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Lessons Learned from Surviving 'A Mystery Cancer

Imagine being told that you have an advanced, aggressive cancer, but that doctors don't know what kind or exactly how to treat it.

That was Marta Willson's dilemma four years ago. Upper-arm pain led to the discovery of a golf-ball-sized lymph node in her right armpit, but the source of that tumor remains a mystery to this day. A successful sales and marketing consultant who's used to being in control, Marta was suddenly at the mercy of a mystery cancer, "carcinoma of unknown primary", CUP for short. Her first doctors proposed treating it as they would breast cancer with a single mastectomy and lymphectomy followed by radiation and chemotherapy.

"Whoa, hold the phone," she remembers thinking. "I was glad I already had a second opinion scheduled."


At Seattle Cancer Treatment and Wellness Center, doctors gave her hope, along with their expertise in combining specialized medical treatments with the naturopathic support she was seeking.

"Mainstream medicine tends to treat symptoms," she says. "I wanted to treat the source." Even if that source was a question mark.


Marta underwent six months of weekly chemotherapy treatments with Medical Oncologist Dr. Nick Chen, received acupuncture from Chinese medicine practitioner Darin Bunch, and saw a spiritual counselor on her own. She continues to get nutritional guidance, most recently from Naturopathic Physician Letitia Cain.

Through it all, she maintained her career as a senior housing consultant. At 61, she's now "retired" and working part-time for herself.

Scans show no sign of that original tumor or any others, but Marta remains vigilant about her twice-monthly vitamin C infusions and all-organic, cancer-fighting diet and supplement regimen.


Her experience taught her never to let down her guard, or give up. Now she advises others to:

-Always get a second option

-Have an advocate come with you to appointments. (Marta is ever so grateful for her husband, Larry.)

-Do everything you can to fill your days with humor, life and optimism. (Marta has a no-dead-plants rule at her house.)

"I plan to live into my 80s," she says.

No case is typical. Not every patient should expect to receive these results.


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