When Shirley Newcomb came face-to-face with a devastating cancer diagnosis, one that had doctors predicting she had mere months to live, she was determined to fight it.
The retired Windsor nurse began chemotherapy treatments and followed the doctor’s orders — but she also began reading up on natural healing and soon added nutritional supplements to her daily routine.
“I thought if I’ve only got a few months to live, I got to get busy and hit it hard,” said Newcomb.
It’s been three years since that initial diagnosis.
Her energy is up; she doesn’t require blood transfusions anymore. She’s been given a new lease on life.
Newcomb credits the combination of naturopathic and scientific medicine for her incredible comeback and hopes by sharing her story, she will inspire others to read up on their diagnoses and not be afraid to try a multilayered approach to healthcare.
“It saved my life.”
Back pain leads to diagnosis
The 87-year-old was born and raised in Cambridge, near Walton, and during the Second World War, her parents moved to Halifax. Along with her twin brother John, the pair attended high school in the city, with Newcomb going on to pursue a career in nursing. After a few years in the field, she transferred to Windsor and spent 30 years helping local patients — first at the Payzant Memorial Hospital and then later when the Hants Community Hospital opened in the 70s.
Newcomb was known as a kind and compassionate nurse and said she always had an interest in what natural medicine could do to aid patients.
In the 1970s, Newcomb had back surgery and said she felt wonderful until a few years ago when she “was indiscreet in lifting” and re-injured her back.
She visited two doctors in Halifax and was told there wasn’t anything that could be done to correct the situation. When she saw a television advertisement for the Laser Spine Institute, she booked an appointment. She travelled to Cincinnati for a consult and learned there were two places in her back that required surgery. She was booked for June that year and travelled to Florida to have it done.
“On the day that my surgery was booked for, they told me they couldn’t do it because my white blood count was too low and I might get infection,” she said. “So they advised me to come home and go to a hematologist, which I did.”
Other than her back hurting, Newcomb had no idea she had cancer.
“I had no suspicion that there was anything wrong with me,” said Newcomb, noting the hematologist did a bone marrow biopsy.
“He told me to come back in two weeks. Two days later they told me to come back and I knew then that it wasn’t all good,” she said.
“He told me I had acute leukemia and he said there’s no cure.”
She was given months to live, and up to a year if she did chemotherapy. Newcomb said 80 per cent of her bone marrow, which is what produces new blood cells, was affected by leukemia.
She began treatment with Cytarabine, a chemotherapy medication that she injected twice a day for 10 days a month at home. Her blood was monitored weekly and she visited the doctor monthly for checkups.
“My blood values dropped,” said Newcomb, who became so weak one day that she fell into her chair and couldn’t walk. She sat there until a neighbour dropped by with her mail and called 911.
“At their lowest, my white blood count had dropped to 0.7 (4.5 to 11.0 is normal); my hemoglobin, to 68, and the normal is 120 to 160; and my platelets to eight, and the normal for them is about 200,” said Newcomb.
The hematologist ordered blood transfusions for whenever her hemoglobin fell below 80, which Newcomb said was happening, on average, every two weeks.
Around this same time, Newcomb began reading more about natural health supplements.
“I’ve always had an interest in natural medicine, naturopathic type of stuff,” she said.
So, she ordered away for two substances: ImmPower and Metatrol — one of which is a processed mushroom, the other is a fermented wheat germ.
“I started taking them and I take seven of the Metatrol and six of the ImmPower every day,” she said, noting she then added two additional supplements to her daily routine as they’re supposed to be good in the fight against cancer: Super Immune Booster (also a mushroom) and Super Bio-Curcumin (which is a turmeric extract).
Since Newcomb has difficulty swallowing, she breaks the supplements in half to access the dry ingredients.
“I mix them altogether and mix them in applesauce and take them in four different doses through the day. I keep it in the fridge,” she said.
After 18 months of chemotherapy, she said she had to stop as she had a severe reaction.
But, by this time, her blood counts had been rebounding.
“My white blood count has been normal for a while; my platelets have been normal for a while,” said Newcomb.
And at her most recent hematologist visit, her hemoglobin had risen to 120 — which is considered ‘low normal.’
“I don’t know whether that stuff is helping the cancer or whether it’s just whipping up the little shred of bone marrow that I’ve got left,” she said with a chuckle.
But, she’s happy to say she’s feeling fine and hasn’t required a blood transfusion for nearly two years.
Speaking up, and speaking out
Newcomb said she hopes by sharing her story she will empower others to take their health seriously and research all options.
“I don’t doubt that my doctor was correct when he said I had months to live because I had almost no bone marrow left and I had only that chemotherapy. I do believe he was right,” said Newcomb.
“And I do believe that every patient should feel free to investigate for themselves, if they’re given the death sentence, if there’s something else they can do,” she continued.
“I don’t think doctors should be critical of them.”
Newcomb said she’s been taking the supplements “under the table” — meaning she hasn’t consulted with her doctor about what she’s been doing.
“I don’t know how my doctors will feel if they ever hear about this but I felt I had the freedom — as long as I followed their rules — to try to help myself when they told me they couldn’t help me anymore than what they did,” she said.
“It’s a pity because people are afraid of what their doctor will say or think of them if they go outside the bounds of ordinary medicine,” said Newcomb.
She hopes that medical students will one day be able to study natural alternatives as part of their course load in order to offer a more well-rounded approach to patient care.
“I think that everybody needs the regular medicine for diseases and surgeries,” said Newcomb, before adding that all diseases respond to traditional medicine.
“There are very many different kinds of ailments that people get that is treated best by the natural medicine and they have to figure it out.”
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