Interview with Allison Efaw:
Breast Cancer Awareness Month
Allison Efaw is a retired Army spouse, a mother of 3 who home schools her children, a registered nurse and most recently, a survivor of stage 4 breast cancer. Her story is nothing short of incredible so I thought, what better way to kick off Breast Cancer Awareness Month than with someone who’s kicked its behind!
In 2015 on Christmas Eve, Allison returned home from a friend’s church in Louisville, KY. She took a shower and felt a lump underneath left armpit, but this wasn’t something that alarmed her right off the bat because years before, she had found a cyst that turned out to be benign. Because of the holiday season and everyone being away, several weeks went by before she could get to the doctor.
Once Allison was able to get in to see her doctors, they did an ultra sound and mammogram and told her she had “dense breast.” She didn’t know what that meant and asked her doctor for a visual. “It would be like looking in a big pile of snow trying to find a golf ball,” they told her. Even though her breasts were very small, (She mentioned they had always been a A cup size, maybe a B when pregnant) having dense breast was still a thing. During the ultrasound, Allison knew something was wrong when the ultrasound technician left the room to get the doctor.
A week later, her physician informed her that he wasn’t sure what it was. The mammogram could never confirm that it was cancer. Allison had mammograms for years and they had never picked anything up. She suggested that based on her history it could be a cyst because of the one she had removed 12 to 13 years prior. This thing that they couldn’t identify was a little over one centimeter and the doctor gave Allison the option of doing a biopsy or removing it. Allison chose to have it removed. When they went to remove it, they discovered the lump had, what Allison described as comet tails, or sun rays stemming from it. They were so faint and microscopic that they weren’t able to be picked up. So when they cut into the tumor, the doctor described it as being like poking a hole in a hornet’s nest because they cut right through the cancer. This gave the cancer freedom to roam because it basically freed it from the area of encapsulation.
Upon further testing, the physicians recommended a mastectomy and nipple removal because the cancer had spread into her nipple and up into her armpit. She was a nurse so she just followed what the doctor said and had a bilateral mastectomy. Plus, two of her friends had cancer that went from one breast to the other and she didn’t want to take that chance. She also didn’t want to look uneven. Since she knew she didn’t plan on have anymore children and didn’t need her breasts, she went ahead and had them both removed.
What she didn’t realize at the time however, was that cancer is a systemic disease. All it takes is for one rogue stem cell to migrate to another place. “A pencil eraser, the size of it, that’s the equivalent of 1 billion cancer cells,” Allison said. “All it takes is ONE of those cells to migrate to another place.” And unfortunately, Allison was right. Six months later, she found another lump, not far from the original site. They did a biopsy and it came back as cancer. This time, it had hit her lymphatic system and a PET scan revealed that the cancer had metastasized throughout her ribs, rib cage, pelvis, and her thoracic, lumbar and sacral spine. She became stage 4 all within less than a year.
Allison felt like the air had been sucked out of the room. All she could think about was her children. She was considered terminal and because of where the cancer had spread, she had to make some quick decisions. The silver lining to all of this was that she hadn’t had any metastasis to any vital organs.
Deciding On Treatment
Upon her diagnosis, the doctors recommended chemo and radiation and she began all of the conventional treatment process because this was all she knew to do at the time and she was a nurse so listening to the doctor seemed like the only thing to do. All of the drugs carried an enormous list of side effects, however and she went from running and walking 8 to 12 miles a day, to barely being able to put on and remove her own underwear. Her husband had to help her.
The Turning Point
The pain Allison suffered was unbearable. She had developed sores all over her face and lost control of her bowels. During a visit to the oncologist her husband asked if everything his wife was suffering through was worth it and if this medicine was going to eventually help her. “No,” her oncologist told them. “She will live like this until the day she dies.”
This response, as terrible as it was, was probably the best thing Allison could have ever heard. This was when they made the decision not to continue conventional treatment. This 18 month-long road of chemo and radiation that Allison was on would only give her a 7% chance of a better outcome. She thought why would she put herself through 18 months of misery for 7%.
Allison kicked her research into overdrive. She researched changing her diet, supplements, and she began looking for people who had been diagnosed with breast cancer. She found that most people in Kentucky had just done what the doctor told them to do. In her case, she knew there wasn’t much that could be done and that chemotherapy and radiation would never kill cancer stem cells.
She began looking online and found places in Mexico that offered alternative care and she read lots of success stories but she didn’t know anyone personally who had tried it so going in this direction was a huge leap of faith.
Eventually, Allison decided on an alternative care center called Sanoviv. Sanoviv is a treatment center founded by Dr. Myron Wentz, an Epidemiologist and Microbiologist who studies cells, and believes in healing the body on a cellular level. She had read so many success stories about the treatments offered there and these things solidified her decision, but the treatment was not cheap. They were a one income family, and she was a stay-at-home mom who home schooled her kids. The cost of all of these treatments was overwhelming and they had no idea where they were going to get the money. They had savings for retirement, which Allison didn’t consider at first but her
husband made a great point: “What good is retirement if you’re not here to enjoy it with me?” And the decision was made. Sanoviv it was!
We rarely do this at Cleangoodeats, but Allison’s story is so good and so full of vital information that we’re breaking it up into two parts. Come back Friday for part 2 of her story which includes; her treatment, where she is today, and the cancer-fighting foods she incorporates into her diet.