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How My Mother Survived Stage-4 Breast Cancer: An Excerpt from Dr. Josh Axe’s “Eat Dirt”


I was twenty-four years old, in school training to become a doctor and working as a clinical nutritionist just outside of Orlando, Florida, when I received a phone call from home. My mother, Winona, was on the line, and she sounded upset.


“What’s wrong, Mom?” I asked.


“The cancer has come back,” she said through tears.


My heart sank, and I was immediately transported back to my seventh-grade year, when my mom was told that she had stage-4 breast cancer that had spread to her lymph nodes. The news was not only a devastating blow to me, as her son—but it was also a shock to anyone who knew her. At the time, my mom was forty-one years old; she was my gym teacher at school and a swim instructor. Everyone thought she was the picture of fitness and health.


Soon after her diagnosis, my mom underwent a total mastectomy of her left breast and started the first of what would be four cycles of chemotherapy that left her too weak to get out of bed in the days that followed. It was painful to see how sick she got on chemo. I remember walking into the bathroom one day and seeing clumps of her sandy-blond hair on the floor. She looked like she had aged twenty years in two weeks.


Thankfully, months later she was declared cancer-free, but her health continued to spiral downward. Even after bouncing back from chemotherapy and returning to her job, she felt lousy. Every day, she would get home at three thirty in the afternoon and nap until dinner time. We’d eat together but she struggled to stay awake and would turn in for the night soon after. When she told her doctor that she couldn’t cope with being a wife, mother, and schoolteacher, he prescribed an antidepressant.


Depressed and exhausted: this was the mother I knew throughout my teenage years. She lived in fear that the cancer would return.


And now, ten years later, it had.


Her distressed voice shook me back to the present. “My oncologist told me they found a tumor on my lungs that was 2.5 centimeters,” she said. “He wants to do surgery and start radiation and chemotherapy right away.”


I tried to be as encouraging as possible. “Mom, please don’t worry. Your body has the ability to heal,” I said. “We just need to stop feeding the cancer cells and get to the root cause of the disease.” I was confident her health could be restored—but, in order to do that, we’d need to take care of her whole body.


The next day, I flew home to help her lay out a health program. I asked her to tell me about any symptoms she had been experiencing in the time leading up to her diagnosis. She sighed. “Well, I’m still struggling with depression,” she said. “And even if I get a good night’s sleep, I’m always tired the next day.” She described symptoms that indicated she had multiple food sensitivities. She also revealed that she’d been diagnosed with hypothyroidism.


All of this was quite troubling—but it was her last symptom that shocked me. When I asked about her digestive habits, she revealed that she’d had an average of one to two bowel movements a week, for the last ten years.


“Wow, Mom,” I said, stunned. “Why didn’t you talk to your doctor about this earlier?”


“I thought it was normal,” she said. Her face crumpled.


I reached out for her hand and told her not to be discouraged. “Mom,” I said, “this is actually good news. We can definitely do something about your digestion, and that alone will make a big difference in how you’re feeling.” And hopefully will help stop the cancer, too, I thought.


I told my mother about leaky gut syndrome—a condition in which the intestinal wall breaks down, allowing microbes and food particles to leak out of the digestive tract, triggering an inflammatory immune response—and how dangerous it was. I told her I believed it was the cause of her constipation and several other health problems, and that we needed to address it immediately. “We can do this, Mom,” I said. “Come on.” I stood up and asked her to follow me into the kitchen.


I grabbed a black garbage bag and opened kitchen cupboards. “We’re starting all over,” I announced. “From now on, you’re not eating anything that comes out of a box.”


Together, we threw out every processed food we could find:


▶▶ boxed cereals like Honey Nut Cheerios and Honey Bunches of Oats (she thought these cereals were healthy)


▶▶ plastic bottles of Juicy Juice billed as “90 percent real fruit juice” but made with apple juice concentrate and “natural” flavors that weren’t natural at all


▶▶ chips and crackers made with MSG and genetically modified corn


▶▶ cereal bars made with high fructose corn syrup, artificial colors, and soy protein


▶▶ salad dressings with artificial thickeners, emulsifiers, and hydrogenated oils


▶▶ bags of highly refined white sugar and white flour


Then we attacked the refrigerator and tossed out condiments, sauces, margarine, coffee creamers, mayonnaise, and conventional dairy items such as skim milk and processed cheese (“American cheese”) singles. Altogether, we threw out three huge garbage bags of processed foods.


