Professor Grateful and Looks Forward After Breast Cancer Diagnosis
By: Melody Spurney
As Meredith Trexler Drees rode with her husband, Jeff, to her family’s farm near Hill City, Kansas on the day of her breast cancer diagnosis, she had no idea she would be walking the campus at the University of Notre Dame a little less than two years later.
“I remember on the day that I was diagnosed, I told my husband as we were driving back out to the farm I thought I was going home to die,” she said, recalling that her initial perspective was limited because she didn’t know about options beyond conventional care.
Meredith, 38, was diagnosed in February 2021 with a large, cancerous tumor in her left breast, with a spot that had grown into her sternum. She had two weeks to wait before she could get more scans, so she and Jeff headed toward her family in Hill City.
“Those two weeks may have been the most defining moment of my entire life, because I was thinking, ‘Is it everywhere? Is it just in the breast?,’” she said. Meredith added that those weeks were defining because she put her trust in God and established a mindset that empowered her to succeed.
Meredith initially became concerned about cancer in November 2019 when she felt a lump in her breast. She went for an exam by a conventional doctor, who wasn’t concerned and sent her on her way. By the following winter, however, the doctors were alarmed that it had grown and sent her for a biopsy.
During the two weeks at the farm, she was comforted by her family, including her mom, Kim Trexler, sister, Brittney Johnson, her uncle and aunt, Ty and Lynn Bruton, her paternal grandfather, and other family members. She also found encouragement from friends and Dimitris Tselios, the life coach she began working with about a year earlier.
Meredith, a professor of religion and philosophy at Kansas Wesleyan University in Salina, tried to keep her spirits up by meditating and positive thinking, with guidance from Dimitris.
“Thank goodness he was there during those two weeks because he helped me keep my mind positive and focus on the right things. During that time, three of our friends told me I needed to check out the Riordan Clinic. They said there were other options here. There is another avenue to go down,” she said, referring to alternatives to traditional cancer treatments.
Meredith is newly tenured at Kansas Wesleyan, and she and Jeff are living this year in South Bend, Indiana, where she has a research fellowship at Notre Dame and is writing her second book. However, in the early days of her diagnosis, she said she didn’t think she would have made it there.
“It’s been odd for me walking around the campus, thinking about where I was about a year and a half ago, and then comparing that picture with the picture of me being here. It’s just mind-boggling,” she said.
Meredith’s journey from diagnosis to being cancer-free at Notre Dame began in a traditional way. She was scheduled for chemotherapy, a single mastectomy, and radiation. During the two weeks she waited for her scans, she found a video of Dr. Lucas Tims, ND, FABNO, online, and decided she wanted him to be her doctor.
The conventional scans showed the tumor had not metastasized beyond the sternum, and Meredith was told she had “a curable stage 4 cancer.” In March 2021, she first met with Dr. Lucas and began a high-dose IV vitamin C treatments (IVC), and he encouraged her to continue with conventional care while also taking a naturopathic approach. Meredith said she was grateful for the advice. She believes the body can heal itself, but that her cancer also needed to be eradicated in more traditional ways.
“He was immediately so reassuring and so confident that we would get this. I think that belief is such a large part of this. If a person believes that they are going to make it, that’s half the battle. He gives everybody a leg up from the moment you walk in because he has that attitude,” she said.
Meredith started four rounds of AC chemotherapy in March 2021, which she called “brutal.” She experienced extreme fatigue and lost her hair. That was followed by Taxol, which she said was easier for her to tolerate. She credits the IVC and mistletoe treatments for helping her through three months of chemo. During that time, she finished her first book, “Aesthetic Experience and Moral Vision in Plato, Kant, and Murdoch: Looking Good/Being Good.”
“I believe that’s why I made it through the chemo the way I did. I have no lasting side effects from that,” she said.
Surgery was scheduled for July. No cancer was found in the tumor margins, but it was found in a couple of her lymph nodes. Radiation was scheduled after the surgery, which left her with second-degree burns.
Meredith said she was struck by the negative energy that existed in conventional cancer care. She recalled a follow-up appointment with her surgeon to discuss her outcomes not long after the surgery.
“The surgeon said, ‘Well, people with bone metastasis can live a long time, but she looked like she was about to cry,’” she said, adding that once tumor results came back better than the doctor had thought, she became somewhat more optimistic. “But again, it is the negative approach that you see so much.”
Things were different at the Riordan Clinic, however.
“Dr. Lucas kept reassuring me that we’ve got this,” she said. “I think it was all the support from the Riordan Clinic that allowed me to get through those things as well as I did.”
Remaking A Body
In addition to the IVC and mistletoe, Meredith and Dr. Lucas worked together to personalize her treatment plans. Using lab tests, they discovered she had high mold toxicity levels, adapted her lifestyle habits, and added supplements. She also learned about the terrain-based approach to treating cancer, which addresses the whole person, not just the tumor.
“You don’t just have to go to the conventional doctor and do exactly what they say. There’s so much more to this. You can remake your own body. We are what we eat, literally,” she said.
As part of her co-learning journey, Meredith made some significant lifestyle changes. Diet adjustments included eliminating sugar, gluten, coffee, alcohol, and dairy, because her tumor was ER/PR positive, making her sensitive to hormones in dairy and other products. She is also vegan except for the inclusion of fish, per Dr. Lucas’ recommendation, to benefit from Omega 3. She focuses on eating leafy greens, broccoli, and other cruciferous vegetables. She also enjoys chickpeas and organic tofu, which she said, contrary to common misconceptions, is not a poor choice for breast cancer patients as long as it is organic.
