Sonia’s Story: From Hospice to Good Health

Six years ago, conventional medical doctors sent me home with a prescription for hospice care. They told me I had three weeks to live. But thanks to a non-toxic naturopathic medical treatment, I am still here today, and healthier than ever.

How I did go from hospice to good health? Here is my story.

When I was 75 years old, after a lifetime of relatively good health, I began struggling with horrible nausea and vomiting. For nearly six months, I would wake up feeling fine, but the moment I put something in my mouth, my stomach started acting up. I tried eliminating certain foods from my diet, but nothing helped. Eventually, I couldn’t keep anything down, including water. I lost 20 pounds.

Sonia Swanson

Then, just a few days before Christmas, my symptoms became unbearable. My husband, Dave, took me to the emergency room at the Mayo Clinic in Scottsdale, Arizona, about 90 miles from my hometown of Payson. This was the start of grueling tests and scans, including CAT scans, sonograms, MRIs, bloodwork, and x-rays. The diagnosis was heartbreaking: ovarian cancer.

No time to lose

With no time to lose, I underwent exploratory surgery. Surgeons discovered a mass in my abdomen. Biopsy results confirmed that I had advanced ovarian cancer that had metastasized around my stomach and esophagus—an automatic diagnosis of Stage 4. Deciding that the tumor was too large and involved to remove successfully, the surgeons attached a drain line to my stomach to catch all the food I could not ingest and a PICC line in my arm to deliver intravenous nutrients. I had been vomiting because nothing I ate could get through the giant tumor. At least this way, I wouldn’t starve to death.

I was referred to an oncologist who suggested chemotherapy, and sent home to celebrate New Year’s Eve with my family. I knew I was in one of the best hospitals in the world, and remained positive.

The chemo journey begins

In the new year, I returned to the hospital for twice-weekly chemotherapy sessions. Doctors measured my Cancer Antigen 125 levels—a primary biomarker for many cancers, including ovarian cancer. A normal CA 125 range in a cancer-free person is 0 to 35 units/mL. When I began chemotherapy, my CA 125 measured 222 units/mL. I had heard the horror stories about chemotherapy, but after my first three sessions, I felt my energy increase and thought, “This is not going to be so bad after all.”

But by my fourth treatment, things were going downhill fast. I was vomiting, having diarrhea, and starting to lose my hair. I was worn out and spending most of my time in bed. After the eighth chemo treatment, they measured my CA 125 again. It was 376 units/ML. The chemo wasn’t working, and I was getting sicker every day.

The chemo wasn’t working, and I was getting sicker every day.

At that point, my doctors recommended a “debulking” surgery to remove as much of the tumor and mass as possible. Because the ovarian cancer had already spread widely throughout my abdomen, the goal was to leave behind no tumors larger than 1 cm. The surgery would include removal of my uterus, ovaries, and fallopian tubes.

But when the surgical team opened me up, they found that the cancer had taken over everything: they literally could not tell one organ from the next. They closed me up, and that’s when they told me I had three weeks to live. I was referred to hospice, packed up with a bottle of morphine and fluids for my PICC line, and sent home to be with my husband and my dog. My daughter offered to take care of me. We all thought I was going to die.

Three weeks went by. Then three months. I couldn’t eat anything, and was surviving on popsicles, juice and the fluids from my PICC line. It was March and I had lost another 43 pounds since the last chemo treatment in January. Every night I would go to sleep, praying that I would die quietly and peacefully.

Signs for new hope

Then in April, a doctor in Payson recommended that I try curcumin. Curcumin is the main active ingredient in turmeric and is used in medicine for its anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties. Studies have shown that curcumin can help stop cancer growth by attacking cancer cells at multiple points in their lifecycle. It does not have toxic side effects.

My daughter helped administer my curcumin twice daily through rectal infusion. After a few weeks, I was holding down food and drink for the first time in months. Soon, the tube connecting the drainage bag to my stomach came out—all on its own. I was so happy I could eat again, especially bacon. I started to feel stronger. More importantly, my CA 125 had come down to 139 units/mL. But, it plateaued at a level still far from normal.

