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Points of Departure: Coming Back from Cancer

SAR diver with end-stage melanoma now has clean bill of health

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On the way back to school after Thanksgiving, freshman diver Bailey O’Brien noticed a change in a mole on her right temple. The next weekend she went home to Putnam Valley, N.Y., and had the mole removed. It wasn’t until after finals that O’Brien’s parents told her the results of the biopsy.

“They said I should sit down,” recalls O’Brien (SAR’12). “My dad said, ‘I think you know why.’ I said, ‘No, what’s going on?’ Then he told me the results were positive for cancer.”

A subsequent examination revealed worse: O’Brien had stage III melanoma. The skin around her right temple was removed, along with 45 lymph nodes around her neck. Through it all, she continued to dive with the BU team, setting personal records year after year. Just before entering her senior year, and two years after her first bout with melanoma, O’Brien’s doctors found a tumor behind her jaw. Then they found another behind her earlobe. It was removed, but after two months of recovery and a month of radiation treatment, another tumor appeared under her chin.

“I came back to Boston ready to go to Hawaii with my teammates for a training trip,” she says. “I had developed a bump under my chin that I was concerned about. When my doctor biopsied it, I discovered that I had seven tumors in total.”

In January 2011, O’Brien was diagnosed with stage IV melanoma—“end-stage” as she describes it—with very little hope for survival.

“I just shut down,” she says. “I wasn’t sure what to do. I didn’t qualify for the clinical trials that were most promising, which my doctor wanted me to be in—so I began the quest for a cure that I wasn’t sure existed.”

Desperate for answers, O’Brien’s mother and a family friend discovered a hospital in Tijuana, Mexico, that had claimed a 60 percent five-year success rate with melanoma patients. With financial help from her family, friends, and teammates, O’Brien flew to Mexico and entered the three-week program. In addition to a regimen of natural and alternative vaccines, O’Brien started a modified form of the Gerson diet, which requires completely organic and unprocessed foods, fruits and vegetables, no added sodium, no red meat, and no refined sugars or grains.

By February, O’Brien thought the tumor in her chin appeared to be shrinking. She returned to the United States in March 2011 and continued with her treatment at home for the next month. “I knew that it was a possibility that while the tumor under my chin had gone away, the others could be the same size or even growing,” she says. In late March, two days before her 21st birthday, O’Brien went to her doctor for another PET scan. All of the tumors had disappeared.

“That,” she says, “was the most amazing moment of my life.”

O’Brien has just completed her first full year of classes. In February, she and her teammates from the Terrier men’s and women’s teams won the America East Swimming and Diving Championships. “For both of us to win in the same year was a really, really special moment,” she says. “I was really happy for both the men and the women’s team because we were the underdogs.”

With one semester remaining in the fall, O’Brien will not dive, but she will spend as much time as possible with her teammates and coaches. The nutritional sciences major is thinking about becoming a dietitian and helping people the way that she found help.

“I believe that the diet that I’m on, although it’s really strict, can heal a lot of people,” she says. “And I hope that by sharing my story and giving some nutritional advice, I lead some people down the right path of good health.”

Watch this video on YouTube

In the video above, Bailey O’Brien (SAR’12) reads a letter that she wrote to her friends and family to celebrate her one-year anniversary of being declared free of cancer. Photo by Cydney Scott View closed captions on YouTube

Additional editing by Kara Siebein (COM’12).

36 Comments
Alan Wong

Alan Wong can be reached at alanwong@bu.edu.

36 Comments on Points of Departure: Coming Back from Cancer

  • Dr. Thomas A. Underwood on 05.07.2012 at 6:19 am

    What an inspiring story by a student who is clearly extremely courageous.

  • Afaf Hourani on 05.07.2012 at 8:21 am

    Bailey, I was so touched by your story! Congratulations on being cancer free. I appreciate it if you can share the food regimen you are on. You are an inspiration. Best, Afaf

  • BL on 05.07.2012 at 9:12 am

    I believe the diet you are on is truly a method for healing. When my grandfather was dying a friend introduced him to a very similar diet (not sure if it’s the exact diet but it sure sounds like it). It really, really helped to bring him back from the brink. Unfortunately, it was a little too late when he started the diet. But, the turnaround he had and the time he did live I totally 100% attribute to the diet. I hope your studies and future are filled with success and good health.

  • Bailey O'Brien on 05.07.2012 at 9:36 am

    Thank you so so much!!

    Afaf, Gar Hildenbrand (researcher) has a website with a ton of information on the diet and immunotherapy – http://garhildenbrand.com/overview.html – also, his phone number is on there! He is a gem and would happily answer any/all questions that you may have!

