A Survivor's Story- Breast Cancer & Natural Hormone Therapy

Posted by Ben White on


ZRT Lab invited several breast cancer survivors to tell their stories, as part of National Breast Cancer Awareness Month, and to broaden the conversation about breast health.

In September 1999, I was convinced that my life as I'd known it was never going to be the same, when I was diagnosed with breast cancer.

I knew, of course, that many women survive, but I also knew that in spite of treatment, 1 in 3 will still die. These were horrifying statistics.

The only treatment options that were being thrust on me were every bit as frightening: Mastectomy or Radiation or Chemotherapy and a nightmarish hormone-blocking drug called Tamoxifen, which would increase my risk of developing uterine cancer by 60%. 

Each one of these treatments had the potential to ultimately cause death in its own right. How could I possibly choose between them? It seemed like there wasn't an acceptable solution...I was going to suffer, no matter what I chose.

Finding An Alternative Solution

I learned why hormone balance is so important, not to mention the nutritional and lifestyle changes I needed to understand and make in order to prevent the cancer from returning.

And then a miracle happened: A dentist friend called me and told me that I needed to see this brilliant biochemist who had devoted his life to researching breast cancer, educating women about natural hormones and breast cancer prevention.

At the time, Dr. David Zava was busy setting up a hormone testing laboratory and working with Dr. John Lee to publish the book they had written together on prevention of breast cancer, with special emphasis on natural progesterone and lifestyle improvements. Much of what Dr. Zava told me was based on scientific studies on hormones and breast cancer, which is now available in the best-seller landmark book: “What Your Doctor May Not Tell You About Breast Cancer. How Hormone Balance May Save Your Life.” 

Well, I wanted to know what my doctor might not know about natural hormones and breast cancer, and how my own hormonal situation might have played a role in my developing breast cancer. And who better to tell me than the researcher who was setting up a hormone testing laboratory just down the street from where I lived in Portland, Oregon.

I went to see David Zava. He spent his precious time that day, teaching me about natural progesterone and how and why hormone balance is so important, not to mention the nutritional and lifestyle changes I needed to understand and make in order to prevent the cancer from returning. He emphasized I should be working closely with my doctors and helping them understand why natural hormones are beneficial, especially natural progesterone. So I guess I was lucky my wonderful and incredibly supportive husband, Fred, and I got the lecture Dr. Zava had given to audiences of hundreds of women and their loved ones.

As a result of all the knowledge I gained through the efforts of this scientist and teacher, I chose not to submit to any of the conventional treatments. I had ZRT do a hormone saliva test for me. As Dr. Zava suspected, my progesterone level was quite low, as opposed to my estradiol. I began using natural progesterone cream immediately to keep those two hormones safely balanced. 

A few weeks later, I began experiencing severe menopause symptoms: hot flashes, night sweats; I was miserable. I went back in to talk to Dr. Zava and he retested my hormones. This time, my progesterone level was fine but my estrogen levels were very low. Dr. Zava explained that because I was transitioning into menopause my estrogen levels could go from high to low in a matter of days and I could suffer from symptoms of both estrogen dominance and deficiency.

He explained that when the ovaries finally stop making estrogens, the progesterone wouldn’t work as well and I would likely need a little estrogen; but it was contraindicated in women who have had breast cancer. It was difficult to find a doctor willing to prescribe estrogen replacement therapy to a breast cancer patient, but I did at last and was given a prescription for a low-dose natural estrogen patch. Almost immediately, the miserable menopausal symptoms were alleviated. 

I researched the importance of nutrition, resulting in a complete change of my diet to one low in fat and high in fruits and vegetables, and developed a program of daily, heart-healthy, immune strengthening exercise. For the next two years, I not only survived, I thrived.

Another Breast Cancer Scare  

And then I did something stupid:  I had been having a few breakthrough hot flashes, and so, against the advice of my doctor, I doubled the strength of my natural estrogen patch.

Within the year, when I went in for my routine ultrasound (I no longer do mammograms), a new tumor was found in the same place as the original one. This one was a little over a centimeter. Additionally, another, smaller tumor of ½ centimeter was discovered nearby. I was shocked and confused; how could this be? I was doing everything right…using natural progesterone, eating right, exercising and taking a variety of immune enhancing supplements.

A call to Dr. Zava led me back to ZRT for more saliva testing. This time it was discovered that my estradiol level was extremely high compared to my progesterone level. And further tests revealed that my thyroid was low. Dr. Zava explained to me that the thyroid gland played an important part in the body being able to move estrogen down safe pathways to excretion and to keep the estrogen in my bloodstream from being overly bioavailable. Which meant that my rash, irresponsible decision to increase the estrogen that was stimulating cell growth, combined with a crippled thyroid system, was a recipe for disaster. 

Being a woman of strong faith and refusing to panic, I did 4 things:

  • Prayed for enlightenment
  • Stopped the estrogen
  • Had surgery to excise the tumors (which really upset my new surgeon, who was certain that I needed to do a mastectomy this time - “When cancer returns like this, it’s often more aggressive. You’re taking an absurdly foolish chance here,” she said.
  • Began taking Armour thyroid 

Eventually, A Happy Ending 

That was 12 years ago now. Since then my lifestyle has changed in necessary ways:  I eat organic as much as possible, low fat, high fruits and veggies, exercise 3 times a week, take a number of non-vitamin type supplements (like CoQ10 , Olive Leaf Extract, Celery Seed Extract, Turmeric, Milk Thistle, Garlic, Salmon Oil, probiotics and enzymes...to list just a few).  I’ve continued to use natural progesterone cream 25 days of the month, and I take a natural thyroid capsule daily.

Altogether, healthy lifestyle, daily prayer, and refusing to allow stress into my life are my essential ways of keeping breast cancer at bay. Today, I am cancer-free, healthy, happy and blessed beyond measure.

It turns out that I was right after all; my life will never be the same.

And it's wonderful!

Learn More: 

Tina Mattern is a 65-year-old Portland, Oregon breast cancer survivor. She is married to her best friend, is the mother of two awesome kids, is a part-time hairstylist to the elderly, and a published author. Her essays have been published in nine of the Chicken Soup For The Soul anthologies, and she is working on a memoir based on her cancer experience: “When Good Boobs Go Bad…A Journey From Cancer To Faith.”



Click to see Saliva Hormone Test Kits

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Original of this article was published on ZRT Laboratory Blog. 


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