Introducing a Naturopathic Doctor

At that point in time, a friend referred me to Dr. Thomas Kruzel. A naturopathic doctor trained as a primary care physician at an accredited naturopathic medical college, licensed by the state of Arizona, Dr. Kruzel had a number of cancer patients in his practice and was using curcumin to treat them.

Studies have shown that curcumin can help stop cancer growth by attacking cancer cells at multiple points in their lifecycle.

Dr. Kruzel was the first doctor I had ever met who actually took the time to sit down and talk to me and answer all my questions. Unlike other doctors, he looked at my health like I was a whole person—my mind and my body.

Dr. Kruzel started me on a treatment regime that included a weekly intravenous (IV) administration of curcumin, which is absorbed into the body more effectively in this way. He also gave me high dose vitamin C and other key nutrients to rev up my immune system. Additionally, he gave me homeopathics such as conium maculatum to help disrupt my cancer cell metabolism, and rotating herbal formulas to keep my immune system healthy and aggressive. He has helped well over 1,000 patients in his practice manage their cancer over the past 30 years.

Before long, my CA 125 started to come down again. Within two years, it measured 35 units/mL—virtually normal, meaning that my cancer was in remission. Also, I felt great! I could play with my dog, go out with my husband and my friends, and eat anything I wanted.

6 years later

Six years later, once a week, I still drive an hour and a half to Scottsdale to see Dr. Kruzel and receive treatment. He has recommended that I continue receiving curcumin for the rest of my life, and anticipates that I will be able to space the treatments out to monthly infusions with time. I see him for almost all my healthcare needs now and he is my primary care provider. The truth is, I look forward to my treatments. They last about an hour, and they are painless and easy. Dr. Kruzel sits with me and we catch up on life while I am hooked up. Afterward, I go out to lunch and shopping with my daughter.

So, that’s my story. I am alive and well six years after conventional medicine practitioners had done everything they could for me, and sent me home to die. I have hope, thanks to Dr. Kruzel and naturopathic medicine.

Sonia Swanson is an 81-year-old house wife and mother of two living in Payson, Arizona. She enjoys cooking, genealogy and her beloved dog, Daisy.

Explore additional patient stories in the Naturopathic Patient Gallery.

Featured photo by Ken Treloar on Unsplash

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Deb Hubers

Debra Hubers is a serial entrepreneur and has started seven businesses; ranging from an advanced genomics to an employer health care purchasing cooperative. Deb has over 35 years of experience in healthcare finance, education, technology, and pharmacogenomics.

Ms. Hubers has dedicated her career to measuring and improving healthcare outcomes. Her expertise is leveraging technology to deliver personalized, preventative medicine. Ms. Hubers co-founded La Vita Compounding Pharmacy in 2007. Collaborating with her business partner, physicians and strategic partners, Deb has grown La Vita to be one of the most respected and sought-after personalized medicine providers on the west coast. She is also Co-Founder of EpigeneticsRx, a leading provider of precise, personalized, prevention which positively impacts genetic expression.

Alex Keller, ND

Dr. Alex Keller, ND, AFMCP is a graduate of the University of Ottawa with an Honours Bachelor in Health Sciences and Psychology. Although originally intending to attend conventional medical school, following a three-month volunteer internship at a rural Kenyan hospital where he observed how doctors used local food to treat patients, he shifted his career goals and pursued a degree in naturopathic medicine at the Canadian College of Naturopathic Medicine in Toronto.

After one year of practicing with the esteemed Dr. Chris Pickrell, ND, RH in a community acupuncture setting, in 2015 he and his wife Dr. Jenn Keller, ND moved to rural Ottawa, Canada where they started an organic farm and retreat center. In the same year, Alex and his athletic therapist sister Jess Keller combined their practices to form Keller Active Health, an integrative physical therapy clinic.

Ever curious and passionate about the education of evidence-based natural medicine, in 2017, Dr. Keller joined a fledgling Ottawa-based health tech startup named Fullscript. He serves as its Medical Director and oversees the development of medical education content for practitioners across North America.