Then we drove to a local health food store, where I walked her through the aisles and talked her through the types of foods she should be eating to help support her body in its fight to kill the cancer cells. We selected organic vegetables and berries, wild-caught salmon, pasture-raised chicken, and “clean” pantry staples—all organic foods with as few ingredients and as little processing as possible. Then we drove to another health food store, where we picked up nutritional supplements like turmeric, immune-boosting mushrooms, vitamin D3, and frankincense essential oil.


At that time, the mainstream antibacterial craze was at its height, and almost every product in conventional grocery stores—from floor cleaner to toothpaste to number-two pencils—seemed to have added antibacterial ingredients. Scientists had started to sound the alarm about the overprescription of antibiotics causing resistance to some strains of illnesses, and the danger of overly sterile environments to our immune systems, but their research wasn’t trickling down to most neighborhoods just yet. The evidence of these issues was showing up every day in my natural medicine practice, though. For several years I had seen the collateral damage these antibacterials and other supposedly “sanitary” chemicals were causing.


If part of the problem centered on being too clean, I felt certain the solution must be the opposite—to get dirty. To consciously create repeated “microexposures” to dirt that held long-lost bacteria, viruses, and other microbes that could function as nature’s immunizations. To fortify and replenish the beneficial bacteria our bodies lost during the onslaught of antibacterial products in our environment. To completely reeducate the immune system, so it could once again learn how to defend itself without going overboard. To not be afraid of a little dirt here and there, but instead, more consciously follow the rhythms of nature and embrace the healing power that surrounds us every day.


And so, to start Mom’s healing program, I went straight for the dirt. In my years of medical research, I’d developed a special interest in probiotics—supplements and foods rich in healthy microorganisms, bacteria, fungi, and yeast that tip the overall balance of our gut microbiota toward health. One of the most novel and interesting threads of research I’d found centered on microorganisms in soil, which possesses many vital microbes often missing in the human body. Right away, I started my mom on a probiotic supplement with soil-based organisms (SBOs) believed to improve the absorption of nutrients, eliminate yeast overgrowth, and improve bowel function.


Then I brainstormed other ways for my mom to “get dirty.” She liked to ride horses growing up, so she headed back to the stables and began riding regularly, breathing in dust and grooming the horses. We also visited the farmer’s market to pick up organic, locally grown produce that had traveled less than ten miles from the farm. The vegetables were vibrant with antioxidants and had clumps of soil still clinging to their roots. In her kitchen, I taught my mom how to make green drinks with servings of spinach, celery, cucumber, cilantro, lime, green apple, and stevia. She consumed a daily regimen of supplements, high-quality extracts derived from medicinal plants. She downed many cups of bone broth soup, the healing elixir made from the bones and innards of chicken, beef, lamb, or fish—animal parts previously considered dirty waste, now known to be an excellent source of collagen, glutamine, and other nutrients that help “heal and seal” the lining of the gut. She spent time outside in her garden every day, digging in the flower beds, or simply being still and giving thanks.


I have to hand it to Mom—she followed my diet and lifestyle advice very closely. She also did natural treatments such as lymphatic massage and chiropractic care. And over the next several months, she saw many positive changes in her health: her constipation problems resolved, and she began having one bowel movement every day. She noticed a major upswing in her energy. Her thyroid issues disappeared. She lost twenty-two pounds, and she no longer felt depressed. She reported feeling more joy than she had ever experienced.


When my mom went in four months later for a CT scan, her surgeons were mystified by the results. Not only was her blood work normal, her cancer markers had dropped dramatically.


“What’s happened is very unusual,” the oncologist said, with obvious surprise. “We don’t see cancer shrink very often.” Her largest tumor had shrunk by 52 percent. The oncologist encouraged her to keep doing what she was doing, “because whatever it is, it’s working.” Her medical team decided to hold off on surgery. Mom was greatly relieved to avoid going under the knife again.


Now, I want to be clear: cancer is one of the most extreme health concerns any of us will ever face. I would never claim that my program “cured” my mom’s cancer. Many factors come into play with an outcome like hers, and she was very diligent about following the guidance and directions of her other doctors. But where her doctors’ instructions left off, her diet and lifestyle changes began. And I believe it is due to the integration of all of these factors that today—more than twenty years after she first learned she had breast cancer, and a decade after this second diagnosis—Mom is enjoying the fruits of her lifestyle changes.


About seven years after her second diagnosis, my mom and dad retired and moved to a house on a lake in Florida. Today, they enjoy water-skiing and hiking trails with new friends. Mom has run several 5K races with me (finishing in second and third place in her age group!). She is radiant and bursting with energy. Almost every time I see her, she marvels at how much her health has changed. She says she feels better in her sixties than she did in her thirties!


