My Wellness Journey - Starr H.

Photo showing healthcare blocks stacked.
on 30 March 2021
  • Health
  • Journey
  • Wellness

This is a timeline of my health journey, from cancer diagnosis to feeling healthier than I have in a long time. While it was a tumultuous, scary, and, often, tough journey, it has made me better and stronger.

End of February 2020

Here is where I received the devastating news from my neurosurgeon that would change my life. After surgery consisting of a biopsy and partial removal of a tumor on my neck, I was diagnosed with stage 4 metastatic breast cancer.

At that moment, I was totally in shock. I tried to remain calm as I looked over at my daughter who started to cry. My oncology doctor saw the emotional distress happening and said very calmly, “this is the best cancer anyone can have to overcome, and the only reason I had to call it stage 4 is because it’s metastatic to your neck bone”. I thought that was kind of her to be so reassuring.

The little tumor showed up on an MRI taken in December 2019; 4 months after my (over the handlebar) bike accident. At the time, I assumed it was a fracture or scar tissue from my accident, because I hit my head hard on the greenway pavement (and had a concussion from it). Although I have no memory of the accident, my 5 bike friends got the ambulance to the scene and brought my bike safely home (which is very important you know). But I digress, that’s another story that will be fun to tell my grandson when he gets a little older— to find out how crazy and hip his grandma is.

An MRI Scanning machine.

After these findings, I was sent to an oncology doctor. Then I had a mammogram which showed a 6.2 cm tumor on my right breast. My oncology doctor wanted to immediately start a heavy-duty chemo regimen, surgery, radiation, and an estrogen blocker drug to get rid of it. She did not know who she was talking to.

I immediately said, “wait a minute, not so fast.” I remembered watching my best friend go through chemo and her telling me “the chemo is killing me” so I wasn’t about to rush into something so drastic. My doctor then recommended a milder dose of chemo in pill form. Still, I decided to wait. Instead, I asked my oncology doctor if I could wait on surgery and radiation because of the pandemic. Not that I was afraid of the pandemic; it was more that I needed time to research unconventional ways of healing from cancer.

I never researched as much as I did following that visit in my entire life. I guess my life depended on learning as much as I could as quickly as possible. In the meantime, I prayed that God would show me the way and give me the wisdom to make the right decisions on what I needed to do to heal from this cancer.

While researching cancer, I started to make a lot of changes in my life.

March 2020

The first thing I did was to eliminate sugar, sweets, wine, coffee, black tea, and anything made with white flour from my diet because I read that cancer feeds off sugar. My biggest hint was, when I had the PET scan, they give you a tracer for glucose metabolism. I also started taking a regimen of vitamins, minerals, and herbs.

The one thing I didn’t give up is dark chocolate, but it had to be above 70% and not sweetened by sugar but instead lightly sweetened by honey, maple syrup or stevia. My naturopathic doctor said to eat it once in a while and enjoy it. But I mostly ate a lot of veggies, fruits, seeds, and nuts.

Vegetables on a table.

April 2020

I decided to take the estrogen blocker my oncology doctor recommended. After 2 months on this drug, I stopped taking it because it was causing depression. At that point, I started on all-organic juicing with cucumbers, kale, carrots, ginger, lemons, green apples, beats, and celery. I then started seeing a naturopathic doctor and nutritionist and stopped eating dairy and meats including chicken and fish. Next, I started doing Far Infrared saunas and Far Infrared mi-gun, colonics, Asea redox and essential oils.

Now, I know you probably have no idea what these are, but everything I did is a form of detoxing. After one of my doctors told me cancer cannot live in an alkaline body, I knew I needed to make my body more alkaline and less acidic (hence the detoxing). Every little hint has helped me on my journey to better health.

I’ve read a lot of books on cancer healing this past year, but the one book that has helped me the most is Chris Beat Cancer by Chris Wark, who had colon cancer. Doctors told Chris he would only live six months if he didn’t do chemo and radiation, but he is still alive and well 17 years later.

June 2020

Getting stress and emotional conflict in order is just as important as eating healthy and exercising. I found this out after reading several books. To strengthen my mental health, I started seeing an emotional counselor for 4 months for the emotional part of cancer healing, and I joined two online cancer groups.

July 2020

I had another Bone scan and CT scan. There was no cancer in the CT scan. The only thing in my Bone scan was what remained on my neck, that I had already been told was stable. Stable was good, I’d take that.

Doctor reviewing a scan.

Then my oncology doctor and the breast surgeon wanted to do another mammogram. I said I would rather do an MRI, so we settled on an ultrasound. The radiology doctor came in the room afterwards and was amazed. He said “whatever you are doing, keep doing it, because that tumor has shrunk 20% to 30%”. He would need an MRI though to measure the current state of the tumor.

