Beata Bishop hadn't paid much attention to the cappuccino-coloured mole on her right shin, which had gradually grown to the size of a fingernail. But when her doctor spotted it during a routine check-up, she agreed to see a skin specialist straight away.
Two weeks later, Beata was diagnosed with melanoma, the most dangerous form of skin cancer. Left alone, it can quickly advance and spread to other parts of the body, where it can become difficult to treat and ultimately fatal. In fact, although melanoma accounts for less than 1 per cent of skin cancer cases, it's responsible for the vast majority of skin cancer deaths.1
Beata was advised to have surgery immediately to remove not just the mole, but also a large part of her right leg—a patch of around 18 × 23 cm (7 × 9 inches) in size—"to prevent further trouble", her doctor told her. She would require a skin graft from her left leg "to cover up the hole" and a two- to three-week stay in hospital.
Feeling fit and healthy, Beata—aged 55 and a journalist for the BBC in London at the time—was "shell-shocked" by her diagnosis and the thought of such aggressive surgery, but she agreed to go ahead with the operation.
Thanks to her private health insurance, it wasn't long before Beata was recovering in her hospital bed, listening to the surgeon tell her that the procedure had been a success. She was left severely disfigured and it would be three months before she could walk again, but Beata was pleased to hear that "they had caught the cancer in time and there was no need to worry anymore".
But Beata's worries weren't over. Almost exactly a year later, her doctor discovered a tumour in her groin on the same side as the original melanoma site, indicating that the cancer had spread to her lymphatic system (stage-4 melanoma).
"Once it's spread to another part of the body, it's very bad news," said Beata. "It was a huge blow."
Again, Beata was advised to have immediate surgery—to remove the tumour and all the lymph nodes in her right groin.
Without the treatment, she would be dead in six months, Beata was told.
But this time, Beata didn't go along with her doctor's recommendation. "If the first operation didn't solve the problem, then why would the second?" said Beata. "I'd just be more mutilated and more debilitated."
Instead, Beata decided to look into alternative cancer treatments, drawing on her network of friends and the well-honed research skills she'd gained as a journalist. Soon, she came across something that intrigued her: a nutritional approach to treating cancer called the Gerson Therapy.
Developed by the late German-born American physician Dr Max Gerson, the therapy advocates a low-fat, salt-free, meat-free, organic diet and drinking freshly squeezed juices at hourly intervals throughout the day. Nutritional supplements and coffee enemas are also important features of the treatment.
As it happens, Dr Gerson's granddaughter Margaret Straus was living in London at the time and agreed to meet up with Beata. "She told me to read her grandfather's book about the therapy, and it made perfect sense to me," said Beata. "It explains that cancer is a disease of the whole organism. You can remove the tumour, but that's not enough. You have to restore the whole body to optimum health."
Margaret told Beata about the Gerson Clinic in Mexico, where patients can go to start the Gerson Therapy under the care of specially trained doctors. The clinic also teaches patients how to practise the therapy on their own, so they can continue it once they return home.
Convinced that the Gerson Therapy was the right choice for her, Beata booked herself into the clinic in Mexico, much to the surprise of her bosses at the BBC. "They thought I was stark raving mad," said Beata. "But they were very understanding and fine about me going away."
Doing the diet
At the clinic, Beata underwent several tests and examinations before being put on an intense detoxification regime and strict organic diet. "It was very demanding," said Beata. "I had to drink a total of 13 juices every hour on the hour, I was only allowed to use certain natural toiletries and I had to have five coffee enemas daily."
The hardest thing was not smoking, said Beata, as she used to have up to 20 cigarettes a day. But she did what she was told and stuck to the therapy rigidly, focusing on "taking one day at a time".
After three weeks, Beata received some encouraging news—not to do with her cancer, but about another disease she'd been diagnosed with when she arrived at the clinic. "My initial blood tests showed that I had type 2 diabetes. But when they tested me again three weeks later, the results were normal."
Beata's incipient osteoarthritis in her right hand also "vanished, never to return", as did her painful dental abscesses. This gave her the motivation to stick with the therapy and stay on at the clinic for two months, after which she returned home to continue the therapy on her own.
This was much more difficult, Beata discovered, but luckily she found a doctor familiar with the Gerson Therapy who agreed to monitor her while she continued the treatment, as well as a helpful young Irishman who went around London delivering organic fruit and vegetables to Gerson patients. She also enlisted two young girls to help prepare her 13 daily juices in exchange for pocket money.
Beata sailed passed her six-month prognosis and soon found herself at the one-year mark, feeling great with no signs of the cancer spreading—although it was by no means an easy journey. "It takes a long time for the body to become depleted and sick," said Beata. "So it takes a long time for it to get healthy again."
What kept Beata going with the Gerson Therapy was the thought that her life depended on it. She also kept in regular contact with the Gerson doctors in Mexico as well as Dr Gerson's daughter Charlotte, who provided much-needed encouragement and guidance.
