I tend to be an open book, as many of you know. If sharing your story can brighten even one person’s journey, I feel it’s worth telling. But I never imagined my story would inspire a beautiful soul half way around the world, or that I would have the honor of becoming a part of hers.
In 2018, I was diagnosed with breast cancer and documented my journey in Desert Health. Following extensive research, I chose to do cryoablation, a minimally invasive procedure which freezes the tumor and was in clinical trials at City of Hope. I also adopted significant lifestyle changes and began a variety of natural immune enhancing therapies.
Years earlier, I had interviewed Kelly Turner, PhD, author of Radical Remission: Surviving Cancer Against the Odds and used her book and online database of case stories (RadicalRemission.com) for my personal research. Because the path I chose was different from the current standard of care, the Radical Remission team asked me to add my success story to their database.
In May, I received an email from Leith Sharp, a Harvard academic from Sydney, Australia. She was first diagnosed with breast cancer in May 2022. Her tumor was only 1cm, but markers indicated rapid cell reproduction (Ki-67 of 40%) and a high risk of distant reoccurrence (oncotype score of 38), so she elected a lumpectomy three weeks post-diagnosis. After surgery, it was determined that they didn’t get clear margins, so she returned for a second surgery
10 days later.
Like me, Leith chose not to do the recommended radiation or hormone blocking medication. Unfortunately, nine months later her cancer returned.
“I discovered the information on cryoablation through Lauren’s case study on the Radical Remission Project website,” she says. “Her links to the research were compelling and much of her story resonated with me.” Leith’s cancer profile made her a candidate for cryo (invasive ductal carcinoma, ER/PR positive and HERS2 negative) and like me, she was driven to get to the root cause of her disease.
She reassessed her diet, increased exercise and worked on releasing deeper emotional blockages that were driving stress. She researched and underwent many natural therapies and wanted to learn more about cryoablation, so we arranged a Zoom meeting.
“In that first conversation, I connected with Lauren’s energy and got an instant feeling of trust based on the quality of thought she put into her decision and how well she had recovered,” she shared. “It grounded me in my decision to come to the U.S. for the treatment which isn’t currently offered in Australia.”
I decided that if Leith was going to make that long journey, I was not going to let her do it alone. I offered to accompany her to the appointment and bring her home to the desert to recoup. While the procedure is much less physically demanding than surgery, the emotional stress coupled with a 20-hour flight was certain to be exhausting.
“Coming from Sydney and turning my back on my surgeon, and the sense of urgency that was being emphasized, was challenging. While I was grateful for all they were offering to do for me, my heart simply did not want to go down that path again.”
Six weeks later, I picked Leith up in Pasadena where she had spent her arrival night. We drove to the Comprehensive Breast Center at Adventist Health in Glendale for her appointment with Dennis Holmes, MD, a breast cancer champion and lead investigator for many of the cryo clinical trials.
Cryoablation uses a needle-sized ultrasound-guided probe that delivers liquid nitrogen into a targeted area creating a “freezeball” that engulfs the tumor and kills it. The in-office procedure takes about an hour and only local anesthesia is used; standard recovery time is one to two days.
During the pre-procedure ultrasound, Leith noticed that her tumor had grown significantly from her last imaging, which stimulated fear, but also confirmed her decision. It was also reassuring for her that the cryo freezeball is twice the size of the tumor providing wider margins than a standard lumpectomy. She was further inspired by the “immune effect,” a process in which, as your body breaks down the freezeball, your cytokines recognize the molecular structure of the tumor and create immunity to that specific cancer. Immunotherapy is currently a leading trend in cancer research, and while it appears that cryotherapy can naturally jumpstart this effect, scientific research is lacking.
The procedure went well and Leith found Dr. Holmes to be very calming and reassuring, even as she spoke with him during the procedure. Immediately after, I gathered Leith’s backpack and personal items and we walked back to the car. Being through it before, I had packed a pillow for her to place underneath the seatbelt so she could comfortably rest on the two-hour ride home.
It was one of my favorite parts of our journey together. This mere stranger and I talked about life, shared deep feelings and sang out loud to songs we both loved. Supporting each other on a common path made us fast friends and was all that mattered in that moment.
Leith was surprised at how good she felt with no pain and full upper-body mobility. There would be swelling and bruising for 10-12 days and no heavy lifting or swimming for two weeks, but she was able to return to normal activity and even taught a virtual class within days.
My husband Tommy joined us on a road trip to Joshua Tree and Pioneertown to show Leith the “American West,” and she loved Cabot’s Pueblo Museum. After a week, she continued on to outback in Montana then visit friends in New England before returning home to Sydney.
In August, Leith informed me that recent testing showed zero circulating tumor cells supporting the fact that she is now cancer-free.
“Having Lauren’s support on this journey meant the world to me,” she said. “While the procedure was minimally invasive, I absolutely underestimated the emotional impact of my decision, and it was beautiful to have a friend along.”
It was also comforting for her family and partner to know that she was in good hands. “They were understandably stressed about my decision to travel half way around the world for this procedure and easing their stress levels certainly aided my recovery.” Being in a loving home instead of a sterile hotel also helped tremendously, she added.
“The support from someone who had taken the journey before me provided a stepping stone and gave me more love, energy and hope than any other path I could have chosen. My journey turned into more of an adventure than another destressing medical encounter, and I am forever grateful to both Lauren and Tommy for taking me in.”