I can’t tell you how grateful I feel for my mother’s health—she is and will always be my greatest inspiration. Those awful months of pain and agony she endured when she was first diagnosed with breast cancer were what made me decide to become a doctor. And the experience of helping her heal her leaky gut—and subsequently overcome her hypothyroidism, chronic fatigue, depression, and cancer—crystallized my life’s mission as a medical professional. To me, her vibrant health makeover perfectly epitomizes the power of full-body healing that can take place when you first heal your gut.


The protocol that she followed, the same approach I’ve used with thousands of patients, forms the backbone of the Eat Dirt program.


If you want the detailed eating plan, supplement plan, and lifestyle regimen my mom followed to heal herself, you can download it for free at:


Excerpted with permission from Eat Dirt: Why Leaky Gut May Be the Root Cause of Your Health Problems and 5 Surprising Steps to Cure It by Dr. Josh Axe.


Read more about Winona’s story, Dr. Axe’s solutions for leaky gut, and how to improve all aspects of your life through diet and lifestyle in Eat Dirt: Why Leaky Gut May Be the Root Cause of Your Health Problems and 5 Surprising Steps to Cure It.

Want to learn more?

I Listened to My Doctor Instead of Listening to My Gut…Literally

My Doctors Said They Couldn’t Help My IBS and Leaky Gut.  Here’s How I Helped Myself. 

Recipe: Simple Honey Orange Salmon



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31 thoughts on “How My Mother Survived Stage-4 Breast Cancer: An Excerpt from Dr. Josh Axe’s “Eat Dirt”

  1. Gayle Turpin

    Thank you so much Dr. Axe for sharing your Mom’s journey and her healing process. Just watching your u tube vidihas helped me so much, eating very healthy, sitting in the sun and taking supplements.

  2. Janet Henkelman

    I have stage 4 breast cancer with mets to lungs. Will you help me get into remission, please. I do eat healthy

    1. Recipe Team

      Hi Janet: We are sorry to hear about your cancer diagnosis. If you would like more advice from Dr. Axe, we recommend that you reach out to him directly. You can find his contact information at the bottom of his website. We wish you the best of luck and good health.

  3. Norma Geer

    Did your Mom take chemotherapy drugs for her lung tumor ? I had a mastectomy but the follow up drugs to avoid recurrance have awful side effects. Letrozole for one. I’m following your dietary advice, thank you.

  4. Suzanne

    I bought yr book and it clearly states healing plan bonus in it and also above here saying it is free to download but this site does not allow a to happen. why is that?

  5. Missy

    I had Her2 estrogen positive breast cancer and want to take your bone broth shake and I read collagen can increase and mimic estrogen so I should not take it. I have asked doctors and naturopaths and no one seems to know. I need help!

  6. Linda Wall

    I tried to go to the location listed (www.draxe/healing-plan-bonus) to get the plan Dr Axe mother followed but it only takes me his website ….where do I find the plan as suggested in the article and book

  7. Serena

    Thank you for this story about your mom. How wonderful she is doing good. I had breast cancer two years ago had lumpectomy and radiation. Then doctor wanted me to take Letrozole to block my estrogen…I’m more of natural person don’t believe in medicine. Anything two months ago my breast cancer when into a couple of places in my back. Now stage 2 became stage 4….not curable but treatable. I am now on Letrozole and Ibrance for the past month. I would like to know what I can take to build up my white blood count and calcium. I take your collegen for long time. What else can I take for my bones. I feel great my constantly feel scared. I would appreciate if you can help me. I would love to find a great holistic doctor in Florida
    Thank you again.

  8. Richard Gaylord

    Is the website not working that you can download the plan your Mom was on with her breast cancer and now continue”s on it.

  9. Richard Gaylord

    Dr has diagnosed me with stage 4 esophagus cancer and I need to know where to start to change my lifestyle and eating habits….and essential oils. i have had 6 chemo treatment but I am willing to change my lifestyle to get better.

    1. Recipe Team

      Hi Richard: Thanks for reaching out. Sorry for the belated reply. We are sorry to hear about your diagnosis. There are many resources on Further Food that could be helpful to you to change your lifestyle and eating. You can look through our recipes here
      Additionally, you can learn more about essential oils here.
      Wishing you good luck in your recovery.

  10. Mary Hart

    Thank you for publishing your moms amazing story of healing. I believe everything we will ever need for healing cancer or disease has been placed in this earth. I too was diagnosed with cancer in 2015 and given 10 months to live. I am still receiving wisdom through the Word of God and the knowledge you share daily to love long and strong. This article is helping me see next steps to a life full of vibrant health. Thank you for your commitment to speak and publish truth that exposes the root of disease and step by step solutions. Be blessed!!!

