Honoring My Mother's Journey


In 1980 my mother experienced a dull pain inside her armpit.  She’s the pretty red-head in the family picture above. And, I’m the little squirt sitting between her legs.

The pain in her armpit persisted for several months and eventually settled into her breast where she discovered a small lump.

The doctors performed a battery of tests and a mammogram, but couldn’t find anything serious.  They told her the lump in her breast was non-cancerous, reassured her the dull pain was nothing to worry about and sent her home.

One year later, the lump grew larger and the dull pain had now become sharp.  She returned to the doctors once again and this time was diagnosed with breast cancer.

With great trust in modern medicine, she battled breast cancer with a radical mastectomy and chemotherapy.

The doctors did what they were trained to do, and they removed her breast, lymph nodes, as well as all of the tissue down to the bare bones of her rib-cage.

After she returned from the hospital, I asked her to show me how they cured her disease – I was a curious thirteen-year-old.  She led me into the bedroom and locked the door.  She slowly pulled off her shirt and showed me her wound. Her entire breast and all of the skin around it were removed and I could see the outline of her rib cage.  The area from under her armpit to the center of her chest was shiny, hard, pink scar tissue where soft flesh used to be.  She then showed me the places on her freckled legs that now sported long white freckle-less pink strips.  She told me the skin from her legs was used as grafts and applied to her chest to help it heal.

I had never seen anything like it, except maybe in horror movies, but I knew one thing for sure – a radical mastectomy was certainly radical!

After the surgery mom bought a soft, rubbery foam insert to put inside her bra to fill in the void. The fake breast was supposed to emulate a real one, but the detachable mass fell out of her bra every time she took it off. She confided in me that it was a constant reminder of what she didn’t have anymore.

At the time, I didn’t fully understand the extent of my mother’s traumatic experience or how much she suffered from the removal of her body part in order to extend her life. I was just happy she was alive.

We returned to our “normal” lives and continued doing the things we always did without dramatically changing our lifestyle. However, my father read something about the negative effects of caffeine on breast tissue, so her ritual morning coffee was no longer a part of her daily diet.

She continued to go for semi-annual check-ups and was assured that the cancer was no longer growing inside her body. Each day we grew more confident about her health and after five years, Mom was considered “cancer-free.”

The surgery and treatments had worked and the offending breast with its disease had been successfully terminated.

In 1992, approximately eleven years after her mastectomy, she had a dizzy spell and fainted in the bathroom. Tests revealed that breast cancer had come back with a vengeance and had spread throughout her entire body. She had cancer in her lungs. She had cancer in her brain. She had cancer in her liver. She had cancer in her bones. She had breast cancer everywhere.

Once again we utilized the recommended “cancer cures,” radiation and chemotherapy, and attempted to poison the disease out of her body. I was older now, for this second coming of cancer, but confused about the process of curing it.

Every week I drove her to the Long Island clinic for another dose of radiation. The technicians would lock her into a large metal container, and leave the room closing the door behind them to ensure their own safety from the deadly radiation rays.

Mom would emerge from the room feeling disoriented and exhausted. Every week we returned to the dreadful container, and every week she grew ever frailer.  Instead of feeling healthier from these treatments she was feeling the detrimental side effects of radiation and chemotherapy poisoning. She was nauseated and couldn’t eat.  She slept all day and night with brief waking moments. She had frequent bouts of diarrhea and couldn’t keep anything inside her body. Her naturally soft, curly, red hair was thinning and falling out. The first to completely disappear were her eyebrows, and soon after that, all that remained on the top of her head was soft orange peach fuzz. Her sparkling green eyes lost their brilliance and became bloodshot and dull. She was dazed and had no energy.

It seemed she was barely alive at all.

With each treatment, her vibrancy and love of life waned. The perpetual smile that once lived on her face was lost as the life force drained from her in that radiation room.  Within a few months, she could no longer climb the stairs inside our house. We relocated her to the sofabed in the living room where she would live for the next year and a half.

She didn’t want to continue the treatments, but we kept taking her. It was the only way we knew, what we were told, and what we believed to be the cure.  It was the accepted truth on how to kill cancer, recommended by the professionals and accepted by mainstream society.

