Mildred Nelson, RN
Cancer Control Society Convention, Los Angeles 1985
by Peter Chowka

NaturalHealthLine EXCLUSIVE:
Mildred Nelson, RN
One year after her death, the Hoxsey Therapy lives on

Reporting and commentary
© by Peter Chowka



ILDRED NELSON, RN, one of the twentieth century's most influential pioneers in the field of alternative cancer therapies, died at age 79 on Jan. 28, 1999. For more than 50 years, Nelson worked with the Hoxsey Therapy, a nontoxic herbal-based cancer treatment.

In 1963, she established the Bio-Medical Center (commonly known as the "Hoxsey clinic"), the first alternative cancer facility in Tijuana, Mexico. Over the next thirty-five years, working quietly from her base south of the border, Nelson oversaw the treatment of several score thousand cancer patients, many of them with reported success, until the time of her death. Never one to promote herself, and therefore less well-known than many others in the field of alternative medicine, Nelson left a legacy that is substantial and may actually be growing after her death.

Mildred Nelson, RN treats a patient Bio-Medical Center 1987 by Peter Chowka

One year after Nelson's passing, there are several noteworthy developments to report:

An unpublished pilot study of treatment results at the Bio-Medical Center (and the Livingston Clinic in San Diego, CA, an alternative treatment center founded by the late Virginia Livingston-Wheeler, MD), conducted by the University of Texas at Houston's Center for Alternative Medicine Research, is currently being circulated for review. The study examined a series of Bio-Medical patient records from 1992. It was funded by a grant from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) through the National Center for Complementary Alternative Medicine (NCCAM) and the National Cancer Institute (NCI).

According to the study, at a point five years after a new group of Bio-Medical Center cancer patients began their treatment in 1992, 11.4 percent of them were alive, 34.9 percent were deceased, and 42.9 percent were lost to follow-up. These results are conservative, but, in contrast to the outcomes of most standard forms of cancer therapy, seem promising. The inability to evaluate a greater number of patients and to contact more of them after five years in order to assess outcomes prevented any definitive conclusions about the Hoxsey Therapy's ultimate viability from being reached. Nonetheless, the study's authors conclude, "Given the widespread use of both clinics, [and] intriguing anecdotal reports at both sites. . .we recommend prospective monitoring systems to provide reliable information on the clinical outcomes associated with these treatments."

In light of the dearth of published studies on alternative cancer therapies, the mere existence - and the promising conclusions and recommendations contained in the draft - of this new study may have significant ramifications for the future of both the Hoxsey Therapy and the entire field of credible cancer alternatives. In mid-1999, the publication of the positive retrospective results of the alternative cancer treatment practiced by Nicholas Gonzalez, MD of New York, NY was followed almost immediately by Gonzalez' receiving an unprecedented $1.4 million grant from NIH to conduct a prospective controlled clinical trial of his primary nutritional cancer therapy in patients with pancreatic cancer.


Essential Questions

Meanwhile, questions that were often asked during the last years of Nelson's life, when her health was declining, concerning the post-Nelson future of the Bio-Medical Center and the Hoxsey Therapy, are now being answered.

Since its inception in 1840, the Hoxsey Therapy and its proprietary herbal medicine formulas had been in the hands of generations of the Hoxsey family and, after proponent Harry Hoxsey (1901-1974) left clinical practice around 1960, Mildred Nelson. Nelson was the chief nurse at the Hoxsey Clinic in Dallas, TX when Harry Hoxsey directed the facility, and she worked closely with Hoxsey to learn the therapy's protocols. Nelson is credited with single handedly ensuring the survival of the Hoxsey Therapy during the last part of the twentieth century, a period of intense controversy and adversity for alternative cancer treatments.

Mildred Nelson, RN treats a patient Bio-Medical Center 1980 by Peter Chowka

Shortly before her death, Nelson's younger sister, Liz Jonas, assumed the duties as administrator of the Bio-Medical Center. Although Jonas herself does not have a medical background, she has largely maintained the traditions and practices established by Mildred Nelson according to a number of observers. For example, most of the original staff of medical and support personnel have remained and the clinic continues to provide an accessible and economical alternative, treating both new and returning patients with the Hoxsey herbal treatment as the primary therapy.


A Unique History, A Promising Future

The Hoxsey Therapy is the oldest continuously used unconventional or alternative nontoxic cancer therapy in North America. Ironically, from the 1920s until recently, it was usually vilified as the leading example of medical quackery in modern times. Among the Hoxsey Therapy's other distinctions:

  • It was the first North American alternative cancer therapy to set up a base in Mexico
  • It is the leading example of herbal or botanical medicine for cancer
  • It has a remarkable and unique cultural and political history
  • Even more remarkable are the reports about its successful clinical history in the face of daunting opposition and odds
  • It represents a leading example of an uncompromising, primary therapy for cancer
  • It was decades ahead of its time in many ways - particularly in its underlying theory that cancer is a systemic condition that might be successfully treated by natural chemotherapy, in this case of a nontoxic herbal origin
  • It has made contributions to the empirical use - and our understanding of the importance - of group therapy, attitudinal healing, and nutritional support.
Bio-Medical Center ("Hoxsey Clinic") Tijuana; photo: Bio-Medical Center

On September 2, 1999, more than seven months after Nelson's death, the following message was sent to the Bio-Medical Center by the relative of a new patient:

"I took my sister, LM, to the Biomedical Clinic last Monday. We arrived anxious, and afraid to hope, since she was diagnosed as terminal with advanced breast to bone cancer. We were treated with kindness, gentleness, and extreme professionalism. Dr. Gomez was very knowledgeable, patient with our questions, and very thorough. But most of all she treated my sister with dignity and gave her hope. We both left the clinic with huge smiles -- full of hope for the future. Thank you so much for the wonderful work you do at the clinic. Treating people like human beings, with kindness and dignity is so humane. We cannot thank you enough! We will keep your good works in our prayers."

This kind of recent anecdotal report, and the planned publication later this year of the government-funded pilot study of Hoxsey, represent indications of the powerful legacy of Mildred Nelson and the Hoxsey Therapy. One can hope that the first years of this new decade will finally see more extensive, serious, and fair scientific inquiries into the clinical practice and outcomes of this treatment - and the others like it that deserve our attention.

Mildred Nelson, RN with patients' files
Bio-Medical Center 1980 by Peter Chowka

For more information,

Links to online information about the Hoxsey Therapy

Mildred Nelson, pioneer of the Hoxsey Therapy, dead at 79 By Peter Chowka

Mildred Nelson, 79; nurse who operated Hoxsey therapy clinic San Diego Union-Tribune February 3, 1999