Holly Albersworth has an incredible way with people.
That’s evident the moment she enters a room, her melodic laughter filling the air, her mesmerizing blue eyes seemingly able to look right into your soul. When she mentions that she was raised on a farm in central Alberta, her idyllic childhood spent in the great outdoors, it all starts to make perfect sense.
“It was a wonderful way to grow up,” says the smiling 53-year-old mother of two grown sons. “We ate organic, had our own milk and a huge garden. My parents taught me to work hard, trust in God and be resilient. I was very blessed.”
Then, when she begins to talk of her journey of the past decade, it’s a stark contrast, one that transforms her face from sunny to serious — and defiant. “My name is Holly,” she says. “And I refuse to be a statistic.”
Her determination has been hard-won, as she experienced health challenges that would test the mettle of the most courageous beings. Since 2010, Holly has endured pain from a highway accident, been diagnosed with cancer several times, undergone scores of chemotherapy and radiation treatments and lost her left arm in an attempt to prevent cancer from spreading throughout her body.
In addition to seeing the inside of too many hospitals over the past eight years, in 2017 Holly’s journey took her to Pure North, where she sought help for how to live her healthiest life post-cancer. Dr. Nina Lewis, a naturopathic doctor specializing in oncology and chronic disease, tailored a program for Holly’s needs.
The treatment included intravenous therapy with high-dose vitamin C, administered once or twice a week, for the first few months.
“That is what is called a pro-oxidative approach,” says Dr. Lewis. “We kill cancer cells with pro-oxidation.”
Emerging evidence shows that high-dose IV vitamin C used with chemotherapy has anti-tumour effects and improves quality of life and physical function, says Dr. Samantha Kimball, director of research at Pure North. It also reduces symptoms associated with chemotherapy, such as fatigue, nausea, insomnia, constipation and depression.
This was combined with other therapies that included a strict nutrition program and supplements, along with advice on avoiding things like plastic containers which could affect Holly’s estrogen pathways.
“We also focus on participants’ social and spiritual needs, which I believe is a player in restoring health,” says Dr. Lewis.
Holly praises Pure North team members like Dr. Lewis for providing such a caring, holistic approach. “What’s amazing about this place is it gives people hope when other sources have given them none,” she says. “They have seen people turn around, get healthy.”
Up until 2010, health was something Holly didn’t have to worry about. Raised as a Seventh Day Adventist, she didn’t drink alcohol, never smoked and mostly ate a plant-based diet. “I had a good career, an amazing family,” says the long-time teacher, who taught at Bow Valley College for several years.
That ended in the spring of 2010, when she and her two sons were involved in a pile-up on the highway just south of Red Deer. Holly suffered a concussion and endless headaches.
Later that winter, she noticed lumps in both breasts and went for a mammogram. She was diagnosed with bilateral, metastatic breast cancer. After a double mastectomy, chemo and radiation, she was told the cancer had continued to spread.
“It was like I was in a black pit and couldn’t get out,” she says of that period. “I had to decide, ‘I’m going to do this, I’m going to beat it.’”
In 2016, she found herself in yet another fight for her life. Holly’s left arm and shoulder were riddled with cancer. The surgeons gave her two options: go into palliative care, or remove her arm and part of her shoulder blade. “I said I want the one where I’m alive,” she says, smiling through tears at the memory.
To the surprise of her oncologists at the Tom Baker Cancer Centre, Holly has survived it all and is now two years’ cancer-free. She was told: “We don’t know why you’re alive.”
Today, she prefers to focus on the positive, which includes demonstrating the wonders of her prosthetic arm and hand — “I can fold laundry now, which is huge,” she says proudly — and touting the professionals at Pure North as partners in her healing journey.
“Our bodies were created to be able to heal, if we give them what they need,” she says. “It’s all about being healthy enough, so you can fight. Here, I am never treated like a statistic.”
- Fritz et al. 2014. Intravenous vitamin C and cancer: a systematic review. Integrative Cancer Therapies
You can hear more of Holly Albersworth’s story in the following video