If there was a natural way to treat something, she was determined to try that first.
Miranda Bleicher and her husband Ted have always been against putting toxins or chemicals into their bodies or those of their children. So when Bleicher was first diagnosed with cancer, she was certain that she didn’t want to do chemotherapy.
“We’re pretty big on doing things naturally,” she said.
She overhauled her diet, cutting out all sugars and focusing on raw vegetables in an effort to detoxify her body. Bleicher used essential oils, such as frankincense and cypress, and took supplements such as selenium to keep herself as healthy and balanced as she could.
The fear of undergoing chemo can, understandably, be overwhelming — but the fear of dying is usually greater. In this case, the latter eventually won out.
Bleicher tried to battle cancer holistically for about seven months, but after finding her tumors had grown so much that she struggled to breathe every time she held her young children, she reluctantly decided to do chemotherapy.
Though she struggled with what felt like a betrayal of her values, Bleicher — who is now 31 and has been in remission for nearly two years — can say that it was the right move.
Bleicher woke up on the morning of Jan. 10, 2015, and noticed a big lump near her collarbone. She went to an urgent care facility and got an X-ray, which showed swollen lymph nodes. That led to a follow-up CT scan, and a biopsy a few days later confirmed a diagnosis of nodular sclerosis classical Hodgkin lymphoma.
Hodgkin lymphoma is considered one of the most curable forms of cancer, with a survival rate of better than 90 percent for cases diagnosed during Stage 1 or Stage 2.
Though the first oncologist Bleicher saw recommended beginning chemotherapy immediately, Bleicher wanted to research her options and eventually decided to fight the cancer on her own, going the holistic route.
“Cancer has taught me to find the blessing in every situation.”
In addition to going on a strict diet that cut out all sugars and carbohydrates and was heavy on raw vegetables, Bleicher used different combinations of essential oils and supplements as part of her therapy. She was consulting with a natural health specialist who used electrodermal screening to determine what nutrients were lacking in Bleicher’s body.
While Bleicher still said she believes that the natural path helped detoxify her body, it wasn’t doing anything to stop the cancer from spreading. After seeing a scan that showed the original tumor in her chest had grown from 4 centimeters to 6 — and a stark warning from Dr. Pablo Bedano at Community Cancer Center South — Bleicher finally agreed to begin chemo treatments.
“We tried (natural therapy) to see if it made a difference,” Bleicher said. “And I think it would have eventually, but (the cancer) was just spreading and getting bigger. Where it started, it was kind of in my chest, and it started spreading. It was at the point to where I was coughing and it was hard to catch my breath; if my son was against my chest, you’re labored to breathe.”
When she was first diagnosed, Bleicher’s cancer was stage 2A. By the time she went back and met with Bedano in August of 2015, it was Stage 4.
“When we saw her, I think she realized how sick she was,” Bedano said, “And I think she realized that we needed to do something quick. She was scared of doing chemo treatment, but I think she had come to a point that now she was scared of the disease, because she realized that she was literally dying from the cancer.”
“I don’t think she would have lived more than a few months had she not started her chemo.”
The results were immediate. She began her bi-weekly ABVD (adriamycin, bleomycin, vinblastine and dacarbazine) treatments on Aug. 25, 2015, and after just her second one, the massive lump at the base of her neck was no longer visible.
By mid-December of that year, she was in remission, and she has been cancer-free ever since.
“I guess you could say it has changed me for both good and bad. There are days that I feel cancer has made me more anxious and scared — with every little bump or symptom, your mind instantly goes into ‘it’s cancer’ mode — but it has also helped grow my faith in God, giving me a better appreciation that we are not promised tomorrow.”
“I’m thankful it worked out the way it did and we were able to get treatment,” Bleicher said.
Even though the chemotherapy saved her life, Bleicher stands by her decision to try the natural route first.
“We looked at all those numbers when we decided to try holistically when we did,” she said.
