Mum dies 20 years after being told 5 years to live

Sandra and Willie in Turkey in 2010. Picture: contributed
Sandra and Willie in Turkey in 2010. Picture: contributed
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A MOTHER who was diagnosed with terminal cancer in 1993 defied doctors’ predictions that she would be dead within five years – and lived for 20.

Sandra Buchanan went to the United States for alternative treatment, which included daily injections of liver extract and vitamin B12 and eating 20lbs of fruit and vegetables.

Jamie Buchanan. Picture: Greg Macvean

Jamie Buchanan. Picture: Greg Macvean

She passed away at Edinburgh’s Western General Hospital on Sunday.

Son Jamie, 26, said: “I’ll always remember mum’s laughter. Even on the day before she died, she was still joking.”

Most people faced with a diagnosis of terminal cancer would slump, wail and retreat into a cocoon of fear. But not Sandra Buchanan.

Determined not to let her family succumb to the same sadness that infused her life, when her mum died when she was just 15, she vowed to live life to the full with a bucket list that just kept going . . . and going.

Sandra, Willie and sons Jamie and Callum. Picture: contributed

Sandra, Willie and sons Jamie and Callum. Picture: contributed

Family parties, school exam results, countless Christmas dinners, and her beloved boys’ birthdays passed. She was there for all of them.

Sandra, 57, died at the Western General Hospital on Sunday, 20 years after being told she would be dead in five.

Her ferocious fight for survival even saw her fly to the United States to undergo alternative treatment and her family today paid tribute to her will and determination to watch her children, Jamie and Callum, grow up, while facing her 
illness with a smile. At the family home in Silverknowes Gardens, Jamie, 26, a trainee chef, said: “I’ll always remember mum’s laughter. Even on the day before she died, she was still joking.

“Losing her has left a gap in our lives.”

Sandra first became aware something was wrong when she noticed lumps around her neck – a symptom of low-grade non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma – but doctors told her not to worry, only for her fears to grow when she began putting on weight.

Then she was given the devastating diagnosis – and told she had just five years to live – at the age of 37 in 1993.

Originally from Uphall, Sandra had already dealt with tragedy in her life – her mother’s suicide, the deaths of her twin babies and Callum falling ill with suspected meningitis at just six weeks old.

But she refused to give up, vowing her boys wouldn’t be left to grow up without a mum. Jamie, left, said: “The doctors told mum that she had five years to live, but she treated the situation with a sense of ‘that’s not going happen’. I think she just wanted to hang on to watch us grow up. She had grit and determination, she was always smiling and happy, even to the end.”

Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma is a cancer of the lymphatic system, a network of vessels and glands spread throughout the body, the cause of which is unknown.

Low-grade non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, where the cancer develops slowly, is incurable for the majority of people.

In 1996, Sandra flew to the US in a last-ditch bid to cure the disease, spending thousands of pounds on 
alternative therapy.

Having already undergone chemotherapy, she spent time at the Gerson Institute in California to try its diet-led treatment, which is said to have a high success rate.

On returning home, she had to give herself daily injections of liver extract and vitamin B12 and eat 20lb of fruit and vegetables.

Speaking to the News at the time, she said: “I want to live for my children. I don’t want them growing up without a mum like I did.

“My mum died when I was 15. I remember how upset I was and still am. The last thing I want is to put Jamie and Callum through that. They need their mum and I have to keep going for them.”

Sandra raised enough cash for the treatment through fundraising. Jamie said: “It cost £18,000. Mum used to raise money through parties and family gatherings – raffles and tombolas.

“She also became heavily involved in challenging government plans to introduce legislation on food supplements which would stop her being able to have the vitamins she needed to fight the 

Despite her illness, Sandra worked in the fraud department at RBS until just two years ago, when her 
condition worsened.

Husband Willie, 57, a taxi driver, said: “It was a huge shock when Sandra was diagnosed – you just don’t expect something like that to happen when you are only in your 30s.

“Most people take a back seat when something like that happens, but she said it wasn’t going to 
happen to her. After getting the second bout of chemotherapy she started looking at other types of therapy and I’m sure it helped extend her life.

“When she first started the Gerson therapy she would be in the kitchen all day and her dad gave up his time to come and help her.

“She would have liked to have had grandchildren, but she really just wanted to see the boys grow up and to make sure they looked after themselves.”

She lost her battle with the disease a day after being admitted to hospital, having succumbed to the cancer and sepsis.

Jamie said: “She was an incredibly strong person – no-one could tell her ‘no’.

“Even though she was ill she continued with her hobbies, she loved painting and one of her pictures is hanging in the living room.

“It means so much us to us that we got this much time because there was a point at which we didn’t know how things were going to go.”

He added: “I want to say thank you to everyone who donated to the therapy and everyone who helped out, and the staff at the Western General for their continued help and support.”

Uncertainty leaves room for hope

A CANCER expert says doctors make their predictions on how long someone might live based on other patients.

Martin Ledwick, Cancer Research UK’s head information nurse, said: “There’s always some degree of uncertainty and it’s important for patients to understand that the medical team cannot be sure what will happen.

“This uncertainty can be hard to bear, but can also leave room for hope.”

Cary Cooper, a professor of organisational psychology at Lancaster University, said having a positive attitude could extend a terminally ill person’s life.

He said: “There are a number of factors at play – it depends on the cancer, the people around you and the treatment you receive. But if you’re a glass-half-full type of person, that way of looking at things is likely to lead to the lengthening of your life.

“It’s to do with your personality and your coping strategy.”

Natural approach to cleansing our bodies

Based in California, the Gerson Institute claims its natural treatment boosts the body’s own immune system to heal cancer, heart disease and other degenerative diseases.

The alternative therapy’s special diet is entirely organic and vegetarian and sees patients flood their bodies with the nutrients from about 15 to 20lb of organically-grown fruits and vegetables daily.

Most is used to make fresh raw juice – up to one glass every hour, 13 times per day – and raw and cooked solid foods are generously consumed. According to the institute, oxygenation is usually more than doubled, with oxygen deficiency in the blood contributing to many degenerative diseases.

The metabolism is also stimulated through the addition of thyroid, potassium and other supplements, and by avoiding heavy animal fats, excess protein, sodium and other toxins.

Degenerative diseases render the body increasingly unable to excrete waste materials adequately, commonly resulting in liver and kidney failure.

The therapy aims to use intensive detoxification to eliminate wastes, regenerate the liver, reactivate the immune system and restore the body’s essential defences – enzyme, mineral and hormone systems.

With generous, high-quality nutrition, increased oxygen availability, detoxification, and improved metabolism, the cells – and the body – can regenerate, become healthy and prevent future illness.

Cancer patients on the Gerson therapy may take up to five coffee enemas per day.

The founder of the alternative therapy, Max Gerson, was born in Germany in 1881.

Suffering from severe migraines, Dr Gerson focused his initial experimentation with diet on preventing his headaches.

One of Dr Gerson’s patients discovered in the course of his treatment, that the “migraine diet” had cured his skin tuberculosis, leading Gerson to further study the diet.