My surgeon from UNC Rex did not want me to go for the MRI, despite the change in size being enough to warrant a lumpectomy instead of a mastectomy. I then hired another surgeon from Duke. She immediately ordered an MRI and told me to keep doing what I’m doing because of my results.

August 2020

I started taking another estrogen blocker with a different brand name. It didn’t bother me emotionally. However, I knew this blocker could cause osteoporosis. That’s when I started Nordic Pole Walking and bone strengthening vitamins, at least until I could find a homeopathic remedy that could replace it. I walked a couple of miles, twice a day, especially when it was sunny out, to get that extra Vitamin D.

October 2020

When I had surgery mid-October, the tumor had shrunk from 6.2 cm to 4.2 cm and my lymph nodes were clear of cancer. I was incredibly happy with the results.

I was planning to have Proton Therapy instead of radiation therapy after surgery. An article in the National Cancer Institute wrote about proton therapy in a blog by their NCI staff, in which they explain how proton therapy works. Basically, with radiation treatment, beams of photons hit the tumor and surrounding tissues – which can damage healthy tissue. Proton therapy in contrast stops at the tumor, but there isn’t enough research comparing the two methods to make a definitive statement on which is better at improving life expectancy. Not to mention, most insurance – including mine - doesn’t cover proton therapy. My proton therapy doctor is still trying to appeal it, but it does not look promising. Until they finish building the Proton Center at Duke in Durham, the closest treatment center is three hours away.

November 2020

I started high dose IV-C infusions at the recommendations of my naturopathic doctor and naturopath nutritionist. This IV-C infusion consists of high dose vitamin C, B-complex, B12, B5, B6, Magnesium, Zinc, and Calcium. Some say having IV-C infusions is the same as having chemotherapy except it is much healthier for your immune system.

January 2021

Starr H.

I started Hyperbaric Oxygen treatment for 1-hour sessions 4 times a week for several weeks. Now I am down to 4 sessions for one week per month. This helps with the head injury I endured from the bike accident as well as healing from cancer. The first time I went in the hyperbaric oxygen chamber, it felt like I was in a space capsule. I had to keep popping my ears until they got me up to a certain level, then it levels off until they bring you back down again. It felt like being in an airplane, not comfortable at first, but it does get easier with each session.

February 2021

I was hoping my six-month Bone scan and CT scan in mid-February, ordered by my oncology doctor, would show nothing on my neck bone. That wasn’t the case. Still, what is there is stable and looks to be the same as in July 2020. There was no other sign of cancer anywhere else. She also did blood work, and everything tested normal to excellent including a particularly good white blood count.

When I asked my oncology doctor if chemotherapy kills the cancer stem cell, she said it wouldn’t. I knew that from my research, but I just wanted to hear her say it. Chemotherapy may work in some people that have really good immune systems, but most of the time, it is extremely detrimental to your body. I knew it would not be good for me.

I also asked my doctor before surgery and after the tumor shrunk 30%, would the tumor have shrunk that much that fast if I only took the estrogen blocker and did not do anything else. She admitted it would have taken six months to a year before it started shrinking. She also admitted that what I am doing is helping my situation.

Starr H.

The one benefit of changing my diet to mostly fruits and vegetables is I have lost almost 50 pounds throughout this past year. The best thing is that I feel healthier than I have felt in a long time. Most of my coworkers know my enthusiasm for bike riding, and all of this has helped me cycle up hills faster. It’s amazing how much weight can pull you down.

March 2021

I will continue doing what I’m doing until I am totally cancer free, while researching what I need to do next. I appreciate all the prayers and support my friends, family, all the Summit teammates have given me. The future looks very promising for me, and I’m thankful that I’ve come this far.

It’s funny but before I was diagnosed with cancer, I could never look at anything with the word “cancer” on it because I had such a fear for that word. I could not even say the word “cancer” because I thought it would jinx me. I used to call it the “C” word. Now I have read so many books of people that have healed from cancer that I’m really not afraid of cancer anymore. I hope you are encouraged by my wellness journey and lifestyle changes. I hope you never have to deal with this dreaded disease. But if you do, please do not be afraid of it. I hope from this journey, you feel inspired to take steps to change your health, and to learn how with research, dedication, and support, you can overcome health challenges in your life.


Starr H Headshot

Starr Hillhouse
Starr has worked in the Structural field at Summit for the past 4 ½ years as a Structural Design Technician, Revit designer and sometimes helps in the field with the engineers. She moved here from Connecticut over 10 years ago where she used to work for an Architecture firm. Outside of work, Starr loves the outdoors, whether it's being a road bike cyclist, gardening, or outdoor Nordic pole walking with her husband. She loves seeing and playing with her grandson often and likes to cable knit blankets and sweaters for him.