking. I’m still continuing with a lot of the Gerson principles because I’m used to it and it’s good food. I make soup for a week long. It’s just something great to have around. I still do the juices. I’ve reduced my juice intake quite a bit, trying for 3 juices a day.
Another thing I think is really important all along I’ve been doing psychotherapy which I think has really contributed to helping me grow up and has been part of this process of taking more responsibility for myself. I have this different attitude now. I’m not as worried as I was.
You need a lot of experience to realize that your body does work. You have to learn gradually to take control. I guess you have to get scared to do that, to realize your own mortality and know that what you do really can make a difference. People don’t see that they really can make a difference. They don’t see that what they’re doing, or not doing, not being aware of pesticides – that you really can die from these things. You get scared into taking things seriously.
I used to have a frustration not being able to eat out. You don’t want to just eat steamed broccoli, you know. I make such exciting food at home. But eventually, you can eat in places. As you get more familiar with the diet, even if you’re on a structured program, you learn why you need certain things and you learn where you can cut corners if you’re basically eating good things. I’m still picky when I eat out – but you get a little more flexible.
I think it’s quite an accomplishment that I’ve been able to travel abroad to Japan. I brought my shots. I ate okay. In Japan they eat pretty good food, closer to nature, a little more aware than people here. Although I did eat a lot of raw fish, I’m sure people here will say, what about parasites and all that. Well, I think they pay a lot more attention to the quality there. I’m very happy to feel free enough to be able to travel and find a way to survive and be happy.
RS: I want to say something before the questions. It’s interesting when I’ve been in touch with a patient for a long period of time to hear him tell his story. I think his story is so dramatic. Yet he’s just making it sound as though this is an ordinary thing. He did a lot of work. He had an organic garden during the summers. He adheres to his program very well. It doesn’t matter if on occasion he feels as though he wants a little change. He does it very seldom. He’s a very conscientious patient. You have to understand that he was scheduled for a bone marrow transplant That’s all that was offered to him at one time. He never had it. He had a tougher job to take care of than a lot of other people. So I think Greg should take quite a good deal of pride in what he has learned, how he has handled it and what he has accomplished.
All right, he’s ready to take some questions. Q: How old are you?
GH: I’m 32. I was 21 when it started. I had had mononucleosis for 4 years before and that’s why I was immuno-suppressed. The tumor could have been developing from then.
Q: Did you have surgery?
GH: I only had a lung biopsy which was almost just as bad as surgery. Nothing was taken out, so I’m glad of that.
Q: Are your lungs now tumor-free?
GH: I think my tumor’s gone, although that’s another point I could have made about the difference in looking at symptom and cause. Even the Gerson people and the Burton people say, “Get an MR!. We want to see what a good job we’ve done, etc.” Ruth is saying, “what’s the point of it? That’s not what you’re treating. You’re not treating the tumor.” I’m so much more concerned with the body. Well, some people might say that I’m afraid to see what’s going on there, but I know what’s going on there just because of my general health.
Q: Maybe it’s more for their purposes, so they can show the medical establishment what can be done?
GH: Right. But it really won’t tell me anything. Maybe I’m just too kind to my insurance company, because I could hit them up for $800 a couple times a year if I wanted. I’m not going to make treatment choices based on that. It turns out I do research in medical decision modeling and that’s one of our principles–you don’t do a test if you’re not going to make a treatment choice based on the outcome.
Q: How did the diet change the tumor?
GH: I don’t have quantitative measurements. I know the tumor was growing when I went to Gerson. Although I believe Burton was controlling things, different stresses just got out of control. I can’t tell you quantitatively, but I know qualitatively my health has improved dramatically since then. Also if the lymph nodes got enlarged, Burton would just throw Prednisone at me and stuff like that I’ve since refined. Q: How long have you been working with Ruth?
GH: Since the beginning actually. Even though I went through chemotherapy, she stuck with us and tried to educate us.
Q: How often did you do the chemo?
GH: Every other week for about 2 years.
Q: Did you go to school at the same time?
GH: Yes, I tried to keep up. It kept my spirits up actually. I had a really great doctor. I know people talk about their oncologists, you know, “My wife died but we had a great oncologist” But I did have a real nice oncologist who took me under his wing and sort of adopted me. I was actually going to school in Pittsburgh while my mom was here in New Jersey. There were good support programs that would allow her to fly out for free. I think it was good for me to continue trying to live a life while going through that, to take my mind off things, although you can do without the stress.
Q: Did you have any radiation?
GH: No, fortunately.
Q: How long were you on the full Gerson program and what kind of maintenance program did you follow?
GH: I guess I was on a full Gerson for 2 years. They cut back just a little with me. Instead of 13 juices and 5 coffee enemas, I was doing 10 juices and 3 coffee enemas. I really enjoyed the coffee enemas. I was always a coffee drinker; I have to get my caffeine somehow! It’s very soothing, and I really enjoyed that It’s bizzare But then I switched to colemas and I do that once a day. It’s good reading time. I give myself an hour a day for that
I’ve cut back on the juices. I still make the soup. I pretty much eat a Gerson diet. I’m experimenting with adding some things little by little. For the year after the 2 years I was trying to get 8 juices in a day. They wanted to treat me slowly because I had had chemotherapy. They feel like once you start on raw foods your body starts to let go of a lot of dings. I dropped 10-15 lbs. really quickly. Now I’ve gotten used to the idea the body just reaches it’s own weight I don’t worry about it
I used to work on a computer on the colema board, but I decided not to. Playing piccolo is great on a colema board because your abdominal muscles relax. Sometimes I find when I read, I let go better, whereas if I’m just thinking about it, I hold things. I’m still working out how not to press too much.
Q: Did you have any Vitamin C drips?
RS: If he was in touch with me, I would discourage that I don’t think Greg would have done it without talking with me. Am I correct on that?
RS: Thank you, Greg.