Resides: Jennings County
Diagnosed: April 2002
Family: Husband, Walter Speer; six children; 22 grandchildren; 22 great-grandchildren.
NORTH VERNON — Faith and a combination of modern and alternative medicine have afforded Mary Evelyn Speer eight more years with her ever-growing family.
In 2002, after a routine mammogram, doctors found a lump in Speer’s breast. For the Jennings County woman, there was no doubt the lump was cancer.
“I knew it when I’d seen it,” she said.
While waiting for a scheduled biopsy, Speer, 71, consulted Solomon Wickey in Jefferson County, an Amish herbalist and iridologist.
Iridology is an alternative medicine technique in which diagnoses are made by observing the patterns, colors and other features of a patient’s eyes, specifically their irises.
Wickey agreed that the lump was cancerous.
Speer and her husband had been seeing Wickey for years with positive results.
Wickey is the subject of June Naugle’s book “Solomon’s Touch: The Life and Work of Solomon J. Wickey.”
“He said that he would help me, and I believed that he could,” she said.
Wickey prescribed a strict four-month detoxification diet that prohibited Speer from eating sugar, salt, dairy products and meat.
Speer dined on fresh fruits, vegetables and little else and drank a pint of fresh carrot and celery juice every morning.
“I started on the diet right away. … I didn’t cheat once, and it was very hard,” she said.
Resisting the temptation to eat a bowl of cereal with milk over her prescribed diet of fruits and vegetables was not always easy.
“If it’s your life; you can do it,” she said.
Speer returned to the hospital for the biopsy and instead instructed her doctors to remove every trace of growth.
Rather than undergo chemotherapy or radiation treatments, Speer put her faith in God and Wickey’s diet. A Christian all her life, she felt led by God to trust the Amish man’s judgment.
The fact that Speer is allergic to many medications also factored into her decision for alternative treatment.
Speer’s six children were split on how they felt about their mother’s cancer-fighting strategy. Some felt she should go the traditional medical route, while others believed the diet could work, but each supported their mother.
“I’ve got enough faith in her faith that it’s going to be OK,” said her daughter, Kristina Johnson, recalling her feelings at the time.
Today, Speer is cancer-free and grateful for the added time she has to spend with her family, particularly her grandchildren and great-grandchildren.
“I’m very blessed and thankful that I’m here. … I’ve had eight years I might not have had,” she said.
She is quick to credit prayers from friends and family with her recovery.
Throughout the experience, Speer says she never felt the terror or fear she thought would come with breast cancer.
“I knew that God led me exactly the way I went. I never had the fear that I hear you have.”
A doctor’s perspective
Dr. David Thompson with Southern Indiana Surgery knows patients who have done well with follow-up treatments similar to Speer’s.
He also knows a patient whose colon cancer worsened after following a similar regimen over traditional treatment methods.
While he doesn’t have a problem with patients choosing non-traditional cancer treatment options, he doesn’t recommend them.
“As a physician, I’m just here to give them their options,” he said. “We try and recommend things that are going to be based in scientific research.”
At this point, there are few if any long-term studies into the cancer-combating effects of diets such as Speer’s or the use of herbs.
On the other hand, radiation and chemotherapy treatments have years of studies from which to draw, according to Thompson.
“We know they work,” he said.
In some cases, no further treatment is needed after a tumor is removed.
“Sometimes we don’t recommend additional chemotherapy or radiation,” he said.
Speer has nothing against modern medicine.
Up until a few years ago, she frequently consulted with an oncologist, and she regularly visits a traditional doctor in Columbus.
Wickey now lives near Fort Wayne, but Speer still visits him a few times each year.
Overcoming breast cancer has been a humbling experience and one that served to strengthen her faith and discipline.
Speer pointed out that while the diet worked for her, it is not for everyone.
“(Others) have to feel right about what they do. I felt right about what I did, and that’s why I did it.”
Her best advice to others diagnosed with breast cancer is don’t despair.
“You don’t ever, ever give up. … As long as you’re breathing, you’ve got hope.”