    If you’d like to know more about the hospital I went to, CHIPSA, their website is http://chipsa.com/index.html.

    Or, feel free to send me an email at baileyo@bu.edu
    Thank you! :)

  • E on 05.07.2012 at 10:22 am

    Bailey,

    Thanks for sharing your story. You’re incredibly courageous and I wish all the best for you in the future.

  • Robin B. on 05.07.2012 at 10:31 am

    Wow, Bailey. Thank you for sharing your story and your letter. Your strength and insight is something that everyone can learn from. Good luck finishing up here at BU, and keep taking advantage of all of life’s opportunities.

  • Kim Relick on 05.07.2012 at 11:03 am

    Thank you BU Today for telling this story moving story of courage and resilience, and thank you Bailey for having the courage to read your letter to all of us. You are a true survivor and I wish you well in the path you choose after graduation. You clearly have the skills to do great things.

  • Mike Lynch on 05.07.2012 at 11:33 am

    Great job Bailey! We are cheering for you…..you are an inspiration to us all!

  • Court on 05.07.2012 at 12:43 pm

    so special. many many blessings.

  • Mo on 05.07.2012 at 12:56 pm

    Ditto on all the above! Amazing story, and best wishes and prayers to you Bailey! I know you will continue do great things and inspire.

  • Amy on 05.07.2012 at 1:17 pm

    Congratulations Bailey! You are an inspiration!

  • Monika Mical on 05.07.2012 at 1:53 pm

    you are amazing! so proud of you! <3

  • Concerned alumn on 05.07.2012 at 1:30 pm

    Bailey O’Brien’s recovery is excellent news – whatever it was or is that lead to it. Independent of this awe-inspiring and newsworthy article I am a little concerned that people may overgeneralize the insinuated successful treatment with “alternative medicine” – especially in a newsletter of a renown university that takes pride in its commitment to science and knowledge.

    I am fully aware that I sound like a downer or hypercritical but as a BU alumnus and as someone who has pledged his career to better healthcare I cringe when questionable therapies and medications (of all sorts) get touted as a miracle cure. To the best of my knowledge there is little or no evidence that the Gerson diet has any impact on health or specifically cancer. Not saying that it doesn’t – just that there are no viable studies as of yet and evidence has been mostly anecdotal.

    I can appreciate that people in dire situations are willing to try everything. I would probably as well. But there is a risk that people in other circumstances who would benefit from more mainstream and proven therapies might lose time on trying “alternatives” first. I’ve seen this more than once and articles like this may exacerbate this common problem.

    Again, I’m trying to put things into perspective and I couldn’t be happier for Ms. O’Brien’s win over this dreaded disease.

    • Brendan Mahoney on 05.07.2012 at 10:39 pm

      Fantastic story, congratulations on your success!

      As for the concerns of the concerned alum, I have also spent years in the healthcare industry, and it’s been long enough to know that some things will never been proven enough to be legitimate treatments in the US, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t things that do indeed work and are worth trying when you are out of options. I applaud Bailey and her family for staying strong and exhausting every single option when the recommended solutions failed.

  • Rosalie on 05.07.2012 at 3:18 pm

    Bailey O’Brien is the most extraordinary and courageous person I’ve had the privilege and pleasure to know. I too, like the “concerned alum” wrote, am concerned about alternative treatments. However, as a US trained and practiced health care practioner and someone who now devotes her work to analyzing safety data for clinical trials in a leading pharmaceutical company I was acutely aware of what Bailey’s “alternatives” were in our present treatment of oncology. As a stage IV unresectable melanoma patient with metastasis the options available to her were, as she said, none. I congratulate her parents for the courage they demonstrated in seeking out something for their daughter. This year that she has fought valiantly for is a gift to every person who has the pleasure of sharing in her life. I wish her many more years.

  • Jean K. on 05.07.2012 at 3:50 pm

    Thank you for this powerful presentation of such a courageous and inspiring journey. Very best wishes to you, Bailey!

  • Angela Nilles on 05.07.2012 at 4:29 pm

    Hi Bailey,

    Thank you so much for sharing your story. I am so happy that you are doing so well! Your career path will allow you to help many, many people, and I’m sure it will be very rewarding. I agree with you that not many people appreciate the importance of nutrition, and think that food is just food. I am glad your story will help to change people’s minds about the foods that they eat, and the larger reality of the problems with our food supply and the way we approach nutrition in this country. Thank you again!

  • Teddy Burns on 05.07.2012 at 5:39 pm

    Wow, you are incredible. Best of luck!

  • Kathy on 05.07.2012 at 7:39 pm

    Bailey,
    Your story is one of hope and belief. Our bodies are capable of so much if we fuel them I the right ways. Be well Bailey. I hope that you can continue to stay well and inspire others with your story! Enjoy ever day!