She said that while she exercised before, she does so a lot more now. She also does mindfulness exercises, including yoga, and is working to increase her meditation, with a goal of doing it daily. She is doing a mold detox and is trying to sweat as much as possible. She bought an infrared blanket to induce sweating, takes detox baths, and uses a dry brush.
Meredith’s morning routine includes hot lemon water when she wakes up. She waits 15 minutes and juices 16 ounces of celery. Fifteen minutes after her juice, she drinks mud water, a mushroom-based alternative to coffee.
“It’s a job on top of my real job. But I actually enjoy it, learning more about it, and having a routine that I feel like is good for my body. It’s not a burden,” she said.
She said the teamwork in the Riordan Clinic’s approach to care is key to personal growth and making changes.
“This can be a game-changer in terms of what a person can learn. There’s so much knowledge to be gained, which leads to power and control over your own journey. The idea of being a co-learner, I think, is really at the heart of all of that. You don’t walk into the clinic and have people telling you what to do and talking down to you,” she said.
At her six-month scan, she showed no signs of cancer, and a second set of scans showed no sign of the lesion on her sternum.
Today, Meredith uses a mistletoe kit for at-home injections three times each week. She also does an IVC once a week, which she said Dr. Lucas has approved to be reduced to once every other week in October. In addition to Breast Cancer Awareness Month, October has even more significance for her, as it will mark the one-year anniversary of the end of her conventional treatments.
“I don’t have any reason to believe I’ll have a recurrence as long as I continue following his instructions and protocol,” she said.
Meredith was treated at all three Riordan Clinic locations, with Wichita being closest to her home and work in Salina, and Hays being closest to the family farm in Hill City.
“When I left to go to Notre Dame, it was kind of sad, because they were with me on this whole journey. I had been seeing them every single week. Throughout it all, they were encouraging me, and now I’m not seeing them for a while, and that’s kind of odd. Especially because during that time COVID was at large, my immune system was down, and so I was really just seeing a couple of my family members and the Riordan staff,” she said.
The Hill City farm, where her mother, Kim, still lives, has been in the family for three generations. They grow wheat there and raise Angus cattle. It is also where she formed a love for horses. As a child, she showed horses and would attend as many as 30 horse shows each year. She still has one, named Urkel, which her mom cares for when she isn’t at the farm. She said he is always glad to see someone at his pasture.
“We wanted to change his name, but then we found out that when we went out to the pasture and said his name, he would come running from anywhere,” she said.
Meredith said that she initially wanted to be a horse trainer, but ended up on a path to philosophy, which she said is her calling and purpose.
“It’s crazy how things take their twists and turns, but I believe there is a reason for a lot of it,” she said.
Changes have also come to the farm, which she said may have been at least a partial trigger for her cancer. Meredith said that her father, Brad Trexler, died in 2019.
“That loss was deeply impactful on me and my health,” she said.
Her paternal grandmother also died about the time of Meredith’s diagnosis. Her mother’s parents have also passed away, leaving her paternal grandfather and her mother in Hill City.
“We had a lot of change going on in the family right around the time this happened,” she said of her diagnosis.
Meredith said that her only family history of breast cancer is her great aunts on each side of her family. Both of her grandfathers’ sisters had the disease – and one died – though she does not carry the BRCA gene. She said that so many factors contribute to cancer, that even those with the gene are not necessarily destined to get it.
Today, Jeff manages the farm from Indiana, and he and Meredith visit on weekends when they are in Kansas, along with their three dogs – Lily, Stella, and Sage.
In addition to family and Riordan Clinic staff, her life coach, Dimitris, has been an ever-present source of positive influence through Meredith’s treatment and recovery. She said he trusted Dr. Lucas, and the two reassured her that she was taking the right path. They shared the idea that people can attract positive things into their lives.
“I really feel like Dr. Lucas is the reason I’m still here. I can’t thank him enough. I would not be where I am today without Dr. Lucas and my life coach,” she said.
Meredith said that her experience with cancer encouraged her to focus on a bigger picture – a message that she would give to others who may be struggling with a similar experience. She credits God for her healing, and also gratitude, her focus on her book, and students during her treatments.
“One of the things I have learned from this is that I have to focus higher. Focus on goals and dreams instead of what I was going through,” she said. “Instead of thinking, ‘Oh, I’m going through chemo,’ I was thinking instead that this was a chance for me to have a rebirth. I believe that is the purpose of this. Rebirth is the best way to describe it. I believe that I am a completely different person in a good way.”
She added that she encourages others to incorporate naturopathic treatments when possible. She said that without the naturopathic treatments – and Riordan Clinic – her outcome could have turned out differently.
“This does not have to be scary. This does not have to be the end,” she said. “There are so many remedies in nature. There are so many studies. There is so much information out there about the terrain-based approach to cancer. The idea that we’re not just going in and killing weeds that will then grow back, but we are going in and changing the soil.”
Meredith and Jeff will continue to live in South Bend until her contract ends in May 2023, when they plan to return to Salina, and she will return to teaching at Kansas Wesleyan. She said that she looks forward to teaching again. After she finishes her current book, she plans to write a third – this one about her personal journey with breast cancer.
“Since I had this experience, I owe it to the world to do whatever I can to spread awareness,” she said. “I made it, and that’s amazing. Now, what’s just as important is paying it forward and helping other people to heal.”