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The best of both worlds

Julia Davidson says she wouldn’t be alive today if she hadn’t had mainstream cancer treatment. But the Blenheim medical herbalist says that looking after herself with complementary medicine helped her cope with her treatment and recovery from breast cancer.

By Joy Stephens

Julia Davidson says she wouldn’t be alive today if she hadn’t had mainstream cancer treatment. But the Blenheim medical herbalist says that looking after herself with complementary medicine helped her cope with her treatment and recovery from breast cancer.

“When I was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2014, I drew from the best of both worlds, managing my condition with help from medical specialists, GPs and nurses, while looking after my body and soul with nutrition, herbal medicine, meditation and exercise,” she says.

While Davidson has helped people with cancer since the 1980s when she qualified as a medical herbalist, experiencing it herself encouraged her to write a book which will be published in October. Cancer: The Best of Both Worlds: An holistic approach to cancer treatment includes her own story, advice and recipes (some seen below).

The book was motivated by the deaths of two friends who tried to use faith and alternative practices to cure their cancers. “While respecting their decisions, I was upset they didn’t take the best from scientifically based treatments and natural therapies to increase their chance of survival, while improving life quality,” she says.

Her father’s death from cancer when she was in her 20s ignited Davidson’s interest in finding a better path for cancer patients. She completed a four-year degree which covered medical science and herbal medicine in Kent and set up in practice in Blenheim.

In the 1990s she joined forces with local medical specialists, GPs, an oncology nurse and alternative therapists to offer a three-day programme attended by cancer sufferers from around New Zealand.

Strawberry Cheesecake 
Tofu Stroganoff

“People and their families came to Blenheim where they ate healthy food and juices prepared by volunteers and learnt to look after themselves on their cancer journey. Sadly the programme ended after five years as those involved moved or retired but I had wonderful experiences and outcomes to draw on, including one participant in her 60s who had secondary liver cancer- she’s now in her 90s and cancer-free.”

Following her cancer diagnosis, Davidson opted for breast reconstruction surgery combined with a mastectomy and prepared herself for nine grueling hours of surgery. She took arnica before and after the operation and prepared healthy, organic food to take to hospital. While many people stay in hospital for ten or more days after this major surgery, Davidson believes that her healthy food regime and nutrients combined with visualisations and meditation enabled her to leave hospital after just a few days.

Likewise her alternative approach helped her during chemotherapy where her nutritional programme, exercise, meditation, prayer and plenty of fresh ginger tea enabled her to keep working with minimal nausea. While she was grateful to the local Cancer Society for providing morning tea and lunch (usually cakes and sandwiches) when she was undergoing chemotherapy, she soon learnt to take along fresh fruit, nuts, protein shakes and green tea with ginger and suggests that health and energy-giving foods like this are more appropriate.

While Davidson had often encouraged clients to draw up a list of ways people could support them during illness or after surgery, she found it difficult to follow her own advice, but found the love and thoughtful support of friends, family and her wider community invaluable. “People often told me they wanted to help but didn’t know how, so I drew up a list. You may not be able to envisage asking your best friend to clean your windows, but after surgery such as a mastectomy, you can’t do it yourself and it may be just what you need,” she says.

“I am sharing my story, as while some of the details may be different, every cancer patient experiences similar things to what I have experienced. With this book I hope to offer people something which can help them without overwhelming them at a very difficult time.”

Davidson’s approach has found support from her plastic surgeon, Dr Agneta Fullarton who writes in the introduction to the book: “Julia has created an exceptional guide and easy read for anyone going through breast cancer. Her long-time Blenheim GP, Dr Ros Gellatly, encouraged Davidson to share her expertise and experience by writing the book. “Julia has drawn upon her experience of dealing with cancer using all the tools available to her,” she writes.

Cancer-free for two years now, Davidson will take the drug Letrozole for another three years. She says the drug has side effects such as stomach upsets and joint pain which she manages with nutrients and heat for the joint pain. “Increasingly I live for each precious moment, but also plan ahead, anticipating pleasures like planning to visit (daughter) Georgia in Europe when she hopes to be enjoying her OE in a few years’ time,” she says.

Cancer: The Best of Both Worlds offers advice and suggestions about what to expect and how to cope through the cancer journey from diagnosis to treatment and beyond. As a vegetarian with a passion for nutritious fresh food, Davidson includes recipes and suggestions for people undergoing cancer treatment and wishing to improve their diet for ongoing good health. It will be available from her website juliasherbalhealth.co.nz and at Paper Plus Blenheim and she hopes through local Cancer Societies. All profits will be donated to help women with breast cancer. 

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