“It wasn’t a super fast-growing (cancer), so we had a little window of time to try it. Had it been fast-growing, or had the success rates not been where they were, we probably would have had to really thought about where we would have gone.
“I think 100 percent that at the very least, it helped me manage the chemo so much better, because I did a lot of detoxing. Just the way I was eating, I think it helped everything take better.”
Having an emotional outlet through the weekly art therapy class being offered at the cancer center also helped.
Free to patients and caregivers through Community’s Integrative Health program, the class provided her with a way to channel her feelings about what she was going through — and do so alongside others who were going through the same thing.
“I was big into that,” she said of the class. “That was my time.”
Bleicher started out by including some artwork in a journal she was keeping about her battle with cancer. Once that one filled up, she began a second journal, one that became more art-focused as her treatments wound down. Though she was more accustomed to drawing and painting, the 2004 Center Grove graduate started dabbling in other mixed-media work — cutting, gluing and building to add layers to some of her projects.
She also has a third journal that she uses for jotting down ideas for future artwork.
“It’s my release, I guess,” said Bleicher, who still always carries a journal with her. “If I’m having a stressful day or a bad day, I can just go there and create something, and it just lets my mind stop thinking sometimes.”
Helen Caldwell, a social worker at Community South who helped introduce Bleicher to the Integrative Health classes, said that many of their patients have benefited in a similar way.
“Miranda had been artistic before, and so I think this tapped into a whole new area of energy for her,” Caldwell said. “It gave her an outlet to express herself, and it gave her something to focus on other than the cancer.”
Though she is no longer fighting lymphoma, Bleicher remains active at the cancer center. She continues to attend the art therapy classes, as well as a weekly support group — one that was originally solely for breast cancer patients but has since rebranded itself as a women’s group, at least in part because it had adopted Bleicher.
Joining these groups helped Bleicher to build and grow bonds with others who were going through the same struggles. While her family supported her through her battle with the disease, they couldn’t fully understand it.
“Only someone with cancer can understand what having cancer is like.”
Bleicher hopes that she’s now in the clear, but if the cancer were to return, she’d be a little more likely to take the proactive route and start chemotherapy sooner.
She still leans toward natural treatments for minor illnesses — if one of her children has a cold, for example. But in another life-or-death situation, Bleicher won’t be as willing to gamble.
“I still don’t like putting certain toxins or chemicals in myself or my kids when I don’t need to,” she said. “(But) if we need medicine, we do it.”
Diagnosed: January 20, 2015
Type of cancer: Nodular sclerosis Hodgkin lymphoma
Treatment: Attempted holistic treatment for about seven months; chemotherapy from August 2015 through January 2016
What cancer taught me: “Cancer has taught me to find the blessing in every situation.”
How cancer changed me: “I guess you could say it has changed me for both good and bad. There are days that I feel cancer has made me more anxious and scared — with every little bump or symptom, your mind instantly goes into ‘it’s cancer’ mode — but it has also helped grow my faith in God, giving me a better appreciation that we are not promised tomorrow.”
What I would tell someone: “Stay positive, take pictures, keep a journal, connect with support groups and art therapy classes, embrace this part in your life knowing you’re not alone — and most importantly, never give up hope.”
A look at the Integrative Oncology programs being offered at the Community Cancer Center South:
When: Third and fourth Monday of each month from 5:30 to 6:30 p.m.
When: Tuesdays from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. and Thursdays from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.
Building Strength exercise class
When: Wednesdays from 10 to 11 a.m.
When: Wednesdays from 5 to 6 p.m.
When: Fridays from 10 to 11:30 a.m.
When: First and third Thursday of each month from 9 to 11 a.m.
Family & friends support group
When: Third Thursday of each month from 6 to 7:30 p.m.
Prostate support group
When: Third Thursday of each month from 6:30 to 8 p.m.
Women’s support groups
When: First Thursday of each month; 6 to 7:30 p.m. for women 50 and under and from 6 to 8 p.m. for women over 50
*Massage services are limited to Community Health oncology patients only