  11. CP

    Hi Dr Axe. I am interested in taking collagen supplement to reduce my joint pain. I had 2 bouts of breast cancer before and they were ER+. I read that collagen supplements can act as a channel to metastasize cancer. Hence for a cancer survivor, is it safe to take collagen supplements? Thank you.

  12. Yme

    Dear Josh, Thank you for your inspiring story of how your Mom got her life back. I have just been diagnosed with breast cancer, and would be very interested in reading the eating-, diet plan and lifestyle regimen, but the link for the healing-plan-bonus does not seem to bring me to the document. Is there maybe another way I could access the information? That would be so helpful.

  13. Darcy

    I agree with Elizabeth’s comments down below. I listened to the Ben Greenfield podcast and have been searching for an hour to find the step by step program Dr. ask referred too.

  14. Michelle Puleo

    Hi, I think your youtube videos are great! I have the book “Eat Dirt”. I found though that once I enter the web address to get the plan your mother used, I notice nuts and tomatoes and beans. I have been led to believe that nuts are lectins, along with tomatoes, but specifically nuts can bind with the lining of the small intestine, potentially causing damage. And the phytic acid in nuts binds to minerals, keeping the intestine from absorbing them and inhibits several digestive enzymes needed to break down starch and proteins. I love nuts and seeds, beans, etc. I am in school to become a holistic health practitioner. I just want to understand why you feel these are safe on a leaky gut diet and who can eat them and who cannot. I am confused. Please help me to help others. By the way, I have referred you to many I come across!

  15. Khayrie

    Oh my! This is really a very inspirational story. If I were in your shoes, I wouldn’t have known what to do. God is really good as your mom has survived the big C. Wishing you, your mom and dad more years to spend with each other.

  16. Aika

    This is a very inspirational true-to-life story. I’m so glad that your mom has fully recovered and survived stage 4 cancer. It isn’t an easy feat but the fruits are really rewarding at the end. Thanks for sharing this Dr. Axe.

  17. KATYA

    I am Katya…I am here to let you know that now there is a way to get breast cancer help. You can connect directly to who helped my mum because i could not bet to aloow her die after the death of my dad through cancer. Also, you can look him up on this email kahunahelp @ yahoo com even for those who may not be able to afford it. Thank you and let’s fight breast cancer together!

  18. Jessica Fisher

    Hi! I am in the middle of reading your book amd I can’t seem to find the article that gives the detailed eating plan, supplement plan, and lifestyle regimen that were referenced in the book for your mother. I would really like to have the information so that I can give my own mother some guidelines. Thanks!

  19. Judi Selset

    In the book I purchased Eat Dirt you said to go to to follow the detailed eating plan/supplement and lifestyle regimen your mom followed. I got to this site but none of the above is here that I can see.
    I have a myriad of health issues, leaky gut not withstanding. Heart disease, Hashimotos, IBD, Osteoporosis and some other serious health issues.
    I would have to modify any plan because I’m on warfarin for life with my factor 5…. I’m just getting into the book but saw this offer but nothing came of it.. why? I did order L Glutamine not the plain one.. hoping it would help my weakening muscles even though I exercise daily. So please direct me to where I can go online to access the planntour mom followed.
    Thank you
    Judi Selset

  20. Margaret

    Another fascinating yet convicting real life turnaround of a devastating disease. Your mom was blessed that you went to medical school in anticipation of perhaps discovering how to help her and there are thousands of people in America suffering like her. We simply have to change our way of life. It’s not enough to constantly be on diet. Another extremely important point is, this food is delicious. If you think you cannot afford them, you’re kidding yourself because curing cancer is not only expensive, more important the side effects of radiation and chemotherapy are devastatingly painful. If you eat better before the onset of any disease, you’re not longer tired, depressed, sick and able to work and exercise.

  21. Lina

    Hi good morning. I had breast cancer 4 years ago and went traditionally with mastectomies and chemotherapy. I am cancer free but I live in fear. I have changed my diet dramatically, but I’m sure I can do more. I tried to go to the page but it doesn’t seem to be available. Again, I am not trying to cure anything at this time but need healthy diet advice because I am doing it without a nutritionist. is this healing plan bonus still available? please help me find the healing plan bonus. thank you

  22. Ann Fittz

    The website for the detailed eating plan, supplement plan and life style plan your mom followed is no longer available online. Is there another source?

  23. Vanille

    Incredibly informative article. I’ve always thought your diet could help you fight cancer but had never read that much information about it before! Thank you Dr. Axe for this clear, detailed, and fascinating article.


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