Jenice Armstrong: Sun Hee Lee: Inspirational survivor

Sarto Schickel and Sun Hee Lee
Sarto Schickel and Sun Hee Lee
Posted: May 26, 2011

SUN HEE LEE WILL participate in the ovarian-cancer run/walk Sunday morning and will likely cross the finish line, no doubt feeling triumphant.

She well should.

Lee, who lives in University City, has been defying the odds since being diagnosed with stage IV ovarian cancer in 2007. By the time doctors discovered the reasons for her nagging cough and swollen abdomen, the cancer had spread to her chest cavity.

Typically, the one-year survival rate for most patients diagnosed with late-stage ovarian is dismal - just 17 percent, according to the Annals of Medicine. In other words, more than 80 percent don't make it through the first year.

But Lee's still here.

Yeah, she spends a whole lot of time visiting doctors' offices and preparing food for the alternative therapies she also subscribes to. But she's pushing on, combining elements of the controversial Gerson Therapy, which claims to cure cancer and other ailments, and a macrobiotic diet, which emphasizes whole grains and fresh vegetables to promote good health.

What she's doing hasn't been proved scientifically.

And the idea that a coffee enema has health benefits that could help someone with cancer sounds like quackery.

But she and her husband believe that the therapies have helped her.

Perhaps they did, if for no other reason than all the hours the couple spend preparing fresh juices and creating special vegetarian meals make them feel more in control.

To be honest, I don't know.

After all, Lee did undergo surgery and chemotherapy in addition to the unconventional practices she adopted on her own.

Lee could owe her success to some combination of all of the above, or maybe she's just lucky.

I met her husband, Sarto Schickel, years ago while I was covering a story, and was impressed by his zeal and energy. And when he shared the story of his wife's cancer battle with me, I was moved.

In recent years, I've been through my own form of cancer hell with my parents. So many people I know have been touched by this insidious disease, so I figure that if someone can be helped in even the smallest way by Schickel's self-published volume, Cancer Healing Odyssey: My Wife's Remarkable Journey with Love, Medicine and Gerson Therapy (Paxdieta Books, 2011), then that's a good thing.

But anyone who picks this up - find it at CancerHealingOdyssey.com - and expects a how-to guide on Gerson or macrobiotics will be sorely disappointed.

It's really one couple's saga in the face of a devastating diagnosis. It discusses, among other things, their feeling at hearing the diagnosis; the time they spent at a Gerson clinic in Mexico; and a fundraising concert some friends organized at Trinity Church in 2008. In between all that, you sense one man's commitment to the woman he loves.

For me, the takeaway was a reminder about the importance of good nutrition, the power of having a positive attitude and the importance of love and support when you're fighting cancer.

"While more research is certainly a positive, there is a lot that folks can be doing in addition to their conventional medical treatment in their own homes," Schickel told me in an email.

"This is stuff which is a perfect complement to conventional medicine and is the stuff that my wife did, in addition to conventional medicine, in order to get her remarkable results to date."

But Schickel isn't a doctor, so anyone who reads what he has written should make sure they get medical care from a licensed physician.

Schickel is just a man trying to help his wife survive cancer. I'll bet he'll be out Sunday at the 7th annual Teal Ribbon 5K Race Against Time, walking right next to her.

Send email to heyjen@phillynews.com. My blog: www.philly.com/HeyJen.

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