Five months ago, Natalee Lawson was told by her doctor to "go home and be comfortable".

The bowel cancer patient interpreted that as: "We can't do anything, wait till something happens and maybe that will be the end. Cancer has taken over, you can't do anything."

Tumours had spread to her liver, lungs, chest and a spot between the spine and an artery.

But this month, a CT scan showed the original tumours in her chest, lung and near her spine were gone, although a new one, 6mm long, had appeared on one lung.

Advertisement

The 35-year-old mother-of-two from Morrinsville, who the Herald originally spoke to in November, plans to return to her job as a lab worker at Fonterra's Waitoa factory in May, starting at two hours a day.

She puts the disappearance of tumours down to controversial high-dose vitamin C infusions.

Mrs Lawson was diagnosed with bowel cancer on March 9 last year, her 10th wedding anniversary. She began the $195 infusions and has had two doses most weeks since.

In October, after finishing chemotherapy, she severely restricted her diet on the advice of her Hamilton vitamin provider, giving up wheat, dairy foods, sugar and red meat.

That's when her oncologist told her to go home and be comfortable.

"I wasn't happy with that. I can't sit at home and wait to die."

She pushed for surgery to remove the tumours, ringing "until I found someone to do the surgery for me".

"He spoke to my oncologist. She still said 'No, Natalee does not need it'. But we ended up doing it anyway because it was in a private [hospital]."

Cancerous liver was removed in December and in January the bowel tumour was taken out.

"I truly believe it's the vitamin C and the diet that Dr Bill Reeder put me on. I don't think I would still be here without it. For some people it's not going to work. If it doesn't stop cancer cells, it boosts your immune system and gives you more energy."

Her oncologist has told her to expect cancer to return at some stage, but Nat is grabbing hold of life.

"My boy [Harper, 8, her eldest] said, 'Everything's back to normal now Mum,' and I said, 'Yeah, we're getting there'."

Bowel Cancer New Zealand spokeswoman Mary Bradley said many bowel cancer patients have vitamin C infusions.

"Bowel Cancer NZ supports patients exploring different treatment options in conjunction with their medical team's plan."

Oncologist and Cancer Society medical director Dr Chris Jackson said he can neither recommend high-dose vitamin C nor dissuade patients from having it because of the "conflicting evidence".

Although many people report feeling better after having it, no good-quality trials in patients have found a therapeutic benefit and there is a risk of kidney failure.

Health researcher Dr Shaun Holt, who has written a book assessing alternative and complementary cancer therapies, notes there is also a risk the high doses will reduce the effectiveness of radiation therapy.

But Otago University scientist Professor Margreet Vissers, who is raising money for study to find the optimal intravenous dose, has reported that bowel surgery patients whose tumours contain higher levels of vitamin C live longer without cancer relapse than those with lower levels.

A registered medical practitioner, Dr Reeder abides by the Medicines Act requirement to avoid making therapeutic claims which have not been approved by the Health Minister through the evidence-based drug-licensing system. "It [vitamin C] is registered as a medicine but not as a cancer treatment, so we don't claim evidence it will treat cancer."

The main effect he observes is an immediate improvement in people's quality of life.

High-dose vitamin C infusions for cancer

• A controversial alternative therapy.

• Christchurch-based study found cancer tissue grew more slowly if it had higher levels of vitamin C.

• No well-designed clinical trials have shown a therapeutic benefit in cancer patients.

• Many bowel cancer patients pay privately for the infusions.

• Nat Lawson says it has kept her alive.