  • Jun Il Hwang on 05.07.2012 at 8:09 pm

    Wow! Congratulations! Thank you for sharing your brave story! Best of luck for the next three years at BU!

  • Kyle Potter on 05.07.2012 at 9:14 pm

    Bailey! Glad you’re better!

    -Your Spring 2011 SM299 teammate for a couple weeks, Kyle :D

  • Afaf on 05.08.2012 at 8:07 am

    Bailey followed mainstream and was on proven therapies. Having gone the extra mile to help her condition is something she should be praised for. The food regimen she was on is a proven therapy “Let thy Food be thy Medicine and thy Medicine be thy Food.” Hippocrates. The Hippocratic Oath is one of the oldest binding documents in history. Let’s all embrace what nature provides! Namaste…

  • Rachel Atcheson on 05.08.2012 at 9:33 am

    Bailey, the diet you’re on, sounds like it’s a raw vegan diet, is this accurate? I have another friend who is also on a vegan diet to help curb her own cancer. Hmm I do wish more people knew about risk of cancer and how that ties into veganism. You’re awesome Bailey and it’s good to hear such a positive story (especially right in the midst of exams, ha).

  • Lisa on 05.08.2012 at 10:49 am

    Bailey, thank you for sharing your story!

    May you continue to walk in health and prosperity.

  • T. on 05.08.2012 at 2:01 pm

    Congratulations! So many blessings to you Bailey!

  • BU on 05.08.2012 at 4:29 pm

    Congrats Bailey!

    I am also in the health care field and I am aware of CHIPSA’s program.

    What’s important to clarify here is that the main part of the program is actually the administration of “Colie’s toxins”, a multiple-dose vaccine of inactivated bacteria. The diet is simply a minor part of the program that helps the patient cleanse himself/herself during and after the administration of the toxins.

  • Rob on 05.09.2012 at 9:20 am

    Wow.. I’m astonished by this story and so relieved by the good news. Congratulations, and all the best after graduation. Very inspiring!

  • Jen on 05.09.2012 at 12:07 pm

    Bailey, thank you so much for sharing your story. It reminds me how precious life really is.

  • Pat on 05.09.2012 at 2:14 pm

    What a courageous young woman. So happy that you had such good results with your treatment. But, I would definitely say that your attitude toward life and overcoming obstacles was also most beneficial. It is wonderful to read these stories from brave young people such as yourself. Gives great hope for the future. Our world will be in good hands.

  • Sayaka on 05.10.2012 at 9:42 am

    Really a remarkable story- I am so happy that you are cancer free!

  • S. on 05.10.2012 at 12:13 pm

    I just wanted to say – Bailey, you truly have a remarkable story but the thing I love most is that when someone talks to you, it’s not about the past but about the future. You serve as an inspiration to all of us, so thank you so much for that.

  • scott on 05.21.2012 at 12:59 pm

    every Doctor should know learn about this

    http://gerson.org

  • scott on 05.21.2012 at 1:01 pm

    watch the movie “Beautiful Truth”

  • Mike Alexander on 05.31.2012 at 10:44 pm

    Great story – thanks for sharing. The verifiable truth…… traditional therapy does not work for most cancers. The success rates of Chemo radiation and Immunotherapy are abysmal. I do not believe there is a single documented case of chemotherapy or radiation curing any stage IV cancer (other than testicular and some lymphomas). If there was a possible cure with traditional medicine, we would not have such a fear of cancer. We must put pressure on our government and insurance companies to cover these “alternative” therapies. Billions of dollars a year spent on cancer research that result in more useless pharmaceuticals and after 60 years since America announced “The War on Cancer” we are not any closer to the cure. These resources should be invested in clinically proven methods, that save lives. Cancer patients are forced to seek out alternatives after they have exhausted their resources ( financial, physical and emotional) on useless treatments. Oncologist quote statistics that are misleading and the very least deceptive. If they provided the actual data, no one would agree to such torcher. Alternative treatment is the answer. These harmful alternative practitioners (quakes) are saving lives.

  • Sandy on 06.10.2012 at 7:20 pm

    I am so happy for you, bailey. Will you please share the diet with me? My Son has also suffered with cancer. He can benefit from what has worked for you. Thank you so much.

  • Mark Stutler on 06.18.2012 at 11:39 am

    Dear Bailey, Great letter! You really are a natural in front of a camera. It is hard for me to express how happy I am for you. Your Aunt Linda has been keeping us all up-to-date on your health and college career, and you have become a daughter to us all at Rivesville School. My family and I have prayed diligently for you and will continue to do so. To God be the glory, and to you a great life!

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