By SF Dell
Bolinas resident and proprietor of Judith’s Herbals, Judith Elliott, has battled life-threatening illness more than once.
In 1979, just four months after the birth of her daughter Sephira, Judith was diagnosed with breast cancer.
Going to San Francisco
In the mid 60s Judith came to San Francisco and landed on Haight street. Soon thereafter, she found work at an herb shop and at Stanyan Street Real Food Company. “I began reading Jethro Kloss’s Back to Eden and learning about herbs,” Judith explains. A growing interest in herbalism and apothecary took root. For four years Judith worked the two jobs, all the while reading, studying and committing related information to memory.
Nearing 1970, Judith discovered the Bay Area theater scene.
As a beautiful and gifted dancer with a gentle spirit, it did not take long for other members of the performance community to take note of Judith’s presence both on and off the stage.
The opportunity of a lifetime came when Judith was asked to join a European tour with Mick Jagger and the Rolling Stones. During the tour she shared the stage with the Rock and Roll Hall of Famers and met big entertainment personalities like Rou Reed, David Bowie and Marianne Faithful. All in all she says, “I had an incredible time.”
Upon returning to San Francisco in 1974, Judith learned that several of her closest friends had fallen ill.
“It changed my life,” Judith recalls. “That was the point–the pinnacle moment.”
Expecting a large paycheck from the tour, Judith dashed her dream of a life in the entertainment business.
She rented an apartment and began nursing the friends back to health.
“My life had been changed, my intentions changed. I brought my friends out of hepatitis and back to health with herbs and nutrition,” says Judith.
A relationship to plants
Judith fondly recalls her first encounter with medicinal herbs; and in hindsight, reflects that such parallels have occurred throughout the course of her life. “At the age of three,” she says, “while my father was shingling the house, I was playing in the dust of asbestos. As I walked out into the fields around my yard in New Jersey. There was this one little plant I fell in love with, SheepSorrel.”
At the time, the foot tall plant came up to young Judith’s chest, “From a three year old’s point of view,” stooping down, “you look up into it and see a tiny, tiny red pointed yellow-pedaled star hanging down.”
Later, Judith would learn of the plant’s historical use; and most importantly; she would use the herb to treat her own life threatening illness, cancer.
Four months into breastfeeding, Judith visited the Haight Ashbury Free Clinic to address pain and swelling in her breast. Treating the problem as mastitis, a breast infection, the clinician lanced the breast. Soon thereafter, tissue grew through the lanced spot. Clearly more serious than an infection, Judith sought treatment.
She received several months of radiation to reduce the mass.
A radical mastectomy followed. “They scraped my sternum and ribs. They removed all the muscles from my chest wall and part of my shoulder. They removed all the lymph nodes from the right side of my upper body. That is why I am disabled to this day. I never will regain full use of this arm.” Twenty-seven years later, Judith is able to lift her right arm as high as her ear, but can not lift anything as heavy as a pound.
It took seven years of chemotherapy to irradiate the mass that had intruded between ribs and into Judith’s lung.
Seven years of chemo
In 1983, several years into chemotherapy, Judith decided to move out of San Francisco.
She rented a home in West Marin.
Sephira Kelly, only 3 at the time, remembers the bimonthly trips to the Children’s Hospital in San Francisco to see Dr. Cohen for chemo shots. “We didn’t have anyone helping,” she recalls, “My mom drove us to and from the treatments.” after treatments, hours would pass before Judith found the strength to drive home. Frequently, she would have to stop and sleep during the drive.
Between treatments, the pair would while away the hours cozied up with a book or watching cartoons.
“Sephira’s first seven years, a lot of the time, were spent beside a sleeping mother who had been knocked out on chemotherapy.” Judith describes a cycle consisting of five full days of sleep for the first two weeks after chemo shots, one week of recovery and strength building, followed by one good week.
Judith recalls, “We had one good week every month.
“We jammed it all into that one week. We had a really good time. We did a lot of great things together visiting wildlife centers, camping, hot tubbing and swimming at the Fairfax country club, Baywood Canyon, where we had a BBQ every Friday after Sephira’s gymnastics class.”
“I began training as a docent for Audubon Canyon Ranch (ACR) while my daughter was in preschool,” says Judith. “I needed something to do that was healing. Along with learning about the lagoon and the birds, they taught us about plants.”
At that point Judith’s knowledge of healing plants was limited to what she had purchased, read and utilized in dealing with her friends’ and customers’ illnesses. Four years working behind the counter at the herb and tea shop had taught her a lot. She had followed the writings of Jethro Kloss, Juliette de Bairacli Levy and Madame Grieve.
Out in the field–during the docent training–Judith began to recognize the plants she had been utilizing; buying from jars. “I saw them live,” she explains enthusiastically.
“One of the very first of those plants,” she describes discovering, “is a key component in the Essiac formula for cancer, the little flower that was my favorite when I was three.”