After a full two years on the therapy, Beata was "as healthy as can be—even healthier than in my childhood". She was able to come off the strict regime and switch to a 'maintenance programme', which she's been following ever since.
Solid as a rock
While the tumour in Beata's groin never went away, it did become extremely hard, earning it the nickname 'Little Rock'. Eventually, Beata had a scan showing that it was "a small round thing sitting on a stalk, not attached to other tissue". This was very unusual, said Beata, as "normally tumours attach themselves to the surrounding tissue".
Beata was advised by Charlotte Gerson to have 'Little Rock' removed—a simple procedure carried out under local anaesthesia, although Beata returned to Mexico to have it done. "They just had to snip the stalk," said Beata. "I was left with a very discreet mark on my groin."
The tumour was then taken to a lab for analysis, where it was found to contain active melanoma cells encapsulated by "a very thick outer layer that was calcified—almost bullet-proof". This "imprisonment" of cancer cells is apparently a common finding in Gerson patients, said Beata. "Several others had tumours sitting on a stalk that could be simply snipped off. Other times, the body reabsorbs the tumour and it disappears of its own accord."
For the record
Beata has had no further tumours since then, which was back in 1983. Today, over three decades later, Beata is still healthy and melanoma-free, and looks fantastic for her 92 years of age.
So convinced was she by Gerson's approach that Beata decided to help set up a Gerson clinic in Hungary, making it easier, and cheaper, for people in Europe to access the Gerson Therapy she credits with saving her life. She also went on to write a book about her experience—A Time to Heal (First Stone, 2000)—and co-authored the book Healing the Gerson Way (Gerson Health Media, 2010) with Charlotte Gerson.
At this time, she's actively involved with the Gerson Support Group UK, which she founded in 1993 along with other recovered cancer survivors.
One of the things Beata is asked all the time is how she had such faith in the Gerson Therapy when faced with such a gloomy prognosis. "It wasn't about faith," she replies, "it was logic—simple logic."
The ABCDEs of melanoma
When it comes to moles, it can be hard to tell what's normal and what's not, so if in doubt, always get it checked by a dermatologist. Here are five signs to look out for:
Asymmetry: melanomas are often irregular rather than symmetrical in shape
Border: melanomas tend to have uneven, poorly defined borders
Colour: a mole with more than one colour can be a sign of melanoma
Diameter: melanomas are often more than 6-mm across
Evolution: moles that have changed at all in colour and/or size should be checked out immediately
Beating the survival rates
According to Melanoma UK, your chances of beating melanoma are very good if it's diagnosed in the early stages (stage 1 or 2), but drop dramatically by stage 3 or 4, when the cancer has spread (as Beata's had).
Here are the survival statistics by stage five years after the diagnosis. Although there are no specifics about the types of treatment people had, presumably most were treated conventionally.
Stage 1: 90% will still be alive
Stage 2: 80% will still be alive
Stage 3: 40-50% will still be alive
Stage 4: 20-30% will still be alive
The Gerson Therapy
The thinking behind the Gerson Therapy is that cancer is a disease of the whole organism—the result of a number of damaging factors that combine to cause the entire metabolic system to deteriorate—and a cancerous tumour is simply a symptom of this breakdown.
The goal of the therapy is to bring the body back to its normal metabolic state by using detox methods and building up the immune system.
There are no randomized controlled clinical trials—considered the 'gold standard' of scientific evidence—of the Gerson Therapy specifically for cancer, although there are some published retrospective studies that have analyzed past cases. Gerson himself detailed his success in treating several types of cancer in his book, A Cancer Therapy: Results of Fifty Cases (Gerson Institute, 1958), and in several papers published in scientific journals.
However, a review of the available cases in 1959 by the US National Cancer Institute (NCI) could find no proof that the treatment worked. Nevertheless, a recent (2015) evidence-based summary of the Gerson Therapy by Physician Data Query (PDQ), the NCI's cancer information database, highlighted the following promising studies:
• In 1990, a study of a dietary regimen similar to the Gerson Therapy was carried out in Austria, where patients received the standard cancer treatment along with the special diet. The researchers reported that the "diet appeared to help patients live longer than usual and have fewer side-effects".2
• In 1995, the Gerson Research Organization did a retrospective study of melanoma patients treated with the Gerson Therapy, which reported that those with stage 3 or 4 melanoma—the ones most difficult to cure, as they involve spreading to the lymph nodes or beyond—lived longer than usual for such severe cancer patients.2
• A review of the case reports of six patients with metastasizing (spreading) cancer who had used or were following the Gerson anticancer diet concluded that the regimen had "supported patients to some extent both physically and psychologically".3
If you're considering following the Gerson regime or a similar anticancer diet, be sure to work with a suitably qualified, experienced health professional.
Useful contacts and resources
The Gerson Institute: www.gerson.org
Gerson Support Group UK: www.gersonsupportgroup.org.uk