Prior to medicine, Alex worked in the renewable energy sector, where he developed a deep passion for sustainable agriculture and environmental stewardship. This connection between medicine and agriculture now drives Alex to focus much of his energy on bringing awareness to the quality and sourcing standards in the supplement and organic agriculture supply chains.

Today, he splits his professional time practicing as a clinician, working for Fullscript, and expanding the farming operation while chasing his kids with Jenn and occasionally running ultra-marathon trail races. He is also currently completing an Executive MBA through the Quantic School of Business & Technology with a focus on supply chain innovation.

Pamela Snider, ND

Pamela Snider, ND, is Executive and Senior Editor for the Foundations of Naturopathic Medicine Project, producing a first of its kind international textbook of Naturopathic medicine through a series of international retreats and symposia. A nationally recognized integrative health and policy leader, she is active in both national and regional integrative health initiatives. Dr. Snider serves on the Board of Directors, was founding Executive Director and co-founder of the Academic Consortium for Integrative Health (ACIH/ACCAHCa consortium of the councils of schools, accrediting agencies and certifying bodies of the licensed, traditional and emerging integrative health professions, and is currently Vice Chair and co-founder of the Integrative Health Policy Consortium (IHPC).  Dr. Snider served as a founding Board Member of the Academy of Integrative Health & Medicine from 2014-2016. Her public policy work includes completing a two year appointment to the DHHS Center For Medicaid and Medicare Services (CMS) Medicare Coverage Advisory Committee (MCAC); serving as a Steering Committee Member for  the HRSA funded American College of Preventive Medicine NCCIM Integrative Medicine in Preventive Medicine Residency program, co-directing in USPHS Region X the Building Bridges Between Provider Communities Group, an exploration of interdisciplinary collaboration and common ground between public health and CAM; serving for 22 years on Washington State’s Health Professional Loan Repayment and Scholarship Program Advisory Committee (HPLRSP); providing technical assistance to and developing key language for the enabling legislation for NIH Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCIH/NCCAM); and staffing Joseph Pizzorno ND during his appointment as Commissioner on the White House Commission on CAM Policy.

From 1994-2003, Dr. Snider served as Associate Dean for Public and Professional Affairs and Naturopathic Medicine at Bastyr University, dividing her work between academic and public affairs activities, including chairing the Naturopathic Medicine Program Curriculum Review Committee.  Dr. Snider has been teaching, publishing and lecturing widely on Naturopathic philosophy, theory integrative health, public policy, and other topics for over 30 years. Currently, an Associate Professor at National University of Natural Medicine (NUNM) in Portland, OR, Dr. Snider also continues at Bastyr University in her 22nd year as a faculty member teaching naturopathic medicine history, clinical theory, and global context. Among her Naturopathic medicine professional roles she serves on the Institute for Natural Medicine’s Leadership Council.  In 1989, she co-led the naturopathic profession with Dr. Jared Zeff, in developing a unifying definition of naturopathic medicine and its principles of practice adopted unanimously by the American Association of Naturopathic Physicians (AANP) House of Delegates. She was a co-investigator in the 2004 NIH NCCAM research study, the North American Naturopathic Medical Research Agenda and CAM Advisor in NIHCCAM’s Financing Integrative Health Care (University of Washington).  Her areas of experience include healthcare education; naturopathic and interdisciplinary clinical theory, curriculum development; clinical practice; government and legislative affairs, public policy, interdisciplinary collaboration, and community organizing.  Dr. Snider has received the Ontario Naturopathic Physician of the Year Award, the Physician of the Year Award from the AANP, the President’s Outstanding Vision Award and Distinguished Alumnus Award at Bastyr University, AANP’s President’s Award, an honorary Doctorate of Naturopathic Philosophy from the Canadian College of Naturopathic Medicine (CCNM), the William A Mitchell Vis Award from the AANP and The Gathering – NMSA’s Beacon Award. She received her ND degree in 1982 from Bastyr University of Natural Health Sciences and is a licensed naturopathic physician in the State of Washington. She lives with her husband and children at their homestead in North Bend Washington, in the beautiful mountain to sea landscape and home of The Revival – Restore the Vis, an annual student-led community gathering.