Something wasn’t right with this process of battling cancer and I sensed it intuitively. We began experimenting with various healing alternatives from shark cartilage to lipids, to vitamin supplements like E, C, selenium, lecithin, beta carotene, co-enzyme Q10, spirulina, blue-green algae, and many others therapies too.

We expanded our minds and wanted to try everything we could.

While doing research, my father read an article about a Dr. Hugh Faulkner who had cured himself of terminal pancreatic cancer by using something called a Macrobiotic Diet, so we decided to give it a try. It was only food, and it couldn’t hurt Mom anymore than what we had already subjected her to.

We read various books about this diet that emphasized organically grown whole foods, grains, beans, vegetables, sea vegetables, fruits, nuts, seeds and small amounts of animal food (preferably fish).

Growing up as a mostly middle-class “Standard American” family, the macrobiotic diet was definitely a stretch from what we were eating.  It was food in its whole form, and not packaged or highly processed. It didn’t come out of a frozen dinner box and couldn’t be quickly popped into the microwave. It wasn’t heavily laden with chemicals, sugar or other addictive substances. And, it was organic which meant, “grown without chemicals and pesticides.”

It took time and effort to prepare and cooking it was inconvenient, but within a few weeks, we witnessed a positive change in Mom’s energy levels.

We accepted this new diet as a possible healing option and decided she would travel to the Kushi Institute in Massachusetts and attend the Way To Health Program for one week.  Mom was too weak to go alone so I went with her. Dad drove us from Queens, New York, and dropped us off in Beckett, Massachusetts, for our re-education of food and its connection to health.

The health practitioners believed that changing the quality of food could change the quality of our blood and, in effect, change all the cells in the body, eventually curing the illness. They spoke of healing naturally from the inside out.

The concept sounded interesting, unlike anything I’d heard before.

Something about the sheer simplicity of it resonated deeply within me and made sense. I questioned the conventional medical path we had taken with Mom and had a strong feeling the harsh chemicals put inside her body had a detrimental effect on her body.  She was not separate from her cancer, and I concluded those same chemicals administered to destroy the disease, were destroying her too. After all, the human body is made up of mostly water, and very few things can survive in a polluted lake filled with chemicals and radioactive waste.

Within forty-eight hours of arriving at the Kushi Institute and ingesting this “foreign” food, three meals a day, I felt a difference in my body.  For the first time in my life, my bowels were moving on a daily basis. This was the first sign of what I believed to be a positive physical change.

The second thing I noticed was I required less sleep but had more energy.  It was strange because I wasn’t consuming the foods that would normally increase my energy like coffee, soda, or sugary snacks.

At the end of the week, I walked downstairs into the living room at the main house and found mom lying on the couch, with her head propped up, reading a book. I couldn’t believe it!  She walked down the stairs, without assistance, and was alert, awake, and reading! She looked up from behind the book and smiled at me.

It had been a long time since I’d seen her beautiful, loving smile. Her freckled face had a peachy color, and the pink tone of her lips was returning from the grayish, pale color they had been one week prior. Her green eyes sparkled with life and she giggled when she saw me staring at her with my jaw agape. I took her ability to laugh as a sure sign of regenerating health.

After one week of experiencing the effect of this natural diet on myself and witnessing the transformation in mom, my own truth about curing illness began to change. We left the institute renewed with hope and went home to try and recreate a similar healing experience by cooking healthy food, reading books instead of watching television, and incorporating daily exercise.

At home, she was still very weak, but now had some extra energy to get out of bed occasionally and cook some meals with me. We also walked to the park two or three times per week and exercised lightly. The future looked brighter, but Mom was still exhausted and slept a lot.

A couple of months later, in May 1993, I was scheduled to graduate from Nassau Community College and she wanted to attend the ceremony. As I helped her get dressed, she caught a glimpse of her naked body in the full-length mirror. She stopped me from dressing her and stared at her reflection.

Her eyes welled with tears and she said, “Ann, I look like a concentration camp victim.”

I couldn’t argue with her. She weighed less than eighty pounds. Her eyes were sunken and dull. Her face was gaunt and pale, and no hair had yet grown back on her head except for a small coating of peach fuzz. She was still suffering from the remnants of radiation sickness and chemotherapy poisoning.

When she first began losing her curly red hair we bought her a wig. She wore it only once or twice and then retired it because she didn’t like the way it looked on her – it didn’t look natural. It sat on top of the television attached to the Styrofoam head that lived beneath it.

