A diagnosis of mesothelioma (asbestos induced lung cancer) is usually followed by a fairly swift death sentence. There is currently no effective conventional treatment and most doctors give patients a life expectancy of no more than six to 12 months after a tumour develops.
But Alan Stafford, 63, is living proof that however bleak the outlook, you should not accept the prognosis lying down. He has confounded NHS doctors and oncology specialists by proving there is an alternative path – by taking salvestrols, herbal medicine, and following an organic diet.
Alan first developed symptoms of the cancerous disease back in August 2008, but was so determined to live long enough to celebrate his ruby wedding and wife Jenny’s 60th birthday in January 2010, he refused to give up hope.
Speaking from his bungalow in Great Sankey,
, he says: “You can either sit down and die, or you can do something about it. You can’t just give up. It’s so easy, believe me, to give up, especially when you have just had chemotherapy, because it does make you ill. I just decided there must be something else I can try.” Warrington
Mesothelioma is a cancer caused by asbestos. Frighteningly it takes just a few asbestos fibres to lodge in the lung’s lining, perhaps many decades before, to wreak havoc today.
As an apprentice joiner more than 40 years ago, Alan recalls regularly having to work with materials containing asbestos. He believes he may also have come into contact with it in his later career as a self-employed heavy goods vehicle fitter. Whenever his fate was sealed, exposure to the toxic material has now turned his world upside down.
He first noticed a problem with his health in August 2008. Exhaustion, coupled with crushing chest pains in the middle of the night, resulted in him being rushed into
accident and emergency with a suspected heart attack. Warrington Hospital
Various tests followed, but it took until December later that year for doctors to diagnose a cancer tumour on his left lung. In fact at first they thought it was so inconsequential they allowed him to fly off on a pre-booked break to Benidorm - his first foreign trip for ten years.
But back in
a week later, the holiday really was over. He was admitted to Britain in Broad Green Hospital Liverpool for a biopsy just before Christmas and then finally heard the devastating news on December 30th, his 62nd birthday.
“We were told it was mesothelioma, which of course we had never even heard of. We didn’t know what it was.” he says.
“I just said, thank goodness it’s not lung cancer,” Jenny recalls wryly.
Very quickly the full reality of the situation hit home. “They said it was a terminal illness,” Alan adds. “The family were devastated when we first told them. My youngest son, Andy, took it really badly.”
Alan was sent for two sessions of chemotherapy at the specialist Clatterbridge cancer hospital on the Wirral, but his oncologist acknowledged the side effects were so severe, the treatment seemed to be doing him more harm than good.
Ultimately he ended up with fluid on his lung. Doctors arranged for a chest drain which removed four and a half litres of fluid from his body, but the drain unfortunately also burst the tumour and sucked some of the cancer cells through the chest wall and allowed them to lodge on the outside of his left shoulder.
Jenny teasingly acknowledges now: “You looked like the hunchback of Notre Dame” – a comment that would have been far too insensitive a year ago.
For him this was the low point. He had a rapidly expanding tumour the size of a rugby ball on his back, which was so large and hard he couldn’t sit back properly.
“It wasn’t very comfortable but it was more the psychological effect. You really were aware of your condition.” Alan remembers. “Even wearing loose-fitting
clothing you could see it. It made you feel worse. It brought it to your mind all the time.”
It was at this stage, he and Jenny reluctantly came to the conclusion conventional cancer treatment had no more to offer and decided to explore alternative medicine.
In February 2009 they took matters into their own hands and went for a consultation with
medical herbalist, Amanda Cutbill. As well as a herbal medicine degree, she is also a trained Salvestrol Therapist and has received specialist training at Cheshire ’s renowned Penny Brohn complementary cancer care centre. Bristol
Alan was bowled over with the personal attention. “The minute we came away from her, we felt as though something was going to be done. She was absolutely brilliant. Honestly I can’t praise Amanda enough. She inspired us.”
Amanda prescribed a range of herbal treatments to build up his immune system and improve his breathing, pulse and liver function. She also recommended a long-term course of Salvestrols, which contain highly concentrated extracts of fruits such as tangerine, strawberry, blackberry and blueberry. And to get the maximum benefit from this medicine, she advised him to follow a completely organic diet. Alan also has a mistletoe injection three times a week to boost his immune system’s ability to fight cancer cells.
Jenny changed her shopping habits immediately and now only buys organic products, even down to organic salt and pepper. She has also started cultivating her own vegetable plot in the back garden. And Alan increased his intake of fruit, vegetables and fish and cut down on red meat and dairy products.
Amanda recalls: “The results were dramatic. Within three months Alan’s tumour was receding. He was less breathless, had more energy, a healthy appetite and his pulse rate had come down to normal.”
In October 2009, Alan’s oncologist was so astounded by the results of a scan, he sent him back for another one, just to make sure.
Alan recalls: “He said he thought he was looking at someone else’s scan. He was amazed. He said – mesothelioma doesn’t act like that. And told me to keep on doing what I was doing – it was obviously working.”
Alan now feels better than at any time in the last 20 months. He used to be exhausted by a few short steps, now he is walking up hills and embarking on DIY projects for his two sons.
“I am convinced that the salvestrols I am taking are what is keeping me going,” he says.
On Sunday 17th January, Alan and Jenny Stafford renewed their wedding vows before family and friends in an emotional ceremony they thought he would never live to see.
Jenny recalls: “It was wonderful the fact that Alan was still able to walk down the aisle. It was just very emotional.”
Now, the couple treat every new day as a blessing. Alan continues to amaze NHS doctors with his miraculous improvement. The tumour is vastly reduced and the cancer no longer visible from outside his body.
“You have not got to let it ruin your life,” says Alan. “You have got to keep going. You have got to stay positive.”
His next goal is to attend the wedding of his youngest son, Andy, on June 12th – and perhaps even plan another holiday. And he certainly intends to stick to his organic diet and keep taking the salvestrols and herbal medicine.