Susan Haeger

Susan Haeger is Founder/Principal of Transformative Health Solutions Inc. She has applied her twenty plus years in executive leadership to help shape and drive adoption of progressive health policy for whole person healthcare. She was a section contributor to the 2021 INM/AANP published professional white paper, Naturopathic Physicians as Whole Health Specialists: The Future is Whole Person Health Care that provides supporting evidence for the profession’s significant and unique contributions to preventive, whole person care and models of integrative clinical practice.

Bruce Barlean

Bruce Barlean is an owner and founder of Barlean’s, a global dietary supplement manufacturer located in the Pacific Northwest in Ferndale, WA. Bruce has been actively involved in the Natural Products industry since 1989 and is passionate about making a difference in the world and positively impacting the lives of others.

Bruce believes that people can make a difference in the world through ordinary purchases. He is committed to improving the quality of life for every person on the planet by making the best products and by using the profits to support outreach programs. Bruce summarizes it simply, “We make good stuff to do good stuff”.

In the late 1980’s Bruce became passionate about how health could be dramatically improved with Flax Oil Supplementation. Bruce along with his entrepreneurial parents saw the potential to improve the lives of many people and in 1989 they began selling Flax Oil under the Barlean’s name. From 1989 – 2000 the business grew an average of 40% year over year. While most companies saw a decline in business in the 2001 recession, Barlean’s continued to grow and soon became America’s #1 selling flaxseed oil and continues to be to the present. The brand has since expanded to include additional oils, green food concentrates and other premium supplements. Bruce continues to drive innovation and over the years his products and company have won countless awards including: Eight consecutive Vity Awards for #1 EFA, Six consecutive Vity Awards for #1 Greens Food Supplement, Natural Choice Award for Best Specialty Supplement, Best Product of the Year, Best New Product, Gold Medal Taster’s Choice Award, Gold Medal American Masters of Taste Award, #1 Health Food Store Brand for Consumer Satisfaction by Consumer Lab, and Manufacturer of the Year.

In 2013 as the company was on the eve of celebrating the 25th year in business Bruce and his parents decided to take their desire to help people to a new level that they call Pathway to a Better Life – which is now seen in the Barlean’s logo. Bruce and his parents had always been generous in their giving and support of charities, but as part of the Pathway to a Better Life they decided to increased partnership with charitable organizations such as: Vitamin Angels, Compassion International, KidsTown International, Autism Hope Alliance, Engedi Refuge, Project 92, and others. And because so many people are unable to meet basic nutritional needs, Bruce created a comprehensive Omega-3 and multivitamin formula that he distributes free-of-charge to local food banks. In addition, Bruce decided the company would supply food banks with organic coconut oil to provide people with a health alternative to standard cooking oils.

Always generous with his time Bruce has served as a youth leader for his local church for several years and continues to mentor youth. He has been on several not for profit boards including; Whatcom County Pregnancy Center (2003-2006), Natural Products Association (dates?), and the Institute for Natural Medicine Leadership Council (presently).

The Barlean family have been avid supporters of Bastyr University since the 1990’s and in 2013 were given Bastyr’s most prestigious honor, the Mission Award, which recognizes their leadership over time in improving the health and well-being of the human community.

Bruce currently resides in Ferndale, WA with his wife Lisa and their two dogs: Heinz & Shadow. When he’s not helping others he can be found fishing (catch & release).

Get Involved!

Michelle Simon, PHD, ND

President & CEO

As president and CEO of INM, Dr. Simon brings her passion for working with organizations dedicated to improving the quality and delivery of healthcare. This desire stems from her years of practice as a licensed naturopathic physician. In addition to holding a Naturopathic Doctorate from Bastyr University she also holds a PhD in Biomedical Engineering from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

She has served on boards for the American Association of Naturopathic Physicians (AANP), the Naturopathic Physicians Research Institute (NPRI), and several advisory boards. Dr. Simon served nine years on the Washington State Health Technology Clinical Committee, as Ambassador to the Academy of Integrative Health and Medicine (AIHM) and was recognized as 2018 AANP Physician of the Year. Dr. Simon shares with her husband a passion for adventure travel, preferably by boat or motorcycle. She also enjoys teaching a women’s off-road motorcycling class.