Judith spent several years as a docent for ACR.
“After discovering medicinal plants out in the field in their natural setting, things shifted. I really came to life; started wildcrafting–making salves, lotions, poison oak remedy and bone healing remedy.
“Wildcrafting is in my soul,” says Judith. “When I harvest something for a specific purpose, I talk to the plants and ask their permission first, ‘where can I harvest?’ I explain what the purpose of my harvesting is, ‘I am making insect repellent today. Will you please have mercy on us human beings and do your best work?’ I know that it potentiates the plants. They actually love us. They are the biggest mother there is, besides the earth itself.”
Judith describes it as unconditional love, “Plants give us our air, they give us our water, they give us our nutrition, they give us the very soil. They can heal us from anything. They can give us all the problems and they can also heal all the problems. They have the ability to heal us.
“I like to take people out and show them. Walking down the trail you can see a lot that is edible, medicinal, poisonous or serviceable, like tule. Tule is great fun to make baskets with or canoes or houses. Plants, are everything.”
By other means
Driven by instinct, Judith knew cancer survival hinged upon foods more healthful than just grocery food, “I modeled my cancer healing program after what I learned from the herbalists,” says Judith. During the course of seven years on chemotherapy, Judith developed a diet of mostly raw food. About 80% of her total consumption was raw. Of the 80%, at least half was wild forage.
She followed a very strict plan. No wheat or flour. Select carbohydrates only at select times–oatmeal for nourishment and corn tortillas to wrap wild greens. No acetic products.
For most of seven years, she made her bed with flannel sheets, slept in flannel pajamas and nested in a down comforter, waking up in the middle of the night drenched, her body cooking in chemo. The daily routine? Change into a dry nightgown and fresh dry sheets.
The chemo targeted breast cancer that had invaded the lung.
“Thinking the worst was over, four years after complete remission, scar tissue broke away from the good tissue and I was coughing up a half cup of blood at a time. It took 11 days to heal it that first time around. Two years later it took me nine days. They told me that it was an irreparable condition; nothing could be done about it. I would have to just live with carrying around a yogurt cup to catch the blood.”
Herbs and aloe vera restored her lungs to a degree of health. Judith learned to avoid dry climate and exercise caution before the unexpected bleeding occurrences ceased. Several years later Judith’s colon ruptured, another indication of the wide spread tissue damage caused by radiation treatment.
“Scar tissue is really hard to heal,” says Judith. “Internally, the body tissue remains wet, it doesn’t get to scab over and heal like skin can.”
Being a single parent recipient of Medical with no other access to healthcare, Judith was compelled to pursue education in alternative healing arts.
About the time Sephira began grade school, Judith, armed with a credit card, embarked upon several decades of “ongoing education.” She discovered and became familiar with treatments that would allow her recovery and aid in long term health.
She obtained a BA in nutrition, an AA in physiology/biology as well as degrees in sociology and psychology. She became a certified massage therapist, gaining knowledge of anatomy, physiology and reflexology.
Judith pursued a more knowledgeable understanding of Su Jok, literally hand and foot, a Korean reflexology. She obtained certification to practice Chi Nei Tsang, a holistic modality of Taoist origin that integrates the physical, mental, emotional and spiritual aspects of being and focuses on the energy of internal organs.
Judith studied Qigong, the art and science of cultivating and manipulating one’s inner vital life force with the intentions of healing.
A year in the clear
Just a year in the clear, in 1987, Sephira and Judith established the Bolinas-Stinson chapter of Brownie Girl Scouts, troup # 1359.
Eleven girls were members of the troup that year.
An unprecedented number of troup members lost mothers to cancer in the following years. Five mothers, one brother were diagnosed with cancer.
Judith told The Citizen that other community members during the late 80s were diagnosed with cancer, sought her help in offsetting the symptoms of treatment, but chose to keep their illness a secret.
In 1790, when Judith received radiation therapy, the technology didn’t allow for a focal point. The scatter field was addressed all the way from her face through her abdomen. Much scar tissue developed.
Radiation makes bones brittle. Since undergoing the treatments, Judith has fractured ribs twelve different times: sneezing, pulling weeds, coughing, dancing and picking up a bag of laundry.
On Tuesday, January 4, Judith Elliott was admitted to Marin General Hospital for surgery to remove a tumor. She had been diagnosed with yet another kind of cancer, colon cancer.
Sephira reports that they have a wonderful attentive surgeon who makes daily calls to the family, providing updates and is open to alternative healing therapies.
Chemotherapy to treat the surrounding tissue will begin when Judith’s strength returns.
She will be in need of community support.
Community members are planning an online calendar and mailing list to see that her basic needs–food, transportation and shopping are met. More information and contact information will be published next week.
Judith was realeased from the hospital Tuesday.
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