Ann Fonfa was diagnosed with breast cancer in January 1993. She explored alternative therapies and started a study group in New York City. From summaries of the 60 or so meetings this group held, Ann posted a website in June 1999 under the name The Annie Appleseed Project. It is now a 501(c)3 nonprofit corporation serving 85,000 people monthly via the Internet. Ann has attended several hundred scientific, medical, research and advocacy meetings since 1995. She and other volunteers gather information and it is disseminated via the website (www.annieappleseedproject.org) and talks that Ann gives around the country. Ann has been featured in magazines, interviewed on radio and TV and is the author of one published paper, “Patient Perspectives: Barriers to Complementary and Alternative Medicine Therapies Create Problems for Patients and Survivors,” published in Integrative Cancer Therapies in 2007, as well as several articles. As an independent advocate (63% of Annie Appleseed Project funds come directly from donations of $100 or less), Ann has the ability to say things most people can or will not say. She is Florida Field Coordinator for the National Breast Cancer Coalition as well as Advocacy Chair for the Florida Breast Cancer Foundation, a member of the Society for Integrative Oncology, Susan G. Komen for the Cure LGBT National Advisory Council, etc. Ann is a 2004 graduate of Food as Medicine and CancerGuides (2004). She is the Consumer advocate on the Adverse Effects Methods Group, Cochrane Collaboration and a member of CUE—Consumers United for Evidence-based Healthcare. Ann just served with a panel examining Comparative Effectiveness Research for Complementary/Integrative Medicine.
Health E-Insights: What is the Annie Appleseed Project?
Ms. Fonfa: We represent a network of volunteers who gather information that is disseminated via our award-winning website, and educational meetings, our monthly e-newsletter and social media. Our focus has always been to give information on natural therapies, lifestyle issues, complementary and alternative cancer treatments from the patient perspective. We think more informed decisions can be made about treatment and encourage people to do that.
Health E-Insights: How did you get involved?
Ms. Fonfa: I am the founder. When I received a cancer diagnosis in January 1993 I was extremely chemically sensitive and was unwilling to take chemotherapy. I chose not to have radiation therapy but had to do something. I began gathering information on what was then known as alternative medicine but has morphed into complementary/alternative (CAM) or integrative medicine. This really covers a broad range of treatments that can enhance conventional therapy, and reduce those adverse effects that trouble so many people both short- and long-term.
Health E-Insights: Any real cancer breakthroughs on the horizon?
Ms. Fonfa: I do not see that we will ever have a magic bullet. There are many causes and many treatments. We support combinations of healthy behaviors along with therapies. There are many paths to wellness, thus many things may be helpful. It is sort of the Abe Lincoln theory: some things work for some of the people, some of the time. We just do not know who.
Health E-Insights: What alternative health remedies do you advocate?
Ms. Fonfa: We actually support people's right to know their options, know the evidence, and make the best decision possible for them. There are certain basics like avoiding fried foods, sugar, sugary drinks, additives, and the like. Eating fresh and organic, whenever possible, fruits and vegetables, getting some physical movement and exercise daily, finding a way to relax, doing some detox, and taking some supplements or herbs. This makes a great way to be healthier for everyone and may reduce risk of heart disease and diabetes too. Then make treatment choices while you are strong.
Health E-Insights: What's your diet like?
Ms. Fonfa: I moved to vegetarian beginning in 1974, and steadily changed things step by step. Now I call myself vegan with mercy. I mostly eat raw foods (salads, fruit and the like), very occasionally eat organic no fat plain yogurt, and very rarely eat Calamari, which I love. I eat the equivalent of at least 10 fruits and vegetables each day, usually more.
Health E-Insights: I understand you’re traveling to Greece for the Project?
Ms. Fonfa: I submitted an abstract to the European Supportive Cancer Care meeting and was approved to present a poster. The concept is "Integrative Therapies for Unwanted (side) Effects of Conventional Treatment." Unwanted is a term I developed because I think it really speaks to the issue. Usually adverse effect is the correct term, not side effect, which is merely an excellent marketing tool. Another American advocate is accompanying me. We hope to open the eyes of oncology professionals as to the idea of first do no harm. We will see how it develops. After the conference we will explore Greece and its ancient culture. I am very excited to have this opportunity. I have been fortunate enough to go to several international conferences and many in the U.S. I love the chance to gather information, but also to share our ideas with many.
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