Health: Teresa Kay has refused orthodox cancer treatment

A year ago, Teresa Kay, now 26, refused further chemotherapy or orthodox treatment for non-Hodgkin's lymphoma, a cancer of the lymph glands. Doctors calculate that in her age group there is a 50% chance of cure if treated conventionally. Teresa, instead, opted to follow the Gerson therapy, a gruelling regime which consists of hourly freshly made organic juices, a strict diet, injections and five coffee enemas a day. It demands a monastic life, tough on participants, friends and relatives. It is costly and requires an iron commitment. So, in the 12 months since Teresa began the treatment, when her story first appeared in the Guardian, how has she fared?

Before cancer was diagnosed, Teresa, who is single, worked as an art director in television and lived in Bristol. Her widowed mother, Venetia, has a cottage in Oxford where she teaches cello. After her diagnosis, Teresa moved in with Venetia (she now splits her time between the cottage and a nearby bedsit). The two say they had a good relationship before but have now become "a team".

"If you don't get on," says Venetia, "it must be a living nightmare, not least because there's just so much work involved each day, every day."

Wednesday, when I visit, is organic vegetable delivery day - £150 worth a week. In the overflowing kitchen, Miche, one of the helpers paid to juice and cook five mornings a week, is preparing Hippocrates soup (tomatoes, celeriac, onions and distilled water), to be eaten twice a day. On the table is a wonderful feast - unless, of course, you are irredeemably wedded to steak, chips, brown sauce and bitter, in which case it is then menu from hell.

Gerson does not permit salt, pepper, coffee, tea, wine, processed foods, fats, butter, carbohydrate or protein. Its aim is to detoxify and boost the body nutritionally by introducing large amounts of potassium and removing excess sodium, enabling the immune system to fight off malignancies. Max Gerson, a German army doctor who refined the regime in the 30s, believed that surgery, radiation and chemotherapy hinders rather than helps by damaging the liver and other organs. Scientific proof for his theory is nonexistent. Its popularity rests solely on individual histories.

On the table are several dishes, including baked potatoes; red cabbage and chard stalks cooked in orange juice and cider vinegar; aubergines and yellow pepper baked in maple syrup; and hokkaido squash roasted with tarragon, plus a pile of garlic cloves, which Teresa squashes over her food along with linseed oil and low-fat yoghurt. Fast food this isn't. "We genuinely love the diet," says Venetia, a former carnivore. "Eating is the pleasurable part."

Teresa is a picture of health; clear eyes, beautiful skin, lots of smiles, a strong sense of humour. She radiates attitude of the most positive kind. "I see the cancer not as a negative experience but an unexpected turning in my life," she says. "When I'm well, I want to work in this field. It's given me a new beginning."

Tim Littlewood, Teresa's doctor at the John Radcliffe Hospital in Oxford, specialises in haematological cancers. "It's rare to meet a person as serene and confident as Teresa - with or without lymphoma," he says. On her last visit, he adds, her blood tests were normal, she had no lumps and there was no evidence that the lymphoma had returned.

A scan would reveal the precise state of Teresa's health but she refuses to have one. "No matter what it revealed, it wouldn't alter how I'm choosing to treat the cancer," she says. "Even after the two years are up, I'll continue with a modified diet because I just feel weller and weller."

In her early 20s, Teresa developed dermatomyasitis, a muscle-wasting disease. Steroids were prescribed. Teresa refused and opted for exercise and acupuncture instead. It was a fortunate decision, since steroids might have masked the cancer. Eighteen months ago, Teresa developed a lump under her arm. It was diagnosed as benign, so she refused to have it removed.

Three months of intense pain followed, and one lump developed into three. Twice she asked for the lumps to be looked at again; both times she was given painkillers. Finally, the specialist treating her dermatomyasitis saw the lumps and ordered tests. Teresa embarked on the first course of chemotherapy.

It hospitalised her for three days. "I was convinced that because my body was already so weak from the dermatomyasitis, the chemo would kill me, even if the cancer didn't," she explains. "I decided on Gerson. People around me were horrified. My oncologist at the time told me that I would die and I was really scared. Since taking the decision though, I've never lost faith - not once. I'm not seeking another five years of life. My aim is to become completely well."

She knows that for others, Gerson has been tougher. One friend with three small children has died. Others have minimal help; they struggle with the diet and find the experience much more of an emotional roller-coaster. Teresa says that recently, boredom has begun to bite. She finds herself skipping enemas then worrying about the effect on her recovery; she now loathes the weekly injection of vitamin B12 and liver extract and is aware that she doesn't rest enough. She has taken up yoga and begun an Open University degree in health and disease but the strictures of Gerson preclude a normal social life. "It can be very isolating," she says, more as a statement of fact than in search of pity. "But I don't have a single regret."

"A year on, it's like being in the trenches," her mother says. "It's no longer a novelty, you don't have the same adrenalin rush; others naturally don't have the same degree of interest. All we can do is roll up our sleeves and just get on with it."

Money is also a problem. A two-year regime costs £40,000. Friends, family and strangers initially donated half that sum but now there is only enough to last five months.

One of the positive offshoots of the Gerson regime, Venetia says with pride, is that Teresa has "brilliant ideas". One is for a concept which seems workable. The other is to produce her version of a Gerson cookbook. Teresa chuckles at the idea of becoming the laid-back Jamie Oliver of the alternative circuit. She is a natural star.

"Whether Teresa's present heath is due to the initial dose of chemotherapy or the Gerson therapy or a combination of both, it's impossible to tell, but who cares?" says Littlewood. "What Teresa has done is take control of her own future, and put heart and soul into the effort. That's what matters. That and the fact that she's in good health."

• The Gerson Support Group, PO Box 74, Leatherhead, Surrey KT22 7YD.

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