WEST RICHLAND -- Cancer. It might just be the scariest word in the English language.
But one West Richland woman -- a two-time survivor -- is not afraid of the word or the disease.
"It's a terrifying word," she said. "But the reason someone gets sick is because of their immune system."
Oliver, 63, has stared down two kinds of cancer. She's never had surgery, chemotherapy or radiation. Instead, she believes that the way she treats her body will help ward off not only cancer but also many other diseases.
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Oliver grew up in Washington, D.C., then moved to California as a teen. She studied biological sciences at UCLA and UC Berkeley, then earned her master's degree at the University of Victoria in British Columbia, where she also taught for seven years. She and her husband moved to the Tri-Cities 14 years ago, and she has been involved in helping to start up such companies as IsoRay in Richland, which specializes in medical isotopes for cancer treatment.
In 1980, Oliver was diagnosed with thyroid cancer. She eschewed surgery, opting instead to take thyroid hormones. A quarter-century later, she was diagnosed with early stage breast cancer. She chose to use a radioactive seed implant along with oxygen therapy and has remained free of both cancers.
Oliver points out that detoxifying the body allows its immune system to work the way it is supposed to. And because cancer grows in an environment low in oxygen, certain treatments administered by experienced doctors actually can kill cancer cells. She added that cancer cells thrive in acidic environments, so adjusting our bodies from the acidic to alkaline side of the pH scale will not allow cancer to grow.
While her approaches are not necessarily in the mainstream of U.S. cancer research, they are accepted and backed up with scientific research. She's also quick to emphasize that she is not a doctor and, therefore, cannot dispense medical advice.
Oliver isn't the type of person to believe everything she reads on the internet. Rather, she travels the world to attend -- and regularly speak at -- international medical conferences specific to cancer. She has been to dozens of countries and isn't shy about engaging in debates with other experts or showing up at hospitals and universities to learn from doctors. She reads every study about cancer she can get her hands on, always looking at the science behind it to determine its validity.
"My goal is to look at studies from all over the world," she said.
She is one of about 200 people involved in the National Cancer Institute's Consumer Advocates in Research and Related Activities program.
"It's our job as consumers to work with the National Cancer Institute to help it understand what kind of research it should be doing from a consumer point of view," she said. "They like having people in rural areas."
She's also been part of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's cancer program for the better part of a decade. And she is the founder and director of the Fighting Children's Cancer Foundation.
Oliver believes bettering our bodies through diet and exercise can help battle and prevent cancer.
"We have to ask, 'Why did I get sick, and how can I get unsick,' " she said. "We need to learn why it occurs, then prevent it from coming back."