Six weeks after the birth of Mike and Ellen McGlynn’s daughter Zoe, Mike was diagnosed with terminal cancer.
The melanoma that began as a mole on his chest had spread. He had more than 20 brain tumors.
Doctors at Thomas Jefferson University Hospital in Philadelphia said he had two months to live.
“They didn’t mince words,” Ellen said from the kitchen of her Waverly home.
Newlyweds Mike and Ellen were living outside Philadelphia at the time. Mike had transitioned from owning a construction business to buying and restoring the historic General Lafayette Inn, a fine-dining restaurant and micro-brewery in Lafayette Hill.
A Peckville native, Ellen had graduated from Valley View High School and Chestnut Hill College in Philadelphia with a B.S. degree. In 1999, she was working in the labs at Fox Chase Cancer Center and considering graduate school when she and a friend went to a cancer benefit featuring food from various area restaurants. Mike was among the restauranteurs.
Later that evening, the friend told Ellen she’d like the inn, so they went. “There was this man,” Ellen said, referring to Mike. “I hate to say I met him at a bar, but he owned the bar and the restaurant,” she said with a laugh. “We talked for five hours that night. He was the most interesting person I had ever met,” she said.
They married on June 2, 2001. Zoe was born on June 1, 2002.
Six weeks later, they got the bad news. Ellen said Mike had a bout with melanoma years earlier and had taken care of it. But now it was back — big time.
Surgery was out and chemotherapy wasn’t really an option because of the blood-brain barrier. Mike went through chemotherapy anyway. It made him “sick as a dog and had zero effect,” Ellen said.
Then they went to Miami, Fla., for gamma knife radiosurgery treatments. Mike wore a mask Ellen compared to Hannibal Lector’s in the movie “The Silence of the Lambs.” The treatment “greatly reduced” his brain tumors, she said. But the cancer had spread to other parts of his body. He needed blood transfusions constantly.
They learned about the potential benefits of drinking wheatgrass juice in 2002 at the Center for Advancement in Cancer Education in Wynnewood, Pa. Wheatgrass refers to the young grass of the winter wheat plant.
When they asked Mike’s doctors about wheatgrass, Ellen recalled, “They said there was no point in starting now.”
But they did. Traditional science and technology had nothing left for them, she said. It was time to try alternative treatments.
The claim is that the chlorophyll in wheatgrass juice detoxifies the body and boosts hemoglobin, which transports oxygen in the blood.
For Ellen, the proof came in the hemoglobin tests that went along with Mike’s transfusions. After he started the wheatgrass, she said, “There was a measurable difference” in his hemoglobin count.
“I’ve seen it work,” she said of wheatgrass.
For a short time, Mike’s hemoglobin count increased and the tumors in his colon became smaller or disappeared, she said.
“He was still bad off but he was better,” she said. Ellen said the wheatgrass became “a reason to keep going. That was huge for us.”
“It boosts your morale. It boosts your spirits when something finally works,” she said.
First they bought wheatgrass.
Then they started growing their own in a spare bedroom.
Ellen recalls their first crop. “The angels sang,” she said happily.
She said she turned to Mike and had a eureka moment. “We could sell this,” she told him.
“When I look back on those days when we were growing wheatgrass, it was actually fun,” she said.
His raised hemoglobin and spirits were not to last. Increasingly desperate, Mike wound up making a risky trip to El Salvador for a homeopathic treatment Ellen said was at the hands of a quack.
“It killed me to send him off and stay behind (with the baby and business). He wanted to stay alive. We had to try everything,” she said.
Upon his return, he tried one last experimental radiation treatment and suffered a brain hemorrhage that ultimately killed him. He died on June 27, 2003, almost a year after his two-months-to-live prognosis.
Ellen doesn’t say the juice from wheatgrass kills cancer.
But she believes it helped give her late husband more time. “It was a beacon of light in a very bad storm,” she said.
Mike and Ellen were able to find a buyer for the restaurant before he died. In October 2004, Ellen moved back to Northeastern Pennsylvania and in January 2005, she started selling wheatgrass.
“If just feels like the right thing to do. I’m often told it is my calling,” she said.
The wheatgrass grows in the specially outfitted basement of her home. When it’s ready, she cuts it with a straight-edge razor and packages it neatly in bio-degradable containers.
She sells her wheatgrass primarily in the Philadelphia area. But she said she would like to connect more with this area’s integrative-medicine professionals.
Selling wheatgrass is not a money maker, Ellen said. She does it with love, especially for cancer patients. Because of Mike’s ordeal, she know’s what they’re going through, she said. She said there is a spiritual dimension to her business. She believes she is assisting with herbal healing, and cancer patients “want good energy to help them get better,” she said. She gets positive feedback. “People are so spiritually into it,” she said, smiling.
Praise from Physicians
Two physicians at the Jefferson-Myrna Brind Center of Integrative Medicine at Thomas Jefferson University Hospital extol what they call “the green espresso” and especially Ellen’s product.
“They like wheatgrass and they found me,” she said.
Anthony Bazzan M.D. is an attending physician at the Jefferson-Myrna Brind Center and is on the internal medicine staff at Thomas Jefferson University Hospital with a faculty position at Jefferson Medical College in Philadelphia. He is an associate clinical member at the Jefferson Kimmel Cancer Center.
He also directs the Functional & Wellness Sciences Institute in Jeffersonville, near Norristown, Pa.
“Chlorophyll is the sister of hemoglobin,” Bazzan said. The only difference between the two is the one atom of magnesium in chlorophyll, which makes it green, and the one atom of iron in hemoglobin, which makes it red, he said.
Wheatgrass is loaded with magnesium. Drinking it energizes, detoxifies and promotes well-being, he said. He’s been drinking it since November 2005. An added benefit: “My hair got thicker,” he said.
“I don’t make a lot of promises” about the benefits of wheatgrass, but he said supporting research “is not entirely obscure.”
He cited an Israeli study that breast-cancer patients who drank wheatgrass juice needed fewer transfusions.
He called Ellen’s wheatgrass “an excellent product.”
Jody Bauer, Bazzan’s office manager, said, “We recommend it to every single patient. No one is too well or too sick to drink wheatgrass every day.”
Bauer said she and the staff drink wheatgrass in the office every day. She said Ellen’s wheatgrass “is the very best.”
Bettina Herbert M.D. is the lead physician of the integrative pain medicine team at the Jefferson-Myrna Brind Center.
Herbert said there is only “one good study” on the benefits of wheatgrass. She referenced an Israeli study that showed improvements to patients with ulcerative colitis.
Herbert said that despite the limited evidence, clinically, she has seen “remarkable results” in patients who drink wheatgrass juice.
“It is a commitment,” she said. A special juicer is needed to extract the juice from the fibrous shoots. The juice has to be drunk immediately. It can’t be refrigerated for later use.
However, wheatgrass “is a wonderful source of magnesium and amino acids” that many people’s diets are deficient in, she said. “I use it myself,” Herbert said, adding that even gluten-intolerant people can drink it.
She said Ellen’s wheatgrass “is the best. I think it’s the love that she puts into it.”
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Ellen McGlynn’s Web site is www.wheatgrassgrower.com. Locally, her wheatgrass and sunflower greens are available at Caravia Fresh Foods, 1151 Northern Blvd., Clarks Summit, and Everything Natural, 426 S. State St., Clarks Summit.