Standing before the full-length mirror on graduation day, I continued dressing her while she cried. Instead of putting on the unflattering wig I wrapped a soft, colorful, tan, green, and red scarf around her head.

She looked again at her reflection, smiled and said, “Now I look like a gypsy.”

She tried to maintain a smile, but I could see she was sad. She said she didn’t recognize the person staring back at her in the mirror.

At the graduation ceremony, I walked up to the stage, grabbed my diploma and headed back down the aisle to my seat. I looked over at the bench where Mom was sitting with Dad.  She was hunched over. It seemed like the weight of her head and upper body was too heavy for her to hold up. She slowly lifted her head and looked at me as I passed.  She smiled her loving smile, the one I remember being so simple and sweet it made her eyes look like they were twinkling.

I was happy she was there that day and I was proud of her too. She was my mom and I didn’t care that she didn’t have any hair on her head or any eyebrows either. I didn’t care that she was pale and thin.  I didn’t care that she had cancer. I only cared that she was still alive.

After graduation, our new “healthier” way of eating and living wasn’t fully intact and we eventually slipped back into watching television all day and not exercising. We tried to eat the best we could, but Mom’s energy continued to wane. She was still in a severely depleted state from the war that was waged on her cancer and just didn’t have the physical strength to fully reclaim her health.

I would cook for her, clean her, shower her, and dress her on a daily basis – I was her full-time nurse, and she was my best friend. Eventually, we hired a live-in Macrobiotic Cook to help with some of the cooking responsibilities.

Mom and I would lie in bed and watch talk shows for most of the day, and she would always cry for the guests and their life experiences. I would hand her a box of tissues and poke fun at her for being so sensitive. It amazed me that she could weep for people she didn’t know, especially while she was having terrible troubles of her own.

In November 1993, a year and a half after her second diagnosis of breast cancer, suddenly her breathing became labored and heavy.

One evening we were lying in bed watching television and she whispered, “Ann, please get me a Sarsaparilla.”

I laughed and said, “A sarsaparilla?  What on earth is a sarsaparilla?

“It’s a root beer.”

“A root beer?”  I read about the detrimental effects of sugar on cancer and I refused to give her a root beer soda.

She begged, “Please Ann, just one little sip.”

I told her it wasn’t good for her and would make her even sicker.  In my arrogance, with my newly enlightened mind, I thought food was the only panacea that could cure or kill her.  After all, I believed her eating habits had set the stage for cancer to arrive in the first place and that I was doing the right thing by denying her simple request.

She repeated, “Just a sip, Ann.”

“Stop bothering me about it,” I yelled.

Her eyes welled with tears and she turned her face away so I wouldn’t see her cry.  She waited a brief moment and then asked me once more for one little sip of sarsaparilla.

I was annoyed with her insistence at asking for the same thing over and over again, and I was frustrated, and tired, and scared of losing her, and angry that she wasn’t healing as I hoped she would. I wanted to shake the sickness out of her and hold her until she was well again, but I didn’t, and I couldn’t. Instead, I completely lost control of myself, and my senses and I cursed at her and I blamed her for not getting better, and then I stormed out of the room.

If I would’ve known on that day in November that a root beer soda would be the last thing she would ever ask me for, I would have dug up the sarsaparilla root myself and ground it with my bare hands, adding to it as much refined white sugar as needed to make it the sweetest drink she ever tasted in her entire life. I would have spoon-fed her every last drop of it until she was completely satisfied.

Three days later on November 12th, 1993, mom returned her soul back to her creator, and we returned her frail, war-torn body back to the earth.

Truly, I was blessed to be able to share her life and death experience with her. She was an amazing human being who taught me great lessons about love, compassion, life, and health, especially in her time of dying.

I only wish we would have had more time.

“The heart of a mother is a deep abyss at the bottom of which you will always find forgiveness.” Honoré de Balzac

After traveling down that path with my mom, I vowed if ever I was diagnosed with something serious, I would seek an alternative health-promoting solution first. Which is exactly what I did when the doctors told me I needed to radiate my thyroid. Radiate My Thyroid? No Freakin’ Way!


Excerpt from: Chapter 1 – The Whole Truth, How I Naturally Reclaimed My Health and You Can Too